The Most Comfortable Sleeping Pad Options for Camping and Backpacking

Published on 06/17/2023 · 14 min readCamping and Hiking Expert Brett K. gives a rundown of everything you'd need to know about sleeping pads and lists the most comfortable sleeping pads on the market!
Brett K, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Brett K

Photo by Jacob W. Frank

The sleeping pad is one of the “Big Four” in a backpacking kit, which means it is in the top four pieces of gear that you can invest in that will have the biggest impact on your experience. Quality of sleep is paramount both in the frontcountry and the backcountry, and it can either make or break a camping trip. Sleeping style is a highly personal thing, and understanding the different kinds of pads and the pros and cons of each will help you understand what pad is right for your style. In this article, I break down each type of pad, highlight which pads provide the most comfort, and discuss why you might even sacrifice a little comfort for other benefits.

Sleeping Pad Specs


Taken from the insulation used in modern homes, R-value is the metric used to determine thermal resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more insulating a material is. The outdoor industry has adopted this same unit of measurement for sleeping pads. A sleeping pad has two purposes: to provide a comfortable sleeping surface and to insulate your body from the cold ground. A warm sleeping bag alone won’t do much good to keep you warm if you don’t have a sleeping pad with a decent R-value. Backpacking sleeping pads will typically have an R-value ranging from less than one for summer-only use, all the way up to about eight for winter mountaineering pads.


  • Length: Most sleeping pad manufacturers offer two or three length options. The regular size will be suitable for most women and average-height men, but if you're a taller person (6ft or more), your feet might hang off the end of the pad. This might not matter to you as much as the extra weight and bulk that a longer pad will add, but having your feet off of the pad will provide no insulation for them and could lead to a night of cold feet. A shorter-length pad is a great option for kids or true minimalists who are fine with using a pad just underneath their shoulders and hips while cushioning their legs and feet with their pack or other camp items.
  • Width: Just like length, sleeping pads come with varying width options. The obvious reason to go with a wider pad is if you happen to be a wider or broad-shouldered individual. Stomach and back sleepers may find a wider pad useful as well, regardless of body type. Non-side sleepers tend to splay their arms out wider, and again, any body part that spills off of the pad is at risk of getting uncomfortably cold.
  • Thickness: A pad's thickness is important to consider based on your sleeping style and your body's needs. Side-sleepers tend to be more comfortable on a thicker pad. However, if you are able to lie very still on your back or stomach, then you'll probably be fine with a thin foam pad, especially if you find a nice soft piece of ground to set up on. Usually, a thicker pad means more warmth, but not always. It's best to refer to the pad's R-value for warmth.


Mummy shape (left) and rectangular shape (right)

  • Mummy: A mummy-shaped pad is wider at the shoulders and tapers towards the feet. It is the most popular shape for lightweight backpacking as it uses less material while maintaining comfort. An additional bonus is that you can usually fit them inside your sleeping bag to keep them from sliding around on the tent floor.
  • Rectangular: As you might expect, a rectangular pad is rectangular in shape. This is ideal for anyone that sleeps in the starfish position, or rolls around a lot in their sleep.

Baffle Designs

The three types of baffles: horizontal (left), vertical (middle), and air sprung (right)

This is a specification particular to air pads. Air pads use numerous air chambers in their design instead of being one big balloon. This adds rigidity and support so the pad feels more like a mattress.

  • Horizontal Baffles: Horizontal baffles run width-wise across the pad and provide a good deal of support. Because they run perpendicular to your body, it's unlikely you'll get a shoulder wedged between the channels, which can happen on vertically baffled pads. Horizontal baffles can be over-inflated, making the pad board-like, but a pad with a decent valve can release air incrementally to dial in your desired comfort level.
  • Vertical Baffles: Vertical baffles run lengthwise and don't provide as much support as horizontal baffles. They can make the channels feel more pronounced, but they are more capable of contouring to your body. A hammock camper might find this feature more desirable than that offered by horizontal baffles.
  • Air Sprung Baffles: An air-sprung baffle design (as seen in the Sea to Summit Comfort or Comfort Plus) features individual cells that are made to imitate a classic spring mattress. These can be significantly more stable and comfortable than other baffle designs, but require more material to make, resulting in a slight increase in the pad’s weight.

Three Types of Pads

Air Pad

Air pads are thin plastic sleeping pads that can be inflated using various methods. They’re arguably the best backpacking sleeping pad because they strike a good balance between comfort, weight, and packability. They weigh next to nothing and pack down to about the size of a one-liter water bottle when deflated. For something so minimal, air pads are surprisingly comfortable. They can be blown up to your preferred firmness and will eliminate virtually all ground feel, which is excellent for side sleepers. They’re also capable of producing a decent R-value around 2.5 - 4. There are also insulated versions of some air pads, which bumps the R-value up to a cozy 4+.

