11 Best Sleeping Pads of 2021

A guide to the best ultralight backpacking sleeping pads and mats. Tested and written by Appalachain Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

by Chris Cage
Updated on June 20th, 2021

At a Glance:

‣ A sleeping pad keeps you comfortable AND insulates you from the cool ground while you sleep.

‣ There are two main types of sleeping pads: inflatable and closed cell foam.

‣ Inflatable pads are generally more comfortable, pack down smaller, and can be warmer. They can puncture though.

‣ Foam pads are very durable and inexpensive. They can be bulky and less comfortable though. 

A sleeping pad not only adds some comfort, but it also adds insulation so your back does not freeze when you sleep. News flash: the ground is cold, especially at night.

Sleeping pads come in a variety of styles, sizes and weights, so you’ll want to spend some time shopping for the right one. To help you out, we've tested and reviewed the 11 best sleeping bags available today.

Before we jump into the reviews, let's break down the three most important sleeping requirements and take a look at the pros and cons of the two different types of sleeping pads out there.

In a hurry? Skip straight to the reviews.

Brand: Model Weight R-Value Price
THERM-A-REST: NeoAir Uberlite 8.8 oz 2.3 $195
THERM-A-REST: NeoAir XTherm 15 oz 6.9 $255
SEA TO SUMMIT: UltraLight 16.9 oz 3.1 $70
KLYMIT: Static V Lightweight 18.7 oz 1.3 $55
THERM-A-REST: Foam Z Lite Sol 14 oz 2.0 $45
NEMO: Tensor 15 oz 3.5 $160
NEMO: Switchback 14.5 oz 2.0 $50
BIG AGNES: QCore SLX 17 oz 32°F $120
EXPED: Synmat UL 16.8 oz 2.9 $169
GOSSAMER GEAR: Nightlite 6 oz 2.27 $24
REI: Flash 3-Season 16 oz 3.2 $100


1. COMFORTABLE: A matter of personal preference.

A sleeping pad is like a mattress, but designed for the backcountry. And like mattresses, pads come in different sizes, materials, and firmness levels, each combination offering a unique sleeping experience.

Inflated and foam sleeping pads feel very different, for example. If you're used to a sleeping on a soft, cushiony surface, a foam pad won't fit the bill. (More on that in just a moment.)

Consider your personal preference and sleeping style to pick a pad that will allow you to wake up feeling rested and ready to tackle long miles.

best sleeping pads compared

2. WARM: If winter backpacking, keep the R-Values above 3.

Other than comfort, the main purpose of a sleeping pad is to keep you warm. This is super important and something often overlooked. Specifically, your pad should prevent the cold earth from reaching your body. Most inflatable pads have an outer shell as well as a thin internal layer designed to reflect your body heat back at you.

"R-Value" measures the level of insulation your pad provides. A higher R-value will keep you warmer and act as a barrier between you and the cold ground. Sleeping directly on exposed ground will drain away your precious body heat - like the inverse of a reptile bathing on a hot rock. Aim to keep your pad above a 3 for any level of cold winter sleeping.  Anything below a 3 should only be used in warmer weather.

sleeping pad floating on water

3. LIGHTWEIGHT: Your pad should weigh around 1 lb (or less).

The lighter, the better. Know some of the lightest pads on the market have low R values, though. If you are winter camping, you might need to get a slightly heavier and warmer pad or subsidize with an extra warm sleeping bag.

Thick material and overly large inflation valves are usually the biggest factor in adding unnecessary weight to your pad.

Foam pads have been traditionally viewed as a lighter option than inflatable. This is not always the case though. In general, weight of the pad depends on the model and manufacturer. 

Related: 14 Best Ultralight Backpacking Sleeping Bags 

red klymit sleeping padKlymit Static V Lightweight


pros and cons of inflatable vs foam sleeping pads

INFLATABLE PADS: Comfortable and Extremely Compact

As the name implies, inflatable pads need to be filled with air before you can sleep on them. They either will self-inflate on their own when you unroll them or you will have to blow air into them manually using good ‘ole lung power. While bulky pumps are not ideal for backpacking, some pads now come with a stuff sack that doubles as an inflation device.

  • Compact: A good ultralight pad should be able to roll up and fit inside your hand. This is a huge advantage compared to foam pads - you can store an inflatable pad in a tiny corner of your pack without hardly even noticing.

  • Comfortable: The air in inflatable pads literally elevates you off the ground and provides a nice cushion. For side and stomach sleepers, this can be crucial. Most backpackers find sleeping on an inflatable pad to be substantially more comfortable than a foam pad.

