Wide Open Spaces

The 9 Best Sleeping Pads for Camping

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It's not often that we lean into the concept of luxury in the outdoors. Often, getting outside means we're joining in on a rebuke of modern conveniences. But, if there's one area where we deserve indulgence everywhere, it's our bedding — especially so at the campsite. The technology and materials that are put into sleeping pads for camping have come leaps and bounds since the days when foam pads were all we had, and the outdoors is better for it. 

When you've got miles to go before you sleep, you need to be sure that by the time you get there, you'll be ready to start sawing wood when your head hits the pillow. Tossing and turning over rocks in the cold can ruin your sleep and the days that come after. Sleep pads may seem like a simple enough item, but there are loads of numbers and ratings that factor into their comparative qualities. So what are they, and how do you choose?

When considering your sleeping pad for camping, there are a few things to keep in mind. Price is an obvious concern, as is the overall weight of your unit (especially if you are counting a gram-by-gram backpack budget). The overall thickness of your sleep pad will be a strong determinant of your level of comfort, but so will the insulation. Just because a pad is thick doesn't mean it will be warm — and the thinnest camp beddings are not always the coldest. Use the pad's R-value to figure out if your sleep pad will be in a temperature range that's suited to your camping needs.

With R-values, thickness, and cushion in mind, here are our picks for the top camping sleep pads.

1. It's a Bed on Wheels

Therm-a-Rest Luxury Map Sleeping Pad - Backcountry, $159.95+

  • Self-inflating
  • 3-inch of cushion
  • 6.8 R-Value

If you have the bit of extra space that car camping allows, then we suggest you opt for Therm-a-Rest's Luxury Map sleeping pad. The urethane foam has one of the higher R-Values on this list, rating it great for cold weather camping, and that's not even the best part.

Relying on what Backcountry refers to as "advance pressure mapping technology," the Luxury Map pairs high and low-density foams with an extra air pocket on the top. The extra padding is positioned at key pressure points and makes the ultimate comfort pad for side-sleepers, back-sleepers, the tossers, and the turners. We chose it for car camping as it's somewhat of a heavier cushion, so thru-hikers and backpackers worried about counting grams might find it over budget.

2. Best Camping Sleep Pad for Backpackers

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad - Amazon, $169.95+

  • Air pad
  • 2.5-inch thickness
  • R-value of 4.2

If a long stay in the backcountry is your intention, then you need a sleeping pad that meets the intersection of utility and comfort. Though there will always be trade-offs in this consideration (would you rather have 1.5-inches more cushion if it meant half the insulation?) but the NeoAir XLite works to mitigate them. The mummy cut of this sleeping pad comes in four different sizes, weighing from an 8 oz. minimum to 15 oz. at the longest. When packed down, it becomes the size of a Nalgene bottle. But don't sleep on this sack just because of the size; Therm-a-Rest's proprietary tech is the stuff of daydreams.

Start with the WingLock valve, a corridor that maximizes airflow for inflation and deflation. I.e., you won't have to blow a lung out, pumping up your sleeping pad. While that might breeze the NeoAir to the top of the list, it's the heat capture technology that truly shines here. Therm-a-Rest's Triangular Core Matrix minimizes convective heat loss, while the Reflective ThermaCapture wrangles in radiant heat and keeps it close. Does this sound like science class? Well, it just so happens that was our favorite time to nap in school, and the NeoAir XLite will have the same effect.

3. It's All About the Layers

NEMO Equipment Switchback Sleeping Pad - Backcountry, $44.95+

  • Closed-cell foam
  • 2.0 R-value 
  • Ultra-tall nodes

One of the common complaints about our choice for the backpackers' sleeping pad (the NeoAir XLite) is that there's not enough to it. For rough sleepers, 2.5-inches might seem sure to leave one bottomed out on the ground in the middle of the cold dark night. Yet, for the weight that it clocks at, you can afford to add an additional closed-cell foam layer underneath to supplement. Or, maybe you want to go it alone with nothing but a rough-and-tumble closed-cell foam pad. The 10.5 oz. Switchback is your top choice either way.

The metallic film on the flip side of this bright orange pad doesn't just look flashy; it reflects heat back to you, making the most of your natural body temperature. The proprietary foam is crush resistant and fits into a highly compact z-shaped fold that's both intuitive and uncomplicated to carry from site to site. 

4. A Sleeping Pad for Camping Families

NEMO Roamer Sleeping Pad - XL Wide - Amazon, $249.95+

  • Self-inflating
  • 4-inch thickness
  • R-Value: 6

Weighing in at 5 lbs 8 oz., this pad certainly isn't the stuff that a trail junkie's dreams are made of. That considered, if said hiker could have a sleep on this pad, they might find themselves more interested in counting sheep than counting trail markers. NEMO boasts that the Roamer pad feels like a mattress pulled from your bedroom to the backwoods, and we're liable to agree. Ultra-stretch fabric over the top creates a plush layer of bedding, thick woven polyester on the bottom keeps you stress-free concerning durability, and the trademarked Unobtrusive Laylow valve offers up micro-adjustments for personalized levels of inflation. 

