Having a good night in the mountain is paramount: recover from the efforts of the day and to be in shape for the day ahead of you.
It is therefore imperative to take the time to choose your backpacking sleeping pad, a primary element, because it will bring you comfort and insulation.
We often think that having a good sleeping bag ensures a good night in the mountains.
It is not true. To spend a good night, you need a good sleeping bag but also a good mattress that will ensure you the comfort and especially the insulation.
A Quick Look at our Selection of Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
- Therm-A-rest NeoAir X-therm
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite
- Nemo Tensor 20R Mummy
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated
- Exped Down Mat Lite 5
- NEMO Vector 20R
- Therm-a-Rest Prolite small
- Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite Women’s Regular
- Exped SynMat UL 7 S
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season SV
Comparison Table of the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
|VIEW||MODEL||BEST FOR||R-VALUE||TOTAL WEIGHT||PRICE|
|Therm-A-rest NeoAir X-therm||4-season||5.7||1.25 lbs / 570 g||$$$|
|Therm-a-Rest Z Lite||3-season||2.6||0.87 lbs / 410 g||$|
|Nemo Tensor 20R Mummy||4-season||N/A||13.5 oz / 385 g||$$|
|Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated||3-season||3.3||0.97 lbs / 440 g||$$|
|Exped Down Mat Lite 5||4-season||4.1||1.45 lbs / 658 g||$|
|NEMO Vector 20R||3-season||N/A||1.16 lbs / 527 g||$$$|
|Therm-a-Rest Prolite small||3-season||2.4||0.77 lbs / 350 g||$|
|Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite Women’s Regular||3-season||3.9||0.75 lbs / 340 g||$$|
|Exped SynMat UL 7 S||3-season||3.3||0.91 lbs / 414 g||$$|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season SV||4-season||4.9||1.5 lbs / 680 g||$$$|
What is the use of a backpacking sleeping pad when hiking?
- The comfort is the first thing you think of, of course. Beyond to compensate for the vagaries of the field (rocks, holes), it will allow you to sleep comfortably in all positions (we think in particular to the position “sunset on the side” which is hardly sustainable without having regular ants in the arm).
- The insulation: sleeping pads will therefore isolate your body from a ground often cold and avoid the direct contact. The sleeping pads operate in the same way that the layers of clothing. They trap an air mass between your body and the cold ground. This layer of air becomes an insulating barrier (in reality this air is caught in a multitude of cavities thus avoiding the transfer of the cold).
The different types of backpacking sleeping pads
1- The closed cells “foam” pads
These basic hiking mats are made of dense foam filled with tiny cells of air. It is the ancestor of the sleeping pads but it still has a lot of advantages. This type of pads folds or rolls depending the models.
“Pads for low budgets: no much comfort and bulky”
Their main weaknesses are their bulk and the little comfort offered. However, for small budgets or occasional use, it is clearly the best solution.
- Low price
- Very resistant
- Proper insulation
- Very little comfort (the position “lying on the side” is difficult.)
- Voluminous (for those that can be folded) to very voluminous (for those that are rolled).
2- The self-inflating sleeping pads
Launched initially by the brand Therm-a-Rest ®, these pads combine insulation foam and cells which are filled with air automatically by opening a valve (hence the name of self-inflating). You will only have to complete the inflation with the mouth to get more or less firmness.
“Good intermediary use with decent comfort and insulation”
These pads are in general less thick, between 0.8 in to 1.5 in (2 to 4 cm) and thus provide less comfort compared to the inflatable pads, often between 2 in to 3 in (5 to 8 cm).
The side against the ground is generally strong enough to withstand the rigors of the field.
For the side which is in contact with your body, choose a mattress with a pleasant coating to the touch and avoid the slippery coating (nothing is more unpleasant to have the feeling of sliding on your mattress all night long).
- Good insulation
- A little cumbersome
- Weight more important than inflatable pads
- Quite fragile
3- The inflatable sleeping pads
These pads are inflated directly with the mouth (and yes, if you are hiking, it will be necessary to keep a little breath to inflate your pad in the evening).
Long reserved to traditional camping, these pads are currently being established on the outdoor gear market thanks in particular to light to ultra-lightweight products (less than 400 grams).
They are starting to supplant the self-inflating pads, because they are lighter, much less bulky and much more comfortable.
Some models also go further in the insulation with synthetic micro-fibers or even down linings.
“The very best: very compact, highly insulating and comfortable. But attention to price!”
These sleeping pads are in general quite thick, between 2 in to 4 in (5 to 10 cm) and offer excellent comfort (in particular the “lying on the side” position).
Speaking of weight, the lightweight the pad is, the more expensive. Weights vary between0.88 lbs to more than 2.20 lbs (400g to 1 kg).
The main disadvantage of these mattresses, their fragility. A simple thorn can make your inflatable pad unusable.
- Very comfortable
- Very little bulky (slips easily in the backpack)
- Very lightweight (for the more expensive models)
- Very insulating material (especially the most expensive models)
- High price
Some pads come also in “short” model or 3/4, of approximately 4 ft (1.20m). These sizes are very useful in mountaineering or in expedition to save weight.
Choose a hiking sleeping pad adapted to your needs
It is often difficult to choose your future sleeping pad with such a large choice (according to the types of pad, the weight, the price, etc.). The choice will naturally depend on the use that you are going to do.
1- Hiking without porterage (mechanical or animal porterage)
Choose comfort with self-inflating and thick enough pads. Do not go for the lighter models (and therefore the most expensive), because the matter of weight is secondary in this type of hiking.
2- Occasional hiker
The inflatable or auto-inflatable pads are quite expensive and even very expensive for some. For an occasional or rare practice, a basic foam pad will do the job.
Your nights will be a little more “difficult” but that is also the joy of sleeping outdoor in the mountain.
3- Regular Hikers / Hiking from base camp
Are you looking for a compromise between space and comfort? Choose then an inflatable or a self-inflating model.
The prices are higher than a traditional foam pad, but the investment is really worth it. Your sleep will really be better on a comfort level.
4- Long distances hiking and/or ultra-light:
Are you looking for the the lightest possible hiking pad? Three options are available:
- A basic foam pad
- A very light inflatable model
- A self-inflating model on a 3/4 format, to gain even more in weight and volume.
5- Winter hiking and expeditions
Winter bivouac requires more insulation. The ideal is to have a first protection like a foam pad on top of which we add an inflatable pad.
Or then, opt for the latest generation of inflatable pads with a high insulation index but with a much higher price.
Be careful to choose a model that is solid, because if the pad gives up on you at the beginning of the expedition, the situation may be difficult to manage.
Questions to ask yourself
The variety of hiking sleeping pads is so great that it is absolutely necessary to make a wise choice according to some questions you need to ask yourself.
This will allow you to know:
- On what thickness of pads you feel comfortable (if you are of a light build, a thickness of 2-3 cm can you be sufficient).
- What is the width that suits you better (the shoulders and the hips must not come out from the pad)?
- What is the optimal length (a little more than your size, a ¾ pad)?
- How to inflate and deflate your hiking pad and its footprint.
Also look in detail at the “R-value”: the higher the value, the more the pad will isolate you from the ground. The R values are indicated on the product technical sheets.
They range from 1.0 (insulation low) to 9.5 (very good insulation).