If you’ve ever tried sleeping with just the tent floor and a sleeping bag between you and the hard, cold ground, you know how important a sleeping pad is for a good night’s sleep when backpacking. The challenge is that it is one more heavy and bulky piece of gear to carry on your back.
The good news is that you can get the insulation, support, cushioning, and warmth you need to sleep comfortably while backpacking without adding a lot of weight and bulk to your backpack. The best backpacking sleeping pads are comfortable, lightweight, and fold down impressively compact.
Below are ten best ultralight sleeping pads that offer a great sleep and toting experience. They won’t drag you down during the day and they will ensure you have a comfortable place to lay down after a long, tiring day.
Ready to get started? Let’s go.
It is possible to inflate a sleeping bag until it is too firm to be comfortable. Try letting out a little air so that the pad has some "give" when you press on it. Experiment at home to find the ideal firmness for your sleeping pad before heading out on a backpacking trip.
The moisture in your breath can damage some inflatable sleeping pads, which is why some companies offer "pump sacks" to aid with inflation. The process of filling the sack with air and then squeezing this air into the sleeping pad takes a little practise to get right.
It is very important to insulate yourself from the ground in cold weather. Placing an emergency blanket (space blanket) underneath your sleeping pad can help keep you warm. If you don't have an emergency blanket, you can use spare clothing, plastic bags or whatever else you have available. You can even place your empty backpack underneath your legs.
How To Choose A Backpacking Sleeping Pad – Buying Guide
The kind of sleeping pad you have can make or break a good night’s sleep when backpacking. You want it to offer you the warmth, comfort and cushioning you need for a good night’s sleep but be easy to carry on your back as you trek, hike or climb. It is important to pay attention to details when picking a sleeping pad. Here is what to consider to ensure that you make a good choice.
How well a sleeping pad will be able to keep you warm is the number one consideration when buying a backpacking pad. The cold ground beneath has the ability to take away your body heat faster than the cold air around you. A sleeping pad acts as a barrier between your body and the cold ground preventing this heat loss. Another way you lose heat is by convection due to air movement. This is why it gets cold when sleeping in a hammock. A sleeping pad reduces this kind of heat loss by limiting air movement.
The R-value is what tells you the level of insulation a pad provides. It indicates how well the pad is able to resist heat loss. What R-value you need will depend on the conditions you will be sleeping in. Low R values of 0-3 are okay when it is warm. 3-season pads usually have R-values of 3-4. Winter backpacking and sleeping on snow requires more insulation. You will need an R-value of 4-6 when the temperature dips to around or below freezing. Extremely frigid winter conditions call for a 5+ R-value.
Some pads will have a temperature rating that will tell you the kind of conditions they are designed for.
You will come across three types of backpacking sleeping pads: air pads, self-inflating pads, and closed-cell foam pads. Their performance, pros, and cons are as follows:
Incredibly comfortable, lightweight and the most compact, air pads are ideal for backpacking. They use air for cushioning, provide excellent cushioning and insulation and are very comfortable. Inflation is by blowing manually but some models have built-in hand pumps while some work with external hand pumps. Their disadvantages are that they are susceptible to punctures and can deflate in the middle of the night.
Self Inflating Pads
These use a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air for cushioning. They offer convenience, decent durability, and comfort. Inflating them is as simple as opening the valve and leaving them to fill up with air. They are more puncture resistant than air pads and some backpacking versions can be folded and rolled into a very compact packed size that fits inside a pack.
Closed-Cell Foam Pads
These are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. They are the cheapest, lightest, hassle-free, multipurpose, offer good insulation and aren’t easily punctured or damaged. On the downside, they tend to be stiff, bulky, less comfortable than inflatable pads.
Thickness is one of the most critical features of a sleeping pad, as it affects how warm and comfortable a pad is. Choose a sleeping pad that has a reasonable thickness – at least 2″ and even thicker if you’re a side sleeper or backpack in cold conditions. This will ensure there’s cushioning between your body and the cold, hard ground. Thickness also affects air circulation and insulation. With a thin pad, there will be more air movement and you will lose heat through convection.