  • Demanding to Set Up: Some more cushy pads have large air chambers. Without a pump, your lungs will be manually filling up that large chamber. Blowing a lot of breaths (some require 20+ breaths) after a long hike can, and often will, leave you temporarily lightheaded. It also puts moisture inside the pad which can mold over time.

  • Can Puncture: Although they can take a decent beating, you will still need to be careful where you place your pad. They can pop any moment from a sharp edge, a fire ember or just heavy wear. When you're thru-hiking and in the middle of nowhere, the last thing you need to do is deal with a busted sleeping pad. 

  • Can Be Noisy: Some inflatable pads are ‘crinkly’ right out of the package. A lot of hikers ship their pads back to the manufacturer because they are "too noisy". However, just like most new gear, it only needs a lil’ tender lovin' to break in. After a few nights, the noise should be gone entirely. 

therm-a-rest uberliteTherm-a-Rest Uberlite

FOAM PADS: Lightweight and Long-Lasting

Foam pads are made of soft foam or padded material, similar to a yoga mat. They are often called "closed-cell pads" because they are made of closed air cells. These pads either roll, collapse or fold up. Some have grooves, while others use an eggshell design to add comfort. They are very 

  • Fast and Easy to Set Up: Just throw it down and spread your sleeping bag on top. Super convenient after an exhausting day pushing long miles.

  • Indestructible: You can relax on a foam pad by the fire and don't have to worry about an ember flying out and popping it. Same thing for rocky or jagged surfaces. No maintenance whatsoever.

  • Multi-Functional: Some ultralight backpacks are designed to have a foam pad slide into their back panel and act as a pack frame. The poles of a pack can add several ounces to your load which can make utilizing a foam pad all the more awesome.

  • Cheap: Usually less, if not a lot less, than $50.

  • Bulky: They often take up too much room to even fit inside your bag. Therefore, most hikers have them tied down outside of their pack - on top or flopping around underneath the bottom. This leaves them exposed to the elements most all of the time... which can be an issue when raining and your pad is not 100% waterproof.

  • Can Be Uncomfortable: Some hikers just can’t sleep on them. Despite being super bulky, the foam is usually still very thin and/ or stiff. Some people feel its like sleeping on the floor. Others actually prefer the stiff sleep. 

sleeping pads attached to a backpack


best ultralight sleeping pad

THERM-A-REST: NeoAir Uberlite

Weight: 8.8 oz

R-Value: 2.3

Price: $195

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite is hands down one of the best ultralight backpacking pads on the market. Simply put, this mattress has a superb warmth-to-weight ratio, which makes it the lightest 3 season air mattress available. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite is 2.5 inches thick with a tapered design to keep weight at a minimum. It packs down to the size of a 1-liter water bottle, so you won't have any problem stuffing this one into your pack. A soft-touch outer fabric plus a baffled internal structure provide stability, support, and above all, mega comfort for a good night's sleep.

Not only is it comfortable, but it's warm enough for summer hiking. The Triangular Core Matrix™ construction uses two stacked layers of triangle-shaped baffles to efficiently trap radiating heat. A new high-flow WingLock valve and a pump sack make it easier than ever to inflate. If you are looking for a bit more warmth without adding too much weight, take a look at the lightweight Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad or the insulated Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm.

See on thermarest.com
best ultralight sleeping pad


Weight: 15 oz

R-Value: 6.9

Price: $255

The NeoAir XTherm isn't the lightest pack on our list but it does an outstanding job at balancing warmth with weight and comfort. It inflates to a cushy 2.5-inches and boasts of a 6.9 r-value, making it suitable for three-season use and beyond. You can use it alone most of the hiking season and then pair it with a foam pad like the Z Lite Sol when you need some extra insulation in the winter. A full-length pad, the NeoAir XTherm, is perfect for those who prefer to sleep on their backs or their sides. Unlike many ultralight sleeping pads that feel flimsy, the XTherm feels durable. You don't have to baby it, just be careful not to place it on sharp rocks or sticks. Just like the Uberlite, the Xtherm has Therm-A-Rest's new WingLock valve and pump sack that makes inflation a breeze.

See on thermarest.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

SEA TO SUMMIT:  UltraLight

Weight: 13.9 oz

R-Value: 1.0

Price: $130

The Sea to Summit Ultralight is surprisingly comfy and super sleek. It has won all sorts of awards a few years ago and has become one of the best selling pads on the market. This high-quality sleeping pad comes with air-sprung cells that act like individual mini coils from a bed mattress to evenly distribute weight and mold around the curves of your body. This design not only provides a great night's sleep, but it also adds durability that is often lacking in other mats. The Sea to Summit Ultralight is praised far and wide for its quality workmanship.

