For many fastpackers and ultralight backpackers who prioritize a light pack, choosing the best ultralight sleeping pad is a balancing act between weight, warmth, and durability. We do whatever it takes to carry the lightest, smallest item for each of our needs. When it comes to a sleeping pad, it often 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 a 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, this guide can help you sort between the ultralight sleeping pads on the market to choose the right one for your priorities and budget. After extensive testing of both inflatable and non-inflatable pads, our team has come up with recommendations to help you navigate the choices on the market. We rated pads on their durability, weight, packable size, and comfort, and we offer suggestions that find the right balance between these criteria.
We found the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad to be an inflatable pad that was light enough for fastpacking and durable enough that we didn’t have to worry about putting a hole in it during normal use. When it came to foam pads, the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad ended up as our favorite, and we appreciated the luxurious comfort of the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat.
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.
Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads
- Best Inflatable Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad
- Best Inflatable Ultralight Sleeping Pad — Runner-Up: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
- Best Foam Ultralight Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
- Lightest Foam Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″
- Most Comfortable Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
- Warmest Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad
Best Inflatable Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad ($210)
- Very light
- Very warm
- Moderately durable 30-denier fabric
- Large and effective inflation bag
- Mummy shape was tippy for some testers
- Loud, crinkly sound bothers some
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad is a very light, 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 improve technically over the years with an effective one-way inflation valve and a giant inflation bag.
The specs on this pad are hard to beat. The size regular is only 13.2 ounces without the stuff sack or inflation bag and has an R-value of 4.5, the second-highest of any pad on this list.
It packs down exceptionally small with a 30-denier fabric. 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. While this pad is heavier than Therm-a-Rest’s lightest inflatable pad, it’s much more durable, and our testing team decided that the extra weight was worth the extra peace of mind.
Due to the combination of this pad’s R-value, small size, and relatively low weight, we found it to be the best all-around sleeping pad for virtually any three-season fastpacking trip.
Read our full review of the previous version of this pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad.
Type: Inflatable | Advertised Weight: 13 ounces (368 grams) | Actual Weight: 13.2 ounces (374 grams) | R-value: 4.5 | Shape: Mummy | Thickness: 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) | Packed Size: 9 x 4.1 inches (23 x 10 centimeters)Shop the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad
Best Inflatable Ultralight Sleeping Pad — Runner-Up: Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat ($149)
- Inexpensive for an inflatable pad
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat neither offended nor impressed any of our testers. In size regular, it weighs 19.3 ounces with the inflation bag and 17.9 ounces without. This pad also comes in extra small, small, and large sizes to accommodate various sizes of humans.
At $149, 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 looking specifically at warmth-to-weight ratios. But this could be a good option for people who place price over saving a few ounces or for those just getting into fastpacking and trying to put together a relatively affordable kit.
Our testers did find the pad to be comfortable, though, and warm to 22 degrees Fahrenheit on one of our Wasatch Mountains overnighters in Utah. This could be an excellent option if you’re looking to save money but still want a high-performance pad.
Type: Inflatable | Advertised Weight: 16.9 ounces (479 grams) | Actual Weight: 17.9 ounces (506 grams) | R-value: 3.1 | Shape: Mummy | Thickness: 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) | Packed Size: 9 x 4 inches (23 x 10 centimeters)Shop the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
Best Foam Ultralight Sleeping Pad: NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad ($55)
- Very light
- Being foam, it will never deflate
- Packs down smaller than other foam pads we tested
- It can be trimmed to save weight
- Foam pads can be uncomfortable for some
- It needs to be carried on the outside of a pack
For several reasons, the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is our favorite foam sleeping pad for fastpacking. Priced at $55, it costs significantly less than the inflatable pads on this list and is our favorite budget fastpacking pad. At 14.5 ounces, the Switchback is roughly the same weight as our top pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT 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. The peace of mind that a foam pad can provide over an inflatable is also worth considering when choosing between options.
