The Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Car Camping of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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The Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Car Camping of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

The stock situation has improved since our last update, and we’re now testing the sleeping pads listed in What to look forward to. In the meantime, we stand by our current picks.

A good sleeping pad can transform hours of tossing and turning in the wild into a decent night’s sleep. We slept on 15 different sleeping pads during our first round of testing, and we tried an additional 10 pads in our most recent round—carrying them on a total of seven car-camping and backpacking trips.

We concluded that the Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Sleeping Pad is the best choice for car campers and the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat is the most supportive pad for backpackers. If you’re looking for a budget option or a sleeping pad for two people, we’ve got you covered for those, too.

The 3-inch-thick, notably warm Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap is as comfortable as any pad we tested. And it’s easier to inflate, deflate, roll, and store than any other car-camping pad.

The self-inflating Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Sleeping Pad has long been a favorite with our testers, and it has stood the test of time—five years of car-camping trips, to be more specific. This 3-inch-thick pad has extra foam, with an air pocket on top (placed exactly where the body exerts more pressure; this increases comfort and helps prevent the pad from bottoming out overnight, a common problem). Side-sleepers, back-sleepers, and stomach-sleepers alike found this pad to be comfortable and supportive. And with an R-value of 6.8 (R-value is a measure of how well the pad insulates), the LuxuryMap is more than twice as warm as the top-end backpacking pads we also reviewed for this guide. In our tests, the LuxuryMap’s face fabric seemed to reject lint and dirt better than fabric on rival pads. And its carry bag was refreshingly easy to stuff and tote around (not often the case with larger sleeping pads). The only downside: This pad is heavy. The regular LuxuryMap (20 by 72 inches) weighs 4 pounds (the pad is also available in large and extra-large, both 77 inches long, and 25 or 30 inches wide, respectively ). But as long as you’re parked close to your campsite, this shouldn’t bother you.

Our pick Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat The best sleeping pad for backpackers Because of its mummy shape and unique air-pocket design, this three-season sleeping pad provides top-notch back and hip support. However, it’s slightly heavier than some of its competitors.Buying Options$189 from REI (regular) Buy from L.L.Bean May be out of stock

Because of its mummy shape and unique air-pocket design, this three-season sleeping pad provides top-notch back and hip support. However, it’s slightly heavier than some of its competitors.

May be out of stock

If you’re looking for a sleeping pad that’s supportive yet still light enough to carry—for backpacking trips in the spring, summer, and fall—the 4-inch-thick Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat is a solid choice. Its mummy shape is wider in the hip area (21½ inches) than most of its competitors, including our former backpacking pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. This means you’re less likely to roll off of it overnight and end up cold and aching come morning. The quilted air-pocket design also keeps the pad from slipping on the ground, and it provides added support for side-sleepers’ hips and shoulders. The regular pad is 72 inches long; if you need one that’s longer or shorter, you can order it in small (66 inches) or large (78 inches). The pad’s 3.2 R-value is similar to that of competitors (although not as insulating from the cold ground as the LuxuryMap). One downside: Though it’s less than half the weight of our car-camping pick, the Ether Light XT is about 5 ounces heavier than some of the other backpacking pads we tested, and it’s slightly harder to pack down. If you’re looking for a very light pad, you may prefer the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.

This sleeping pad isn’t small, and it isn’t light. But it’s the most comfortable pad in the game. If you’re driving up to your campsite, the MegaMat Duo is wilderness luxury.

Here’s the thing: The Exped MegaMat Duo 10 M is not easy to pack. It’s not easy to inflate. And it’s not easy to carry around. But it is absolutely the most comfortable double sleeping pad you can buy—so comfortable, in fact, that many of our testers found themselves using this pad for guests in their home, instead of a typical air mattress. The MegaMat Duo is 3.9 inches thick and weighs about 7½ pounds (the LW+ model is almost 10 pounds), and it has an R-value of 8.1, making it the largest and warmest option we tested. The pad is made with foam and has additional air pouches throughout, and the face fabric is soft and durable. Over the course of two years and dozens of camping trips with a small child, our testers never observed damage to the MegaMat Duo. There’s enough padding to support side-sleepers’ hips and shoulders; stomach- and back-sleepers appreciated the bed’s lower-back support. Also, the foam helps campers avoid the popcorn effect typical of an air bed (when air transfer from one person’s movement pops the other person up in the air). The MegaMat Duo also stays firmly inflated for several days, but we do recommend a pre-sleep top-off of air (using an air pump like the Exped Widget, not the included self-inflate valve or pump). If you’re headed out on a car-camping trip where weight isn’t an issue, this is the couple’s pad to choose.

