Whether sleeping in a tent, under the stars or suspended in a hammock, a sleeping pad is an integral piece of gear for ultimate comfort to ensure you’re well rested and ready for a day of adventuring. Active Junky testers spent nights splayed on the ground, stretched over some of the best camping pads from top outdoor brands.
Photo: Aaron Bible
In this sleeping pads review and buyer’s guide, we’ll help you narrow down your choices when selecting the best sleeping pad for your nights in nature.
Sleeping Pad Brands Reviewed
- Big Agnes
- Sea to Summit
How to Choose the Best Sleeping Pad
Because most sleeping pads aren’t a huge investment, you won’t need to necessarily find a one-pad-fits-all model. And often, different situations require a different pad. Here are three questions to consider before deciding on a camp pad.
Photo: Aaron Bible
Where will you be sleeping?
Are you a car camper or a backpacker? This is a first major consideration as weight and bulk are a large factor when packing into the backcountry, but may not be a worry if you’re pull up car camping. Will you mostly be sleeping in a large family tent? A tighter two-person tent? Or even a bivy or hammock with zero extra room? This consideration will affect the size and shape of pad you want.
What are the weather conditions?
Are you a fair-weather camper, or are you die-hard and ready to shovel snow to create your basecamp area? If the latter, definitely look into an insulated sleeping pad, which while adds some bulk will help ensure you have a comfortable night’s sleep. If summer and shoulder season camping are more your style, you can consider an uninsulated pad to save space or even a beefier option for more padding.
How much use will your sleeping pad get?
Are you going out for one big night, or for a multi-day backpacking trip? Or are you in the middle, sleeping in nature a handful of times each year? This consideration can affect your budget and quality of pad, as you don’t need to invest in the highest quality and performance pad if you won’t get your money’s worth in use. On the other hand, if you’re planning on hiking the PCT, investment grade is not a bad idea.
When evaluating sleeping pads, testers considered five attributes that all camp pads should exhibit, and all do to one extent or another. Each pad stood out in one attribute, which is listed in each camp pad review below.
Photo: Aaron Bible
Performance: More than just how high performing the pad is, we also considered how well it performed its intended use, including warmth of insulated pads and comfort of lightweight pads, and how each component performed, including how easily it inflated and deflated, and how well the valves or pumps performed.
Design: This considers thought behind size, shape, technology and additional features. How well does it pack down and back to its original shape? How does its weight to comfort ratio compare with similar pads?
Durability: This is not only a measure of quality, but also plays in to overall design, feature set, and value. Ultralight pads can only be so durable, but if the designers chose fabrics carefully, and if you’re willing to pay for it, they can last for years. At the same time, a less expensive, lower-performance pad may be extremely durable, but also very heavy.
Innovation: Incremental innovation is fairly common in outdoor industry products, as every year we strive to get better, lighter, tougher, but innovation means any advances in design, technology or construction that make our outdoor experiences better.
Features: Every pad has its feature set, some that are standard and some that make it unique. Yet some sleeping pads have other features or a combination of features that help it stand apart from the pack – and then make way into your pack.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX
Best Lightweight Insulated Sleeping Pad
The Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX is an improved model in which the brand upped the insulation and padding while still maintaining a compact and lightweight camping pad. The insulation makes it a top performer in three seasons, and one that could tackle many winter scenarios. The padding also makes this a great choice for uneven ground where rocks may sneak under you in the night.
Pros: At 4.5 inches think, this Big Agnes camp pad provides plenty of airy cushioning. Testers noted the quilted construction worked better than typical baffles, and WRM HL synthetic insulation offers a lofty boost of warmth without adding too much weight or bulk – the regular length weighs in at 1 pound, one of the lightest we tested.
Cons: While this newer model has improved inflation and deflation from previous models, it’s still a big pad and will require a few dozen breaths to inflate. And while it is lightweight, it’s less compact than other lightweight sleeping pads.
Bottom Line: With an extra inch of insulation from the previous model, the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX boosts you off the ground and allows for comfort at even lower temperatures.
Best for: Three-season camping and backpacking when temperatures threaten to drop below freezing.
Key Attribute: Performance
Sea to Summit UltraLight Mat
Best Minimalist Sleeping Pad
In the backpacking world where smaller and more compact design is a challenge accepted, Sea to Summit offers the UltraLight Mat. While this pad has been on the market for a few years, it’s still a top purchasing choice for many the minimalist backpacker, and any camper looking to cut down on ounces and save space.
Pros: The UltraLight Mat weighs in at under 14 ounces and packs down smaller than the size of a soda can. If you’re an ultralight backpacker, there’s little more to say. But there is, because it’s also comfortable for how little support there is thanks to Air Sprung Cell design. The one-way valve worked splendidly with inflation and deflation, and there were zero issues packing this lightweight sleeping pad back down to its original size.
Cons: Don’t expect this pad to keep you warm. With an R-Value of 0.7, this pad won’t hold in much of any heat, and nights with temperatures below 40 to 50 degrees could prove to be quite uncomfortable.
Bottom Line: This Sea to Summit sleeping pad is not much to look at, in the best possible way. It’s just about the lightest and most compact sleeping pad you’re going to find on the market.
Best for: Light and fast packing, minimalist trekking, summer camping and hammocking
Key Attribute: Design
Big Agnes Insulated Double Z
Big Agnes loaded this sleeping pad full of features, including quilted top, anti-microbial treatment, larger outer chambers, integrated heat reflective technology to name a few. The single two-piece valve port allows for effective inflation and relatively easy deflation. This Big Agnes sleeping pad works perfectly with the Big Agnes Sleep System, keeping your insulation on top of you instead of under you.
