For many fastpackers and ultralight backpackers who prioritize a light pack, it’s common to feel ambivalence about sleeping pads because it seems as though they must be thick, and therefore heavy, to be comfortable and warm. The solution for the weekend backpacker is often to choose comfort above all else, carrying a heavy, bulky, inflatable pad, but fastpackers have different priorities.
We do whatever it takes to carry the lightest, smallest item for each of our needs. A sleeping pad has to be light, because we’re often running, and small, because our packs are usually between 20 and 30 liters in capacity. Often that means we’re carrying just a tiny square of thin foam — barely enough for our shoulders and hips — or a scary-light inflatable pad with fabric as thin as newspaper.
You might be the type of fastpacker or ultralight backpacker who only needs a two-ounce rectangle of foam because you don’t plan to sleep much anyway. Or you might want a warm inflatable pad because you prioritize a good night’s rest to make the coming day’s 35 miles and 8,000 vertical feet more enjoyable. Whatever your needs, we’re certain that there’s a sleeping pad on this list for you.
Below are our favorite fastpacking sleeping pads of 2023, from thin pieces of foam to thick and warm inflatable pads. For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks.
Use these links to skip quickly to the kinds of pads you’d like to learn more about:
- Best Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Lightest Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad
- Best Foam Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
- Lightest Foam Sleeping Pad: Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch
- Most Comfortable Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
- Warmest Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad
- Honorable Mention: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
Best Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad ($200)
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad is a very light, very warm pad with good comfort and durability. Several of us at iRunFar have been using different versions of this pad for nearly a decade. We’ve only seen it get technically better over the years, with an effective one-way inflation valve and giant inflation bag.
We also love the Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad — which is virtually the same pad as the unisex version, just warmer and shorter — and recommend it for any human who is five feet, six inches tall or under.
The specs on this pad are hard to beat. The size regular is only 13.3 ounces without the stuff sack or inflation bag, 15.2 ounces including the inflation bag, and has an R-value of 4.2, the second-highest of any pad on this list.
It packs down exceptionally small — just a bit larger than its smaller cousin, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad, which we also review below. Where that UberLite is constructed of paper-thin 15-denier nylon, this XLite uses a 30-denier fabric for increased durability. The XLite also weighs only 3.9 ounces more than the UberLite and costs $20 less. All these factors make it hard for some of our testers to choose the lighter, yet less durable and more expensive pad. That said, the UberLite is perfect for the right user, so read on to find out more about that one.
Some of our testers were annoyed by the loud crinkling sound this pad makes when rolling from side to side, but that was its only observable flaw.
Because of its high R-value, good comfort, great packability, and minimal weight, we feel that this is the best all-around sleeping pad for virtually any three-season fastpacking trip.
Read our full Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad review.
Advertised Weight: 12.5 ounces (354g)
Actual Weight: 13.3 ounces (378g) without inflation bag, 15.2 ounces (432g) with inflation bag
Thickness: 2.5 inches (6.4cm)
Packed Size: 9 x 4.1 inches (23 x 10cm)
- Very light
- Very warm
- Moderately durable 30-denier fabrics
- Large and effective inflation bag
- Mummy shape was tippy for some testers
- Loud, crinkly sound bothers some
Lightest Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad ($220)
It’s virtually impossible not to want to love the Therm-a-Rest Neo Air UberLite Sleeping Pad. It’s ridiculously light at 9.5 ounces for a size regular — 11.3 ounces including the inflation bag — and packs down to barely larger than a 16-ounce can. Our testers also found it to be quite comfortable, with one of them saying that it was inexplicably more comfortable than the above-reviewed Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. While both pads’ loud crinkle annoyed some of our testers, we found the UberLite to be substantially quieter than the XLite.
We used this pad for fastpacking loops in the Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah where it was a joy to carry, packing vertically beside an ultralight sleeping bag and a tarp at the bottom of the Pa’lante Packs Joey fastpack — see both our Pa’lante Packs Joey review and our best fastpacking packs guide to learn more about this fastpack.
