Best sleeping pads for the practical hiker

Finding the best sleeping pad for you can be a challenge, dont’t worry I’ve got you covered! A reliable sleeping pad is an essential part of every backpacker’s sleeping equipment. It provides the missing insulation between you and the ground because we compress the back part of our sleeping bags and they lose most of their insulating properties.

This is where the sleeping pad comes in. It doesn’t only provide insulation but comfort as well. While a good night’s sleep was an unrealized dream for backpackers for many years this isn’t the case in modern times.  With new technology and smart design, sleeping pads have become lighter, more compact and more comfortable. You deserve a comfortable sleep after a full day of hiking. Here I’ve compiled a list of the best reliable backpacking sleeping pads for a reasonable price.

To get a better understanding of what to look for in a good sleeping pad check out this guide.

How reasonable you might ask? Well, there are a few models that go well below 100$. Keep in mind the higher we go in price the better the weight to comfort ratio gets. Same goes for the more budget-friendly options. They are great deals, but for the cost of heavier materials. Rest assured there are no bad choices on this list!

One more thing to note. With air pads, I suggest getting a small pump to avoid breathing the moisture from your lungs in. Moisture can promote the development of harmful organisms such as mold and when deflating your pad mold spores can spread to your other gear. So inflating an air pad with your lungs should be a last resort. Don’t worry, I’ve included an air pump solution to each air sleeping pad on this list.

Enough beating around the bush, let’s see what I’ve got lined up for you!  

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

R-value: 3.2

Type: air pad

Weight: 12 oz.

Repair Kit: included

I can’t do a list of sleeping pads and not include the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. For some, it has become the benchmark to which they compare the rest of the sleeping pads. It packs really well down to almost the size of a Nalgene bottle. It weighs less than a pound(12 oz to be exact). With its 2.5 inch thickness, it provides enough comfort for a good sleep. Side sleepers might not be as comfortable tho.

For all the good points this sleeping pad has there are some bad ones that can put you off. First of all, it has a twist and pull valve, nothing wrong with it, I’m just a practical guy that would like to see the superior flat valve on an air pad of this price range. Additionally, the air pad is noisy. Every movement you make on top of it sounds like sleeping on a bag of chips and I’m not even kidding. There have been many reports of people easily sliding off the sleeping pad which is very annoying. But this can be fixed if you have a sleeping bag with a sleeping pad sleeve to keep it in place.

If you can deal with the crunchy sound and fix the sliding issue – this can be all the sleeping pad you need for your 3 season adventures. Combine it with a closed cell foam pad and you can continue to use it in the winter.

For a pump, you can buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Mini Pump. It takes 2xAAA batteries and it won’t overinflate the pad when its full. I’m not a fan of electric air pumps for backpacking but we have little choice here. The pump is very compact and you can just use the batteries from a flashlight that carries the same size to minimize weight.

An inexpensive solution would be to use a trash bag and a rubber band. This will only work on a twist and pull valve, it’s a bit finicky and you will need to use your lungs a couple of times to finish the job. The way this works is – you cut away 1 corner of the trash bag, just enough so the twist and pull valve can get through. Then use the rubber band on the inside of the bag to clamp it to the valve. Then use the trash bag as a roll pump. Be sure to try the trash bags at home first because some burst at the seems and are not fit for the job.

Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL

R-value: 2.6

Type: closed cell foam pad

Weight: 14 oz. and 10 oz. for the small version

Repair kit: not needed – Bombproof

Speaking of closed cell-foam pads – the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL is another benchmark. If you’re going to get a foam pad – get this one. End of story ok? Ok, I’ll tell you a bit more about it just in case you don’t just take my word for it(I’m hurt by the way if you didn’t just take my word for it 🙂

This is a simple well thought out egg crate design which saves space when it folds in on itself. Granted it is nowhere near as compact as an air pad it still is reasonably compact. You can attach it on the outside of the backpack without having to worry of branches puncturing it. This pad will last you for a long, long time. For such a thin design it manages to provide a 2.6 R-value. You can combine it with an air pad that is “uninsulated” to add more comfort and insulation. If I had to describe this closed cell foam pad in a few words those would be – “Bombproof classic”, easy on the wallet too.

Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated

R-value: 3.3

Type: air pad

Weight: 15.5 oz.

Repair kit: included

The Sea to Summit Ultralight is a real contender for the first pick when looking for an air pad. It uses an air sprung cell design to mimic the pocket springs in a mattress. This distributes your weight evenly and helps to inflate and deflate the pad faster. There is more support in the torso area where you need it and less in the head and feet area to save weight.  Sea to Summit has even added a flat valve which is something I like to see in a modern air pad. In the morning when packing up the pad you will appreciate the flat valve because it will deflate it within a few seconds.

If you have to inflate the air pad with your lungs, Sea to Summit has covered the inside with an anti-microbial coating to prevent the development of harmful bacteria.

The 40D ripstop bottom is also a bit tougher than the Therm-a-Rest providing a balance between durability and weight.The Therm-a-Rest simply can’t compete with it. Oh, and another thing – it’s nowhere near as noisy.  

Overall this is a very good air pad for the money and you should seriously consider it when looking for a new air sleeping pad.

For a pump, you can buy a more practical solution here. The Sea to Summit Air Stream Pump Sack is a roll pump that doubles as a water resistant stuff sack.

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI

R-value: 4.1

Type: self-inflating pad

Weight: 31 oz

Repair kit – not specified; AftermarketSeam Grip WP repair kit

It’s time to introduce a self-inflating pad in our line up. This is not an ultralight friendly pad. Weighing in at 31 oz. the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI puts comfort above all else. The foam inside is specially designed to provide comfort and reduce weight as much as possible. It needs that being as heavy as it is already. Again there’s a flat valve with a “twist” to prevent it from inflating when you are rolling the pad up for packing. They’ve thought of everything. Even the 30D polyester fabric is nice to the touch. Just so we don’t miss the intention they describe it as “luxurious fabric” that provides both durability and comfort. I tend to agree with that statement. On the back, it has a few printed dimples to prevent the pad from sliding around which is a nice addition to an already good design!

To put it simply this is a thick and comfortable self-inflating pad that is on the heavy side. Reasonably priced as well. A well worth trade-off for a 2-3 day backpacking trip in maximum comfort.

Big Agnes Q-Core SLX  

R-value: minimum 15F

Type: air pad

Weight: 16 oz.

Repair kit: included

By now you must have come across at least a few comments where people ask “ What sleeping pad should I get?” and another comment answering with total confidence – “Two words – Big Agnes”. And they will be right. You can’t go wrong with a Big Agnes product. The Q-Core SLX is no exception. Big Agnes has pulled all the stops here using two separate flat valves for inflation and deflation. It is the thickest pad on this list giving you 3.5 inches of air cushion comfort. It is made with aviation grade TPU lamination technology that provides durability and lightweight – 16 oz. Let me say that again – the air pad is 3.5 inches thick and it weighs just 16 oz. Side sleepers and comfort seekers will have nothing to complain about this air pad.

The sides have raised baffles(4.25 inches thick) to keep you from rolling off the pad. It packs down quite well it even comes with a provided repair kit should you have a puncture. Instead of an R-value, Big Agnes has given this pad a minimum temperature rating that it will provide sufficient insulation down to 15F. Mind you if you’re going to sleep in temperatures close to that allow for a 10-15F buffer and take additional clothing or a foam pad to increase the insulation. There have been several reports of people feeling cold below 30F so plan accordingly!

The price is also not bad making this an easy choice to pick up!

For a pump here you can try the Big Agnes Pumphouse Ultra which is again a roll pump that doubles as a stuff sack and triples as a pillow.

Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro

R-value: 4

Type: self-inflating pad

Weight: 1 lbs. 10 oz.

Repair kit: not included; AftermarketSeam Grip WP repair kit

This is not an ultralight choice. The Therm-a-Rest Trail pro is a tried and tested reliable design. Made to provide comfort and durability at a very reasonable price. While it does use a twist and pull valve which isn’t my favorite it goes well with the overall price to performance ratio in this case. The thickness of the pad is 2 inches with bigger side baffles to keep you cradled in. The foam is strategically cut to provide more support and insulation where needed and less where it can save weight without sacrificing comfort. The bottom is reinforced to make the pad more puncture resistant.

Overall this is a budget-friendly reliable self-inflating sleeping pad that is worth considering!

