Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2024: Our Complete Field Test

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We tested the top backpacking pads of the year to see which ones hold up to real backcountry abuse while still delivering serious Zzz’s boot.

This is The Wise Adventurer’s field test and review of the best sleeping pads for backpacking money can buy. After spending several months of the year testing, evaluating, and taking detailed notes on pads from all the top brands on the market, we’ve found a handful of winners in every category from ultralight to ultra-plush. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking - Intro 1
From plus-sized and cozy to super light and extra small, we took all the best sleeping pads of the year out in the field for some first hand testing.

Taking top honors this year was the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT. The Xlite got our nod for the best sleeping pad overall due its incredibly well-rounded build, which delivered on all the most important metrics from comfort to packability without a single serious drawback anywhere to be found. 

The choice was a tough one, as sleeping pads keep getting better every year, but after subjecting the Xlite to the same testing methodology we use across the board, there was no denying its overall value. Our testing included backpacking around Europe, group camping trips in the dead of winter, an entire thru-hike of the PCT, and anything else we could get ourselves into, including backcountry skiing and motorcycle camping. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking - Intro 2
While the Xlite takes top honors overall, we know it won’t be the perfect pad for everyone.

While we’re convinced the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT is the best sleeping pad for 99% of backpackers, we also know it won’t be everyone’s first choice. Some folks may want a pad that’s a bit thicker for side sleeping duty, some may want the lightest and most compact pad possible, and others may just want a solid all-rounder that doesn’t break the bank. 

Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got a sleeping pad in the list below we’re sure will suit your next adventure. For good measure, we’ve also included a comprehensive buyer’s guide down at the bottom, where we detail what makes any backpacking pad worth buying, and what you should look for when shopping yourself. 

Ready to upgrade your backcountry bedroom? Let’s get started!

Sleeping PadBenefits
Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT: Best Sleeping Pad OverallA well-insulated backpacking pad with essentially zero drawbacks. Outstanding balance and versatility. See Review
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated: Highest QualityA bit bulkier than some, but also the thickest and most comfortable of the lot with added durability to boot. See Review
Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated: Best On A BudgetPremium specs, elevated comfort, and rugged construction, all delivered for significantly less cash than the competition. See Review
Nemo Switchback: Best Foam Sleeping PadAn improvement on the classic Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite closed cell foam pad that’s both thicker and more compact for the same cost. See Review
Nemo Tensor Insulated: Best UltralightAn ultralight and warm sleeping pad that packs down smaller than anything else in our test. Also happens to feature the best pump sack in the game. See Review
Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT: Best Cold Weather PadWarm enough for the coldest climates, yet still just as light and compact as a three-season sleeping pad. Extra durable materials round out an already exceptional package. See Review
Therm-A-Rest ZLite Sol: Honorable MentionAn oldie but a goodie, this classic foam sleeping pad is light, affordable, and virtually indestructible. See Review

Best Sleeping Pads of 2023

Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT: Best Sleeping Pad Overall

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT 1

Price: $230 – $250
Weight: 13oz/369 g (regular) 1.2 lbs/.54kg (regular wide), 1.3 lbs/.57kg (large)
R-Value: 4.5
Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 3”/183cm x 51cm x 7.6cm (regular), 72” x 25” x 3”/183cm x 64cm x 7.6cm (regular wide), 77” x 25” x 3”/196cm x 64cm x 7.6cm (large)
Packed Size: 11”x 4.6”/ 28cm x 12cm (regular), 11” x 4.6”/ 28cm x 12cm (regular wide), 11” x 4.6”/ 28cm x 12cm (large)
Pad Type: Air
What we like: Packable, versatile, durable.
What we don’t: Not the lightest ultralight, pump sack needs work

It’s not every day we test a sleeping pad that does everything well, but the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT is about as close to flawless as we’ve tested to date. It may not lead the charge on any single category, but our testers felt that the Xlite excelled everywhere it matters, making it the best all-round option for backpackers of every description. 

Comfort-wise, we loved the Xlite’s generous thickness, which at 3” across the pad was plenty for our back and side sleepers alike. We also noted that Therm-a-rest’s unique triangulated baffling did an outstanding job of keeping the sleeping pad stable throughout the night, minimizing the usual “bounciness” we associate with high-volume air pads. There’s nothing quite like laying down to a genuinely comfortable sleeping pad, and after back-to-back 100+ mile days riding dirt bikes through the North Georgia mountains, we couldn’t wait to rest our tired bones on the Xlite after dark. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT 2
While the Xlite may not be the lightest, thickest, or most compact sleeping pad we tested, it scores highly across the board in every metric without a single notable drawback.

