Top 10 Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Car Camping in 2021

Dog camping in Tent

There are a LOT of sleeping pads on the market today- a confusing array really.  Here is a brief primer on the three types of sleeping pads followed by some recommendations for each. So- let’s take a look at a few of the best sleeping pads we tested throughout the year.

Here’s our picks of our favorite sleeping pads:

Best Air Sleeping Pads

Air pads range wildly in ideal use- from ultra light weight for backpacking to super luxe for ‘glamping’.  The common, and defining, feature is that these are fully inflatable. Many models come with some sort of a pump. Recent advances in design and technology have produced pads that are very high in insulation and very comfortable. These tend to be more expensive (depending on materials) than other type of pads. When they are punctured, they don’t work.  Repairs are not difficult- bring a kit.

Sleeping Pad for mountaineering, winter camping and backpacking

ThermaRest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad($254.95)

The NeoAir XTherm represents the Cadillac of the air pads.  It is very light (15 oz.), very warm (R value= 6.9) and very small (packed size is 4”x9”).  This pad comes with a stuff sac air pump and a repair kit. The internal baffle system reduces cold spots and keeps the air where you want it.  It does crinkle when you move around on it and a layer between the pad and the ground is recommended to protect against puncture.  The ThermaRest NeoAir XTherm is one of the more expensive pads at $214.95. If you backpack in cold weather however, this is a serious contender.

Best in Class

Big Agnes Insulated AXL Trail Boss Air Pad

Big Agnes insulated AXL Trail Boss Sleeping Pad – ($179.95)

Big Agnes is a relative newcomer to the outdoor gear industry and has built an outsized reputation in a short time.  Their AXL Trail Boss lives up to this. Big Agnes uses a PrimaLoft silver lining to produce an R-value of 4.4.  The pad measures 72”x20”x3.25” when inflated and packs down to 12.5”x5.5”. Their baffle system reduces cold spots and with a slightly larger baffle on the perimeter, it cradles you on the pad.  It uses an additional layer on the bottom increasing durability- and weight.  This pad weighs in at 34 oz. (size dependent). This pad is slightly less expensive at $179.95.

Winter Sleeping Pad - Klymit

Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad – ($119.95)

Klymit comes to the air pad game with an economical choice.  Its insulated Static V has a respectable R-value of 4.4 and weighs in at 25 oz. It has a unique V-shaped baffle pattern that lends comfort and reduces heat loss. It also has a larger perimeter baffle to keep you on the pad and measures 73”x20”x 2.5”. The Klymit Static V sleeping pad packs down to 5”x9” bundle; great for backpacking.  It is recommended price is $84.95 (including repair kit) making this the most economical choice in this market.

Best Value in Class 

Sleeping Pad from Sea to Summit

Sea-to-Summit Comfort Plus Insulated Sleeping Pad – ($199.95)

Sea-to-Summit added redundant air chambers to their pad addressing the biggest hazard of the inflatables- the mid-trip puncture wound. An upper air chamber can be inflated to the sleeper’s desire while the lower layer inflates to accommodate rough terrain.  If either one fails, the other is still intact. The compromise is weight- it weighs in at 30 oz. It packs down to a compact 5” x 9” and has an R-value of 5. Its treated nylon reduces the ‘crinkle noise’ issue cited with other air pads. The Sea-to-Summit Comfort Plus Insulated Sleeping Mat is among the more expensive at a $199.00 list price which includes a stuff sac air pump and repair kit.

REI Affordable Sleeping Pad

REI Flash Sleeping Pad –  ($139.00)

With an R-value of 4.7 and a weight of 20 oz (regular size), this REI Sleeping Pad is one to consider for longer three season backpacking trips. REI uses an alternating weld-through construction to make inflation and durability strong features of this pad. It also uses dedicated inflow and outflow valves to make inflation (fewer breaths!) and deflation (faster to flat!) easier. Packs to 5”x9” and inflates to 72”x20”x2”. The REI Flash Sleeping Pad is a mid-priced pad at $139.00 including stuff sack. Repair kit sold separately.

Best Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self-inflating pads, open cell foam wrapped in a nylon or polyester sleeve, offer more comfort and insulation than their closed cell cousins.  A valve allows air to enter the sleeve and a few breaths from you customize your pad firmness. Depending on the model, these pads can deflate down to a smaller more back-packable size though they tend to weigh more than a simple foam pad. They can puncture; though field repairs are not difficult. This does make this choice slightly less reliable than the closed cell pad. They represent the mid-range in cost.

