The Ultimate Guide to Sleeping Pads

Sleeping pad (regular)

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: The ground might sound like a soft sleeping surface, but don't be fooled. It's very hard, and we are so used to bedding that it make for a very painful night. Moreover, the ground sucks away body heat, so you want a barrier to help keep warm!

Click here for a high level overview of how insulation works, which can be helpful to understand the terminology & concepts used throughout this page.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

Yes, some kind of sleep surface is one of the 3 key essentials for any trip to provide comfort & warmth .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Name Camping cot Air mattress Sleeping pad
Example qualities & features Padding material If available, usually foam Air only Air only Air + foam mix Foam only
Example images Camping cot Air mattress Air sleeping pad Air + foam sleeping pad Foam sleeping pad
Do you sleep off the ground?

This ventilation may be important for some

Is the surface slippery?

May be a problem for people who really toss & turn heavily

Depends on model
Firmness Depends on the padding, if cot is padded You can blow it up to how you like it Like a yoga mat
Usage & durability over time Depends on frame, generally durable if well-made You can use as long as it doesn't puncture (over time, you will likely have to patch up holes) Between air & foam pads No risk of puncturing, but as the foam compresses, it may feel less supportive
Material is very weak, we've done extensive research & not come up with a "high end" air mattress. <10 uses Durable technical fabric. Quality pads can go 100+ uses
How do you set it up? Unroll or unfold Use a pump (manual or electric) Blow-up by mouth Blow-up by mouth or self-inflate (unroll & open valve, foam slowly takes in air over a few hours) Unroll or unfold
Effect on secondary factors Price** $30-100 $10-50 $60-250 $50-150 $20-50

Warmth

Given thickness

R-value not measured

R-value 2-5

2-4in (5-10cm) thick

R-value 2-3

1-2in (2.5-5cm) thick

R-value 1-2

<1in (2.5cm) thick

Some cots don't have padding, so people will add a pad on top 9-18in (22-45 cm) thick
Capacity Generally for single individuals

Twin to king size

Twin = twice the size of a single individual, i.e., it's a double

Generally for single individuals
Weight**

10-20lbs

(5-9kg)

Lightweight models do exist (down to 3lbs, 1.4kg), but generally people who care about weight savings would just get a pad!

3-10lbs

(1.4-4.5kg)

More luxuriously padded models can get to 30+lbs (14+kg)

0.5-1.9lb

(0.2-0.9kg)

1.2+lb

(0.5+kg)

Can get to 3lbs (1.4kg) if it imitates an air mattress with more padding

0.8-0.9lb

(0.3-4kg)

Foam is actually very light

Size

When folded down

Depends on how it folds, may be able to be slung over-the-shoulder or require a car, like a folding table Depends on capacity; when air is fully removed, may be able to fit in a large backpack See size analogies in Weight & Size section
Rationale While not very technical, there are more materials (e.g., it has a metal frame) Only lower end versions exist More air-based = less matter & more trapped dead air More foam-based = more matter & less trapped dead air

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not as versatile for multiple use cases; as noted above, people may still need to get a pad for it

Recommended only for indoor/ backyard type use given there may be issues with durability; extremely limited availability, please call to reserve

Standard for most outdoor uses

Standard for most outdoor uses

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(regular)'

Already at a low price


While these factors affect any type or style, we've only gathered specific data for sleeping pads. Air mattresses are not optimized for the technical factors we'll consider below (e.g., warmth or weight & size), and for durability reasons we never recommend them for outdoor use.

Price

One of life's certainties is the trade-off between price & quality. This creates an inherently unfair situation. If you save money today by buying something lower end, you'll end up replacing it more frequently, spending money & time each instance so that at the end, you probably haven't actually saved anything. On the other hand, if you decide to invest in something higher end, you'll need a lot more upfront money, and you need to be able to use the item frequently enough to make it worthwhile.