At 78" x 30" x 6", this pad of air and open-cell foam pad is big, but it's not that big. Why did we select this as the best bedding for families, you ask? Roamer isn't just the name of this NEMO sleeping pad — it's the title of a specific piece of tech. Toggles can be found on the side of this model, ready for connection to another Roamer pad. The result is queen-sized comfort that will usher in the best type of pillow talk for a full family in the outdoors: the sound of silence.

5. For the Hog-callin' Motorists

Exped Megamat Duo 10 Sleeping Pad - Backcountry, $369.95+

  • Self-inflating open-cell foam
  • 3.9-inch thickness
  • 8.1 R-value

At a minimum, the Megamat Duo by Exped weighs 7½ lbs., and at the top size, it's nearly 10 lbs. All that is to say: this thing is wieldy. For that reason, we recommend it most for those who are looking for a sleeping pad to add to their RV, truck bed pop-up tent, or camper unit. The 3D construction provides a firm edge and profile, which also makes it a good layer to add to your car (should it fit). The full kit comes with a minipump that'll keep you from blowing hot air all day, a roll-top packing sack, and a whole lot of comfort.

6. Top Air Pad for a Budget

Klymit Lightweight Static V Sleeping Pad - Sierra, $29.99

  • Air pad
  • 1.3 R-value
  • 2.5-inch thickness

The best air pads on the market can cost a pretty penny, but being a budget backcountry traveler doesn't mean that you deserve to suffer from discomforting sleep. The R-value of the Klymit pad isn't tops on the market, but it's stout enough to make for the hills when moderate temperatures are on the barometer. The air chambers are woven in a v-shaped design that supports the body's pressure points, while horizontal pads on end create soft and supportive edges. 75-denier synthetic fabric is durable, but with the easy-carry stuff sack, Klymit has included a patch kit for any field repairs.

7. Best Foam Pad on a Budget

Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad - Amazon, $54.95

  • Closed-cell foam
  • 0.75-inch thick
  • R-value of 2.0

The Z-Lit Sol won't give you the best night's sleep of your life, but it won't leave you in a waking nightmare either. The R-value ranks at a level that can provide moderate insulation from the ground during cool weather periods, but the virtue of this pad lies in its price and its ultralight capacity. This closed-cell bedding is light as a whisper at a 14 oz. and a 20" x 5.5" x 5" pack size when accordion folded. Like standard foam pads, the insulation mostly leverages your body temperature through the reflective coating. Still, Therm-a-Rest asserts that the dimples of the Z-Lite are also intended to capture heat. Hopefully, it will also help you catch some Zs.

8. Best for Extreme Temperatures

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad - Evo, $229.95+

  • Air pad
  • 1.2-inch cushion
  • R-value: 6.9

While it's often the open-cell foam and air combination of self-inflating pads that offer the most heat retention, Therm-a-Rest puts to bed the question of who has the warmest air pads for camping on the market. This sack starts with a construction material of nylon (tough 70-denier on the bottom, pillowy 30-denier on the top), which is decked in Therm-a-Rest's ThermaCapture Radiant Heat coating. From there, the fabric wraps around a Triangular Core Matrix, which uses a double layer of pockets to maintain warm air while creating a highly stable surface. 

The only this more comfortable than this pad is the customer service behind it. Therm-a-Rest's sleeping pads for camping, made in the U.S.A., are some of the best on the market, and the company is so sure of its product that it offers a lifetime guarantee. Not to be outdone in terms of customer service, retailer Evo offers a full-year refund on products to maintain satisfaction as well. We don't expect you'll need either, but at least you can sleep easy in more ways than one. 

9. A Unique Comfort Solution

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated Air Sleeping Pad - REI, $179.95

  • Air pad
  • 2.5-inch density
  • R-value: 4

Okay, we weren't totally honest when we said that Therm-a-Rest customer service was the only thing more comfortable than its camp bedding. Sea to Summit makes a bold stake to that claim with a mummy-cut air pad called the Comfort Plus. In this case, it's a unique system that maximizes the softness of the pad. Two interlocking chambers of air pockets give you the ability to adjust different layers of pressure. You can tweak each layer to just the way you prefer it, evening out the bottom over rough terrain while the top layer is customized to your comfort. Think of it like an outdoor Sleep Number. And, the Comfort Plus is warm enough to offer 3-seasons of camping use.