Sleep deprivation is no fun for anyone, especially when you need to exert yourself during the day on a backpacking trip.
Choosing the right sleeping mat is ultimately the deciding factor when it comes to quality of sleep in the backcountry.
I’ve listed the best backpacking sleeping pads of 2021 to shorten your hunt and included some tips on how to choose the right style for you.
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- TOP 16 Best Backpacking & Hiking Sleeping Pads 2021
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Mattress
- Nemo Astro Lite Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SoLite Reflective Pad
- Therm-a-Rest Prolite Self-Inflating Pad
- Nemo Switchback Foam Sleeping Pad
- Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Mat
- Big Agnes Q-core SLX Ultralight Sleeping Pad
- Exped Synmat HL Sleeping Pad
- Paria Outdoor Products Recharge Sleeping Pad
- Alps Mountaineering Apex Self-Inflating Air Pad
- Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Pad
- Foxelli Sleeping Pad
- Klymit Insulated Static V-Lite Sleeping Pad
- Koolsen Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
- What Should You Consider?
- How does Self-inflating Sleeping Pad Work?
- How to Attach a Sleeping Pad to Your Backpack?
- How to Keep a Sleeping Bag From Slipping Off the Pad?
- Do I Need a Sleeping Pad for Backpacking?
- Do I Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad?
- Do You Need a Sleeping Pad for Hammock Camping?
- Can a Yoga Mat Work as a Sleeping Pad?
- How Much Should a Sleeping Pad Weigh?
TOP 16 Best Backpacking & Hiking Sleeping Pads 2021
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
Review: The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is known for its comfort, lightweight and compact size for ultralight travel. It has a 2.5-inch thickness once inflated and an excellent baffled structure which provides stability and support for your body.
As it’s completely inflatable, it rolls up to almost nothing, taking up no space inside your pack.
And, despite its apparently thin construction, it is durable and puncture-resistant so you can feel safe on rocky ground.
- Packs down small.
- Durable and puncture-resistant.
- Makes a crinkly sound when you move.
Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat
Review: This is another inflatable sleeping mat with no internal padding which means it rolls up to a very convenient size.
It distributes your weight evenly so you won’t touch the ground, and the ‘air sprung cells’ are known to provide an excellent job of imitating the comforts of your bed at home.
It comes in different sizes and is very easy to inflate with the included pump sack.
- Packs down small.
- Lightweight – just 12.5 oz. for the regular.
- Comes in different sizes.
- Only suitable for summer (R-value of 0.7).
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Mattress
Review: This closed-cell foam pad is a lightweight and slightly more affordable option when compared to inflatable mats.
This model is not only surprisingly comfortable, but also very warm for a foam pad, with a reflective silver layer on one side. It is also textured with deep divots that form air pockets underneath you for extra insulation.
You won’t fit it in your backpack, but it folds up easily and can be tied to the outside of your pack which allows you to save space inside. It can also be folded into a seat for lunch stops.
- Well insulated for a foam pad.
- Versatile folding design.
- Comes in different sizes.
- Affordable price.
- Less cushioning than inflatable options.
Nemo Astro Lite Sleeping Pad
Review: Nemo’s Astro Lite is a lightweight inflatable sleeping mat that weighs just 1 lbs. 1 oz. It inflates to a very generous 3.5-inch thickness and uses comfortable horizontal baffles.
It’s not insulated so it won’t be the best option for really cold weather unless you have an excellent sleeping bag, but it will still be warmer than a foam mat.
- Width-wise baffles instead of length-wise provides a more stable sleeping surface.
- Slightly larger baffle at the head creates a small pillow.
- Insulated version available at a slightly heavier weight.
- Packs down to a tiny 8”x3”.
- Not insulated.
Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SoLite Reflective Pad
Review: This is a similar option to Therm-a-Rest’s Z-lite Sol above, except that it rolls instead of folds. It’s the next most popular closed-cell foam pad, mostly due to the innovated reflective design which is supposed to reduce heat loss through radiation.
It’s a bulkier option than the inflatable alternatives, but it’s comparatively lightweight and reasonably comfortable for a foam mat.
And, maybe the best part is how resilient it is to the stresses of backpacking, with sharp rocks not being an issue.
- Extremely durable.
- Comes in 3 different sizes.
- Reflective ThermaCapture technology for heat retention.
- Ridge texture also works to trap heat.
- Slightly less versatile and more awkward to pack than the folding version.