On its third night out, however, it sadly sprung a leak. One of our testers was clipping a quilt to the pad attachment straps when a plastic clip scraped and gouged a hole that was imperceptible from the surface. This lack of durability is understandably worrying and made it difficult for some of our testers to trust this pad.
But, if you’re careful and using a tent with a floor, a bivy, or a ground tarp underneath the pad every night, then the UberLite should last a long time. As demonstrated, you also must be careful with hard and sharp plastic on a quilt. Brush debris off your clothes and sleeping pad before laying down because it could easily puncture this pad. And don’t despair, punctures are temporary and can be repaired in the field and at home!
If you want the lightest possible inflatable pad for fastpacking, there’s no good reason not to choose this one; just be sure to treat it with care.
Advertised Weight: 8.8 ounces (250g)
Actual Weight: 9.5 ounces (269g) without the inflation bag, 11.3 ounces (322g) with the inflation bag
Thickness: 2.5 inches (6.4cm)
Packed Size: 6 x 3.6 inches (15 x 9cm)
- Extremely light for an inflatable pad
- Packs down tiny
- Surprisingly warm
- Very comfortable
- Effective inflation bag
- Crinkly sound not as loud as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- 15-denier fabric is somewhat fragile and needs to be treated with care
Best Foam Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad ($55)
The NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is our favorite foam sleeping pad for fastpacking because it packs down smaller than its closest competitor, the Therm-a-Rest Zlite Sol, while also being slightly more comfortable. It’s also our best budget fastpacking pad, priced $95 to $185 less than the inflatables on this list. At 14.8 ounces, the Switchback is roughly the same weight as our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, and since it is foam, it will never spring a leak. This feature has the potential to save weight by negating the use of a groundsheet, an imperative item when using inflatables.
It’s no question that this foam pad isn’t for everyone. One of our testers swore off foam years ago after several nights of bruised hips, but, in the interest of this test, gave it a try. He is a finicky sleeper, though, and still can’t do it while other testers have fewer issues with the firmness and sleep quite well on it. One of our testers noted that she has no problems with the firmness of this pad in part because she is a stomach sleeper.
One thing our testers like about this pad is that it can be used as a frame sheet in some packs, making the pack more rigid and preventing sharp items from poking you in the back. And for the especially weight-conscious among us, it can be cut to shorter lengths.
One downside to this pad is its bulkiness. With most fastpacking packs, you have to attach the pad to the back of the pack under a web of shock cord where its bulkiness will make your pack look less sleek, if aesthetics are important to you. Bulky pads also get in the way when bushwhacking off trail.
These are non-issues however, for fastpackers who prioritize reliability. This pad is reliable, light, comfortable for most of our testers, and inexpensive, making it the best foam sleeping pad for fastpacking that we’ve found.
Advertised Weight: 14.5 ounces (411g)
Actual Weight: 14.8 ounces (418g)
Thickness: 0.9 inches (2.3cm)
Packed Size: 20 x 5 x 5.5 inches (51 x 13 x 14cm)
- Very light
- Being foam, it will never deflate
- Packs down smaller than other foam pads we tested
- Can be trimmed to save weight
- Foam pads can be uncomfortable for some
- Needs to be carried on the outside of a pack
Most Comfortable Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat ($189)
The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat is the most comfortable pad we tested that is light enough — 18.7 ounces with the inflation bag and 16.6 ounces without in a size regular — to qualify as a fastpacking pad. It doesn’t appear quite as thick as the claimed four inches but is indeed thicker than the two-and-a-half-inch Therm-a-Rest pads in this guide. It’s also about an inch wider than those pads at 21 rather than 20 inches. But maybe most importantly for comfort, the pad is quilted instead of having horizontal or vertical baffles, so there is less tippiness.