Basic but absolutely reliable, our budget pick works for backpackers, car campers, and kids.

If cost or durability is a top concern for you, the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is the standout choice. This lightweight (14 ounces) pad is warm, durable, and inexpensive. It’s no surprise that this pick is not nearly as comfortable as any of our other choices, since it’s made with basic foam and is the thinnest of the bunch (3.4 inches). Still, the pad has an R-value of 2.6, which is impressively warm for how thin it is. And if you ever decide to upgrade, the Z Lite Sol becomes a go-to backup or loaner pad that you can expect to pack for decades to come.

Instead of blowing up a sleeping pad with a pump bag or your own breath, consider using an air pump like the Exped Widget, which is lightweight and powerful.

Many sleeping pads have to be inflated with your breath (as you’d inflate a balloon) or with a sack (called a pump bag). But there’s another option: Invest in a lightweight air pump. The Exped Widget Pump isn’t directly compatible with non-Exped beds—its seal works best with Exped pads. Yet the air flow is so powerful that we found it still works on other pads even without a direct seal, speeding up the inflation process tenfold. We were able to inflate a single airbed in about 30 seconds, and this pump added just 7 ounces to our pack weight. You do need to charge the pump before a backpacking trip by using a USB.

The 3-inch-thick, notably warm Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap is as comfortable as any pad we tested. And it’s easier to inflate, deflate, roll, and store than any other car-camping pad.

Because of its mummy shape and unique air-pocket design, this three-season sleeping pad provides top-notch back and hip support. However, it’s slightly heavier than some of its competitors.

May be out of stock

This sleeping pad isn’t small, and it isn’t light. But it’s the most comfortable pad in the game. If you’re driving up to your campsite, the MegaMat Duo is wilderness luxury.

Basic but absolutely reliable, our budget pick works for backpackers, car campers, and kids.

Instead of blowing up a sleeping pad with a pump bag or your own breath, consider using an air pump like the Exped Widget, which is lightweight and powerful.

Do you occasionally like to sleep outside, in a tent or under the stars? If you do, and your current sleeping setup leaves you feeling cold or uncomfortable, this guide is for you. Are you contemplating a first-ever backpacking trip or wondering what type of sleeping pad to buy for a kid who’s going on their first camping trip? If so, this guide is for you too.

We’ve seen people sleep on all sorts of things while camping, including cotton futons, foot-high AeroBeds, foam pads, yoga and pilates mats, canvas cots, pool floats, life jackets, and folded blankets. If you have these items around your house—and you find them comfortable and warm enough, and you have room to stuff them in your car—any of them could become your camping bed.

Without the insulation of a sleeping pad, your body tries to create temperature equilibrium with the earth. This is known as conductive heat loss—and you’re the one who loses.

But if you’re looking to buy a sleeping surface specifically for camping, our dozens of hours of research and testing have led us to this conclusion: Your best bet is a camping-specific pad that rises just a couple of inches off the ground. Counterintuitively, these types of pads are often more comfortable, warmer, and likely more durable than full-size air mattresses. They’re far more compact and easy to transport than a futon or cot, and they’re more cushy and comfortable than most exercise mats.

Do you need a sleeping pad at all? Some people can sleep soundly on the hard ground, but they are rare birds. Most people clearly prefer sleeping on a comfortable, forgiving surface. Keep in mind, too, that your sleeping system is about more than just cushiness. Without the insulation of a sleeping pad, your body tries to create temperature equilibrium with the earth. This is known as conductive heat loss—and you’re the one who loses.

The type of pad you want depends on where you’re headed, so we have picks for car campers (anyone who won’t be lugging their pad far and so are more concerned with comfort than with heft and weight) and backpackers (anyone who intends to carry all of their gear on their back for miles and so is best served by a compact, lightweight pad). Our budget pick will work for people who are just getting into camping or backpacking and want a solid model before they invest in a higher-quality pad. We have a car-camping option for a double pad as well.

Jenni Gritters has been reviewing outdoor, travel, and children’s gear for more than five years and has worked in journalism for nearly a decade. She’s also a life-long hiker and camper who’s logged hundreds of miles on Pacific Northwest trails. Jenni spends much of her time in the Central Oregon mountains with her toddler son, husband, and dog. These days, her camping trips are mostly of the car-oriented variety (kids change things!).

Liz Thomas has hiked more than 15,000 miles and once held the women’s unassisted speed record on the Appalachian Trail (over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine).

Kalee Thompson, a senior editor at Wirecutter, is a longtime hiker and camper who made the transition from backpacking to car camping when her first son was born. She now has two boys, a 26-pound family tent, and a garage full of dusty backpacking gear.