In terms of size and weight, the Xlite once again delivers the goods, clocking in just under a pound in the regular mummy size and packing down to about the size of your typical Nalgene water bottle. Those figures are particularly impressive considering the Xlite also offers a true 4-season R-value of 4.5, which we found to be plenty comfortable down to below-freezing temperatures during a winter backpacking excursion. The same could be said for the Xlite from a durability standpoint: With a tough 30D ripstop nylon on both the top and bottom of the pad, the Xlite was one of the best sleeping pads durability-wise despite its compact size and weight. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT 3
We took the Therm-a-rest Neoair Xlite NXT backpacking, camping, and even on long motorcycle trips, and it simply works well anywhere and everywhere.

As noted above, the main drawback of this sleeping pad is that while it scores highly across the board, it isn’t actually the best at any one given thing. Other air pads like the Nemo Tensor Insulated deliver the same thickness and warmth in a smaller overall package, while alternatives like the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT and Big Agnes Rapide SL feature thicker sleeping surfaces and even more rugged materials. Each of those competitors sacrifices something to achieve their ends however, be it weight, size, or durability, while the Xlite simply does it all well without any real shortcomings aside from its fragile pump sack. Read our full test and review of the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT

Pros:Cons:
– Light, compact, and well insulated
– Above-average durability without a weight penalty
– Comfortable and stable sleeping surface
– Not the most “hardcore” ultralight out there
– Basic pump sack needs work



Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Insulated: Highest Overall Quality

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Sea To Summit Ether Light XT 1

– Price: $189 – $229
– Weight: 1lbs/0.45kg (short mummy), 1.1lbs/ 0.5kg (regular mummy), 1.4lbs/ 06kg (large mummy)
– R-Value: 3.2
– Dimensions: 66” x 21.5” x 4”/ 168cm x 55cm x 10cm (short mummy), 72” x 21.5”x4”/ 183cm x 55cm x 10cm (regular mummy), 78” x 25” x 4”/ 198cm x 64cm x 10cm (large mummy)
– Packed Size: 9.5” x 4.5” / 24cm x 11cm (short mummy), 9.5”x4.5”/ 24cm x 11cm (regular mummy), 11” x 4.75”/ 28cm x 12cm (large mummy)
– Pad Type: Insulated air
– What we like: Super comfortable, durable, versatile
– What we don’t: Expensive, not the lightest, not the warmest

Taking top honors for the highest overall quality is the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated, a true workhorse of a backpacking sleeping pad with outstanding versatility and comfort. We spent time backpacking with the Ether Light XT both in the deserts of Utah and the mountains of North Georgia, and it never left us wanting out in the backcountry. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Sea To Summit Ether Light XT 2
With a four-inch thick sleeping surface, comfort was a highlight of the Ether Light XT, particularly among the side sleepers in our group.

The single biggest impression the Ether Light XT made on us was its outstanding comfort. At four inches thick throughout the pad, the Ether Light clocks in as the thickest sleeping pad overall in our testing. While high-volume pads like this can often be extra bouncy or tough to get settled into, we found Sea to Summit’s unique diamond-quilted air baffles made the most of its extra volume, delivering a plush bed of air that the side sleepers in our group couldn’t get enough of. 

We also love that the Ether Light XT is built from some of the most durable materials in our testing, improving upon the Therm-A-Rest’s 30D/30D construction with a 30D ripstop top fabric backed by an even beefier 40D bottom. This was the sleeping pad of choice when sleeping on the thorn-littered floors of the Utah desert, and despite heavy use over several months of adventures, we never once managed to puncture or damage the Ether Light XT in the field. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Sea To Summit Ether Light XT 3
The Ether Light XT was a bit bulkier than other ultralights in our testing, but we felt the added comfort was well worth carrying.

Two main things kept the Ether Light XT from taking our top honors overall. The first is that although it’s plenty light at around 1 pound in a regular mummy size, the Ether Light XT was a bit bulkier than other ultralights in our field test. The other is that the XT’s insulation wasn’t quite as warm as its competitors, and although its 3.2 R-value is plenty for early spring to late fall in most climates, alternatives from Therm-A-Rest, Nemo, and Big Agnes all deliver true 4-season insulation while still packing down a good bit smaller. The XT Insulated is still plenty compact for traditional backpacking duty though, and our testers all agreed they’d have no issue carrying the extra bulk in exchange for a good night’s sleep. Read our full test and review of the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated

Pros:Cons:
– Classic Sea to Summit comfort
– Extra thick
– Extra tough construction bodes well for longevity
– Integrated stuff sack for convenience
– Bit bulky for an ultralight pad
– Insulates less than the competition



Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated: Best On A Budget

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Big Agnes Rapide SL 1

– Price: $149-$199
– Weight: 1.2 lbs/0.54kg (regular), 1.3lbs/0.59kg (regular long)1.5lbs/0.68kg (regular wide), 1.6lbs/0.72kg (long wide)
– R-Value: 4.2
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 3.5”/183cm x 51cm x 9cm (regular), 78” x 20” x 3.5”/ 198cm x 51cm x 9cm (regular long), 72” x 25” 3.5”/ 183cm x 64cm x 9cm (regular wide), 78” x 25” x 3.5”/ 198cm x 64cm x 9cm (long wide)
– Packed Size: 8” x 4.5”/ 20cm x 11cm(regular), 8” x 5”/ 20cm x 13cm (regular long), 8” x 5”/ 20cm x 13cm (regular wide), 8.5” x 5.5”/ 22cm x 14cm (long wide)
– Pad Type: Air
– What we like: Price, comfort, warmth, durability
– What we don’t: Not the lightest or most compact, bad pump sack

Reading over the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated’s spec sheet, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a $200+ ultralight sleeping pad. There’s no denying that the Rapide is a 100% premium product, but its jaw-dropping MSRP feels almost too good to be true. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Big Agnes Rapide SL 2
Elevated side rails, quilted baffling, and an extra-thick sleeping surface make a strong argument for the Rapide as the most comfortable sleeping pad in our testing, assuming you prefer its unique shape.

Naturally we went into our testing of the Rapide with a healthy degree of skepticism, but we’re happy to report this pad wants for nothing compared to its more expensive siblings. In fact, with a 3.5” thickness and double ripstop nylon construction, we’re tempted to say this pad outperforms more than a few of its premium-priced alternatives. 

Our testers had universal praise for the Rapide’s outstanding comfort, which comes courtesy of the aforementioned thickness combined with even taller 4.5” outer chambers designed to keep the sleeper centered on the pad throughout the night. Some of us preferred the traditional shape of the Sea To Summit Ether Light XT mentioned above, while others gave the Rapide’s “body hugging” shape the nod for best overall comfort. We also had high praise for Big Agnes’ quilted baffle layout, which delivered the most stable sleeping surface after the Ether Light XT as well. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Big Agnes Rapide SL 3
While it may be slightly heavier/bulkier than some, the Big Agnes delivers plus-sized comfort with a price that’s tough to beat.

In fact the only real drawbacks we noted during our time with the Rapide were its packed size and its terrible stuff sack. As for packed size, the Rapide is by no means oversized, but we did note that it packs down a bit wider/bulkier than several of the pads it competes with. The pump sack, on the other hand, was easily the most durable in our testing, but its giant “wide mouth” design was difficult to use effectively, which often led us to leave it behind on our trips. There’s no denying that the Rapide delivers where it counts though, with its big plush feel and four-season R-value, so if you like the sound of the Rapide’s unique concave sleep surface, you’ll find no better bang for your buck in the ultralight inflatable segment. Read our full test and review of the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated

Pros:Cons:
– Extra thick, extra plush sleeping surface
– Outstanding durability
– Four-season-worthy insulation
– Unmatched bang for your buck
– Pump sack needs work
– Bit porkier than other ultralights
– Elevated side rails aren’t for everyone



Nemo Switchback: Best Foam Pad

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Switchback 1

– Price: $45-$55
– Weight: 14.5oz/411g (regular), 10.5oz/298g (short)
– R-Value:
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 1”/183cm x 51cm x 2.5cm (regular), 51” x 20” x 1” 130cm x 51cm x 2.5cm (short)
– Packed Size: 20” x 5.5” x 5”/ 51cm x 14cm x 13cm (regular), 20” x 5.5” x 4” / 51cm x 14cm x 10cm(short)
– Pad Type: Closed-cell foam
– What we like: Dirt cheap, indestructible, insanely versatile
– What we don’t: Lacks comfort and insulation, noisier than the competition

While inflatable backpacking pads seem to get better every year, it’s not every day someone improves upon the humble closed cell foam pad. That’s exactly what Nemo set out to do with the Nemo Switchback, however, and after spending a little time with one ourselves in the backcountry, we’d have to say the Switchback is a success. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Switchback 2
Simple yet effective: The Switchback’s no-fuss design and 2.0 R-value make it an attractive option as a warm weather ultralight.

We love the Switchback because it takes all the things that made the original Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite so appealing (durability, simplicity, and affordability) and makes them even better. As a point of reference, the Switchback is both thicker and more compact when folded than the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol we tested it alongside, and only adds an extra half ounce of weight to the overall package. 

