Choosing the best backpacking sleeping pad might be overwhelming considering the millions of brands that are in the market today. In order to narrow down your choices, you’ll need to consider what type of activity you intend to use the sleeping pad.
For instance, if you’re just backpacking for a day or two versus backpacking for a week or more. You’ll also need to consider the type of materials used in the sleeping pad. These considerations will help you decide on the best backpacking sleeping pad that will provide you comfort and a good night’s sleep.
When considering the perfect sleeping pad for backpacking, you would want to have a small and light sleeping pad that you can pack and carry easily. At the same time, it should keep you warm and comfortable while you sleep.
Keep in mind that there is a wide variety of sleeping pads with different insulation, thickness, cushion, and weight. So your needs might differ depending on the type of activity you’re going to use it for. I have narrowed down the list to make it easier for you to decide which sleeping pad will best suit your needs.
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad Materials
There are three different types of sleeping pads namely self-inflating pads, closed-cell insulation foam pads, and air pads. These three types differ when it comes to body heat retention. You might see R-ratings or values in the pads which means that high R-values will keep you warmer on cold weather. It is also essential to pair a sleeping bag with a sleeping pad to achieve a warmer and more comfortable environment.
Closed-cell foam pads are durable and affordable. However, it’s tedious to maintain and clean these types of pads. These pads are lightweight and composed of tiny closed air cells. You can also use these pads as a support for your air pads. On the other hand, they are also stiff and a bit bulky.
Self-inflating pads are typically composed of open-cell foam insulation and air. When you open the valve, the foam expands and inflates the pad. These pads are more durable when compared to air pads. You can use them for different types of activities such as backpacking and camping.
Self-inflating pads are more durable than air pads. However, they’re considerably heavier but they are easy to pack and fit into your backpack. They also provide the perfect insulation and provides excellent warmth. They’re also versatile since you can add air or release air to achieve softness or firmness of the pad for comfort.
Air pads are lightweight and compact. Similar to self-inflatable pads, you can open the valve to release or add air to achieve the desired firmness. In fact, air pads are available in different insulation types. So you can choose the exact R-values for your specific needs.
However, air pads are more expensive and they are not durable as compared to self-inflating pads. Keep in mind that you can use an air pump to inflate your air pad aside from inflating the pad using your breath.
Backpacking Requirements For The Best Sleeping Pad
Backpacking requires a durable and lightweight sleeping pad. Since you’re going to carry most of the weight in your backpack, you don’t want to add a heavy sleeping pad to your already heavy backpack. Air pads or self-inflating sleeping pads are the best choices since they provide excellent insulation and you will be able to customize the firmness of the pad accordingly. They are also compact and you will be able to pack them easily inside your backpack.
Sleeping Pad Comfort And Rating
Sleeping comfortably on your outdoor adventures is the main reason why you need the perfect sleeping pad. Specifically, I would recommend air pads or self-inflating pads over the closed-cell foam pads. Air pads are versatile and you can adjust them according to your needs while closed-cell foam pads are not adjustable.
However, they can be a great support for your air pads or self-inflatable pads. Excellent cushioning is also a key factor and self-inflating pads provide excellent cushioning and are more stable when compared to air pads. Keep in mind that the higher the R-value of the sleeping pad, the better.
Sleeping Pad Weight
When it comes to backpacking, ultralight sleeping pads perform the best. It is also essential to pair your sleeping bag with your sleeping pad to achieve the best warmth and comfort. You might want to consider short closed-cell foam pads that are also lightweight.
Long-distance backpacking requires lightweight materials to avoid strain and fatigue while backpacking. However, some backpackers only consider the warmth and comfort of a sleeping pad. Some might only consider the price, setting aside the importance of lightweight material.
Sleeping Pad Length And Width
When choosing the right length and width of a sleeping pad, you’ll need to make sure that your shoulders and hips fit comfortably on the pad. This will provide warmth and comfort throughout your body. If you roll around in your sleep, then you might want to consider a wider sleeping pad. However, this may consume a little bit of space on your backpack.
