If your camping setup includes a sleeping pad from who knows when, it’s time for an upgrade. The latest pads offer superior comfort and warmth, and many pack down into pint-size bundles for easier transportation and storage. The next time you sleep under the stars, you’ll be glad you traded up.
Check out our top five picks below, and keep scrolling to read helpful buying advice plus full reviews of these and other great sleeping pads.
Types of Sleeping Pads
You have a lot of choices when buying a new sleeping pad, but perhaps the most important is whether you want an air, self-inflating, or foam mat.
At their most basic, these inflatable mats provide support from the air you breathe or pump into them. Brands design more advanced models with insulated liners—often made with thermal reflective materials—to provide better protection from the cold ground you might be sleeping on. Air pads are lightweight, pack down smaller than self-inflating and foam options, and generally cost less than self-inflating pads. But they’re also the most delicate kind of sleeping mat. If one springs a leak and you don’t have a patch kit handy, you’ll find yourself sleeping on the ground.
Best for car camping, self-inflating pads have nozzles designed to suck in air so you won’t tire while blowing them up (but you probably will have to top these off with a few puffs for the firmest inflation). These pads have air chambers, as well as open-cell foam for a plusher (and warmer) sleeping experience. The exterior shells are much more durable than those on air pads, but self-inflating pads aren’t immune to leaks. The added foam cores also make self-inflating pads more expensive and bulkier than other types.
Foam pads are mostly designed for backpacking, where weight and durability are the chief concerns. Inflation and leaks aren’t an issue, given the full-foam construction, but don’t expect an uber-cushy place to lay your head. Foam mats are thinner than self-inflating and air pads.
How to Choose the Right Shape and Size
Sleeping pads come in many different shapes and sizes to mirror the variety of sleeping bag designs. The standard pad is a rectangular mat that measures 72-by-20-inches to match the dimensions of a regular men’s sleeping bag. This works for most campers, but there are some scenarios where other designs and sizes might be better.
For example, tall people will be most comfortable using long pads, which measure 77 to 78 inches. Short pads can range from 47 to 66 inches. Mats on the lower end of that range are ideal for ultralight backpacking because they’re lighter and smaller than full-size options. Similarly, mummy-shaped mats that taper toward the feet weigh less and take up less space than rectangular pads. This means a mummy pad can be a better choice if you have a one- or two-person tent where floor space is at a premium.
Most people might find the 20-inch width of standard size sleeping pads slightly narrow, but before you upgrade to a wide size (usually 25 inches), be sure that your tent can accommodate the greater surface area. The same is true for long sleeping pads. Not only are larger pads cumbersome to set up in small tents, but when these pads push against the walls of your tent, both pieces of gear experience unnecessary abrading that could shorten their lifespan.
You should also consider how thick of a pad you want. Thicker pads are often more comfortable but require more air to reach full inflation, and—especially in the case of self-inflating pads—can have more material that won’t compress down as small. Last but not least, if your sleeping bag has a built-in pad sleeve, find a pad that fits those dimensions.
What You Need to Know About R-Values
As recent as 2019, finding a warm enough sleeping pad to add to your kit was a shot in the dark. But now there’s an industry-wide testing methodology from ASTM International, a standards development organization, for assessing the R-value of sleeping pads. This thermal resistance measure isn’t a true temperature rating (like those used for sleeping bags), but higher values correlate to pads that better insulate against the cold ground and can be used comfortably and safely in lower temperatures. Keep in mind that how warm you will feel also depends on the rest of your sleep system, including the clothes you are wearing, and factors such as your metabolism, sleeping posture, and weather conditions.
The new standard was years in the making, says John Shen, senior innovation and standards engineer for Canadian outdoor retailer MEC who serves as the standard’s technical lead. Before it was adopted, the methods used to assess pad warmth varied from brand to brand, which didn’t serve buyers or manufacturers. “For consumers, the standard means the R-values measured accordingly are accurate, comparable, and useful to make informed purchase decisions,” Shen says. “For brands, it helps to make their product claim sound, repeatable, and reproducible. More importantly, it provides a tool to develop innovative sleeping pads.”
Now, the working group who created the methodology is focused on creating industry-wide guidelines on how R-values can correspond to temperature ratings. For its products, Therm-a-Rest recommends finding a pad with an R-value between 1 and 2 for summertime, between 2 and 4 for three-season comfort, between 4 and 6 for all-season use, or for extreme cold, a pad with an R-value greater than 6.