Our testers felt that the Switchback’s extra quarter inch of thickness made a notable improvement to comfort, and while the pad is still far from side-sleeper friendly, it does edge out the Z-Lite in this regard. That fact is made all the more impressive by the fact that the Switchback also folds down tighter than the Z-Lite to reduce its total packed size, which Nemo chalks up to its tighter manufacturing tolerances and hexagonally shaped molding. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Switchback 3
While the spec sheets for the Z-Lite and Switchback list identical packed sizes, there’s no denying that the Nemo clearly packs down much tighter than its competitor.

Of course at the end of the day this is still just a thin foam pad, and while it’s a bit more compact and comfortable than the Z-Lite Sol, it’s still a far cry from every inflatable sleeping pad on our list. Our testers also noted that the Switchback was a bit noisier than the Z-Lite, adding a bit of a “squeakiness” to the soundtrack as they moved around in the night. 

Ultimately, this is still one of the best sleeping pads for backpacking if you’re on a tight budget, and the fact that the Switchback and foam pads like it are immune to punctures and unaffected by rips and tears further strengthens the argument for foam. We recently added a new puppy to our pack, and having a pad in the tent we didn’t have to worry about him shredding was a godsend on camping trips. We’ll also point out that foam pads like the Switchback can be deployed underneath three-season pads to boost their R-value into four-season territory, which is much more cost-effective than buying a second pad solely for four-season use. Read our full test and review of the Nemo Switchback

Pros:Cons:
– More comfortable and compact than other foam pads
– Ultralight and effectively indestructible
– Dirt cheap
– Lacks the comfort of air pads
– Loses thickness over time as foam compresses
– Slightly nosier than the Z-Lite



Nemo Tensor Insulated: Best Ultralight

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Tensor 1

– Price: $200 – $230
– Weight: 15oz/ 0.4kg (regular), 1.2lbs/ 0.54kg (regular wide), 1.5lbs/ 0.68kg (long wide)
– R-Value: 4.2
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 3”/ 183cm x 51cm x 8cm (regular), 72” x 25” x 3”/ 183cm x 64cm x 8cm (regular wide), 76” x 25” x 3”/ 193cm x 64cm x 8cm (long wide)
– Packed Size: 8” x 3”/ 20cm x 8cm (regular), 9.5” x 3”/ 24cm x 8cm (regular wide), 9.5” x 3”/ 24cm x 8cm (long wide)
– Pad Type: Air
– What we like: Super light, super packable, super warm
– What we don’t: Thin face fabric, expensive

Calling all gram-counters, ultralight backpackers, and weight-weenies: The Nemo Tensor Insulated takes the cake as our sleeping pad of choice for the gram-conscious, delivering comfortable sleep and true four-season insulation with zero weight penalty to speak of. 

Our testers found the single most impressive aspect of the Nemo Tensor Insulated to be its packed size. Even among some of the most advanced lightweight sleeping pads in our field test, the Tensor Insulated is a clear winner in terms of packability, rolling up neatly into a handheld 3” cylinder. The Tensor’s inherent packability also allowed us to carry the largest size available, the long/wide version, while still coming in at around the same size and weight as some competitors’ regular mummy size. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Tensor 2
Even next to some of the most advanced insulated sleeping pads on the market, the Nemo is the clear choice if weight and packability are your main concerns.

We love that although the Tensor essentially disappears inside your backpack, Nemo still managed to deliver a 3” thick sleeping surface and 4.2 R-value, essentially the same level of performance as our top-ranking Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite, yet much more pack-friendly. This should also allow backpackers with minimalist packs the luxury of carrying around Nemo’s outstanding Vortex pump sack, which was by far our favorite of the test. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Nemo Tensor 3
The Tensor’s impressive packability made it a favorite for fast and light missions like this four-day dirtbike tour of the North Georgia mountains.

Truth be told, the Tensor only has one drawback: To keep the pad as small and light as possible, Nemo equipped it with a much thinner face fabric than many of its competitors, which we felt also made the Tensor the least durable of all the pads we tested this year. We had one of our two test pads spring a leak after being stepped on by a pet, which is our fault for not being more careful, but we still feel the Tensor’s thin polyester construction requires more finesse than its nylon competitors if you want it to go the distance. 