In addition to drawing on personal experience, we talked to experts including Ryan Linn, former backpacking instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School; long-trail hiker Andrew Skurka, author of National Geographic’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide; Junaid Dawud, former guide for Adventure Travel West and pioneer of the Colorado 14ers Thru-Hike; and Paul Magnanti, guide and author of the outdoor blog We also spoke with Richard Nisley, a former Apollo-mission engineer and lifelong outdoor adventurer who has dedicated his retirement years to solving gear-related physics puzzles in his home laboratory in Northern California—an expertise he shares as an influential voice in the Backpacking Light community.

Today’s camping-specific sleeping pads are generally one of three types: closed-cell foam pads, “self-inflating” open-cell foam pads, or fully inflatable air-construction mattresses.

Closed-cell foam pads are relatively simple and indestructible strips of solid foam, sometimes with sophisticated textures designed to help cushion your body and trap heat. These pads are the least expensive of the three types and also the most durable; our budget pick falls into this category. With nothing to puncture, a pad of this type can last for decades, especially if you use it infrequently. You can also layer it under other pads to increase comfort and warmth, especially in the winter.

“Self-inflating” open-cell foam pads are among the most popular options for car campers and others who are not particularly concerned about weight and mass. These pads are filled with a couch-cushion-like foam that decompresses when you unroll the pad and open up the air valve; our top pick for car camping and our double pad pick are both in this category. They generally require a dozen or so breaths (after the pad has finished decompressing) to firm up the top completely. Among the three types of sleeping pads, these have a cushy texture that most closely mimics a mattress (like the one on your bed at home), and they tend to be quieter to sleep on than fully inflatable air mattresses. Most people find self-inflating pads to be the most comfortable of the three types.

Of the nine pads we tested for car camping, four—including the LuxuryMap—were self-inflating. In general, we found the self-inflating pads to be more comfortable for car camping (and feel more like a real mattress) than cheaper solid-foam pads or pricier air-construction pads popular for backpacking, mostly because of their combination of foam and air. Such models are also faster and easier to inflate than pads you have to blow up manually.

Fully inflatable air-construction mattresses get almost all of their loft from your own lungs or from an electric pump. The best of today’s air pads are impressively light and compact, making them the top choice for most backpackers; our top pick for backpackers and some of our other notable favorites fall into this category. But they are also susceptible to punctures and thus require extra care to ensure their longevity. They are the most expensive of the bunch, too, starting at about $95.

As is true of the walls in your home, when it comes to a sleeping pad, you can’t tell just by looking at it what’s inside and how warm it will keep you. Two pads may appear identical, yet one may use synthetic or down insulation and/or baffled structures to create additional insulation. A measurement known as an R-value indicates the insulating power of a sleeping pad or, more precisely, the ability of the material to resist heat transfer. A higher R-value means a warmer pad. But, of course, where you place your pad, the type of camping you’re doing, and the weather patterns will also factor into how warmly you sleep at night.

Comfort, warmth, and price are the primary criteria most people use to choose a sleeping pad. But we also took factors such as valve quality, inflation method, and surface texture into account. Some pads use valves and inflation techniques that are particularly intuitive or have smart protections against clogging with dirt or breaking. We preferred valves that are easy to manipulate with hands that are frozen numb or swollen due to hyponatremia (when the amount of sodium in the blood is too low) or to a too-tight backpack. At the end of an exhausting day, simplicity rules. As one backpacker put it, “When the mind stops working, I want my sleeping pad to be so easy to set up, I don’t need that brain anyway.”

When you’re ready to sleep, waiting for a pad to inflate can be torture. During our tests, our favorite valves were one-way, preventing air loss when we took a gasp of breath. Some of the pads in our test group worked with electronic pumps, hand pumps, or a converted stuff sack for inflation, saving our testers from huffing and puffing their way into bed each night. Every pad we tested could be blown up without the fancy add-ons, though. So choose your method based on your preferences. (We’ve also added a fast-acting, lightweight pump, the Exped Widget, to this guide, if you’d like to go that route.)

We found that some sleeping-pad surfaces were more slippery than others. Sleeping-bag nylon is slipperier than the cotton bedding you might use at home. Match that surface with a slick, nylon sleeping pad, and you could wake up off your pad, especially if you’re sleeping on a slope.

Some pads have been known to squeak or crunch like a bag of potato chips. (This is the main argument against the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.) Though some people might consider this sound to be a minor annoyance at worst, for others it’s a dealbreaker; after spending a weekend camping with a noisy pad, you may find yourself shopping for more than a new set of earplugs.