There’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 gave it a try in the interest of this test. He is a finicky sleeper, though, and still can’t do it, while other testers have fewer issues with the firmness and sleep pretty 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. The reality is that this only matters if aesthetics are important to you or if you spend a lot of time bushwhacking off-trail.
These issues become less important, 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.
Type: Foam | Advertised Weight: 14.5 ounces (411 grams) | Actual Weight: 14.8 ounces (418 grams) | R-value: 2 | Shape: Rectangular | Thickness: 0.9 inches (2.3 centimeters) | Packed Size: 20 x 5 x 5.5 inches (51 x 13 x 14 centimeters)Shop the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Lightest Foam Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″ ($22)
- Extremely light
- Won’t spring leaks
- Not very comfortable
- Not very warm
Most people would shy away from trying to sleep on a piece of foam that’s not much thicker than a quarter, and for good reason. It’s not the most comfortable pad to lay on. But there is a certain type of trip where the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″ 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, and it’s more comfortable than a sheet of Reflectix, which is another option the truly weight-conscious tend towards.
This pad weighs only 2.7 ounces, making it the lightest on our list. It also packs down surprisingly small and functions as a back pad in many fastpacking packs. It’s inexpensive too, at only $22.
The main downside is that it’s uncomfortable, and anyone choosing this pad won’t expect it to be. But 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 into the night, sleeping only four hours or less and going again. This is also an excellent choice for those ambitious adventures when you’ll be tired enough to sleep wherever you happen to stop for the night. The pad is also a good choice for self-sufficient stage races, where you carry your kit as you’re racing.
This pad is far better than nothing in each of these situations, 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 is content to sleep anywhere your feet will deposit you, look at this pad.
Type: Foam | Advertised Weight: 2.2 ounces (62 grams) | Actual Weight: 2.7 ounces (79 grams) | R-value: n/a | Shape: Rectangular | Thickness: 0.13 inches (0.3 centimeters) | Packed Size: 19 x 3 inches (48.3 x 7.6 centimeters)Shop the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8 Inch
Most Comfortable Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat ($189)
- Extremely comfortable quilted baffle design
- Moderately durable 30- and 40-denier fabrics
- Effective inflation bag
- Not nearly as warm as other pads
- Squeaks on polyurethane-coated surfaces
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 as thick as the claimed four inches but is indeed thicker than the three-inch Therm-a-Rest pads in this guide. It’s also about an inch wider than those pads at 21.5 inches rather than 20 inches. The main difference with this pad is in its baffles. Because the pad is quilted, instead of having horizontal or vertical baffles, it is much less tippy and more comfortable than others.
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 comfort and stability. Most testers found this pad’s inflation bag more effective than any other brand’s, making it 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 three ounces more than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad, which we reviewed above. One of our testers found this pad notably cold at 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.
If you place comfort as a top priority to get a good night of sleep in the backcountry and don’t camp in temperatures much below freezing, you’ll want to look at this pad.
Type: Inflatable | Advertised Weight: 17.3 ounces (491 grams) | Actual Weight: 16.6 ounces (472 grams) | R-value: 3.2 | Shape: Mummy | Thickness: 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) | Packed Size: 9.5 x 4.5 inches (24.1 x 11.4 centimeters)Shop the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
Warmest Ultralight Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad ($280)
- Warmest pad we tested
- Very comfortable
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT 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. Unfortunately, with this extra warmth comes extra weight.
In a size regular, this is the heaviest pad on this list at 22.3 ounces, 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 7.3. The bottom is made of 70-denier material, increasing its durability, while the top is 30-denier to save on weight and make it more packable.
One of our female testers who sleeps cold prefers this pad over the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping 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 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.
Type: Inflatable | Advertised Weight: 23 ounces (652 grams) | Actual Weight: 22.3 ounces (633 grams) | R-value: 7.3 | Shape: Rectangular | Thickness: 3 inches (7.2 centimeters) | Packed Size: 11 x 5 inches (28 x 13 centimeters)
Comparing the Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad
|9 x 4.1 inches
|Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
|9 x 4 inches
|NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
|20 x 5 x 5.5 inches
|Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″
|19 x 3 inches
|Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat
|9.5 x 4.5 inches
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad
|11 x 5 inches
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Ultralight Sleeping Pad for Fastpacking
Because we’re looking for the best ultralight sleeping pad specifically for fastpacking, we wanted to ensure that any pad we chose would keep your pack light and runnable.