With that being said, there’s still no denying that the Tensor Insulated is one of the best sleeping pads for backpacking money can buy. Its combination of weight, comfort, and packability are the very things ultralight dreams are made of, and the Tensor delivers like no other when it comes to warmth-meets-packability. Read our full test and review of the Nemo Tensor Insulated

Pros:Cons:
– Outstanding packability
– Plenty thick enough for side sleepers
– Four-season worthy insulation
– Expensive
– Thin face fabric feels less durable than most



Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT: Best Cold Weather Option

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT 1

– Price: $239
– Weight: Regular: 1.0 lbs (0.45kg), Large 1.25 lbs (0.57kg), Regular wide: 1.25 lbs (0.57kg)
– R-Value: 7.3
– Dimensions: Regular: 72” x 20” x 3” (183cm x51cm x 8cm), Large: 77” x 25” x 3” (196cm x 64cm x 8cm), Regular wide: 72” x 25” x 3” (183cm x 64cm x 8cm)
– Packed size: Regular: 9” x 4.5” (23cm x 11cm), Large: 11” x 5” (28cm x 13cm), Regular wide: 11” x 5” (28cm x 13cm)
– Pad Type: Air
– What we like: Lightweight, packable, warm, and tough
– What we don’t: Expensive, some durability concerns

We don’t often get the chance to test a sleeping pad on one of the most rigorous proving grounds in the world, so when one of our testers decided to attempt a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this year, we were more than happy to send him out with some gear. His starting pad of choice was the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT, and after logging three straight months on the pad, we’re convinced it’s the best cold-weather pad money can buy. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT 2
Our typical testing conditions for the Therm-A-Rest Xtherm out on the PCT this year.

A few things in particular stuck out to us during our time with the Xtherm. First and foremost, this pad boasts a whopping 7.3 R-value, which makes it well suited for sleeping directly on top of snow in conditions well below freezing. Historically, pads this warm have been notoriously bulky and inconvenient to pack, but what’s even more impressive about the Xtherm is that it’s essentially the exact same size and weight as our top-ranking Neoair Xlite NXT. 

True year-round versatility is what the Xtherm is all about. When paired with an ultralight tent like this Big Agnes Copper Spur, this pad is ready to go anywhere, anytime.

We’ll also note that while those figures would be enough to put the Xtherm at the top of any thru-hiker’s wish list, the truly incredible thing about this pad is that it does it all without relying on minimalist construction or ultralight fabrics. In fact our testers noted that the Xtherm is actually one of the best sleeping pads we’ve used in this regard, and its 70D nylon bottom fabric was the thickest stuff in our test this year. Therm-A-Rest didn’t skimp on the top fabric either, equipping the Xtherm with the same 30D nylon spec as the Xlite above. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT 4
In addition to our thru-hike, we also brought the Xtherm along on some high-elevation backcountry ski trips, and it never struggled to keep us warm below freezing.

While on paper the Xtherm has the makings of a truly perfect pad, sporting year-round versatility and bonafide ultralight size and weight, we found it did have one potential shortcoming. After roughly 90 straight days on the trail, the Xtherm developed a slow leak due to a small puncture. Granted, this can (and will) happen to any air pad on a long enough timeline, but considering the cost and elevated specs of the Xtherm, we were a little disappointed it didn’t go the full distance of the trail. Our tester also noted that around the 45 day mark the pad became noticeably nosier, which he chalked up to one of the two reflective layers inside the pad coming loose. 

All things considered, we’d say the Xtherm still performed admirably, and while we didn’t relish having to repair it in the field, punctures do happen. There are a few alternatives out there in terms of insulation and packability, but all of them are made from thinner materials, so we still give the Xtherm the nod overall in the ultra-warm and ultra-light genre. Read our full test and review of the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm NXT

Pros:Cons:
– Incredibly light and compact
– Warm enough for the most brutal conditions
– Above average durability
– Some durability/quality concerns
– Expensive



Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol: Honorable Mention

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol 1

– Price: $48 – $58
– Weight: 14 oz/ 397g (regular), 10 oz/ 285g (small)
– R-Value: 2.0
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x .75”/ 183cm x 51cm x 2cm(regular), 51” x 20” x .75”/130cm x 51cm x 2cm (small)
– Packed Size: 20” x 5.5” x 5” / 51cm x 14cm x 13cm(regular), 20” x 5.5” x 4” / 51cm x 14cm x 10cm(small)
– Pad Type: Closed-cell foam pad
– What we like: Affordable, lightweight, indestructible
– What we don’t: Not quite as thick or packable as the Switchback

Finally, we’ve gotta show some love for the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol, which we brought along for this year’s testing to compare against the Nemo Switchback. This battle of the closed-cell foam pads was a close call, but ultimately the Z-Lite was edged out due to its bulkier packed dimensions and slightly thinner construction.

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol 2
Foam pads like the Z-Lite are extremely light, but also extremely bulky. Don’t plan on carrying it inside your pack.

We felt that while the Z-Lite was slightly outclassed by the newer Switchback, it wasn’t without its own unique charms. For one, the Z-Lite is an utterly silent mattress, while our testers noted the Nemo Switchback could be a little “squeaky/creaky” to roll around on. A minor victory for the Z-Lite, but a victory all the same. 