While this pad does taper at the head and foot, it is less shaped than the Therm-a-Rest pads, which probably accounts for some of the comfort and stability. Most testers found this pad’s inflation bag to be more effective than any other brand’s, with it being possible to get the pad mostly inflated with fewer bag squeezes. The pad is constructed of 30-denier and 40-denier fabrics, which we believe offer a good balance of decent durability and low weight.
The primary downside of the pad is its warmth-to-weight ratio. This pad has a lower R-value but weighs nearly an ounce and a half more than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, which we reviewed above. One of our testers found this pad to be notably cold at temperatures around 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The other downside is that this pad squeaks horribly on polyurethane-coated tent floors. It makes little to no noise on Dyneema Composite Fabric or silnylon surfaces.
Most fastpackers and ultralight backpackers will probably not choose this pad based purely on its weight, but it could be an option for someone who puts comfort as a priority.
Advertised Weight: 17.3 ounces (491g)
Actual Weight: 16.6 ounces (472g) without the inflation bag, 18.7 ounces (529g) with the inflation bag
Thickness: 4 inches (10.2cm)
Packed Size: 9.5 x 4.5 inches (24.1 x 11.4cm)
- Extremely comfortable quilted baffle design
- Moderately durable 30- and 40-denier fabrics
- Effective inflation bag
- Not nearly as warm as the Therm-a-Rest pads reviewed in this guide
- Squeaks on polyurethane-coated surfaces
Lightest Foam Pad: Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch ($22)
If you’re horrified by the prospect of sleeping on a piece of foam barely thicker than a quarter, we can’t blame you. But there is a certain type of trip where the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch makes more sense than any other pad on this list. If you need to go as light as possible, this pad might be what you want.
This pad weighs only 2.7 ounces, making it the lightest on our list. It also packs down surprisingly small and functions well as a back pad inside many fastpacking packs. It’s inexpensive too, at only $22.
The main downside is that it’s not comfortable and anyone choosing this pad won’t expect it to be, but in combination with soft site selection, it can be a full step up from not carrying a pad at all. Two of our testers use trimmed-down versions of this for trips when they want low bulk and minimal weight but some extra comfort, when being able to move fast is the highest priority.
They also use this pad for trips where they plan to run all day and well into the night, sleeping only four hours or less, and going again. This is also a great choice for those ambitious adventures when you’re going to be tired enough to sleep wherever you happen to stop for the night. The pad is a good choice for self-sufficient stage races, too, where you carry your kit as you’re racing.
In each of these situations, this is far better than nothing, but it’s still a far cry from being comfortable and warm. We don’t recommend this pad for colder excursions when thermal protection from the ground is needed. But if you’re the type of person who really likes to put in those long days and are content to sleep anywhere your feet will deposit you, look at this pad.
Advertised Weight: 2.2 ounces (62g)
Actual Weight: 2.7 ounces (79g)
Thickness: 0.13 inches (0.3cm)
Packed Size: 19 x 3 inches (48.3 x 7.6cm)
- Extremely light
- Won’t spring leaks
- Not very comfortable
- Not very warm
Warmest Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad ($240)
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad is the pad we choose for early season fastpacking trips through the mountains where we may have to sleep on snow or when nighttime lows could dip into the teens. It’s also our favorite pad for frigid winter fastpacking trips through the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau.
In a size regular, this is the heaviest pad on this list at 21.1 ounces with the inflation bag or 19.2 ounces without, but it isn’t all that large to pack, or even all that heavy considering how warm it is. This pad has a ridiculous R-value of 6.9.
One of our female testers who sleeps cold but is too tall for the 66-inch Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad reviewed above prefers to use this pad because she prioritizes warmth over low weight. She and some of our other testers have also found rectangular pads such as this one to be somewhat more stable and therefore more comfortable than most mummy-shaped pads. If you are a cold sleeper and don’t want to feel the cold ground ever again, consider adding this to your fastpacking kit.
