Home Tech Best Sleeping Pads for Camping, Backpacking, and Traveling

Best Sleeping Pads for Camping, Backpacking, and Traveling

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Best Sleeping Pads for Camping, Backpacking, and Traveling

What are these Sleeping pillows you’re talking about? When I was young, all the hikes were uphill both ways and we all slept on the ground in sleeping bags with only a half inch of thin closed cell foam between us and each pebble. We also filtered water with our teeth and ate mainly raw meat and forage ramps. Kids these days.

Still, I guess there’s something to be said for a comfortable sleeping pad at the end of a long day on the trail, or even camping next to your car. Now there are many ways to ensure that no peas (or pebbles) disturb your outdoor sleep. For years, we’ve been testing sleeping pads of all types in all types of conditions, and we’re happy to report that in all that time we’ve never had one fail us. That being said, there are some highlights and some to avoid.

Be sure to read our other outdoor guides, including the best tents, best hiking gear, best camping stoves, and our camping cooking guide.

April 2024 Update: We’ve added three new Nemo pads, including our new favorite ultralight pad, the Nemo All-Season, as well as some more general shopping tips.

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Best Super Comfortable Car Camping Pad

Therm-a-Rest invented the self-inflating camping mattress. The brand has kept pace in the 50 years since then, either innovating or successfully imitating every major advancement in the field. The MondoKing is the most comfortable luxury mattress in the line, the flagship model for picky campers and those who are stuck in the backcountry for weeks or months at a time. This burly rug has a total thickness of 4 inches and weighs 4 pounds. You don’t want to drag it too far, but even a large side sleeper won’t reach the bottom.

The StrataCore foam inside gives it an R-value of 7, so the claimed comfort is below the temperature at which vodka freezes. (In our nights of testing, WIRED has not independently verified good sleep at -20 degrees Fahrenheit.) It’s also very, very comfortable. Like the Megamat below, it has 70 denier bottoms with a 50-denier elastic top that provides the natural flex of a real mattress. The MondoKing also has a nice firm edge, meaning you’ll never feel like you’re about to fall. The MondoKing is better than many hotel mattresses and inflates and deflates quickly enough that you can unfold it the next time you find yourself in a lumpy hotel bed. —Martin Cizmar

Other options

  • MegMat 10 accelerated for $180: This is the rugged, ultra-luxurious rig that started the trend of huge car camping rigs. And for that we thank Exped. The MegaMat is still a great option and is fairly equivalent to the MondoKing, although the MondoKing weighs less and is smaller. On the other hand, the MegaMat has slightly better insulation and might be a better choice if you sleep cold or go out in the shoulder seasons where colder temperatures are possible.

Best for couples and families

We’re big fans of REI’s in-house line, which is sturdy and works well without breaking the bank. On a recent camping trip, every family with children under 10 had this mattress, including mine. It’s 56 inches wide and 6 inches high, wide enough to fit Mom and two elementary school students and fits inside MSR’s 6-person Habitude tent. (Dad and the dog still had to sleep on the floor.)

It comes with a small bag for easy transport that includes a manual air pump, but the universal nozzle means you can ditch the pump and use a battery-powered one for quick and easy inflation. The welded seams kept the mattress taut and bouncy for three days and three nights as the children jumped on it. The surface is soft enough to sleep with your face pressed against it if taken out of the sleeping bag and insulated, but with an R-value of 2.6. I definitely needed a quilt under our sleeping bags for the 40 degree nights. —Adrienne So

Other options

  • Kelty’s Kush Queen Air Mattress for $100: This PVC-free queen airbed from Kelty includes a pump that makes inflation easy (be sure to charge it before you go), and the 6-inch-thick pad is very comfortable. It’s not an insulated air mattress like the REI above, so it’s better for the warmer months, but it can double as an extra bed at home.

Best ultralight sleeping pad

When you venture into the backcountry, especially if you’re an ultralight backpacking nerd, every gram counts. When it comes to sleeping pads, there is always a balance. You want the fewest ounces with the highest R-value. Nemo Equipment’s new 2024 Tensile Insulated Sleeping Pads (8/10, WIRED recommended) have the best R-value-to-weight ratio of anything we’ve tested. The Tensor All-Season featured here has an R-value of 5.4 and weighs just 18.2 ounces. That alone is impressive, but what I love about the Tensor is that it’s thick, comfortable, and most importantly, nearly silent. I hate that nylon sound that is practically synonymous with sleeping in the country. There is almost none of that with the Tensor, which makes it worth the money. The insulation is a double layer of reflective film, with a baffled air chamber design, which helps keep it quiet. The design also helps it roll up into a small stuff bag. It’s about the size of a 16-ounce Nalgene bottle. If you want to save a little weight and money, there is also the Tensor trail for $190. It weighs only 16 ounces for the regular width, but the R-value is quite a bit lower at 2.8.