We also felt that the dual-density foam used in the Nemo Switchback felt a bit firmer than the Z-Lite, which makes the Switchback more supportive but less soft than the Therm-A-Rest. Granted, these are subtle observations, and the real-world difference between the two out in the field was minimal, but we felt some backpackers may prefer the “squishier” feel of the Z-Lite. We’ll also note that the Z-Lite is technically the lighter pad of the two, although the difference between the two pads in a regular size is only half an ounce.

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol 3
The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol gets the job done for back sleepers, but if you lay on your side, expect to wake up sore.

As for drawbacks, we had the same basic complaints with the Z-Lite that we did with the Switchback and pretty much every other foam pad we’ve ever laid on. The pad’s closed cell foam marks a dramatic improvement from sleeping directly on the ground (or a deflated air pad, for that matter), but it’s still a far cry from even the most budget-conscious air pads. We’ll also note that because the Z-Lite Sol shares the same 2.0 R-value as the Switchback, the same seasonal limitations apply. Read our full test and review of the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol

Pros:Cons:
– Lightweight
– Puncture-proof
– Dirt cheap
– Somewhat overshadowed by the Nemo Switchback
– Bulky



Buyer’s Guide For The Best Sleeping Pads

Each of the pads we select and purchase with our own money for our first-person field testing is chosen based on a specific set of features. These features range from overall comfort and perceived warmth to more nuanced topics like ease of use and overall value compared to the competition. 

These are the very same features you should look out for when selecting a pad yourself, so to make your decision easier, we’ve outlined and explained each down below. Whether you’re considering a pad on our list or something that didn’t make the cut this year, these are the criteria we recommend taking into account for every pad on the market. 

Our Testing Process

Here at The Wise Adventurer, our testing process starts much the same as anyone else’s. We begin by spending long hours online digging through spec sheets, reading over existing customer reviews, and looking for any potential trends that might make a sleeping pad worth testing. 

Once we’ve narrowed down our selection to the most interesting and worthwhile pads on the market, we purchase each pad from online retailers, paying the same prices for the same products as your typical outdoor enthusiast. We do this in an effort to prevent any bias in both our selection and our evaluation of the products, which in turn gives our readers the most reliable information possible. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking - Our Testing Process
Our testing process relies on a standardized testing approach, comparing all product with each other against the same metrics.

Once we have our test pads in hand, they go out to our team of testers for first-hand review and evaluation, often along with camping tents. We’re still a relatively small team here at The Wise Adventurer, but so far we’ve managed to recruit a half-dozen lifelong outdoors lovers from around the world with a diverse blend of interests, expertise, and nearby geography. 

Once again, our goal here is to collect the most practical information possible for the widest variety of readers. Some of our testers love car camping or backcountry skiing, or camping in snow, while others would much prefer a long walk through the desert with a little bouldering or mountain biking sprinkled in. Our latest tester, Jean-Claude, even went so far as to complete a full thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this year, and we couldn’t have been more excited to outfit his journey in exchange for some honest feedback.

By getting the most diverse array of experience and opinions possible on each product we test, we’re able to compare notes and identify any common strengths or weaknesses of every pad we test. For better or worse, whatever we find out in the field comes straight to the reader to help you make the most informed decision possible on your next sleeping pad. 

Comfort

Thicker sleeping pads tend to sleep better than thinner ones as they provide more space and cushion between you and the hard ground below. Most backpacking pads range between two and three inches thick, but the plushest models reach upwards of four inches total. 

Keeping that in mind, there’s more to the comfort equation than “thicker = better.” That’s because in our experience the thicker a pad gets, the more prone it is to becoming bouncy and unstable. Don’t get us wrong, we love a nice thick camping pad, which is why the second part of our equation, internal baffling, is just as important to evaluate. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Comfort 1
The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT combines an industry-leading four-inch thick sleeping surface with diamond baffling for one of the most comfortable and stable pads money can buy.

Baffling refers to the shape and structure of a pad’s inner air chambers. These baffles work to limit the overall movement of air inside the pad, while also holding the top and bottom surfaces of the pad together to maintain a flatter, more uniform sleep surface. 

As a general rule of thumb, a larger number of smaller baffles provide better comfort than fewer, larger baffles. This is where models like the Sea to Summit Ether Light really shine, as they forego the traditional vertical or horizontal baffles and replace them with numerous individual “air chambers” scattered evenly throughout the pad. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Comfort 2
Foam pads like this Therm-a-rest Z Lite aren’t thick enough for most side sleepers, but their lack of air and baffles makes them the most stable of the bunch.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got foam pads, which forego inflation entirely by using dense closed-cell foam throughout the mattress. These pads tend to be much less comfortable than air pads, but they’re also much more stable and have a few unique benefits of their own that we’ll touch on below. 