Advertised Weight: 19 ounces (539g)
Actual Weight: 19.2 ounces (544g) without the inflation bag, 21.1 ounces (598g) with the inflation bag
Thickness: 2.5 inches (6.4cm)
Packed Size: 9 x 4 inches (23 x 10cm)
- Warmest pad we tested
- Very comfortable
Honorable Mention: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat ($149)
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat neither offended nor impressed any of our testers. In a size regular, it weighs 19.3 ounces with the inflation bag and 17.9 ounces without.
At $150, this pad seems like a good deal compared to other inflatable pads reviewed in this guide. It also has a competitive R-value of 3.1. Unfortunately, it is heavier than pads with comparable R-values, so it’s hard to choose this pad over its competitors when you’re looking specifically at warmth-to-weight ratios.
Our testers did find the pad to be comfortable, though, and warm to 22 degrees Fahrenheit on one of our Wasatch Mountains of Utah overnighters. If you want nearly the performance of our top-ranking inflatable pads at a little bit of a weight penalty, and want to save about $50, this is a good option.
Advertised Weight: 16.9 ounces (479g)
Actual Weight: 17.9 ounces (506g) without the inflation bag, 19.3 ounces (548g) with the inflation bag
Thickness: 2 inches (5.1cm)
Packed Size: 9.5 x 5 inches (24.1 x 12.7cm)
- Inexpensive for an inflatable pad
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Fastpacking Sleeping Pad
Because this is a fastpacking list, we wanted to make sure that any pad we chose would keep your pack light, and therefore runnable.
The lightest pads are generally also going to be the least comfortable and least warm, such as the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch. Depending on the trip, that might be exactly what you want. Some of our testers also like to cut foldable foam pads into a mummy shape to shave a few grams. Others even like to cut pads down to torso length and then place their pack under their legs to save weight.
But even if you’re going to use the heaviest pad on this list, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad, you should still be able to run comfortably if the rest of your kit is well thought out, with no redundancy, and individual items have multiple uses for efficiency. So, if you prioritize comfort, you may have to spend a little more time dialing in other parts of your kit.
R-value is a measure of a sleeping pad’s ability to prevent the loss of body heat to the cold ground. The higher the R-value, the warmer the pad will be.
If your trips take place primarily in the warmer months, a pad with a lower R-value such as the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad, with its R-value of 2, may perform just fine for you.
If you plan fastpacking trips in colder temperatures or where you may have to sleep on the snow, choose a pad with a higher R-value, such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, which has an R-value of 4.2.
Inflatable Sleeping Pads
Inflatable sleeping pads are almost always more comfortable than foam pads, so we would recommend them for fastpackers and ultralight backpackers prioritizing nighttime comfort. They also pack down much smaller than foam pads, keeping your pack streamlined and small.
The biggest downside to inflatable pads is that they can spring leaks. We would recommend that inflatable pad users always sleep in a bivy, inside a tent that has a floor, or on a ground tarp such as this window insulation plastic found at your local hardware store. A leaking pad can be not only be uncomfortable but dangerous, as your pad keeps you warm in frigid temperatures. Inflatable pads are also expensive. We don’t recommend them for fastpackers or ultralight backpackers wanting to save a little cash.
Foam Sleeping Pads
Foam sleeping pads have the inherent benefit of being 100% puncture-proof. This reliability is one reason fastpackers and ultralight backpackers choose them over inflatable options. Foam pads are also relatively inexpensive. For example, the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is $145 less than our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad.
One big downside to a foam pad is its abysmal packability. Most fastpackers and ultralight backpackers must strap folding foam pads to the back of the pack where they can get hung up on branches when bushwhacking.
Mummy Versus Rectangular Shape
Many inflatable pads are rounded at the head and foot, creating a mummy shape. Rounding the corners saves a decent amount of weight, but it also reduces the overall surface area of the pad significantly. Even though a 72-inch long mummy-shaped pad and a 72-inch long rectangular pad are the same lengths if you measure right down the middle, the rectangular pad will feel quite a bit longer because you can sleep diagonally, utilizing the corners. Some of our testers also find rectangular pads to be more stable and therefore more comfortable than mummy-shaped pads.