Finally, we preferred pads that are easy to deflate and pack up in the morning. Some pads require flattening before folding, whereas others are designed to be rolled or stuffed into a bag. On a cold or rainy morning, the quicker and neater this process is, the happier the camper.

Nothing ruins a backpacking or camping trip like a hole in a sleeping pad. Luckily, most inflatable air mattresses come with repair kits. Some of the pads use higher-denier fabrics on the bottom for extra protection. (Denier is a measure of how thick the fibers are in each individual strand of a fabric; the higher the denier, the more durable the fabric!) The lightest pads can have tops as low as 20 denier, or 20 D (very thin threads), which leads to an increased risk of abrasion. Still, you can take some measures to protect your gear.

We also initially tried some car-camping pads that didn’t self-inflate. However, we soon became convinced that we preferred the greater comfort and easy setup of a self-inflating pad, and we made self-inflation one of our criteria for choosing a car-camping pad.

All of the companies whose pads we chose offer warranties that cover defects in product manufacturing but not normal wear and tear. To keep pads with holes from ending up in the landfill (and to save you from dropping more cash on a new pad), most of the companies that make our picks will repair damaged pads for a fee, generally starting at around $15 (plus shipping), depending on the severity of the damage.

During our first testing round for this guide, in 2016, we spent a dozen hours sifting through the hundreds of items in this category to determine our testing lineup of 15 backpacking pads and car-camping pads. We scoured online reviews, collected informal opinions from a range of camping friends from Maine to Alaska, and sorted through the science and technology behind a solid night’s sleep under the stars.

Then we took the pads camping, on a total of six trips with a total of 23 overnight testers. Seven backpacking friends helped us evaluate pads after strenuous high-mileage days on the trail. Seven casual-camping couples helped us narrow down our car-camping contenders by sleeping on pairs of similar pads (we asked the couples to switch pads between the first and second nights of a weekend camping trip). These trips took us everywhere from Southern California to the Grand Canyon to New Mexico.

During a later round of testing, we carried 10 additional pads around the Upper Peninsula and we tried them out in the mountains of Central Oregon, too. We even inflated the pads in our living rooms, allowing kids and dogs to trample them in service of durability testing.

The 3-inch-thick, notably warm Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap is as comfortable as any pad we tested. And it’s easier to inflate, deflate, roll, and store than any other car-camping pad.

The Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Sleeping Pad has been our car-camping pick for the past five years because it offers the best balance of comfort, features, and cost for campers who don’t need to carry their pads long distances. Our testers particularly appreciated that it provided a comfortable night of sleep, regardless of sleep position. Side-sleepers, back-sleepers, and stomach-sleepers all found this pad to be supportive and warm through the night.

For our 2017 round of testing, we took nine popular sleeping pads on two group car-camping trips and also slept on each pad at home in a living room before concluding that the LuxuryMap is the best car-camping pad. At 3 inches thick, the LuxuryMap provides enough support to avoid bottoming out, even for side-sleepers. We found that topping it off with an air pump provided the ultimate firmness. Regardless of whether you like firm or soft, the LuxuryMap feels supportive no matter your sleep position, due to what Therm-a-Rest calls a  “pressure mapping” interior (foam that’s more dense in the areas where a body is likely to exert more pressure).

The LuxuryMap was also among the warmest pads we tested. The pad has an ultra-toasty R-value of 6, the second highest of all the pads we considered. It features a soft but sturdy 50-denier fabric on the top and an even hardier 75-denier fabric on the bottom; this helps protect it against punctures or damage from sharp surfaces. (We noticed that the LuxuryMap didn’t pick up lint and dirt the way some competitor mattresses did, likely due to these material choices.) This pad has a single valve that’s simple and intuitive to use. And though the LuxuryMap might not be the fastest to inflate or deflate, it’s easy enough to use in a dark tent, even after a long drive or an exhausting all-day hike.

After five years of testing sleeping pads, we’re fed up with stuff sacks that are a struggle to stuff. To fit a couple of other pads back into their bags, we had to straddle the pads in an effort to push out every last puff of air. By contrast, using the LuxuryMap’s roomy carry bag—smartly equipped with a large shoulder strap—was hassle-free. These are simple, low-tech design decisions that make for a drastically improved overall user experience.

We tested the 20-by-72-inch regular pad, and none of our testers found it to be too small. Still, for those who are not concerned about bulk, we recommend paying a little more for the large, 25-by-77-inch pad. (The company also sells an extra-large version, which is the same length as a large but wider.) Side-sleepers may especially appreciate the extra width for stretching out.

Therm-a-Rest has been making self-inflating pads since the early 1970s, and it has an excellent track record of manufacturing durable products that last for years, if not decades. If you do discover a defect in your pad, though, know that it also comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

Because of its mummy shape and unique air-pocket design, this three-season sleeping pad provides top-notch back and hip support. However, it’s slightly heavier than some of its competitors.