Therm-a-Rest Prolite Self-Inflating Pad
Review: Another winner from Therm-a-Rest (these guys really know their mats!), this self-inflating backpacking pad provides the middle ground between inflatables and foam pads as far as bulk, but are generally a little heavier, warmer and more comfortable.
They are the luxury mats as far as convenience go too, often only needing a couple of breaths to bring them up to their maximum inflation.
This mat has an expanding foam core that provides cushioning and insulation for a very comfortable night’s sleep.
- Lightweight at just 18 oz.
- Packs down to 11”x4”.
- Diagonal cut foam core has an R-value of 2.4.
- Very easy to inflate.
- Takes a little time to self-inflate.
Nemo Switchback Foam Sleeping Pad
Review: These is Nemo’s answer to Thermo-o-Rest’s killer foam pads. It includes metallic reflective technology but underneath.
It’s extremely durable and able to cope with all of the wear and tear of extended backpacking trips, and it’s really lightweight at just 14.5 oz.
It also folds up into a concertina shape for easy packing and can transform into a camp chair/bum pad if the occasion arises!
- Metalized thermal film for reflective heat retention.
- Deep hexagonal divots for insulation.
- Folding design packs down easily.
- Arguably not quite as comfortable as as the Z-lite Sol.
Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Mat
Review: Sea to Summit’s Comfort Light is an inflatable sleeping mat very similar to the Ultralight above but a little heavier, warmer and more comfortable. It has an R-value of 4.2 compared to the Ultralight’s 0.7.
It is insulated using Thermolite HL-1 and Exkin Platinum technology so you will be very comfortable in all but the most extreme temperatures.
But if you’re a hot sleeper, it also comes in a non-insulated version.
- Insulated for 3 season comfort.
- 40D nylon fabric is more durable than the standard 20D.
- Excellent support will keep your whole body off the ground.
- Very comfortable.
- A little heavier (1.3 lbs.).
Big Agnes Q-core SLX Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Review: This inflatable mat by Big Agnes provides a luxurious 3.5-inch thickness in a lightweight and compact package. It is insulated and rated to 32˚F making it a solid 3 season option that could cope with winter conditions provided the rest of your equipment is up to standard.
The air chambers are square-shaped with larger side baffles to keep you from rolling off, but not everyone with find this comfortable.
- Strong, durable material.
- Thick inflated thickness.
- Weighs just 16 oz.
- Well insulated.
- Available in a double-width option.
- Takes a bit of effort to inflate it.
Exped Synmat HL Sleeping Pad
Review: This is an inflatable mat with a 2.8-inch thickness and microfiber insulation. It’s a well-thought-out design with key features such as the pump bag and non-slip surfaces making a big difference to convenience and comfort.
Trust me, sliding down your mat when your tent is pitched on a slight slope is not a fun experience!
- Mummy design is space and weight saving.
- R-value of 3.3 is good for a 3-season.
- Anti-slip GripSkin prevents you from sliding around.
- Included Schnozzel pumpbag makes inflation easy.
- Different widths available.
- Not cheap.
- Longitudinal baffles.
Paria Outdoor Products Recharge Sleeping Pad
Review: Paria’s Recharge sleeping pad is another good option for ultralight backpackers. It is a lightweight and compact inflatable sleeping pad with horizontal baffles and a laminated insulation layer that increases the R-value to 3.5 from the standard non-insulated inflatables.
It has a 2.5-inch thickness, a 7”x4” packed size and a weight of just 20 oz.
If you’re looking for something a little beefier but like what Paria’s got going on, they also do some larger and thicker alternatives using the same technology for slightly more comfort and warmth (and weight).
- Lightweight and insulated.
- Quiet at night – no crinkling.
- Reasonably thick when inflated.
- 40D diamond ripstop nylon for durability.
- Reasonably affordable.
- Takes a bit of time to inflate.
Alps Mountaineering Apex Self-Inflating Air Pad
Review: This is one luxurious sleeping mat. It is very thick, very insulated and very comfortable.
Unfortunately, it’s also very heavy, especially if you go for the long or x long size. But, for some people, it’s worth it for the comfort.
It inflates and deflates easily, reaches an incredible 3-inch thickness when inflated, and has an R-value of about 6.9 which is the warmest on this list.
- Brushed-suede like top material is soft, comfortable and non-slip.
- Comes in long and x long lengths.
- Very thick and warm.
- Repair kit included.
- Very heavy – 4 lbs. 4 oz. for the regular.
- Bulky when packed away – 9” x 22.5”.
Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Pad
Review: This is another sleeping pad that is most likely too heavy for backpacking, but for people who need more space, this is the best option.