Pros: This Big Agnes camp pad is the definition of comfort. Internal stabilizer construction disperses air and weight evenly so you’ll feel firmly in place even at full inflation. With superlight nylon rip-stop top and bottom, it’s extreme durability, which is a bonus with a pad this comfy.
Cons: This camping pad is not the lightest in the bunch. At 24 ounces, it weighs more than the BA Insulated Q-Core, and also required 70 large breaths from our testers to fully inflate.
Bottom Line: Comfort comes at the price of ounces with this camp pad, but it is comfortable, durable and loaded with features.
Best for: Campers who prefer a bit more cushioning and don’t mind packing the extra weight
Key Attribute: Features
Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe
The unique style and design of Klymit’s Insulated Static V Luxe surprised and impressed Active Junky testers with the amount of comfort it provided. The ergonomic body mapping design and trademark Klymit channels limited air movement and heat loss. Serious insulation makes this a burly albeit bulkier camping pad, but one that will keep its occupant toasty.
Pros: Synthetic insulation in this Klymit pad offers a warm and comfortable 4.4 R-value rating, which means this can function as a four-season sleeping pad in temperatures as low as the single digits. Oversized rails help keep you in place, as does the chamber design that further provides stability. Double valves make for quick inflation and deflation as well.
Cons: The weight and bulk may deter some campers — at 35 ounces, many backpackers will not choose to pack this camp pad. While the pad blew up quickly, it was a bit awkward to fold back up to its original packed size.
Bottom Line: This Klymit pad may be a bit overkill for many situations, but for those whom warmth and comfort cannot be compromised, the Insulated Static V Luxe is a great choice.
Best for: Four-season camping when the need for insulation and warmth outweighs ounces
Key Attribute: Design
Klymit Static V2
Klymit’s lightest weight standard adult sleep pad is the Static V2. Lightweight and rugged 30D polyester on top and 75D on the bottom make this a durable camp pad without weighing down your bag. The body mapping and V chamber designs make the Static V2 incredibly comfortable, especially for the weight.
Pros: At one pound that packs down to the size of a soda can, the Static V2 is all about saving space and weight. Klymit’s V-chambers are designed for body mapping to maximize comfort and support while side rails keep your body from sliding off. It quickly inflates with about 15 breaths, and the valve system opens and closes without air loss.
Cons: No insulation and an R-Value of 1.3 mean that this pad is not going to get you through all four seasons or even harsher shoulder seasons.
Bottom Line: If weight is a deciding factor for you, the Static V2 is the pad for you. It’s also compact and durable, so a great backcountry companion.
Best for: Light and fast summer backpacking and camping
Key Attribute: Design
NEMO Vector 20R
The NEMO Vector 20R sleeping pad is a premium product that’s lightweight and meant for true trekking endeavors. It comes with NEMO’s Spaceframe lateral baffles and is constructed of quiet, non-stretch fabric that eliminates some of the bounciness found in other pads. At just over one pound, you get a lot – including a weightless integrated foot pump that doubles as a tiny pillow while barely adding to the pack size.
Pros: The Vector’s contoured and embossed surface is unique, turning typical horizontal baffles into NEMO’s low-stretch Spaceframe system. Though this sleeping pad is not insulated, it has a metalized layer to insulate to a point and hold in heat. The foot pump, while not a powerful as old fashioned lung power, is a nice bonus.
Cons: Without insulation, this pad won’t make it on your coldest of adventures. It’s also a bit more expensive than similar non-insulated sleeping pads.
Bottom Line: Testers loved this pad for both comfort and compactabilty. While it’s not the smallest sleeping pad we reviewed, it’s close. And it’s stacked with features.
Best for: Three-season backpacking and camping when you want to save some space and weight
Key Attribute: Features
Therm-A-Rest Trail King SV
Therm-a-Rest’s Trail King SV combines the brand’s unique SpeedValve with internal AirFrame padding. The speed valve is a large open passageway into which you blow air from six inches away to fill the pad, and with self-inflating foam, this sleeping pad inflates quickly while reversing the speed valve allows for speedy deflation.
Pros: The V-shaped chambers inflate and provide comfort while the internal AirFrame padding offers support, especially along the spine as the padding runs the center length of the pad. An R-Value of 1.8 means this pad can handle summer and milder shoulder-season camping.
Cons: The SpeedValve can be tricky to get the hang of at first, but works well after, though testers didn’t note inflation being significantly quicker than other models. At nearly two pounds, it’s not the lightest sleeping pad we reviewed, nor is it as compact as some others.
Bottom Line: The Trail King SV is a comfortable, middle-of-the-road sleeping pad in weight, compactability and performance with a reasonable price tag.
Best for: Through hiking; summer to shoulder-season camping and backpacking
Key Attribute: Innovation
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite
This little yellow beauty is a three-season, popular and value-laden sleeping pad that really changed the game when it first came out and is still a top selling product from Therm-A-Rest. Packing down to the size of a one-liter bottle, thousands of thru hikers, backpackers, alpine climbers, boy scouts, and other backcountry enthusiasts are huge fans of the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite.
Pros: Size and weight, or the lack thereof, are huge pluses with this Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad. With the regular length’s weight a mere 12 ounces, this is one of lightest pads on the market, and the lightest pad we reviewed. To keep that weight down but still provide warmth, Therm-A-Rest included reflective ThermaCapture technology to trap and reflect your body heat.
Cons: Testers noted this sleep pad’s small footprint, which is the nature of the beast with ultra lightweight sleeping pads. It’s also a bit bouncy when fully inflated, and a lack of sidewalls makes it easier to slip off.
Bottom Line: This pad was a game changer when it came out, and it’s still a favorite in the camping world, particularly with its simple design that’s made to be strong, warm and very lightweight.
Best for: Light and fast backpacking when every ounce counts
Key Attribute: Innovation