May be out of stock

Backpackers looking for a supportive, sturdy sleeping pad that’s wider at the hips should be delighted by the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat. This pad has a comfy mummy shape and a quilted air-cell design that keeps you from bottoming out, whether you prefer to sleep on your side, back, or stomach. Even though it wasn’t the lightest pad we tried, our testers found the Ether Light XT offered the best balance of comfort and a light-enough carrying weight for an overnight backpacking trip.

During a backpacking trip in the Upper Peninsula, this 4-inch-thick pad was the most comfortable one we tested. The mummy shape meant that multiple testers of different sizes were less likely to roll off the pad in the night (compared with a rectangular pad, which tended to be more uniformly narrow). And the air-cell design protected side-sleepers’ shoulders and hips while also keeping the pad from slipping on the ground. (Most of the other air beds we tested had horizontal air tubes, which we found created a less stable surface. By contrast, the Ether Light XT’s smaller air pockets created a more evenly balanced environment.) Although less insulating from the cold ground than the LuxuryMap, the Ether Light XT (with a 3.2 R-value) should also serve three-season backpackers well in terms of warmth.

Sea to Summit uses a slightly less durable face fabric (30 and 40 deniers, compared with the 50 and 75 deniers of the LuxuryMap, our car-camping pick). However, we found that the fabric stood up well against rocks, dirt, and general wear and tear. The pad was also easier to inflate than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite; surprisingly, the included pump bag actually inflated the pad to max capacity fairly quickly. If you’d like, you can buy an after-market inflatable down pillow, which is advertised as locking into the top of the Ether Light XT. (We have yet to test this add-on.)

The Ether Light XT is slightly roomier than most other sleeping pads, with a regular size running 72 inches by 21½ inches at the widest point; those few extra inches mattered to our testers, especially in the hip area. You can also grab a few extra inches by purchasing a large size, which runs 78 by 25 inches. There is a downside to the Ether Light XT’s comfort, though: It’s slightly heavier than its backpacking competitors (the large weighs 1 pound 6 ounces, and the regular weighs about 17 ounces). If you’re focused on weight, look to our Other good sleeping pads section for a better solution.

The Ether Light XT’s larger size also makes it slightly more annoying to pack down than some of the other pads we tested. Our testers said they could “make it work” with a bit of gymnastics. But the process isn’t as streamlined as it could be. And some online reviewers mentioned a squelching noise, similar to that of a balloon, every time they turned in the night; our testers didn’t notice this. Even so, be sure to test this pad at home before you head into the wild (or pack some earplugs). If you encounter a manufacturing problem with any Sea to Summit product, the company offers a lifetime warranty against defects.

This sleeping pad isn’t small, and it isn’t light. But it’s the most comfortable pad in the game. If you’re driving up to your campsite, the MegaMat Duo is wilderness luxury.

The Exped MegaMat Duo 10 M is a beast in sleeping-pad land: The medium-wide model, which we tested, is 72 by 41 inches and weighs 7½ pounds; the large-wide is 10 pounds. But if you’re car camping or hosting guests in your living room, you won’t find a sleeping pad for two people that’s more comfortable, supportive, and durable. It outpaces air mattresses by a mile.

The MegaMat Duo offers the warmest, most-insulated sleeping environment of any pad we tested for this guide. It has an R-value of 8.1, which, according to the company, means you can sleep in temperatures down to -54 degrees Fahrenheit. This model is more like a double bed than a sleeping pad, with most of its 3.9-inch support made up of foam and a layer of air cores throughout. Unlike the typical popcorn effect that two people of different weights can experience on a classic air mattress, the MegaMat Duo kept us from bouncing up and down. It also provided stability for side-sleepers who need padded hips and shoulders. One of our testers used this bed while pregnant and felt completely comfortable, even after a day of hiking.

The MegaMat Duo inflates with a self-inflate valve. But over the years, we’ve given up on the valve and the included hand pump, and instead opted for an air pump (try the Exped Widget) for optimal firmness and efficiency. The inflation process is fairly straightforward, and the bed stays firmly inflated for several days. However, deflating this bed is a pain. We’ve rarely been able to deflate the MegaMat Duo to the size it was when it came out of the box for the first time; typically the job requires two people sitting on the mattress, plus a lot of time. And even when the bed is packed down as small as possible, it still barely fits into its carry sack.