Foam pads are generally thought of as being more durable than inflatable pads because they won’t spring leaks. They can, however, get shredded when bushwhacking. And foam will eventually compress, becoming less comfortable and insulating over the years.
While inflatable pads can get holes, they can also be patched almost indefinitely, so if you take care of them, it’s common for inflatable pads to outlast foam pads. Look at the thickness of the fabric to determine a pad’s probable puncture resistance. Higher denier fabrics will be more puncture resistant than lower ones.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad, for example, is made from a 15-denier fabric, whereas the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad is constructed out of 30- and 70-denier materials. Therefore, the XTherm Max will be much more durable than the UberLite.
The bigger longevity issue of inflatables has to do with the durability of the insulation. Synthetic insulation, such as that used in the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat, can compress over time, just like a foam pad. And the aluminized film insulation found on Therm-a-Rest and NEMO pads can flake off with use. Some manufacturers recommend that you try not to introduce moisture into your pad, to begin with, and then store it uncompressed and with the valve open to mitigate these issues.
Baffles are another point of failure for inflatable pads. Over time, internal welds can begin to come apart and the pad will start to bubble.
We haven’t had any of these pads long enough to observe any major durability issues, but we will continue to use our top picks and revise this guide with our observations.
Comfort is subjective, and some fastpackers are moving too quickly to prioritize it anyway. But for many of us, sleeping pad comfort is critical because we need a good night’s rest to feel good cranking out miles the following day.
If that’s you, pick an inflatable pad rather than a foam pad. Our testers all agree that they are more comfortable. Some of us also have found rectangular pads to be more stable, and therefore more comfortable, than mummy-shaped pads. And quilted pads, such as our top pick for comfort, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Air Sleeping Mat, tend to be cozier than pads with vertical or horizontal baffles. In our experience, this pad seems to have no tippiness bias, meaning the surface of the pad is largely flat and there are no protruding baffles to nudge your body one direction or the other.
Fastpacking packs are usually low volume — often between 20 and 30 liters — so we’d recommend choosing a pad that compresses down small, such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad at 6 x 3.6 inches or the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad at 9 x 4.1 inches.
The pad with the largest packed size on our list is the somewhat unwieldy NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad at 20 x 5 x 5.5 inches. Most who use this pad must strap it to the outside, either on the top or back of the pack.
Why You Should Trust Us
The iRunFar team has been fastpacking for over a decade, and we have watched this adventure niche grow. What started off as two separate endeavors — ultralight backpacking and adventure running — have now merged into one, fastpacking. One critical piece of fastpacking equipment is your sleeping pad, so we’ve chosen eight that will keep you warm — and sometimes even comfortable — on just about any fastpacking trip.
Members of the iRunFar team have been using several of the sleeping pads on this list for years, while others were added to this list of favorites through a research and testing process in 2022 and 2023.
This year, we have looked far and wide to find all the sleeping pads on the market that are light and small enough to qualify as fastpacking pads. Then we tested 14 of them on adventures in places like the Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah, the Tavaputs Plateau of eastern Utah, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, Silverton, Colorado, and several wilderness areas around the American West. We put these pads to the test in a variety of environments so you can be well-informed about the best on the market for fastpacking.
Please note that in the outdoor gear world product models are routinely discontinued, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running… they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this – product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures – in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing as well as research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Fastpacking Sleeping Pads
What is fastpacking?
Fastpacking essentially combines two separate sports — ultralight backpacking and adventure running — and makes them one. Want to explore that cool backcountry basin you’ve been eyeing, but only have a couple of days free on your schedule? Fastpacking. Have back-to-back long runs on your schedule and don’t want to go back to your car or house in between? Fastpacking.