Despite all of the glowing advantages of inflatable sleeping pads, there are of course some downsides as well. Maybe this first disadvantage is just a product of my laziness, but I don’t like having to spend the extra minutes each evening breathing into my sleeping pad, and then purging the air from it in the morning. Some air pads come with an included pump sack to help with inflating, but this still adds another camp chore.

In an effort to keep the pads as light and as warm as possible, manufacturers often use a very thin foil-like material to reflect your body’s warmth back to you. Unfortunately, this material is quite crinkly and tends to be noisy when rolled around on. If you’re a fidgety sleeper or someone in your group is a light sleeper, this type of air pad might not be the best choice.

Another downside of the ultralight quality of air pads is poor durability. Air pads can be punctured, and if the pad can no longer hold air, it is useless. Patches can be made, and most air pads include a repair kit, but finding a pinhole-sized leak is not the easiest task. Inflatable sleeping pads are therefore best suited for lightweight or ultralight backpackers who value comfort and don’t mind taking the time to treat their gear with a little extra care.

  • Pros: Lightweight, great for side sleepers, very packable
  • Cons: Tends to be noisy, can be punctured and rendered useless, long setup and breakdown time
  • Best For: Ultralight backpackers, side sleepers

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLight

“This sleeping pad is ideal for lightweight hiking and camping. Packs small, inflation pack included to not introduce moisture to the pad and inflate easily. Weighs in at 8.8ozs. Great for late spring, summer, and early fall camping.” - Gregg Mason

  • R-Value: 2.3
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 47" x 20" (Small)
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
    • 72" x 25" (Regular Wide)
    • 77" x 25" (Large)
  • Thickness: 2.5 inches
  • Weight:
    • 6 oz (Small)
    • 8.8 oz (Regular)
    • 11 oz (Regular Wide)
    • 12 oz (Large)
  • Best Use: Ultralight or long-distance backpacking in above freezing temps

NEMO Tensor Alpine

“This sleeping pad was designed to provide ultralight, cold-weather comfort. You really can't beat the weight, warmth, and comfort of this sleeping pad—three inches of cushioning, 1lb 4oz, and an R-value of 4.8 will provide plenty of insulation when the ground is cold (very cold). This is a great companion for your cold-weather camping, backpacking, or mountaineering trips. Easy inflation and quick to deflate!” - Amy B

  • R-Value: 4.8
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
    • 76" x 25" (Long Wide)
  • Thickness: 3 inches
  • Weight:
    • 1 lb 4 oz (Regular)
    • 1 lb 11 oz (Long Wide)
  • Best Use: Winter camping, mountaineering

Decathlon Forclaz Trek 700 Air L

This Decathlon pad is an excellent, inexpensive air pad for someone on a budget limiting their camping to the summer months. The vertical baffles lend themselves well to hammock camping while still adding some moderate insulation with an R-value of 1.6.

  • R-Value: 1.6
  • Dimensions (LxW): 70.9" x 20.5"
  • Thickness: 2.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs
  • Best Use: Summer camping, hammock camping, campers on a budget

Big Agnes Air Core Ultra

This pad offers impressive specs for the price. Stay cozy on this pad in the summer and even a little bit into the shoulder seasons. Speaking of shoulders, with a 3.25-inch thickness, side sleepers are unlikely to feel the ground. The vertical baffles cradle your body and keep you from rolling off the mat.

  • R-Value: 1.4
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
    • 72" x 25" (Wide Regular)
    • 78" x 25" (Wide Long)
  • Thickness: 3.25 inches
  • Weight:
    • 18 oz (Regular)
    • 22 oz (Wide Regular)
    • 24 oz (Wide Long)
  • Best Use: Summer camping, side sleepers

Closed Cell Foam Pads

Foam pads are the archnemesis of air pads and fall on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to packability, warmth, and comfort. After all, a thin piece of foam can only provide so much comfort and warmth. Manufacturers utilize eggshell patterns to get the most comfort possible out of the foam, but it doesn’t match up to the comfort of an inflatable pad. This isn’t as much of an issue for stomach and back sleepers, but side sleepers be warned.

The trick to making a foam mat comfortable is to get creative. Choose a campsite that doesn’t see much use. Instead of camping on tamped ground, find a nice bed of leaves, moss, or perhaps a fluffy tuft of fescue. The idea is to find a patch of ground that is already on its way to being a soft bed surface so that your pad is only adding to the comfort. I’ve also seen people use extra clothes in their backpack, a sit pad, or the backpack itself to add a little more cushion under painful pressure points (hips, shoulders, or feet).

Foam pads don’t pack well and almost always end up finding their home on the outside of the backpack. Most foam pads today are made with closed-cell foam, so water absorption (I’m talkin’ rain) isn’t a big issue. It can still be annoyingly bulky, though. It can make tight squeezes tighter and doesn’t lend itself to the sleek, neatly packed look of an ultralight kit despite being quite light itself.