The MegaMat Duo’s outer fabric is a sleek, soft polyester that repels dirt and moisture, and it has stood the test of time over two years and dozens of camping trips with small humans. If you’re willing to be slightly inconvenienced by the size of this bed and its deflation process, we think you’ll reap some serious benefits from sleeping cozily under the stars. Exped products carry a five-year warranty on defects, and for a fee, the company will repair usual rips and leaks in its shop.

Basic but absolutely reliable, our budget pick works for backpackers, car campers, and kids.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive but dependable pad that will keep you warm for three-season camping, it’s hard to go wrong with a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. Lined up against much more expensive self-inflating pads and air-construction mattresses, the Z Lite Sol, at just ¾ inch thick, is clearly less comfortable. But if you’re exhausted after a long day on the trail, you’re an adult who isn’t picky about sleeping surfaces, or you’re a kid who doesn’t know any better, the Z Lite Sol could very well be the pad for you.

Even though the Z Lite Sol is relatively thin, its solid foam is an effective insulator that delivers an R-value of 2.6. This simple pad will keep you much warmer than most AeroBed-style air mattresses. And it will keep you just as warm as camping-specific pads that cost five times as much (although it’s not as insulating as either the LuxuryMap or the Ether).

At just 14 ounces, the Z Lite Sol is light enough for most backpackers. And though it isn’t particularly compact, you don’t have to worry about damaging it simply by bungeeing it to the outside of a pack.

This simple pad will keep you much warmer than most AeroBed-style air mattresses. And it will keep you just as warm as camping-specific pads that cost five times as much.

The surface is extremely firm, but the sophisticated pattern of heat-trapping dimples felt cushier than its width led us to expect. We compared this pad side by side with a $12 Stansport Pack-Lite closed-cell foam mat (aka a “blue pad”) that we bought at Walmart, and it was no contest: The Z Lite Sol was far more comfortable.

This pad can last for decades, especially if it sees infrequent use. Like most pads, the Z Lite Sol will wear down with heavy use, which can decrease its insulating properties. But for the price, this pad is always a better investment than whatever $10 pad you can find at Walmart.

A closed-cell foam pad is a smart choice for kids because a tear or puncture is no big deal (unlike with inflatable pads). You can strap this kind of pad to the outside of a backpack, use it as a seat near the campfire, try to float on it in a river or lake, and otherwise treat it badly without fear of retribution.

If you buy the Z Lite Sol for a child or as a newbie camper and later decide to upgrade, this pad becomes a valuable backup for cold-weather camping: Simply layer it under the newer, plusher pad to up your R-value. And since it really can’t be damaged, you can’t go wrong loaning this pad to friends. The Z Lite Sol comes in a 20-by-51-inch small size and a 20-by-72-inch medium size.

Instead of blowing up a sleeping pad with a pump bag or your own breath, consider using an air pump like the Exped Widget, which is lightweight and powerful.

Yes, you can use your breath to inflate your sleeping pad when you’re out on the trail. Some pads also come with air sacks, which let you capture air and then press it into the sleeping pad. Or you can, of course, buy a self-inflating pad. But the honest truth is that these options are not completely optimal. It can be tough to get pads fully firm, and having to wait for your bed to inflate at the end of the day can be annoying.

Enter: an air pump. You can use most air pumps (including ball pumps or bike pumps), even if the seal between the pump and the bed isn’t perfect. But several sleeping pad companies have introduced their own air pumps. Though none of them are compatible with every model of sleeping pad available, we think the Exped Widget Pump is the best option we’ve found. It weighs 7 ounces, which may make it a too-heavy add-on for weight-conscious backpackers. But in our tests, the pump was strong enough to speed up the inflation process tenfold compared with blowing up a pad with our breath. Most single beds inflated within 30 seconds, even if the pad’s valve wasn’t 100% compatible with the pump. This pump charges with a USB and comes with two sizes of adaptors (which we found we didn’t need to use, given the strong stream of air).

Nothing ruins an outdoor adventure like a hole, rip, or tear in a sleeping pad. Luckily, most inflatable air-construction-design mattresses come with repair kits, as do some self-inflating car-camping pads. To reduce the chance of problems, look for a pad made with thicker, higher-denier fabrics (lower-denier fabrics offer the thinnest, lightest, and softest threads; fabrics with higher-denier counts, like the LuxuryMap, offer a beefy protection against the elements). Then treat the pad well to prolong its lifespan.

When possible, avoid storing your sleeping pad in a hot car or hot tent during the day, and resist the temptation to take your pad close to the campfire, since stray sparks have ended the life of many a pad.

When setting up camp, avoid rough spots whenever possible, and clear your camping area of spiky plants, pine cones, and rocks; these could puncture or abrade your sleeping pad (if you use your pad as a sitting area for breaks during the day, follow the same precautions). Choose a spot sheltered from the wind—you’ll be more comfortable and also prevent your pad from blowing away into a bramble or a cactus.