Fastpacking isn’t just running, and it isn’t just hiking: you take the absolute minimum equipment you’d need to safely spend the night somewhere, and then go. Run a bit, hike a bit, stop to make coffee or fly fish, and then run and hike again. While calling your movement running can be a bit of a misnomer when you’ve got 10 to 15 pounds on your shoulders on rough terrain, hopefully, you pack light enough that you can cover miles quickly and relatively unencumbered.
Do I need to use a sleeping pad at all?
This will depend on the expected temperatures during your trip and your ability or inability to sleep well on hard, cold surfaces. If it is warm out — temperatures of greater than about 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night — you may be able to skip a pad altogether and just sleep on your pack and rain jacket because you won’t need much insulation from the ground. This works best if you can find dry and soft surfaces such as meadows, pine needles, or sand to sleep on.
How important is my sleeping pad in the context of fastpacking?
If temperatures will be less than about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, we recommend carrying a sleeping pad to insulate your body from the cold ground. We understand how annoying it is to carry a pad at all when you’re trying to move fast, but at a minimum, we recommend something such as the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch. It’s not particularly comfortable, but it will provide enough insulation to get you through the night.
If you sleep cold or prioritize sleeping comfort, you may want to step up to an inflatable pad such as our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad or Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. These pads have the benefit of packing down very small but some fastpackers and ultralight backpackers still consider them, at nearly a pound, to be heavy. Most of our testers prefer inflatable pads for most trips and find the weight penalty to be worth a good night’s rest.
These same testers also will go with just a small piece of foam or nothing at all if the goal of the trip is to move as quickly as possible through the mountains or if they don’t plan to rest more than a few hours at a time.
Inflatable sleeping pad versus foam sleeping pad; how should I choose?
The most compelling reasons to choose foam pads are their low cost and low weight. The Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch is both the cheapest and lightest pad on this list at $22 and 2.7 ounces. Even the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is only $55 and nearly as light as our best all-around sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad.
One of the main reasons not to choose foam pads is because they are uncomfortable at worst or an acquired taste at best. They are also far less warm than most insulated inflatable pads and are not recommended for fastpacking adventures in colder weather.
If your trips take you to high altitudes in the shoulder season when thermal protection is a must, you’ll want to bring along a warm inflatable sleeping pad such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. This pad is light, warm, comfortable, and packs down small.
The biggest downsides to inflatable pads are their high cost and their susceptibility to punctures. So, if you want to be comfortable and warm, can afford the high price of an inflatable pad, and take care to avoid holes by always placing a groundsheet under your pad, don’t hesitate to choose one for fastpacking.
My inflatable sleeping pad keeps leaking; what do I do?
To find a suspected leak in your sleeping pad, you will need to submerge it in water and look and listen for bubbles. Inflate the pad about halfway, fold it in thirds, submerge it in a lake or bathtub, and then kneel or press down on it with both hands. Sometimes holes are very small, so this is why you need to apply pressure to reveal the bubbles. When you find the hole, mark it right away with a sharpie or any other marking tool you may have on hand.
After letting the pad dry, apply whatever patch came with the pad, a stick-on patch such as Tear-Aid Type A, or a glue such as Aquaseal +FD or Aquaseal +UV. We recommend Aquaseal +FD for home repairs because it tends to be more permanent and durable than stick-on patches. It does, however, take eight to 12 hours to cure. Aquaseal +UV is better for field repairs because it cures in only 30 seconds.
The good news is that holes can almost always be fixed successfully, whether in the field or at home, so taking the time to do so will keep your pad working for years.
Can I trim my foam sleeping pad to make it lighter and smaller?
Several of our testers have trimmed the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch down to a piece large enough for only shoulders and hips to save weight. The result is a 1.2-ounce pad.
The NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is also trimmable, with each of the 14 sections weighing one ounce. If you trim it down to only eight sections — which seems to be about the right size for most folks’ shoulders and hips — it will weigh about eight ounces.