Its XXL size is pretty unique as far as sleeping mats go, offering dimensions of 82” x 38” x 2.5” so there’s no chance of ending up on the ground.
It has a super durable 300D brushed canvas outer which is pretty much bullet-proof, and its foam insulation gives it an R-value of a very cozy 6.2.
- Large size.
- Well insulated.
- Extremely durable.
- Tie-downs at the corners make it cot-compatible.
- Very heavy (9 lbs.) and bulky.
Foxelli Sleeping Pad
Review: This is a budget self-inflating sleeping pad for the newbie backpackers out there who can’t quite justify the high-end prices. It has a built-in pillow and is surprisingly comfortable and warm for such a low-priced mat.
It packs down to a reasonably compact 6” x 12.7” package but weighs around 2.4 lbs. which is not as lightweight as some.
- Self-inflating in about 10 minutes.
- Includes a pillow.
- Relatively lightweight and compact.
- Tear and water-resistant outer material.
- Pillow requires inflating separately.
Klymit Insulated Static V-Lite Sleeping Pad
Review: Another great entry-level sleeping pad, this product is a reliable budget option. It inflates in just 10-15 breaths and features its signature V-shaped, body-mapped grooves which limit air movement and retain heat for better comfort and support.
The only downside of this mat is that the plastic valve is a little tricky to press to ensure that the air doesn’t leak out.
- Good insulation.
- The valve proves a little tricky to seal.
Koolsen Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
Review: This is an affordable 1.5-inch inflatable mat that has a built-in pillow. The pillow feature might make it the best sleeping pad for side sleepers, who need the neck and head support in order to be able to sleep comfortably. It’s also lined with buttons on the outside so multiple pads can be fastened together in order to make a larger mat.
The back of the pad is covered in small bumps that make it skid-proof. You can sleep on slippery terrain or the floor lining of a tent without sliding around all night, and it might even be a good choice for a hiking hammock.
- Non-slip bottom.
- Built-in pillow.
- Ability to join mats together.
- Weather insulation could be better.
What Should You Consider?
Broadly speaking, you will have 2 decisions to make when it comes to choosing the best sleeping pad for your next backpacking trip.
- Foam versus Inflatable, and
- Ultralight versus Insulated.
Which route you choose depends on your backpacking style.
Do you prefer light weight and speed over comfort? Or are you willing to walk less miles in favor of a more cushy sleeping experience?
There’s really no right or wrong answer, it’s very personal and what suits one person won’t suit another.
The one exception is if you know you’re going to be encountering cold weather.
Types of Pads
There are 3 different types of sleeping pads.
All of them are designed to insulate you from the ground to some degree and provide some cushioning.
But they each do this to different degrees.
This type of pad offers excellent insulation for cold weather backpacking and hiking trips.
There is less risk of it deflating in the middle of the night as the padding will mean you never end up on the ground even if you do get a puncture.
But, they tend to be a little heavier and bulkier than non-insulated inflatable pads.
Inflatable pads can take a long time to inflate compared to the others and unless they come with a pump sack, you’ll need a good set of lungs.
They also provide less insulation against really cold ground temperatures and there is always the risk of puncture.
But, these pads are the lightest in weight and by far the most compact, rolling up into a tiny drink-bottle sized package. They are usually the most popular choice for ultralight thru-hikers as they have the best weight to comfort ratio.
Air pads can also afford to be thicker while still weighing less, making them a good option for side sleepers who will need a little extra cushioning. If you’re interested in more side-sleeper specific sleeping pads, I have an article for that!
Closed Cell Foam Pads
Foam pads are cheap and durable.
They are best for hikers on a budget who aren’t too fussed about comfort and don’t mind strapping them to the outside of their backpack as they are always too bulky to pack inside.
They also let you feel the bumps of the ground more than the inflatable options. But, they remain the most durable option, and there’s no risk of puncture.
Overall, foam pads are easy to use as you can roll them up within minutes and attach to your hiking backpack, but they won’t be as warm or comfortable.
Let’s face it, getting a lightweight sleeping pad makes a huge difference to the weight of your pack when you’re backpacking.
Generally speaking, all the best backpacking sleeping pads are pretty lightweight these days as technology has allowed for some impressive designs.
But, you’d be crazy to choose anything heavier than 2 lbs. for a backpacking trip. Most are nearer the 1 lbs. mark.
This factor really depends on your preference of sleeping style. If you’re a side sleeper, then thicker pads are more suitable. On the other hand, if you’re a back sleeper, you’re more likely to get away with a foam pad.
