Whether you’re camping in your mate’s lounge or are 6050m up at K2 Base Camp, a restful night sleep is critical for both function and enjoyment. The best way to achieve that glorious shuteye is with an inflatable sleeping pad. As such, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best sleeping pads for backpacking.
We’ve roughed it enough times in the military to know that you may get away with sleeping one night on the floor, but any more than that and performance starts to suffer dramatically.
Comfort aside, a decent sleeping pad will provide you with fantastic insulation from the ground. In colder environments this property becomes important for both a good night’s sleep and for safety.
With such good pads now available, you really are doing yourself a disservice if you leave home without one.
Our top 5 picks have been chosen for: Best all-round, warmest, lightest, most cost effective and most comfortable.
Weight: 340g R-Value: 3.2 Packed size: 23cm x 10cm
Best for: All round fantastic performance
The XLite is suitable for everyone. The weight is perfect for lightweight operators, the insulative properties make it a highly competent three-season choice. The comfort levels are up there with the very best pads and the packed size is more than reasonable for the features it boasts.
However, this beast comes at a premium and it makes a bit of noise when you scoot around on it. People complain about the noise, but it’s really not that bad and certainly not a deal breaker for us. Lightweight, three-season users will have a hard time finding anything better than this.
Weight: 570g R-Value: 5.7 Packed size: 28cm x 11cm
Best for: Warmth
The XTherm was designed for cold weather, according to Therm-a-rest it provides ‘more warmth per gram than any other air mattress in the world’. While this may be true, it won’t warm you up like a heater if your cold. But it does give you the best chance of keeping what warmth you do have in serious conditions.
In essence this is the XLite but with a thicker bottom skin, it’s still a bit noisy to move around on but the pros massively outweigh this matter of contention. The 5.7 R-value is no gimmick, this really is the best pad available when four-season adventuring is on the agenda. The only choice for extreme cold.
Weight: 241g R-Value: 1 Packed size: 7.6cm x 15.2cm
Best for: Ultralight backpacking
Although it looks like you’d just fall through the gaps and end up sleeping on the floor, the X Frame is actually comfy. This pad is very light (241g!!!) and packs down so small. As a result, it has won itself the title of, the most compact full-length backpacking pad ever developed.
The X Frame is quick to inflate with about 5-6 breaths or by using the included pump. However, it’s not best suited for side sleepers! On your side, you don’t quite have the same experience as on a ‘non-porous’ pad. Additionally, make sure you sleep on it the right way around…
So, for those ultralight trekkers, this thoughtful design will suit you down to the ground (pun intended). Due to its agile size, it works really nicely inside sleeping bags.
Sea to Summit
Weight: 480g R-Value: 3.3 Packed size: 10cm x 23cm
Best for: Comfort
This pad offers similar all-round performance to the Therm-a-rest Xlite. It features a very good valve, agreeable R-value at 3.3 and weighs in for a bit less cash than its competitor.
We like how the valve allows one-way airflow for inflating, micro adjust for fine tuning and then a dump for quick deflation. Our only real gripes being that it’s slightly noisy when manoeuvring and how easy it is to ‘bottom out’. There are no problems when lying down however, when sitting/kneeling you can feel the ground at times. But don’t let this put you off, the pad boasts a host of features for its very worthy price.
Weight: 471g R-Value: 1.3 Packed size: 7.6cm x 20.3cm
Best for: Budget
Klymit are really shaking up the outdoor sleeping industry with their innovative creations. The Static V2 is no exception. For a remarkably low cost, you can pick up a truly superb and unique looking pad.
The V-shape is comfortable and accommodates side sleepers. What’s worth mentioning though is that the air channels between cells means you can ‘bottom out’ when moving about or sitting/kneeling (again no probs when lying down). The Static V2 offers a respectable R-value for warmer nights, making it a perfect partner for summer trips and two-season climates.
For colder weather, Klymit offer an insulated version, which is reported to see you comfortably into the three to four-season boundary.
Here are a few extra considerations that might help when choosing your next sleeping pad.
- Width – size matters! If you are a side sleeper, a standard size or thinner size pad will likely suit. However, those back and front sleepers be wary of your arms not fitting on. If you are unsure always get the larger size pad – a more comfortable sleep is more than worth the few extra grams of weight.
- Warmth – the R-value is a great guideline, but of course as with all important sleeping gear, everyone is different so make sure to trial your gear before heading into the snow! As a baseline consider R 0-2.5 for two-season conditions, R 2.5-4.5 for three-season and R 4.5+ for 4-season. Anything involving snow should necessitate an R-value of greater than 5.
- Punctures – unfortunately all inflatables are not immune from damage and ultimately puncture, even if the kindest of care is exercised. As such make sure you carry a repair kit at all times. Alternatively, we carry Gorilla Tape which works extremely well for most situations.
- One size does not fit all – we make sure to report on all of our equipment selections as comprehensively as possible. But it’s paramount to remember that there is rarely a single ‘best’ choice. What works well for us might not work quite as well for you. We just hope that our analysis enables you to come to the best conclusions that allow you to make the most suitable decision for you.
Hopefully this guide has been of use to you. Once you have a quality sleeping pad, you’ll never look back. See you on the mountain.