Rounding the corners on foam pads will save even more weight.
Do I sleep with my sleeping pad inside or outside my sleeping bag?
Because sleeping pads were made to insulate you from the ground and sleeping bags were made to surround your body snugly for efficient insulation, putting a bulky pad inside your sleeping bag would inhibit the intended function of both pieces of equipment. Most of the pads on our list — especially the thicker inflatables — would take up space inside and reduce the comfort and insulating properties of your sleeping bag and are better used outside.
Foam pads — especially those cut down to only shoulders and hips — are the exception to the rule. Placing a small, trimmed foam pad inside your sleeping bag ensures it stays in the right place under the hips and shoulders. And when you’re cowboy camping, you may want to place your trimmed foam pad inside your bag to keep it from flying away in the wind when you roll over in the night.
I am always cold when I sleep; what’s the best sleeping pad for me?
If you are always cold when you sleep, choose a pad with a high R-value, such as our top pick for warmth, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad, which has an R-value of 6.9. This pad is a little heavy at 19.2 ounces, so you may want to spend a little extra time reducing the weight of your pack in other ways if you want to carry this pad but still want your pack to be runnable.
That said, the second warmest pad on our list is also the second lightest inflatable: the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. It has an R-value of 4.2 and weighs only 13.3 ounces, making it the best option if you want both warmth and low weight.
My sleep pad’s inflation bag is heavy; do I really need to carry it?
No, and yes. It is not mandatory to carry an inflatable pad’s inflation bag because it is totally possible to blow up any of the pads on our list with your mouth. And it’s tempting also to leave it behind because it is seemingly unnecessary weight — as many as three ounces in some cases.
That said, blowing up your pad with your mouth will introduce moisture into the pad which can reduce its overall warmth. We’d recommend that you take the inflation bag along and find an alternate use for it so that it doesn’t feel like unnecessary weight. Stuff extra clothes in it and use it as a pillow. The Therm-a-Rest inflation bags are large enough that they can be used as a pack liner in smaller fastpacking packs.
How light does my pad need to be to run with it in my pack?
The lighter the better, of course, though that’s not always possible depending on the trip. Most of our testers have found that pads in the 16-ounce range are plenty light for running if everything else in your kit is optimized for low weight. For instance, the warmer a pad is, the lighter your sleeping bag can be. In fact, a warm pad will pair well with a bottomless or quilt-style sleeping bag which has little to no insulation under the body.
How durable are inflatable pads?
Some of our testers have had 70-denier pads last for 10 years while others have gotten holes in those exact same pads in a matter of days. If you know you are hard on gear or that you will be camping on rough and jagged surfaces, choose a thicker, heavier inflatable pad because it is more likely to last a while.
Also be sure to use a bivy, a groundsheet, or a tent with a floor to prevent holes. Brush debris off your clothing and sleeping bag before laying down, because, in our experience, and quite surprisingly, many pad holes happen on the top of the pad.
Do I need a women’s-specific sleeping pad?
Pads marketed toward women are generally somewhat warmer than pads marketed as unisex due to the assumption that women sleep colder than men. The Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad, for example, is simply a warmer version of the unisex Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad. Unfortunately, it’s also shorter — only 66 inches in length — so it fit only one of our four female testers.
For this reason, we’d recommend looking at warmer unisex pads such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max Sleeping Pad if you are a woman who sleeps cold but is too tall for a five-foot, six-inch pad.
Why didn’t you test my favorite sleeping pad?
We’d love to test everything out there, and in fact, we have a list of several sleeping pads we hope to test in the future. If your favorite sleeping pad for fastpacking didn’t make it in our buyer’s guide, let us know about it in the comments and why you chose it over all the other options on the market!
Call for Comments
- Do you sleep better on foam or inflatable pads?
- How have you modified your foam sleeping pad to optimize for low weight?
- Have you ever gone without a sleeping pad altogether?