Sleeping Pad Inflation Level
Typically, you can adjust the firmness of your pad with the inflation and deflation valve. Some pads offer separate inflation layers, which means that when the first layer fails or is damaged, you still have one layer to keep you warm and comfortable.
On the other hand, if you have more air in your sleeping pad, it will keep you warmer. The only downside is that it could get stiff and provide discomfort when sleeping. Consider a hand pump to help you inflate your sleeping pad so you won’t need to exert too much effort breathing through the valve.
Sleeping Pad Surfaces
In terms of sleeping pad surfaces, you’ll need to consider if you’re backpacking on a snowy environment or a loose, rocky surface. Try considering a textured sleeping pad. This will prevent your sleeping bag from sliding off the sleeping pad. On the other hand, rocks can also provide excellent insulation as compared to snow. You may also use dried leaves to provide additional cushion and comfort. Patch kits will come in handy just in case rough surfaces will damage your air pad.
Top 5 Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
The NeoAir XTherm from Therm-A-Rest is a four-season inflatable sleeping pad designed for backpacking as well as camping. This sleeping pad provides excellent warmth which is excellent for extremely cold weather conditions. Not only is this an ultralight pad but it also has ThermaCapture technology that traps radiant heat and at the same time, the Triangular Core Matrix construction prevents heat loss. You can pack this pad as small as a water bottle. One of the top features of this pad is the WingLock Valve that helps maximize airflow to inflate and deflate the pad effortlessly.
The Therm-A-Rest XLite is a three-season sleeping pad that has a tapered design. This is an ultralight pad and just like the XTherm, it has reflective ThermaCapture technology that traps heat and at the same time, the Triangular Core Matrix minimizes heat loss. The surface has a non-slip fabric to prevent you and your sleeping bag from sliding while sleeping. Similar to the XTherm, this pad is compact and you can also pack it as small as the size of a water bottle.
Sea To Summit Comfort Plus Insulated sleeping pad is a four-season sleeping pad that offers a maximum R-value of 5 warmth. It also features a dual-layer design for a more comfortable sleep and to ensure a backup layer. The Comfort Plus is also very easy to inflate through the multi-function valve and it also comes with an Airstream pump and a stuff sack to make it easier for you to pack and carry. The 40D Nylon fabric has an anti-microbial, liquid-extruded TPU lamination. The Exkin platinum fabric and Thermolite insulation prevent heat from escaping. The insulation materials provide excellent warmth and comfort.
Big Agnes Insulated Q Core SLX Air Chamber Sleeping Pad is built with a quilted top that provides excellent cushioning. The Core is built from durable and ultralight ripstop nylon fabric. The rugged and sturdy finish features an aviation-grade TPU lamination. This pad supports three seasons and provides multidirectional support and stability. The Core SLX is very easy to inflate using the pad inflation sack included. Best of all, it has an R-value of 3.2 and offers a PrimaLoft Silver insulation that doubles as a heat-reflective barrier for a more warm, comfortable sleep. On the other hand, you can also include a Big Agnes 3rd Degree foam pad for extra insulation.
The Exped SynMat HL is an extremely lightweight three-season sleeping pad that has a tapered design and microfiber insulation. The anti-slip GripSkin prevents you and your sleeping bag from sliding off the surface. It’s a bit expensive as compared to other sleeping pads. It comes with a Schnozzel pump bag that you can use to inflate the SynMat. However, this is a bit expensive compared to other lightweight three-season sleeping pads.
In summary, it all comes down to the specific backpacking activity that you’re planning to do. Clearly, the self-inflating pads and air pads are warmer, lighter, and more comfortable. There might be some questions in terms of durability. Most air pads have cover patches included just in case the sleeping pad leaks. The NeoAir XTherm and the XLite are probably the best choices when it comes to choosing the best backpacking sleeping pad. The ThermaCapture technology provides extra warmth and you’ll ultimately have a good night’s sleep.