Exped Synmat 7

Type: air pad

R-value: 4.9

Weight: 30oz.

Repair kit: included

Ok, fellows, this pad is twice as heavy compared to the other air pads so why am I talking about it? I’ll tell you why – because it’s worth it!

If you had to have only 1 sleeping pad to do everything – this would be it. The Exped Synmat 7 is an award-winning sleeping pad that can do it all. You can use it year round even in the winter with its 4.9 R-value rating. I’d still take an additional foam pad for winter backpacking.

Why is it so heavy tho? Well, “Synmat” stands for the synthetic insulation that is inside the air pad to give it that high insulation rating. It uses 75D polyester fabric making it very durable and adding that bit of extra weight. What separates this pad even more from the rest is the integrated pump smartly designed around the intake flat valve on one of the side baffles – you just open the valve, place your hands on the marked places and start pumping. Imagine how robust the seems are made to be to endure that pumping action. Of course, the pad can deflate just as quick thanks to the separate outtake valve.

You could say that the pad has 2 faces. The honeycomb pattern on one side provides a bit cooler sleeping and the other, more fuzzy side provides a bit more insulation. The pad comes with a repair kit and a 5-year warranty.  The price is very competitive and hard to pass up. The Exped Synmat 7 can be your one and only comfortable 4 season sleeping pad!

Klymit Insulated Static V Lite

R-value: 4.4

Type: Air Pad

Weight: 19.6 oz

Repair kit: included

Part of why the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite is so popular is the crazy good price. It does everything well without exceeding in any area. The unique baffle system is a hit and miss for some. I personally love the design and the side baffles that keep you from rolling out of the pad. The pad is 2.5 inches thick and provides good comfort. Many have reported that you should keep it slightly deflated for maximum comfort. The material used is a 30D polyester fabric.

The 4.4 R-value will keep you well insulated up to late fall but after that, I’d pack an additional foam pad. There is also an uninsulated(1.3 R-value) even cheaper version should you need it. It’s surprisingly popular if I may add.

For negatives, I’d say I don’t like the twist and pull valve but for the amazing price, I can’t really complain. It does the job. It’s a few ounces heavier than the others but it has a higher R-value and again – very attractive price!

There is a lot to like about this air pad, it comes with a repair kit and a lifetime warranty. If you’re on a tight budget but still want to have a well-rested sleep this pad might be right for you!

For a pump you can get the Klymit Rapid Roll-Top air pump. Now, this is a very narrow sleeve so I wouldn’t use it as a stuff sack but the option is still there. You can inflate the pad with about 4 full rolls. Packed the pump’s dimensions are 4×2 inches and it weighs 3.5 oz.  

Or you can use the trash bag method I mentioned with the NeoAir XLite pad.

Big Agnes Air Core Ultra

R-value:  15F

Type: air pad

Weight: 21 oz

Repair kit: included

You thought we were done with Big Agnes pads? Nope! Why am I showing you this one tho? Well, to start it has a bit less thickness of 3.25 inches – still plenty comfortable. It has the same 2 flat valve design as the Q-Core SLX which I like. There is an even cheaper uninsulated version of this model. The big side baffles are again present to keep you from rolling off. It is 5 ounces heavier tho. To compensate this it is noticeably cheaper. The Air Core Ultra has the same 15F insulation rating (bring an additional foam pad if you’re going that low) It comes in a variety of sizes so no matter how big, small or wide, double wide for the lovebirds – Big Agnes has got you covered.

Oh, I almost forgot – there’s a repair kit included and the stuff sack is a bit tight to pack back up so you will want to invest in another storage bag.

Overall this is another great product covered by a lifetime warranty should any defects occur. Even when the problem is not under warranty Big Agness can almost always repair it for you at a reasonable price!

For a pump again here you can use the Big Agnes Pumphouse Ultra.

Just get one already or I will do a review on a third Big Agnes sleeping pad :)!

Conclusion

There you have it, these are some of the best sleeping pads at a reasonable price covering all 3 types. I’m sure I’ve missed a few gems so let me know in the comments below which ones do you think deserve to be on this list. Meanwhile, if you want to combine a good sleeping pad with a good sleeping bag check out this post!

Until next time,

Happy hiking!

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