We developed our rental program to address this unfairness. We don't sell lower end items. But for our higher end items, we offer them for rent at up to 90% off retail price, generally well below the cost of buying even the cheaper option. That's a win-win!

It may seem like the price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). Remember 2 things:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use, first use, or infrequent use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors!
  • The point of gear is to give you a good experience because you've already spent money to be on vacation from work! Don't let quality issues affect your relaxation

For gear specifically, the quality issues center around performance & durability.

Performance

  • The sleeping pad was bigger or heavier: When you're doing long distances, every ounce or gram really can matter (thru-hikers can get very zealous with this). Not to mention a cheap pad that's, for example, only foam doesn't compress down very well, you might need to spend more on a big enough backpack to carry it
  • The sleeping pad popped easily: A cheap air-based sleeping pad is basically an air mattress, and as we've discussed, we wouldn't recommend it because the risk of puncture can be so high. This is especially important because most people are very unaccustomed to sleeping on the hard ground & really need the padding

Durability

Maybe you are the average person that goes 1-2 times per year, you don't mind the hassle of replacing gear that doesn't last, and you also don't care about the performance differences. Then use our borrow program & get free gear where available! Or for a little more, use our rental program.

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Capacity (size)

How many people fit on a sleeping pad

Most sleeping pads are designed for single, individual sleepers. That said, there are double sleeping pads. Here's how a double pad affects the other factors:

  • Weight & size: more material = greater weight & size
  • Price: unfortunately no special deals here, most double sleeping pads are priced like 2 individual sleeping pads

Since it's less versatile & around the same price as 2 individual sleeping pads, most people don't get a double pad. For that reason, we don't have detailed data, nor do we carry this item.

How big the sleeping pad is

There are 2 strategies that people follow:

  • For most situations: get a pad that's sized to at least your size
  • For maximizing weight & size savings: get a pad that's smaller (usually this means shorter) than you & let your feet or legs dangle off (to prioritize keeping your torso warm)

Labeled length

Height of person it will accommodate

4.5ft (1.4m) 5ft (1.5m) 5.5ft (1.7m) 6ft (1.8m) 6.5ft (2.0m)
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .

Name to look for

Some models have a sex-based size difference, some don't. For when there is a sex-based size difference, we've indicated what it's likely to be

Adult 3/4 length or short Adult standard (aka adult regular) Adult long
Women's standard (aka women's regular) Women's long
Men's standard (aka men's regular) Men's long
Effect on other factors Price Subtract up to $20 below standard Standard Add up to $20 over standard

Girth

See below for more info

Generally no change compared with standard Standard May only come in extra-wide girth
Weight Subtract up to 10oz (283g) below standard Standard Add up to 10oz (283g) over standard
Rationale Size of sleeping pad just affects amount of materials used, very straightforward. This is the only table where we compare data to the standard versus a standalone range, because generally pads not standard length are a derivative of a standard model

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not as versatile for multiple use cases

For rent only in the ultralight weight class for people who want to sacrifice length for weight savings

Standard for most outdoor uses

For rent only in the superlight weight class since people who want ultralight would likely sacrifice length for weight; extremely limited availability, please call to reserve

Width: We can have the same table as above for the width dimension. However, width is pretty standardized, ~20in (~55 cm) per person. There are extra-wide sizes (25in [60cm]), sometimes these are also only available in "Adult long", and this may incrementally increase price & weight over the standard size by up to $20 & 5oz (142g). We do carry extra-wide pads for rent for people who need the extra space; extremely limited availability, please call to reserve. Based on standard widths, the number of sleeping pads that will fit in a given tent correlates with the tent's prescribed person count. In other words, if you want extra-wide sleeping pads, get a larger tent.

Warmth

Measured by an R-value that indicates "Resistance" to heat transfer. The higher the R-value, the more a pad resists heat transfer, the warmer you stay since you lose less body heat to the ground. R-value is not standardized in the industry (some manufacturers don't have it, but use a temperature rating instead).