The Ultralight pad from Sea to Summit ships with a multi-function valve that is unparalleled. Unlike other valves that are all or none, the multi-function valve allows you to adjust the pressure even when you are on the mat. If the pad is a little too firm., you can easily let out a little air until you hit that comfort spot. Bonus, you don't have to worry about any internal bacterial growth due to it being treated with an antimicrobial compound on the inside. Our only gripe is the insulation—there is a none. The Sea to Summit Ultralight is genuinely a warm weather sleeping pad. If you need something warmer, consider going with the insulated version.

See on rei.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

KLYMIT: Static V Lightweight

Weight: 18.7 oz

R-Value: 1.3

Price: $55

Praised as an affordable, lightweight, and inflatable mat, the Static V has become extremely popular. Sure it is a few ounces heavier than others on the list, but it is a fraction of the price. It's also very durable with a 74D shell that protects it from most ground hazards.

It's chambered design makes it easy to inflate, requiring only 10-15 breaths to fill it with air. It is very comfortable to sleep on thanks to its side rails that help keep you centered on the pad. For convenience, the Static V has an adjustable valve for easy airflow control. For its price point, it can't be beaten. The mat also includes a stuff sack, a patch kit, and a lifetime warranty. Similar to the Sea to Summit Ultralight, the Static V is not great for cold weather. You'll be warm and comfortable in the summer months. Once you hit late fall or winter, you'll need to buy the insulated version.

See on klymit.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

THERM-A-REST: Foam Z Lite Sol

Weight: 14 oz

R-Value: 2.0

Price: $45

With a price tag under $50, the Therm a Rest Foam Z Lite Sol is a must-have for those fast-packing on a budget. It is a closed-cell foam pad made with an egg-crate mold, so make sure you know what you are getting. It may be indestructible, but it will be thinner than an inflatable pad. Some people find the foam pads tough to sleep on, especially a side sleeper. Tall people also may find that their feet dangle off the end. There is a longer 72 -inch version available, but the shorter one is lighter and significantly more packable.

Packing the Z Lite Sol is not so easy. You usually strap the pad to the outside of your pack, so you have to cover it when it rains. The Z Lite's most significant advantage is that it is puncture-proof. Short of ripping it out of anger, your sleeping pad will always be ready when you need it. It also can be used as a ground layer along with an inflatable pad in winter conditions.

See on amazon.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

NEMO: Tensor

Weight: 15 oz

R-Value: 3.5

Price: $160

The Tensor is the lightest air mattress under the Nemo brand. It is constructed from high-quality 20-denier fabric to create a load of durable comfort... and it will still pack up as small as your water bottle. This comes with a big air-chamber - a good thing for those wanting a 3-inch loft or a potential headache for those with tired lungs. The fabric is low-stretch, eliminating any springiness. A layer of aluminized film lines the middle to help trap your body heat. It comes with a repair kit, stuff sack, and compression straps.

See on amazon.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

NEMO: Switchback

Weight: 14.5 oz

R-Value: 2.0

Price: $50

The Z Lite Sol from Therm-A-Rest had the corner on the market until Nemo came in with a worthy competitor, the Switchback. Just like the Z Lite Sol, the Nemo Switchback is a closed-cell foam pad. Both fold compactly and have a heat-reflecting film on one side for warmth. Because they are foam, they are nearly indestructible. What differentiates the two sleeping pads is the depth of their egg crates. The Switchback has taller nodes/ridges than the Z Lite Sol. These bigger bumps provide additional airspace to trap warm air. They also make the Switchback thicker than the Z Lite Sol, 0.9-inches for the Nemo and 0.75 for the Sol, which makes the Switchback more comfortable for sleeping.

The shortcomings for the Switchback are the same as the Sol. At 72-inches long, the Switchback may be too short for someone very tall. Even though it is more comfortable than the Sol, it still is not as plush as the inflatable pads. This extra comfort may not be enough for Side sleepers who often prefer the cushioning of an inflatable pad. Durability is top-notch as the Switchback is constructed with abrasion-resistant foam. It should last you a lifetime as long as you don't cut it accidentally or snag it on a sharp branch. Like most foam pads, the Switchback is warm enough for three-season use, but you should pair it with an inflatable mat when the temperatures hover near or below the freezing mark.