Either way, consider whether you’ll be sleeping on really rocky ground. If you’re intent on an inflatable mat, you might need to pair it with a lightweight foam mat to reduce the chance of puncture. Furthermore, a foam mat by itself will provide a lumpy sleeping surface on rocky ground.
Some sleeping pads include pillows, but they tend to be cheaper designs and the pillows are more of a gimmick.
If you really need a pillow, you’re much better off going for a separate camping pillow. I have a list of excellent options here, to save you the hassle of searching!
Ultralight hikers are increasingly choosing shorter sleeping pads and sleeping with their legs on their backpacks to reduce the size and weight of their sleeping pad.
But, this is pretty extreme, and it’s understandable if you’d prefer to to have your legs on a sleeping pad.
Even so, size, both rolled out and when packed away, is worth considering.
Go for the smallest that you can comfortably get away with.
Insulation is really important. Your sleeping mat is the barrier between your body and the ground, and once the temperature drops at night, the ground can literally suck away all of your body heat.
It won’t matter how good your sleeping bag is if you’re not adequately insulated from the ground.
In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that the insulation in your sleeping pad is MORE important than your sleeping bag!
If your sleeping pad is well insulated, you won’t need as much insulation in your sleeping bag.
But, in saying that, when temperatures get near freezing, you can’t rely on any one piece of equipment to keep you warm.
Make sure you’ve checked out my article on the best backpacking sleeping bags to make sure that your sleeping bag is up to the job.
And while you’re there, you might want to consider a sleeping bag liner, especially if you’re going on a long trip where there might be some temperature fluctuations.
Sleeping bag liners provide an extra layer of insulation and protect your sleeping bag from skin oils and dirt, reducing how often you need to wash it and prolonging its life.
How does Self-inflating Sleeping Pad Work?
Self-inflating sleeping pads contain foam padding that automatically expands when the valve of the sleeping pad is opened to let air in.
They take a bit of time but they save breathing moisture and bacteria into your sleeping pad.
How to Attach a Sleeping Pad to Your Backpack?
If you have a larger foam mat, then once it’s rolled or folded up, it can be tied onto the bottom of your backpack with bungee cords if your backpack doesn’t come with built-in straps for that purpose.
How to Keep a Sleeping Bag From Slipping Off the Pad?
This is a tricky one! Choosing flat ground to pitch your tent is the best solution but not always possible.
Alternatively, you can sleep with it slightly deflated in the hope that you’ll sink into it a little.
Or, you can do some DIY alterations and add your own non-stick surface by dabbing little drops of PU seam sealer onto the surface.
You can do this either on the top so that your sleeping bag doesn’t slide, the bottom so that mat itself doesn’t slide inside the tent, or both!
Do I Need a Sleeping Pad for Backpacking?
The simple answer is YES. It would be very stupid to think that you can sleep directly on the ground and not get very cold and very uncomfortable.
It sounds harsh, but people have died as a result of not having the right gear, so it’s really important.
Do I Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad?
Strictly speaking, all sleeping pads provide some insulation. Even the inflatable ones are creating an insulating pocket of air between you and the ground.
But generally speaking, insulated mats are a good idea.
It’s better to be too warm than too cold as you can cool yourself down by opening up your sleeping bag but it’s harder to warm yourself up at 3 am.
Do You Need a Sleeping Pad for Hammock Camping?
If you don’t have good underquilt for hammock camping, then yes, you’ll need a sleeping pad for your hammock otherwise you’ll lose your body heat via convection.
I have a great article on sleeping pads for hammocks here.
Can a Yoga Mat Work as a Sleeping Pad?
If you’re really desperate then, yes, you can use a yoga mat. But, having tried this myself, I can tell you that it’s not an ideal solution.
Yoga mats provide very little insulation and cushioning. They are cold, hard and uncomfortable compared to sleeping pads.
How Much Should a Sleeping Pad Weigh?
Ideally, less than 2 lbs.
The best backpacking sleeping pads of 2021 are lightweight and provide enough insulation and cushioning to keep you comfortable.
Foam pads are ultimately the cheapest and most durable, but usually the least comfortable option. Inflatable pads can be as comfortable as your bed at home, but are usually heavier and less durable.
As with everything in life, it’s a compromise! But the above list really does include the best of the best, and some entry-level options too.
Don’t forget to download my solo travel safety ebook and feel free to share your thoughts below on your sleeping pad experience.
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