Weight and Packed Size

Anytime we talk about backpacking equipment, both weight and packed size play a major role. Because the space in our packs is limited and we don’t want to overburden ourselves while hiking long distances, the lighter and more compact your pad is, the better. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 -Weight and Packed Size 1
The best backpacking pads vary somewhat in both size and weight, but each of the pads seen here is still plenty compact enough for traditional backpacking duty.

Unfortunately the quest for lighter and smaller gear typically comes with a compromise, and ultralight sleeping pads often sacrifice some degree of comfort, durability, or both. For this reason, many of our testers choose to carry a slightly larger and/or heavier pad in exchange for a more restful night’s sleep, as we feel some creature comforts are simply worth the extra effort.

The same argument could also be made for durability, which is why pads like the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT and Big Agnes Rapide SL have scored so well in our past testing. Personally, nothing grinds our gears more than having an expensive piece of gear fail in the field after minimal use, especially after paying full MSRP for the “latest and greatest” mattress out there. Some pads may be slightly heavier and/or bulkier than hardcore ultralight models, but they’re also much more likely to survive a long-distance backpacking trip, which makes them much more attractive to the majority of our team. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 -Weight and Packed Size 2
The Nemo Tensor Insulated is one of the most compact backpacking pads on the market, but it also uses a thinner and less durable face fabric to save weight.

This is one of the more “personal” decisions you’ll have to make when selecting a sleeping pad, as some hikers are perfectly fine with a minimalist foam pad while others who sleep on their sides will benefit from the thickest and most stable pad possible. We wouldn’t recommend losing too much sleep over this though (pun intended), as any pad under 1.5 pounds that packs down under a 12” x 5” total package should work fine with most pack sizes. 

Insulation

Insulation refers to your sleeping pad’s ability to retain warmth in colder weather, and is expressed using a measurement known as “R-value.” R-values are determined by standardized laboratory testing, but you don’t need to understand the process to understand what these numbers signify. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Insulation 1
Reflective film inside the Therm-A-Rest Neoair XLite NXT allows the pad to deliver 4-season warmth while still packing down to the size of your average Nalgene bottle.

The R-value of your pad will fall somewhere between 0 and 9. Pads with values of 2 or less are ideal for warmer weather, while those rated at 4 and above are better for fall and winter seasons. The best sleeping pads for backpacking year-round often clock in with R-values of 6 or higher, however, which makes them well suited to sleeping in even the most brutal alpine conditions. 

While R-values give us a good idea of how well a sleeping pad retains heat, they aren’t the end-all-be-all of warmth either. Unfortunately two different models with the same R-value can vary considerably in the real world, which is why testing sleeping pads firsthand is so important. 

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Sleeping pad technology has advanced so far that the Therm-A-Rest Xtherm we tested here delivers an incredible 7.3 R value while still weighing in at just 1 pound.

We evaluate sleeping pad insulation by sleeping on each pad in the same temperature range while wearing the same clothes as well. For warmer weather pads this can be as simple as shorts and a t-shirt, while our cold weather testing typically consists of wool base layers, a warm hat, and in more extreme cases even an insulated mid-layer. 

It’s also important to test each pad using a similarly rated sleeping bag, as a warmer bag can make a serious difference in perceived comfort. By testing each sleeping pad side by side this way, we’re able to glean real-world impressions of each pad’s insulation relative to its claimed R-value. 

Ease of Use

When it comes to ease of use, we’re referring to how convenient a sleeping pad is to live with day to day. This includes how easy it is to inflate and deflate (or in the case of closed cell foam pads, fold and unfold), as well as how easy it is to pack down and how carefully it needs to be handled to avoid picking up punctures or tears. 

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The Big Agnes Rapide SL we tested delivers the best of both worlds, being easy to inflate and deflate with or without the use of a pump sack.

In our testing we evaluate ease of use by simply living with each sleeping pad for extended periods, subjecting it to all the common use cases backpackers will encounter. This means hiking with each pad in our packs as well as setting up and taking take camp several times. 

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When it comes to convenience, nothing beats closed cell foam pads like this Nemo Switchback, which only needs to be unfolded for bedtime duty.

Sleeping pads that tend to score the best in this metric are typically those that are the easiest to inflate (both with and without a pump sack), as well as those that are the easiest to pack back down to their original dimensions. The less work that goes into using a sleeping pad the better, which is also why simple foam pads almost always score highly in this metric. 