See on rei.com
best ultralight sleeping pad


Weight: 17 oz

R-Value: 32°F

Price: $150

A rectangular and super cushy inflatable sleeping pad, the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX is like sleeping on air in the backcountry. With 4-inches of thickness, this pad gets the award for providing the most comfortable sleep. The I-beam channels are designed to contour your body and help you stay on the pad even when you toss and turn. If you're a side sleeper, this should be at the top of your list. Not only is it puffy, but it also has a quilted top that's soft on your skin. It's as close to a warm flannel sheet as you're going to get while sleeping in the remote woods.

Super lightweight and compact, this sleeping pad is warm enough for three-season backpacking trips. It has a reflective layer that helps keep you warm and an antimicrobial treatment to resist mold on the inside of the pad. It feels durable and should provide years of happy sleeping in the backcountry. Big Agnes also sells an insulated version for those who like to dabble with winter backpacking

See on amazon.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

EXPED: Synmat UL

Weight: 16.8 oz

R-Value: 2.9

Price: $170

The Exped Synmat UL is a rock solid sleeping pad from a company that stands behind its products. It is fast and easy to inflate, thanks to its included pump sack that fills the pad in a few minutes. Unlike other pads that are narrow and constrictive, the Synmat is 25-inches wide, providing ample room to move on the mat and not fall off. It also is covered in a grip-skin external layer to prevent the pad from slipping and sliding around the tent at night.

The Synmat is slightly more expensive than others on the list, but a few benefits justify this extra cost. The pad ships with a pump sack that doubles as a stuff sack. There's no additional weight, and you can inflate your pump quickly. Unlike most modern inflatable pads, the Exped has dual vents - one for inflating and one for fast deflating. You'll have your camp set up and broken down in an instant. Another selling point of the Exped Synmat is its five-year warranty. If anything breaks because of a defect in materials or workmanship, Exped will repair or replace it.

See on amazon.com
best ultralight sleeping pad


Weight: 6 oz

R-Value: 2.27

Price: $24

The Gossamer Gear Nightlite is a sleeping pad for the serious ultralight crowd. It's a pure torso length sleeping mat and a super affordable one at that. All you need for a good night's sleep is a pillow for your head and something under your feet.

It is a foam pad, so you have all the expected drawbacks and benefits -- it's thin, but light and will last forever. Because it is torso length, it packs very quickly in a pack. If you own a compatible Gossamer Gear pack, the Nightlite doubles as frame support, it conveniently slides into the pack's two mini back-sleeves. The closed cells are comfortable against your back, but they don't breathe very well. Expect to have a sweaty back when you take off your pack. Because you can use it as a sleeping pad and a pack frame, the Nightlite is generally more durable than other egg-crate pads.

See on gossamergear.com
best ultralight sleeping pad

REI: Flash 3-Season

Weight: 16 oz

R-Value: 3.2

Price: $100

Worthy of an honorable mention, this mummy-shaped sleeping pad provides an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio for a reasonable price. It lands just at a pound in weight with tapered head and feet to reduce pack size. Because it is tapered, it is not the widest pad on the market. If you have broad shoulders or like some room while you sleep, this is not the pad for you.

The Flash 3-season has two flat valves: 1 for inflation and 1 for deflation, so it is easily adjustable for your desired level of stiffness. The REI Flash 3-Season pad comes with dual-fiber insulation and a reflective layer efficiently welded through the interior for increased stability and comfort. It is 2 inches thick for a cozy night's sleep and plenty warm for warm-weather backpacking. If you are going to do some winter camping, you may want to consider the REI Flash Insulated, which is wider thanks to its rectangular cut, heavier (1 lb 4oz), and a bit warmer (R-value 4.7).

See on rei.com


PACKABILITY: When packed, it should not be bigger than a 1 liter water bottle.

Some of these can fit inside of a Nalgene bottle. The extra pack space is much appreciated, especially considering some models can take up nearly half of a pack’s volume. If you don’t like the idea of strapping your pad on the outside of your pack, get a pad that packs down tiny.

packed sleeping pads

DURABILITY: Choosing the appropriate pad type for your terrain

Durability is critical when you are choosing a pad. Think about the conditions where you will be backpacking. Will it be hard-packed dirt or a shelter floor? If so, you can choose an inflatable pad and enjoy the comfort of sleeping on air. If your terrain is rocky, rooty, or filled with other sharp objects, then a closed-cell foam pad is a better choice as it can't be punctured.

THICKNESS: More comfort means additional ounces.