Alright, that’s a lot of negative talk about those poor foam pads, but there are indeed many upsides to them as well. For one, they are by far the cheapest option out there, making them an easily justifiable purchase as either your sole sleeping surface or as an extra layer of comfort and warmth to an air pad. They’re also the most durable as they are resistant to puncture. They almost never tear from normal use but are easily customizable to your preferred shape with a pair of scissors. Finally—and my personal favorite attribute of foam pads—they have many uses besides sleeping, and can be easily deployed for any such use. They can double as a yoga or workout mat, sit pad, pillow, fire bellows, pool noodle, and more. In my opinion, there are few better feelings than stopping for lunch in the middle of a long-mileage day in the backcountry and slinking out your foam pad for a good stretch or tush cushion while your hiking-mates are left perched in the dirt.

  • Pros: Foolproof, very durable, customizable, lightweight, inexpensive, simple setup
  • Cons: Bulky/not very packable, very little padding, will compress over time
  • Best For: Ultralight backpackers, budget campers

Exped FlexMat

The FlexMat is a lightweight sleeping pad from Exped designed for backpackers and campers that prioritize weight savings and durability above all else. At only 11.5 ounces, this mat keeps weight down while still providing protection and light cushioning from the ground.

  • R-Value: 1.5
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 51" x 20.5" (Extra Small)
    • 72" x 20.5" (Medium)
    • 77.6" x 25.6" (Long Wide)
  • Thickness: 0.7 inches
  • Weight:
    • 8.3 oz (Extra Small)
    • 12.3oz (Medium)
    • 16.8oz (Long Wide)
  • Best Use: Budget campers, summer camping, ultralight backpackers

NEMO Switchback

The NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad is an accordion-style foam pad that replicates an egg-carton pattern to retain heat and add additional comfort. This pad is great for hikers looking for a lightweight, extremely packable, and comfortable sleep system without breaking the bank.

  • R-Value: 2
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 51" x 20" (Short)
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
  • Thickness: 0.9 inches
  • Weight:
    • 10.5 oz (Short)
    • 14.5 oz (Regular)
  • Best Use: Three-season camping

Therm-a-Rest Z-lite SOL

“This closed-cell foam pad does it all and can be used for summer and winter camping. The heat reflective side of this pad will help reflect body heat back towards you to help keep you warm in colder temps. The simplicity and light weight make it very easy to use too!” -Mike Parrott

  • R-Value: 2
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 51" x 20" (Small)
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
  • Thickness: 0.75 inches
  • Weight:
    • 10 oz (Small)
    • 14 oz (Regular)
  • Best Use: Three-season camping, lightweight backpackers

Self-Inflated Pads

Self-inflating pads are a style designed by Therm-a-Rest in the 1970s. They are made with layers of open-celled foam with pockets of air between for cushion. The foam expands when it’s unpacked, sucking air into the air chamber, thus “self-inflating”. However, you almost always have to top it off with extra air if you want any semblance of support.

Originally, they were the state-of-the-art happy medium between air pads and closed-cell foam pads. They added extra comfort and insulation to the conventional air pad but in a smaller package than a foam pad. These days, however, insulated air pads are as warm or warmer than self-inflating pads, while staying lighter, thicker, and more packable. You may still consider one for winter camping if you’re not carrying all your weight on your back (sleds) or if you want the benefits of an air pad but are worried about puncture risk (self-inflating pads still provide some comfort and insulation if they are punctured). These hybrid pads are still an excellent option for car campers who aren’t concerned with pack weight.

  • Pros: Great for car camping, more durable than air pads, potentially the most comfortable, warm
  • Cons: Bulky, heavy
  • Best For: Car camping, backpacking, winter camping

Exped MegaMat 10

The Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad is ideal for campers who want the most comfort, paired with the largest size. This self-inflating pad creates a luxurious sleeping space whether in a vehicle or at the tented home base.

  • R-Value: 8.1
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 72" x 25.6" (MW)
    • 77.6" x 25.6" (LW)
    • 77.6" x 30.3" (LXW)
  • Thickness: 3.9 inches
  • Weight:
    • 73 oz (MW)
    • 80.2 oz (LW)
    • 91.7 oz (LXW)
  • Best Use: Car camping, extreme cold weather camping, ultimate comfort

Therm-a-Rest ProLite

The Therm-a-Rest Prolite Sleeping Pad was designed for both camping and backcountry adventures. Its self-inflating design prioritizes lightweight and packability while its high-performance materials offer comfort for a good night’s sleep.

  • R-Value: 2.4
  • Dimensions (LxW):
    • 47" x 20" (Small)
    • 72" x 20" (Regular)
    • 77" x 25" (Large)
  • Thickness: 1 inch
  • Weight:
    • 12 oz (Small)
    • 1 lb 2 oz (Regular)
    • 1 lb 8 oz (Large)
  • Best Use: Backpacking, three-season camping

We hope this guide helps you choose the perfect sleeping pad. If you want to talk one-on-one with an Expert about sleeping pads or any other camping gear, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or one of our other Camping & Hiking Experts on Curated.

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