Durability

The durability of a sleeping pad refers both to how well it resists damage and punctures as well as how long we expect a given pad to last. This is a particularly important metric for backpacking sleeping pads, as inflatable pads that are prone to failure out on the trail can leave you cold and uncomfortable for days at a time. 

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Durability 1
The extra-thick ripstop fabric found on this Sea to Summit Ether Light XT make it one of the most durable inflatable pads on the market.

We typically gauge a sleeping pad’s durability starting with its spec sheet. Pads that use thicker fabric like the Therm-a-Rest Xtherm or Big Agnes Rapide SL often score better in this metric, while the sheer indestructibility of closed cell foam pads like the Nemo Switchback or Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite simply can’t be beaten in this regard. 

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Because foam pads like this Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite are literally puncture-proof, they double as comfortable places to sit around camp without risking damage.

Once we have a sleeping pad in hand, we take it out for first-person field testing via camping, backpacking, or even backcountry skiing trips depending on the type of pad in question. We spend several days and nights living with each pad to properly stress test it, and it’s here inflatable sleeping pads that are prone to leaks or pre-mature wear and tear tend to reveal themselves. This is a factor we could have missed on pads like the Nemo Tensor or Therm-a-rest Neoair Xtherm had we not brought them along on our recent PCT thru-hike, which is one more reason we always aim to put our pads through the most rigorous tests we can find each year. 

Extended field testing is also the best way to determine any potential longevity concerns, and while we can’t spend a full year with each pad we test, we often find that several weeks of continuous use gives a good idea of each pad’s shelf life. Foam pads, for example, tend to compress over time and lose their thickness, while air pads can develop issues with leaky valves or ineffective insulation after just a few weeks. 

Value

Lastly we come to value, and while you could certainly argue that this is a subjective observation, we’ve found a few standout metrics that often tell us everything we need to know about a given pad’s value. 

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The Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated sticks out as one of the best backpacking sleeping pads out there, delivering comfort, insulation, and durability for about $100 less than its premium competitors.

The first and most obvious for us here is cost, as a less expensive pad that performs just as well as a more expensive model clearly offers more value for the money. Manufacturers will often justify high prices with a slightly lighter or more compact pad, but most campers and backpackers would happily save $50-100 and carry an extra ounce here and there. 

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Foam pads like the Nemo and Therm-A-Rest seen here are arguably the most affordable way to get into ultralight backpacking, as both retail for around $50.

The other major player we’ve found when it comes to value is versatility. This is where well-made and well-insulated pads like the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT and Nemo Tensor Insulated fare particularly well. Both sleeping pads can be used year-round in most environments due to their outstanding R-value, yet both also pack down just as small and light as your typical warm-weather backpacking pad. Pads like this may cost a few dollars more, but they also remove the need to own multiple pads for year-round backpacking, saving you money in the long run. 

Lastly, we find durability is the hallmark of any good sleeping pad. All air pads start leaking at some point, and all closed cell foam options flatten over time, but the best backpacking sleeping pads stick around a good long while with proper care before calling it quits. This is why a $200 inflatable pad can be just as attractive from a value standpoint as a $50 foam sleeping pad. 

We don’t expect foam to last as long as a well-loved air pad, and we don’t expect any air pad to remain airtight forever, but we also expect to see plenty of nights outdoors with each before they hit the recycling bin. 

Our Final Verdict

Best Sleeping Pads For Backpacking of 2023 - Our Final Verdict
The Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT takes top honors as the best sleeping pad overall, delivering the best balance of all the most important features we want in a pad.

Taking all the above criteria into consideration, we found the Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xlite NXT to be the best sleeping pad for backpacking overall. While the Xlite wasn’t the lightest, most compact, or most comfortable of our field test, it scored high in every single metric, and wanted for nothing aside from an unrefined pump sack. 

If you’re willing to tote a little extra bulk in exchange for a big upgrade in comfort, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated takes the cake for the highest overall quality. Our testers all loved the added comfort of the Ether Light’s luxurious four-inch thickness, and also felt that its unique quilted baffling was the most effective of the bunch. We’ll also note that the Ether Light XT was one of the most well-built pads of our testing, and its extra durable 40D bottom fabric bodes well for longevity. 

When it comes to bang for the buck, we felt that the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated couldn’t be beaten for value. It’s thicker than most, tougher than most, and if you like the sound of being cradled by your sleeping pad, the Rapide’s unique concave sleep surface puts the Ether Light’s superior comfort into question. Of course we know that even the Rapide can seem like a big investment for new backpackers, so if you’re looking to go as light as possible for as cheap as possible, don’t be afraid to try out a foam pad. 

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