Thickness is one factor that makes a pad comfortable. The thicker the pad, the more cushion it will provide from the hard ground and the more comfortable it will be. Remember, a thicker pad will be slightly heavier and will require significantly more breaths to fill it with air. Find that sweet spot between weight, convenience, and comfort.

foam sleeping pads of different thicknessFour foam sleeping pads of difference thickness. 

LENGTH: Consider "halving it".

An easy way to shave (quite literally) weight off your sleeping pad is by getting a smaller mat. Most ultralight backpackers get a mat that covers from their head down to their knees - electing to have their feet hang off the end or on top of the actual backpacking bag.

Big Agnes Q-core SLXBig Agnes Q-Core SLX

WIDTH: Must fit in your tent.

Most sleeping pads are 20-inches wide, providing just enough room for a single person. They also are sized to fit comfortably inside an ultralight two-person tent. Some pads are wider, 25-inches, but you should measure your tent to make sure they fit, especially if you are trying to squeeze in two people each night.

Consider rounding off the corners.

Rectangular or oval. The extra corners from a rectangular shape can be nice if you roll around around a lot, like to spread your arms around your head and underneath your pillow, or like to spread your legs out. Otherwise, the oval shape works just dandy and can save a little weight and space.

Related: 7 Best Ultralight Backpacking Pillows

hiker sitting on a sleeping pad

EASE OF INFLATION: No huge air chambers.

Some pads are like small air mattresses—prioritizing elevated comfort over all else. This is great if you like a huge amount of cushion. However, as mentioned above, getting that large mass of air into the pad's chamber can be a huge lung-exhausting chore and leave you lightheaded. Go for a medium amount of air—enough to get you off the ground, but not too much where you feel like you are rolling around on a cloud.

inflation valveTherm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm


There are two kinds of inflatable pads: manual and self-inflating.

  • Manual: Blow air into them manually using good ‘ole lung power. Manual pads can be squished down to the size of a soda can but require a fair amount of lung power to re-inflate. They also can mold on the inside since you are using your breathe to inflate them. Some pads also now come with a stuff sack that doubles as an inflation device. These inflation sacks are better than using your breath, but it still takes some time and effort to fill the pad with air.

  • Self-inflating: Unroll the pad and it automatically fills up with air. These are easier to use but a heavier and bulkier option.  

hiker inflating a sleeping pad using an inflation sackUsing a pump sack to inflate the Sea to Summit Ultralight sleeping pad. 


Some sleeping pads come complete with extra items, such as: 

  • Repair Kit. Handy if you do get a hole. Most inflatable mattresses come with one.

  • Pump Sack. If you do go for one of those big, airy pads, these can significantly help save time and lung power. Just one extra thing to carry though.

  • Inflation Valve. We love one-handed valves that pop open instead of twist. Some have this button-like one-way deflation option that is super helpful when optimizing the level of desired inflation.

  • Rails. Worst case you roll off inside your tent. These are, quite frankly, unnecessary.

Maintenance and Care


If you have a hole in your sleeping pad, you can easily patch it. First, find the hole by submerging the inflated pad in water. Follow the bubbles until you find the puncture. Now, dry that area thoroughly and mark it.

Clean the area around the puncture you have marked with an alcohol wipe. When the alcohol is dry, put a thin layer of silicone seam sealer over the area around the puncture. You want about a two-centimeter circle of seam sealer. Now, stick a piece of Gorilla tape, gear tape, or one of the patches that came with your sleeping pad on top of the seam sealer.


Wash your sleeping pad by hand using a mild soap. Using a bathtub to wash your pad will be easiest, too, since your pad will fit nicely in the tub. Dish soap or Dr. Bronner’s will work well for this. Inflate your pad before washing it as this will make it easier to scrub, too. Grab a sponge and lightly scrub your pad until it looks cleaner. Now rinse, and let it dry.


To pack your sleeping pad, lie down on top of it and open the air valve. Most of the air should now be removed. Go down to the end of the pad opposite the valve and start rolling it up. Use your forearm to push all the air out of the pad as you roll it. When you get to the end, roll the pad in the direction perpendicular to how you just rolled it, towards the valve again. You should now have a tightly rolled sleeping pad shaped like a cinnamon roll. Close the valve so your pad stays tightly rolled. Now, pack it in whatever way works best for your setup.

Chris Cage photo

About Chris Cage

By Chris Cage Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.
Stoveless Backpacking Meals
  • 650-Calorie Fuel
  • No Cooking
  • No Cleaning