A noisy sleeping pad is bothersome especially if you tend to toss and turn a lot. It can ruin your and others’ ability to get a good night’s sleep. New air pads tend to make crinkly or squeaky sounds when you move around but they quiet down after some nights. Before you purchase a pad, check backpacking sleeping pad reviews by users to see whether there are complaints that it is an annoying noise maker.
Your sleeping pad will be one of the heaviest items in your pack and a lightweight backpacking sleeping pad is ideal. You’ll find options ranging from ultralight pads weighing 12 ounces to 36 ounces, which is still lightweight.
If you will be covering many miles a day, every ounce counts, you will need the lightest sleeping pad that offers the warmth and comfort you need. Air pads provide the highest weight-to-performance ratio. If you’re on a budget, need to go light and don’t need a lot of comfort or insulation, foam pads are cheap and relatively light. If you will only be covering a couple of miles or backpacking in the winter, you can afford to carry a few extra ounces for the comfort and warmth.
You definitely want a hassle-free sleeping pad whose conveniences you will enjoy while backpacking. A foam pad presents the least hassles. All you have to do is unfold and lay it down. A self-inflating pad is also very convenient since it expands on its own after you open the valve. An air pad equipped with an integrated hand pump is also a convenient option since you don’t have to huff and puff every night to fill it up manually.
Sleeping pads come in a wide range of lengths. The regular length is 72″ but there are longer (78″ – 80″ ) and shorter (48″) options. The choice comes down to your height, comfort, and weight preferences. Most backpackers prefer the comfort of full-length pads that cushion their heels and insulate their legs and feet. If you really want to minimize weight and bulk, you can opt for a short pad that won’t cushion your legs.
The other sleeping pad dimension to pay attention to is the width. The width to go for will depend on your sleeping style, body size, and personal preference. The standard sleeping pad width is 20 inches. If you’re a large person, a back sleeper or move around a lot, you may prefer a wider pad – 25 or 30 inches – as long as it will fit in your tent. If your backpacking sleeping bag has a built-in pad sleeve, check the sleeve width before you buy a pad to ensure you get a size that will fit.
Backpacking sleeping pads come in a variety of shapes. Tapered, oval or mummy shapes minimize weight and bulk due to their trim shape that eliminates unused corners. Rectangular pads are roomier, more comfortable and will give you better rest if you move a lot in your sleep or tend to spread your legs and hands while sleeping. The downside is that they are heavy and bulky.
Ease of Use
After an exhausting day on the trail, the last thing you want is a sleeping pad that needs a lot of time and energy to set up. Closed-air foam pads are the easiest to use. Just throw it down and lay your sleeping bag on top. A self-inflating pad is another effortless option. All you have to do is open the valve and leave it to expand on its own.
If you prefer an air pad, choose one that inflates quickly. Some pads have larger openings that allow rapid inflation with fewer breaths. If you like one that requires a lot of huffing and puffing to inflate it and would leave you light headed if you were to blow it manually, ensure it has a built-in hand pump or bring along a packable hand pump to make inflating quick and easy.
A compact sleeping pad when packed is a must when backpacking. Air pads pack down impressively small and will easily stow inside your backpack. Self-inflating pads pack down larger due to the foam component. Foam pads are the largest and are usually attached to the outside of a backpack. A bulkier sleeping pad that comes with a stuff sack that compresses it into a small size is also a great option. Be sure to look at the packed size of the pad you’re considering.
Q: Do I Need A Sleeping Pad For Backpacking?
Q: What Is The Difference Between Lightweight And Ultralight Sleeping Pad?
Q: What is R-Value?
Globo Surf Overview
A quality backpacking sleeping pad is one of the best backpacking gear investment you will ever make. The best backpacking sleeping pad offers insulation and cushioning ensuring you sleep comfortably after a long day on the trail. When you wake up alert and energetic, you’ll be safer and have more fun in the wilderness. Make sure you take proper care of your sleeping pad while out there so it can give you long lasting service. Happy backpacking!
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Which of the top rated ultralight sleeping pads on our list is your top choice? We would love to read your thoughts or experience with the backpacking pads we’ve reviewed! Feel free to share in the comment box below!