Nemo Sleeping Pads

Nemo Roamer Sleeping Pad – ($229.95)

The Roamer is a ‘slab of comfort’.  This self-inflating pad has a great R-value.  It is 4” thick when inflated and weighs in at just under 4 pounds.  Inflated size is 76”x25”x4”; the packed size is 12.5” x8.5”. Other sizes are available. The top layer sports a soft 50D polyester surface making this a quiet and comfortable option.  There are toggle attachments on the sides to combine with another pad to make a queen sized bed.  The Neo Roamer Pad is for car camping or the back of the truck. Suggested price for the Roamer is $229.00 and includes a repair kit.

Most Comfort

Nemo Rover Sleeping Pad Affordable

Nemo Flyer – ($129.95)

This pad is a self-inflater for backpacking.  Weighing in at 23 oz with an R-value of 3.3, the Flyer will go into the mountains with you from late spring to early fall. It packs down to 6.5”x10” and, when fully inflated, is 2” thick. Constructed of lighter 20D nylon this shell will be more vulnerable to punctures but the open cell foam core means that you will still have comfort if that happens. The Flyer is a great compromise between the ultra light but vulnerable air pad and a more bulky traditional self-inflation pad. Retails for $129.95 and includes a repair kit.

Walmart Sleeping Pad

Ozark Trail Lightweight Insulated Self Inflating – ($26.95)

Ozark Trail is Walmart’s in-house brand of outdoor equipment. An inch and a half of lightweight polyurethane foam covered with a polyester sleeve comprises this pad. Inflated the pad measures 74”x24”x1.9” and weighs 38 oz. At slightly thinner than other pads and with an insulating layer absent, this pad will be best for warm weather camping, either from a car or with a cot. With a retail price of just $26.95 this Ozark Trail Sleeping Pad is a very affordable option for those just getting into camping or not venturing too far.

Most Economical

Best Closed Cell Sleeping Pads

Made of very dense foam, closed-cell foam pads are light, inexpensive and very reliable.  These pads won’t puncture and deflate when you are miles from the trailhead. They are also bulky and, let’s face it, the least comfortable of the three styles.

Closed Cell Foam Sleeping Pad

ThermaRest Z pad – ($39.95)

The Z pad is a great summer backpacker’s option.  It weighs in at a mere 14 oz and will never deflate under you in the middle of the night. Its packed size (20”x5”x5.5”) won’t go inside your pack; most likely it will live strapped to the outside where it is easy to access as a sitting pad at lunch! With an R-value of 2, this is a summer pad all the way. It is constructed with denser foam on the bottom layer to increase its comfort on uneven terrain. The Thermarest Z Rest Pad has a very approachable price of $34.95 (size dependent).

Most Reliable

Nemo Foam Sleeping Pad

Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad – ($49.95)

The Switchback is also a great summer sleeping option.  Also light at 14 oz with an R-value of 2 and a packed down size of 20”x5”x5.5”, the Z pad and Switchback are very similar. What sets this pad apart is the surface ‘node’ construction. This puts more air between the sleeper and the ground adding a higher coefficient of comfort to this pad. For the ultra weight conscious, Nemo makes a short pad that weighs a tiny 10 oz. Price for the standard sized Nemo Switchback Pad is $49.95.

Happy shopping and sweet dreams!

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About the Author

Lexey Wauters
Lexey is a lifelong skier, passionate river runner, intrepid trail runner and owns a ridiculous amount of sequined clothing for live music.

3 Comments on "Top 10 Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Car Camping in 2021"

  1. I like the format with best value, best in class, most reliable. Game changer

  2. Warning: The Thermalite pad is like sleeping on a bag of potato chips. Crinkle Crinkle Crinkle. It’s also really slippery to sleep on – ANY kind of pitch and you’re waking up on the ground. The exped symnat HL is a great alternative in a similar weight/price range that is quieter and has better pad/bag friction.

    • Louis,

      Thanks for the reply, spot on about the Thermalite. We tested one of their sleeping bags in combination which actually has straps built into the bag to go around the sleeping pad to essentially “hold everything in place” this Thermalite pad is best suited for the guy or gal wanting to go lite and fast.

      Thanks for the feedback.

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