The more layers between your sleeping pad and the ground, the better. A tent footprint, a groundsheet, and/or a tent with a bathtub floor will help protect your pad. Deflate and roll up your sleeping pad on protected surfaces. “It may be obvious, but don’t store your [inflatable] sleeping pad on the outside of your pack during the day. Store it inside your pack,” said National Outdoor Leadership School guide and instructor Ryan Linn.

If you suspect a puncture and are near a bathtub, fill the tub with soapy water, inflate the pad, and then submerge it in the tub (the soap bubbles make any air leakage more obvious). You may need to fold your pad in half and then in quarters, and put your elbow into it to really push the air around. Eventually, if the pad does have a leak, bubbles will form. Take a Sharpie marker or an oil crayon and circle the area, and then dry the pad thoroughly.

If you are still in the backcountry when you discover a hole, Linn suggests submerging your pad (not fully inflated) in a lake or (in a pinch) a puddle. The process is similar to what you would do at home in a bathtub. But as Linn told us, if you’re in the backcountry, you should not introduce soap—even biodegradable soap—to natural environments.

Should a small, hard-to-find hole develop, most companies suggest that you repair it using just the glue in the factory repair kit. If you don’t have a kit on hand, a urethane-based glue, such as Gear Aid or Aquaseal, should do the trick. When Linn repairs pads in the field, he uses barge cement, which is similar to Shoe Goo but multipurpose. Give your glue plenty of time to dry out without touching other surfaces; depending on the material, this can take three to 24 hours.

Thorns that puncture the top of the pad can sometimes poke through to the bottom. In a pinch, Gear Aid or bike-tube patches work fine. For larger holes, use the self-adhesive fabric patch that comes in your kit (for most pads), and apply a little glue beforehand, just to make sure it sticks. You can also buy after-market patches and repair kits from companies like Sea to Summit and Therm-a-Rest.

If you’re an ultralight backpacker: Consider the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (if you can find it). At 12 ounces and 2½ inches thick, it’s the lightest pad we tested (and it also comes in a warmer construction, the XTherm). It packs down to the size of a 1-liter Nalgene bottle, and its R-value of 4.2 means you can’t find a lighter-weight pad that’s as warm. But that weight cut comes at a cost: The NeoAir XLite receives consistent complaints for being narrow, crinkly-sounding, and less supportive for side-sleepers. And the classic Therm-a-Rest air valve (which you’ll find on other Therm-a-Rest products) is prone to collecting sand and dirt over time as you open and close it. Plus, the pad takes longer to fill with your breath, compared with the Ether. You can buy this pad in the Women’s Ultralight version if you’re a shorter person with wider hips.

If you prefer sleeping on a firmer surface: Consider the Exped SynMat HL. When we conducted another round of tests for the 2022 version of this guide, this former runner-up pick for backpackers was out of stock (and it’s still hard to find in 2023). But if you can find it, we think it’s a great option for those who prefer a firmer surface. Its vertical baffling was especially popular with side-sleepers. And it’s just as warm as our picks, and slightly heavier than the NeoAir XLite. It also inflates quickly, like our top pick for backpackers, and is easy to pack down.

For a warmer and cozier sleep experience while backpacking or car camping: If you can find it, try the Big Agnes Q-Core SLX. This pad is bulkier and heavier than the NeoAir XLite, and it is comparable to our top pick. But because it has 3½ inches of cushioning and a vertical-baffle design, many people will find it more comfortable. This pad is warmer than most backpacking pads, and it has a standout two-valve system (the “in” valve is one way, so you don’t lose any air when you’re taking a breath). Anyone seeking a crossover pad that’s light enough for casual backpacking but that rivals car-camping pads in comfort would do well to consider this pad. One of our testers dubbed it “the Cadillac of backpacking pads.” This pad is currently out of stock, but we’ve reached out to Big Agnes to see when it will be available again.

If you’re looking for more insulation during a car-camping trip: The Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D is comparable to the LuxuryMap, our car-camping pick. But the MondoKing has an extra inch of thickness, which makes it heavier (the XXL is over 2 pounds heavier than the LuxuryMap!). That said, the extra foam doesn’t add any extra comfort—but it does add extra insulation. The MondoKing 3D has an R-value of 7, one of the warmest of any pad we tested. It’s harder to pack down, compared with the LuxuryMap, and it takes more time to inflate. Yet if you’re making a choice based on insulation and have the budget to pay slightly more, the MondoKing is worth considering.