Sleeping pads are critical to maintaining warmth & insulating you from the ground, which the sleeping bag doesn't do very well (see our insulation review). Most people get a sleeping bag first, and then get a sleeping pad second, so the R-value of a sleeping pad can "complement" your bag. I.e., if you have a thin bag and are going someplace cold, get a pad with a higher R-value, or vice-versa.

Generally, women tend to be cold-sleepers & men tend to be warm-sleepers (for more info on women-specific sleeping pads, click here), so a woman might want to look for a higher R-value (usually +1). You can also stack pads to increase R-value (which is additive), see Usage notes.

Like any decision around insulation & warmth, personal preference can be much more important than statistics & actual conditions. Renting is a great way of testing what works best for you!

R-value 1 & below 2 3 4 5 & above
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
When you might use it Warm nights Standard For mountaineering & expeditions
Effect on other factors Price Less expensive More expensive
Weight & Size Lighter, thinner, more compact Heavier, thicker, less compact
Rationale While effect on other factors follows above trends (higher R-value = more materials = greater price & weight), there is significant product variation. Combined with lack of standardized R-value, we have not teased out "breakpoints"

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Lower R-value means not as versatile for multiple use cases

Standard for most outdoor uses

We sell a 5.7 R-value pad, because the incremental price increase on a pad is lower than a bag, some people will have a thinner sleeping bag but buy a higher R-value pad to compensate. We don't rent this pad because most people would not need something this technical

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

To reduce more weight & increase compactability, manufacturers reduce the amount of material used (e.g., fewer features, thinner fabrics, etc.) and, where possible, use more technical materials to prevent performance loss. For example, ultralight fabric used in clothing has to still be waterproof. These strategies create 2 general consequences

  • Lightweight gear tends to be less durable: Sometimes, light-weight gear is just thinner & so more prone to damage (even a more technical material may not fully offset the loss in durability)
  • Lightweight gear tends to be more expensive: While less materials = lower cost, the more dominating effect is often that thinner materials = more technical = greater cost

For these reasons, the lighter the gear, the more you should treat it as an investment! Is the price difference worth the weight or size savings? This depends on you & your trip.

NOTE: Foam-only pads are excluded from the comparision below because foam is already very light, the industry doesn't have regular vs ultralight foam. And yet, because it is so light, some people do prefer a foam pad as their ultralight option. Just keep in mind that foam isn't compressible, so you have a size trade-off. A foam pad will almost always have to be strapped to the outside of a backpack

Sleeping pad

Single person capacity

Regular Superlight Ultralight

Air or air + foam mix

style

Air

style

Weight

1.6-2.6+lbs

(0.7-1.2+kg)

1.3-1.6lb

(0.6-0.7kg)

0.5-1.3lb

(0.2-0.6kg)

Size

At its smallest...

Like a larger yoga mat Like the smallest ultralight sleeping bag Like a super burrito
Effect on other factors Price Lower Higher
Warmth Higher R-value Lower R-value
Rationale While effect on other factors follows above trends (lighter = less but more technical materials = lower R-value but greater price), there is significant product variation. Combined with lack of standardized R-value, we have not teased out "breakpoints"

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Not as versatile for multiple use cases

Versatile for most outdoor uses, therefore more worth the money

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(regular)'

Our mission is to increase access to gear & we are proud to be the only company to rent as well as sell this type

On our Catalog, this is indicated with '(backpacking)'

Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it crinkle a lot? (Some pads have myler liners inside to add insulation, but then this crinkles when you roll around, and some light sleepers notice the sound)
  • Are the baffles vertical or horizontal, or something else? (Some people find vertical baffles help prevent them from rolling off)
  • Can it integrate with a sleeping bag? (Some sleeping bags have sleeves so you can put a sleeping pad inside, helping stop you from rolling off the pad)
  • Do you have to blow it up or is there a pump, and if so, how does it work?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Type or style Air only Air + foam mix Foam only
Blow-up by mouth (usually <1 min) Blow-up by mouth or partially self-inflate (unroll & open valve, foam slowly takes in air over a few hours) Unroll or unfold
Model Thermarest XTherm sleeping pad Thermarest UberLite sleeping pad Thermarest XLite sleeping pad REI Stratus sleeping pad Thermarest ProLite Plus sleeping pad Thermarest Z-Lite Sol sleeping pad
Thermarest XTherm Thermarest UberLight Thermarest XLite REI Stratus Thermarest ProLite Plus Thermarest Z-Lite Sol

Buy

MSRP with tax

$217 $195 $185

$110

value

$110 $50
Rent $15+ $10+
Online rental Catalog name Sleeping pad (backpacking)

Sleeping pad (regular)

On Options page you can choose which type or style

Thickness

2.5in

6.4cm

1.5in

3.8cm

0.75in

2.0cm

Warmth

R-value

5.7 2.0 3.2 2.9 3.4 2.6

Weight

Standard 6ft (1.8m) length

15oz

430g

9oz

250g

12oz

340g

21oz

595g

23oz

650g

14oz

410g

Carry size & notes A super super burrito A burrito A super burrito A super super burrito The smallest ultralight sleeping bag A larger yoga mat

We do carry gear designed specifically for women (some differences mentioned throughout this guide); however, in our experience, most people do not notice the differences; i.e., actual fit & personal preference are more important than industry-average differences based on sex (e.g., not all women are shorter). Whenever considering sex-specific gear, we recommend comparing all the options, to ensure the price difference is worth it (women-specific items are often more expensive). If you do require a specific sex when renting online, please write-in on the Options page of our online order form; otherwise we will pick regardless of sex. For this gear, women-specific items available in the air-only, backpacking models, & are 5.5ft (1.7m) long.

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

Slipping & stacking

Given that air pads are more slippery & foam pads are less so, foam pads are better:

  • For people who toss & turn a lot (e.g., kids)
  • For stacking to increase R-value (you could stack a slippery pad on a foam pad though, if you yourself are not concerned about the slipperiness).

Site selection

If you're using an inflatable pad, be sure that there are no sharp objects on the ground where you plan to sleep (these can poke through the tent floor & puncture the pad). Review the notes on site selection for a tent for more info. Using a footprint or ground cloth underneath your tent can provide extra protection, but it is not a substitute for careful site selection. If you are camping without a tent (e.g., cowboy camping or using a tarp tent), it's still best to use a ground cloth to help protect your sleeping pad.

Maintenance tips

Repairing

Rips, tears, holes: Given the nature of this item, it can be difficult to repair it in a way that it is still usable. Our best recommendation is to use a Tenacious Tape patch with liquid seam sealant over the patch (to help bind it to the original material and seal off any loose ends)

Note, some manufacturers include a patch with some glue for field repairs (if you're renting with us, ask and we'll give you one for free), but these tend to not be as durable, so we recommend the approach above once you get home.

It can be very difficult to find the holes. The best way is to submerge an inflated pad in water, and then apply pressure up and down the pad, watching carefully for where small air bubbles emerge. This is easiest with two people. Less ideal is to spray the surface of an inflated pad with a soapy water, and apply pressure to find where the soap starts to bubble.

Cleaning & Storing

Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment, check out our entire protip on the topic here.

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

Other products on the market

A hammock can potentially substitute for your entire essential set of tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad! Substitutability depends on the model of hammock, so do your research thoroughly to see if the hammock has rain protection or mesh (to simulate a tent), and any built-in padding or bedding for warmth & comfort. You'll also want to ensure there are plenty of trees where you're going. Finally, you might want to try taking a nap first, hammocks result in back pain for some & back pain relief for others, the last thing you want is to wake up after a long night in pain!

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!