How We Tested
In the past two years, we’ve tested 16 different types, shapes, and sizes of sleeping pads to find out how comfortable they are and how well they stay inflated throughout the night. These pads traveled across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland as we used them at campgrounds, backyards, and in the backcountry. Back at the Pop Mech Test Zone HQ, we weighed the pads while packed in their included stuff sacks and measured how easy it was to inflate each pad. First, we blew up each one manually, counting the number of breaths it took to reach full inflation. Then, we repeated the test using various pumps that brands make. Finally, we left the self-inflating models with their valves open for 30 minutes and then counted the number of breaths we needed to add for the pads to reach full inflation. We also considered the price, R-value, and packed size of each pad (relative to its inflated size) to determine which pads are best for every camping adventure. Read below about the nine that impressed us most.
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Self-Inflating Sleeping Mat
Thickness: 3.1 in. | R-Value: 4.1 | Packed Weight: 2 lb. 12.8 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 27
It’s been nearly two years since we first tested the Comfort Plus, and it remains our go-to car-camping pad. More than three inches thick at full inflation and with a respectably warm R-value, this self-inflating pad delivers an exceedingly cushy place to rest at the end of the day. A nonslip grip pattern on the bottom kept it in place throughout the night. And when it was time to head home, the Comfort Plus packed down small. Credit Sea to Summit’s Delta Core construction: trapezoidal-shaped chambers that run horizontally in the polyurethane foam to reduce bulk (and weight). We appreciated the roomy expanse of the rectangular wide model, but Sea to Summit also offers the Comfort Plus in a slightly cheaper mummy design. For its faults, the self-inflation valve hardly seemed to inflate our test sample during our half-hour test, though this wasn’t the case with the women’s-specific version we tried. This wasn’t a deal-breaker for us given that many competitors struggle in this sense, too. Altogether, the Comfort Plus is an excellent balance of comfort, packability, and price.
—BEST FOR BACKPACKING—
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite
Thickness: 2.5 in. | R-Value: 2.3 | Packed Weight: 9.6 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 21
Therm-a-Rest proves that good things come in small packages with its new NeoAir UberLite. This air pad is minuscule: not much more than a half-pound and about the size of a 16-ounce Nalgene in its stuff sack. At full inflation, however, it meets the standard 72-inch length and offers a comfortable 2.5-inch loft. That’s huge news for backpackers, who previously had to contend with the bulk and relative firmness of foam pads or settle for short air pads if they were serious about saving space and reducing weight in their packs. What’s more, it’s also more insulated than most other ultralight air pads. Laying out the 15-denier nylon shell sounded like rustling tissue paper; surprisingly, it wasn’t very noisy during the night. If anything, we worry about the material’s long-term durability if you’re the cowboy camping type or not one to baby your gear. This category killer doesn’t come cheap, but it will make resting your head after stacking up the miles that much more rewarding.
—BEST VALUE BACKPACKING PAD— Sierra Designs Shadow Mountain
Thickness: 3 in. | R-Value: 1.3 | Packed Weight: 1 lb. 1.2 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 11
Not interested in shelling out $200 for a top-of-the-line backpacking pad? Spend less than half of that on the Shadow Mountain, part of Sierra Designs’ first foray into sleeping pads. The Colorado company gets a lot right, starting with the lightweight construction and one-way lightning-fast inflation. We appreciated that it required less effort to blow up the 3-inch pad. Overnight, we felt supported and comfortable in various positions, though the pad is good, not great, for side sleepers. We occasionally wedged our hip in between the air chambers and lost their support. On cooler nights, the minimal insulation failed to keep us warm. We noticed cold spots where the ground had zapped our body heat. So, if you’re heading out in the shoulder seasons, bring a foam pad or a more insulated sleeping bag along.
—BEST DOUBLE SLEEPING PAD—
Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Thickness: 3.9 in. | R-Value: 9.5 | Weight (provided): 7 lb. 5.8 oz. | Breaths to Inflate (single size): 47
Maximum comfort is the calling card of the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. Although we tested the one-person model, we feel confident enough recommending this double sleeping pad for regular car campers because of its identical construction. Sleeping on the MegaMat felt like we were on our mattress back home. We slept so soundly, we even rolled off the edge a few times (and when you’re nearly four inches off the ground, it’s a jarring way to wake up). Normally, we’re not patient enough to let self-inflating pads do their job, but for a pad this size, it’s critical, lest you get light-headed. Allowing the single pad to self-inflate for 30 minutes cut the number of breaths needed to reach full inflation from 47 to 14, and the pad does come with a hand pump so you don’t have to waste your breath like we did. Deflating the MegaMat fully requires rolling out the air twice, but all the inflation woes are more than worth the plush bedding if you can spare the room in your trunk.