Big Agnes SLX Tent Floor Pad (which appears discontinued): With room for two people (50 by 78 inches), this tapered air-construction pad is meant for couples who backpack or for backpackers who want to spread out. But it has similar problems to sleeping on an air mattress—less stability, a popcorn effect, and less durability. With an R-value of 3.2, this pad is comparable to our backpacking picks but not as warm as our car-camping picks, and the bed is tough to inflate. The included pump bag will get you most of the way there. But if you desire actual firmness, you’ll want to use an air pump. And we found that over the course of a few hours, the bed’s air pressure reduced, resulting in less support for side-sleepers especially. Several testers reported that their hips and shoulders were on the ground by the morning, and they ached all over.

Klymit Insulated Static V Lite: The Insulated Static V Lite has an R-value of 4.4, making it “feel like heat is radiating from under me,” as one tester put it. The zigzagging V-shaped baffle design—which supposedly contours to the body—was polarizing in our tests. Our long and narrow testers found the baffles comfortable and said the design prevented them from slipping off the pad during the night. Despite its being the widest pad we tested, at 23 inches, our broader-bodied testers found the design less comfortable, with one describing the experience as “like sleeping on a cord of wood.” The Insulated Static V Lite weighs about 20 ounces, making it one of the heaviest backpacking pads we tested—and less appealing to serious backpackers seeking the lightest possible load.

Nemo Tensor Insulated Insulated Sleeping Pad (which appears discontinued): During the first round of testing, our backpacking testers found this 15-ounce pad to be comfortable, and they loved its two one-way valves (one valve that only lets air in, plus a larger valve that only lets air out). But the surface fabric on both the top and bottom of this pad was annoyingly slippery. And the pad moved out of place in tests at home on a hardwood floor, as well as in the field in a tent. Nemo has since redesigned this sleeping pad in an ultralight setup; we’ll add it to our list of options to test in the future.

Therm-a-Rest BaseCamp Sleeping Pad: This popular, moderately priced option in Therm-a-Rest’s line is comfortable—but not as comfortable as our top car-camping pick, the LuxuryMap. The BaseCamp is 2 inches thick versus the LuxuryMap’s 3 inches, and it lacks the higher-end pad’s pressure-mapped foam. But if cost is a concern and you want a self-inflating pad, the BaseCamp is a reliable choice.

Teton Sports ComfortLite Self Inflating Pad: The ComfortLite is another big, cushy self-inflating pad that clearly trailed our favorite, the LuxuryMap, in overall comfort.

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad: This vertical-baffle air-construction pad felt thick and comfortable, though our testers preferred a self-inflating pad for car camping.

Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad: This slightly heavier (and cheaper) version of the Klymit pad we tested for backpacking inflated quickly and easily. And most testers found it comfortable, though not as comfortable as the cushier self-inflating pads, like the LuxuryMap, we used while car camping.

Stansport Pack-Lite Camping and Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Sleeping on this thin, firm strip of foam is better than sleeping directly on the ground. In all ways but price, however, it’s far inferior to any of the other pads we tested.

Since we last tested, some of the pads that were unavailable due to industry-wide stock issues have come back in stock. We look forward to trying the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL Self-Inflating Deluxe Bed, the Nemo Roamer Sleeping Pad, the Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad, and the ALPS Mountaineering Outback Mat in our upcoming round of testing.

This article was edited by Ria Misra and Christine Ryan.

Richard Nisley, retired engineer, Backpacking Light gear guru, phone interview, May 12, 2016

Andrew Skurka, record-setting long-trail hiker, outdoor guide, and author of National Geographic’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, phone interview, April 8, 2016

Jason Hairston, co-founder of hunting apparel company Sitka, and founder of hunting gear and apparel company Kuiu, email interview, April 5, 2016

Elizabeth McCullough, co-director of the Institute for Environmental Research at Kansas State University, phone interview, May 23, 2016

Ryan Linn, long-distance hiker, instructor/guide at National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming, author of Guthook’s hiking apps, phone interview, May 25, 2016

Junaid Dawud, record-setting long-distance hiker, guide at Adventure Travel West, email interview, May 26, 2016

Paul Magnanti, long-distance hiker, instructor/guide with Andrew Skurka, author of, host of the Trail Show podcast, and contributing author to the Colorado Trail guidebook, email and in-person interview

Kalee Thompson is the senior editor heading up the team responsible for health, fitness, sleep, and baby/kid coverage. She has been a writer on the emergency-prep and outdoor beats at Wirecutter and has also covered natural disasters for Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines.

by Sam Schild, Kit Dillon, and Kalee Thompson

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The Best Sleeping Pads for Backpacking and Car Camping of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Electric Water Valve Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).