Bringing a sleeping pad along when you’ll be hiking or camping is a great way to improve the odds of getting a good night sleep.
However, when you’re hiking one of your primary concerns is the weight you’ll be carrying. Every additional item you choose to bring makes your load heavier, and quality sleeping pads can be thick and heavy.
So how do you find a sleeping pad that will keep you comfortable while you are sleeping but won’t weigh you down as you backpack from one point to another?
There’s a lot to think about.
If you are in the market for a sleeping pad you can use while backpacking, consider the following:
Determining what is the best sleeping pad to suit an individual’s needs can vary from person to person. This is especially true when you factor in how a person sleeps. For instance, someone who is a side sleeper tends to need a thicker pad to achieve optimal comfort. The thinner mat doesn’t mean it’s not as good, it just means it isn’t as good for the side sleeper and is better suited for a stomach or back sleeper. “Best” is subjective, so make sure you are taking a variety of factors into consideration and not just assuming what you read is accurate for you.
Regardless of your budget, nobody wants to spend more than they need to on a sleeping pad. Good pads are available in all price ranges, from $20 to $200 depending on your circumstances. It’s possible to get a quality sleeping pad for a moderate price, as long as you are willing to do some research.
Thickness and Weight
Thicker sleeping pads tend to be more comfortable, but the thicker the pad the more it weighs (usually and especially with foam pads). If you are planning longer hikes, you need to balance thickness with weight and make sure you get something you can carry long distances but that allows you to get a good night’s sleep. Also, keep in mind that thicker pads are not always more comfortable. There are other factors in play, so don’t just buy the thickest pad for the sake of doing so assuming you’ll be comfortable.
In addition to providing comfort, sleeping pads also help you stay warm when camping. The ground tends to be cold, even if you are inside a tent, so elevating your body and creating a layer of insulation between you and the dirt can make a big difference when it comes to keeping warm. Some sleeping pads also help to insulate your body and make the most of your body heat in addition to the work your sleeping bag does, so if you’re concerned about staying warm when backpacking, make sure you look for a pad that can help.
Foam vs. Air
Perhaps the biggest point of contention when it comes to investing in a sleeping pad is whether air pads or foam pads are better.
Neither is actually better. It all depends on your needs and your sleeping style. The comfort to weight ratio with air pads is better, but they aren’t always the best option when it comes to staying warm or comfortable. They also have a bigger risk of getting ruined because if they are punctured in any way, they’re no good anymore. This is one of the biggest reason adults prefer foam pads for younger campers.
It might be surprising, but noise is a major factor when shopping for a sleeping pad for camping. This is especially true for those who are light sleepers and/or those who move around during the night. Many sleeping pads crinkle or squeak and this can make it tough to get a good night’s sleep. If you are concerned about noise when you’re sleeping, opt for a pad that claims to be noiseless or low-noise.
In addition to the thickness of your sleeping pad, you’ll also want to consider length and width when it comes to size. Obviously, taller backpackers will want larger pads. However, even if you are short you might benefit from a longer or wider pad depending on how you sleep. For instance, a lot of side sleepers tend to like wider pads because they curl up or pull their knees to their chest, creating a bigger width for their bodies.
It’s also important to consider the size of the pad when it’s rolled up and ready for packing. The larger it is the less room you have for other items in your pack.
Best Sleeping Pad Picks
Now that you know what to look for in a sleeping pad, here are a few of our picks for the best:
This is an inflatable sleeping pad that we think is fairly comfortable. It weighs less than a pound and offers a decent amount of protection from the cold. We love it because it’s versatile, comes with a pump, and can pack away to a very small size. It’s on the pricier side though, so if you’re budget-conscious, it might not be the best option for you.
Check it out on AMAZON.
This pad offers both comfort and warmth and is a great option for year-round campers. It’s heavier, as you might expect from a four-season pad, but it’s nothing you couldn’t handle if you’re an experienced hiker (and we’re assuming you are if you’re planning a backpacking trip during the winter). There’s a three-season version of the same pad if you’re looking for something that’s lighter weight, but keep in mind, that model only weighs five ounces less than this one.
Check it out on REI.COM
This is one of the widest sleeping pads on our list. It’s lightweight and comfortable, and it’s available for a great price. It isn’t the warmest option available, so you’ll want to stick to mostly summer backpacking or backpacking in milder climates with this pad. It doesn’t offer all that is offered by the more expensive pad, but it’s a great value for the money.
Check it out on AMAZON.