Big Agnes Air Core Ultra
Thickness: 3.25 in. | R-Value: 1.4 | Packed weight: 1 lb. 9.6 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 27
If your chief concern is cost, we recommend the Big Agnes Air Core Ultra. The very thick sleeping pad weighs less than two pounds, packs small, and is one of the most comfortable options under $100. The 1.4 R-value means the Air Core is best for warm weather, but Big Agnes makes insulated models, too (and for that matter, many sizes of both the insulated and non-insulated pads). We tested the wide long pad that measures 25-by-78 inches. Manually inflating it was a bit tiresome, but the standard size is surely easier. Or you can use the money you save to invest in the brand’s multiuse Pumphouse Ultra. Of all the inflation pumps we used in testing, this was our favorite because it easily traps a lot of air.
—BEST SELF-INFLATING PAD—
Thickness: 3 in. | R-Value: 6 | Packed weight: 3 lb. 6.4 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 21
Yes, the Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap inflated on its own more than any other self-inflating pad we tested (it required only four additional breaths). But that’s not the only reason we like it. The LuxuryMap is relatively affordable and very comfortable, thanks to the layer of urethane foam that offers targeted support where you need it most. In the design phase, Therm-a-Rest relied on pressure-mapping technology and customized the thick foam core based on those results. Counterintuitively, this meant removing foam around the head, shoulder blades, waist, calves, and heels so these bony and curvy parts of the body can sink deeper into the pad. The polyester exterior is durable yet soft to the touch, and the pad’s high R-value provides warmth in the coldest of conditions. But don’t expect to lug the LuxuryMap into the backcountry. It’s heavy and doesn’t compress down well.
—BEST AIR PAD—
Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated
Thickness: 2.5 in. | R-Value: 3.7 | Packed weight: 1 lb. 7.1 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 11
In many respects, designing a luxurious sleeping mat is more difficult without the use of squishy (and highly insulating) foam. Sea to Summit answers that challenge by creating its Comfort Light series with 331 bubble-like air chambers it calls Air Sprung Cells. With this many chambers, the air pad was better able to support our body weight throughout the night, despite the fully inflated pad having some give to it. The generous support remained no matter our sleeping position. In fact, the Comfort Light is probably the most comfortable air pad for side sleepers we’ve tested. Better still, the pad is a breeze to inflate—especially when using the convertible storage-to-pump sack—and deflate. Sea to Summit also installs ThermoLite material and a reflective layer for insulation, so the pad becomes more versatile. Our only complaint: The baffles are noisy. If you’re a light sleeper or sharing a tent with someone who is, this won’t go unnoticed.
—BEST FOAM PAD—
NEMO Equipment Switchback
Thickness: 0.9 in. | R-Value: 2 | Weight: 1 lb. | Breaths to Inflate: None
Stodgy foam pads get a comfort-boosting facelift with the Switchback. The closed-cell polyethylene foam has a hexagonal 3D pattern that adds heat-trapping, comfort-inducing loft. Sleeping on the pad feels similar to snoozing on a firm regular mattress, even though it’s less than an inch thick. The Switchback is thicker than any other foam competitor on the market but still light and a reasonable size when packed. For added warmth, NEMO coated the bottom with a thermal reflective film. We did notice the nodes on the pad are already showing some wear, which could impact comfort eventually. But at $50, it isn’t a huge expense to buy a replacement should you need it.
Klymit Static V Luxe
Thickness: 3 in. | R-Value: 1.5 | Packed weight: 1 lb. 9.6 oz. | Breaths to Inflate: 20
Measuring 76-by-30 inches, this oversize air pad offers a large canvas (at a lower price) to rest your body after spending the day outdoors. The v-shaped baffles are designed to provide support in key pressure zones. We liked the Static when sleeping on our side, though occasionally our weight fell into one of the deep heat-trapping welds and we had to readjust. Overall, it wasn’t the most comfortable pad we’ve ever slept on, but it gets the job done. We woke up feeling rested and appreciated how quickly the pad deflated. Just remember, its larger size will eat up more floor space in your tent, so plan accordingly.