Whether you’re new to the backpacking community or a seasoned veteran with countless wilderness adventures under your belt, you may be looking for the best backpacking gear possible to get out the door. But with the ever expanding gear market and unreliable product reviews, where do you even start?
Here we’ll be looking at backpacking ultralight sleeping pads; a vital component of any well-rounded gear set. I’ll be giving you my picks for the best backpacking sleeping pad, as well as some helpful advice to help you make the right choice for your next adventure.
- For those on a limited budget, the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol is a great pad. In addition to a low cost, this sleeping pad is made of durable closed-cell foam that won’t pop or deteriorate as quickly as an inflatable pad.
- If you’re looking for a pad that balances comfort and convenience, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat is a no-fail choice. As an inflatable pad, you’ll sleep more comfortably than you would on a closed-cell foam pad. There are plenty of buying options that include a pump sack, which makes inflating this pad incredibly quick and easy.
- For the lightest option with the highest quality, durability, and comfort, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite can’t be beat. This pad has a stellar reputation, and can be seen on most ultralight gear lists. You’ll sleep soundly on this pad without fear of leaks or pops on even the longest of hiking trips.
Who Needs a Sleeping Pad?
A sleeping pad is one of the “Big Four” in a backpacking setup, which essentially means that it’s one of four pieces of gear required for safe overnight camping, backpacking, or hiking trips. Sleeping pads provide comfort and additional warmth in the outdoors; they’re well worth the additional weight for the peace of mind they provide.
While there are tons of products on the market, backpacking sleeping pads cater to individuals who want the lightest and safest product available. Ultralight products tend to be more expensive than standard products, as they require additional design and engineering in order to minimize materials without sacrificing comfort. If you’re a day hiker or looking for the most affordable product, you might want to look elsewhere.
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads: What to Look for
Those in the market for a quality backpacking sleeping pad will want to look for the following features:
The R-Value determines the thermal resistance rating for a sleeping pad, and is measured on a 0-5 scale. In basic terms, the R-Value tells you how warm a pad is. While sleeping pads exist across the full R-Value scale, you’ll want to find one that falls between 2.5-5, as this is the standard for most 3-season sleeping pads.
We’ll be focusing on two types of sleeping pads: Air and Closed-Cell Foam (CCF). Preference in pad type generally comes down to personal preference, as each type has its share of pros and cons.
- Air pads rely on inflation and deflation for use. These pads are significantly warmer and more packable than foam pads. However, they are also more delicate; holes and tears can cause leaks, and must be repaired in order to be used.
- Closed Cell Foam (CCF) utilizes a rigid foam panel structure that can be rolled out or unfolded for sleeping. This pad type is very durable; you won’t have to worry about holes, rips, or tears in CCF pads. However, they’re bulkier than inflatable pads, and are usually strapped to the outside of a backpack. CCF pads are also less comfortable than inflatable pads.
Since we’re talking about backpacking pads here, look for one that weighs under 1.5 lbs (24 ounces).
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads: Our Picks
Pad Type: Closed-Cell Foam (CCF)
Weight: 10-14 Ounces
- Accordion-style fold
- Color options available in Blue or Limon
- Size options available in Small or Regular
- Low-temperature rating
- Less comfortable
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is the only Closed-Cell Foam pad to make the cut, but that doesn’t mean it’s any lesser than its air-filled competition! This pad features an accordion-style fold to allow for easy packability and uniform dimpled design to maximize heat retention. If you’re planning a trip that demands a rugged product that can take a beating, this sleeping pad is for you. While this pad works well for 3-Season camping, its lower R-Value limits its effectiveness in extreme temperatures.
In addition, the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol’s bulkiness counteracts its weight somewhat, as it is typically strapped to the outside of your pack due to its size. This pad is ideal for newcomers looking for a reliable entry-level product that won’t break the bank.
Pad Type: Inflatable
Weight: 21 Ounces
- Size options available in Men’s Large or Women’s Large
- Antimicrobial material
- Includes pump-sack
- Best value
- A bit heavier
- Less durable
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat is truly a luxury sleeping pad, featuring great packability and a large, highly-insulated surface area to brave cooler temperatures and rough terrain. This pad utilizes antimicrobial nylon and TPU in its design, allowing for repeated use without fear of deterioration or build-up of bacteria. Another great feature of the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat is the pump-sack, which makes inflating this pad quick, easy, and convenient.
All of these features come at a price; this pad is pricey and heavier than its competitors. However, this pad is well worth the extra weight and higher price for the extra luxury it provides. I highly recommend this pad for larger hikers who enjoy sprawling out at the end of a long day of hiking.
Pad Type: Inflatable
Weight: 8-16 Ounces
- Many size options available in Small, Regular, Regular Wide, or Large
- Valve options available in Standard or Winglock
- Includes stuff sack, pump sack, and repair kit
- Best extra features
- Less durable
Therm-a-Rest is king when it comes to ultralight construction, and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite shines as the pinnacle of ultralight sleeping pads. With its superior lightweight design and various size options, there’s NeoAir Xlite for every adventurer! This pad shaves weight through its signature valve design, which maximizes ease of use whilst cutting unnecessary materials. In addition, this sleeping pad includes a pump-sack and repair kit, so you won’t have to worry about leaks or holes ruining your outdoor experience.
If there’s any downside, it’s that this pad is by far the most expensive product on the market. If you’re looking for durability and budget-friendly options, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite may not be for you.
Useful Tips & Resources
To get the most out of your sleeping pad choice, take a look at the following Frequently Asked Questions and how-to articles to better acquaint yourself with the various features available.
- Therm-a-Rest Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Sea to Summit Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- How to Store & Care For a Sleeping Pad
It often seems like there’s so much information available on backpacking ultralight sleeping pads, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking for the best option. The recommendations I’ve given are all great options, and you really can’t go wrong with any of these pads!
Questions or Comments? Contact us and let us know!