Other options

  • NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad for $210: The obvious competitor to the Tensor is Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XLite, according to WIRED reviewer Matt Jancer. The Xlite NeoAir may be light but not warm. He has used it on frozen glaciers without a shiver running down his butt. You have to inflate it manually, but the easy-turn valve makes it easy and he has been impressed with the five-year durability. No holes or scratches. It has a tendency to slide, but it is silent.
  • Sea to Summit Ultralight for $129: If you’re someone who cuts off the handle of your toothbrush to save weight, this mat is worth considering. It has an R-value of 1.1, making it a summer-only pad. But it weighs just 11 ounces, is very small, and is $70 cheaper than the Tensor. If most of your camping is in the summer, it will work. It’s a little louder than the Nemo.

Best for comfort in the field

If you’re willing to carry a few extra ounces in exchange for more comfort and a (theoretically) better night’s sleep, the NeoAir Topo is our favorite pad. At 21 ounces, it’s definitely heavy, but it’s also 3 inches thick, and we promise you won’t feel pebbles, or even small rocks, under this thing. The R-value of 2.3 makes it a good choice for three-season camping or backpacking, and even the regular model seemed wide enough to me. Therm-a-Rest includes a breath-saving pump bag, a compact stuff bag, and a field repair kit.

Best Old School Closed Cell Foam Pad

I was joking in the intro here, but I wasn’t either. This mat was my introduction to backcountry sleep and I’m still a fan (although technically mine was a no-name brand). The Z-Lite and its ilk weigh next to nothing (10 ounces for the little ones), fold up small enough to clip to the outside of any backpack, and serve as a chair, extra padding on cold nights, table, whatever. . I’m too old to just use a Z-Lite, but I still have one on almost every trip I take. Combining it with the Nemo inflatable above gives me a wide range of sleeping and sitting possibilities for a total weight of less than 2 pounds. That means I can carry more meat and good food in the countryside is really the key to everything.

Best 4 Season Backcountry Platform

If I were going camping in the snow, this is the pad I would take. Exped’s Ultra 7R offers (as the name suggests) an R-value of 7 in a pad that weighs less than 2 pounds for the wide version. And I suggest opting for the broad version. I found the regular to be a little narrow and the weight difference (5 ounces) doesn’t justify the loss of sleeping space. I used this pad up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit and felt very comfortable (in a 20 degree bag). Exped rates it at -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Exped Schnozzel Bomb Bag ($45) It’s also great and necessary if you’re camping in the cold, as you don’t want moisture from your breath getting into the mat.

Other options

  • Nemo Tensor Extreme Conditions ($260): With an R-value of 8.5 and weighing just 22 ounces for the regular wide version, Nemo’s new Tensor Extreme Conditions pad has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio on the market right now. It uses four layers of aluminum foil and offset baffles to achieve the lightest and warmest pad state. It will probably be our first pick for this category in a future update, but at the moment I haven’t had a chance to fully test it in lower and more extreme temperatures. As with the Exped pad above, I suggest going with the wide pad as the regular one is quite narrow.

Best sleeping pad for kids

Let’s be honest: If your child is old enough to go backpacking, they’re probably old enough to be fine with an adult-sized sleeping pad that will age with them as they grow. However, in a moment of parental weakness, I bought my kids child-size mats to match their Kindercone sleeping bags, which have been useful for a surprisingly long time. My daughter is in third grade and has had hers since kindergarten.

After all, 60 inches is pretty long; It’s almost tall enough for me to use. These have an R-value of 4.5 and my kids have slept quite warm in them for several years at temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Separate valves for inflation and deflation make it much easier for toddlers not to get confused and help set it up. Interestingly, these sleeping pads are also much easier to roll up and store in their sack than my own sleeping pad; REI may have secretly helped me there. —Adrienne So

Honorable mentions

The following sleeping pads didn’t impress us like the previous ones, but we’ve tested them and still like them enough if none of the others catch your eye.

Sea to Summit Women’s Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Pad for $160: For some time we debated whether women need different sleeping mats. After some long conversations with our testers, we decided that there just isn’t much difference. That being said, this is a good sleeping pad for anyone. It is very close to the Sea to Summit Ultralight above.

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