The lightest pads are generally also the least comfortable and warm, such as the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″. 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. Another option is to get a pad smaller than you would typically need and use your pack under your feet to keep your calves and feet off the ground.
But even if you’re going to use the heaviest pad on this list, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT 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 that 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 occur primarily in the warmer months, the best ultralight sleeping pad for you can have a low R-value since you won’t need much insulation. 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 NXT Sleeping Pad, which has an R-value of 4.5. For those who want to camp throughout the winter or just generally sleep cold, carrying the warmest pad in this guide, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad could be worth the weight.
Inflatable Sleeping Pads
Inflatable sleeping pads are almost always more comfortable than foam pads, so we 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. A pad like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad is an excellent option for someone looking for comfort while still keeping their pack weight low.
The biggest downside to inflatable pads is that they can spring leaks. We recommend that inflatable pad users always sleep in a bivy, inside a tent with 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 uncomfortable but dangerous, as your pad keeps you warm in frigid temperatures. Inflatable pads are also more expensive than foam ones. 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, a valuable feature when choosing the best ultralight sleeping pad for trips that happen in rocky or desert environments. 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 $155 less than our top inflatable pad pick, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT 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. They are also generally significantly less comfortable.
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 much longer because you can sleep diagonally, utilizing the corners. Some of our testers also find rectangular pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad to be more stable and, therefore, more comfortable than mummy-shaped pads like the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat.
Foam pads are generally considered 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 bigger longevity issue of inflatables has to do with the durability of the insulation. Synthetic insulation, like that used in the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat, can compress over time 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 fall apart, and the pad will bubble.
When choosing the best ultralight sleeping pad, 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 pad’s surface is largely flat, and there are no protruding baffles to nudge your body in 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 XLite NXT Sleeping Pad at 9 x 4.1 inches. The best ultralight sleeping pads will take up minimal space in your pack.
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 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 so that we can compile a list of the best ultralight sleeping pads for you. 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 tested these pads in various environments so you can be well informed about the best on the market for fastpacking. The pads were used by multiple people in several different environments and evaluated on their durability, comfort, warmth, and packability.
Please note that product models are routinely discontinued in the outdoor gear world, 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 and 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 products will likely remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear you’ll use for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Best Ultralight Sleeping Pads for Fastpacking
What is fastpacking?
Fastpacking combines two 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 few days free on your schedule? Fastpacking. Have back-to-back long runs on your schedule and don’t want to return to your car or house in between? Fastpacking.
Fastpacking isn’t just running; 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 to cover miles quickly and relatively unencumbered and can jog flats and downhills. A lightweight inflatable pad like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad can make a big difference in your ability to run during a fastpacking trip.
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 greater than 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. It also helps if you’re completely exhausted at the end of the day. Still, even on the warmest nights, you might appreciate a little insulation from a minimalist pad like the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″.
How important is my sleeping pad in the context of fastpacking?
If temperatures are below 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 when you’re trying to move fast, but at a minimum, we recommend something such as the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″. It’s uncomfortable, 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 NXT 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 of carrying it to be worth a good night’s rest.
These same testers also will go with just a small piece of foam or nothing if the trip’s goal 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, weight, and durability. The Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″ is 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 NXT 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 a warm, inflatable sleeping pad such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad. This pad is light, warm, comfortable, and packs down small.
The biggest downsides to inflatable pads are their high cost and 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 kneel or press down on it with both hands. Sometimes, holes are very small, so you need to apply pressure to reveal the bubbles. When you find the hole, mark it immediately with a Sharpie or any other tool you may have. Spraying soapy water onto an inflated pad can also reveal holes.
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. A pad like the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat made of higher denier materials will be more durable than options made of lighter materials.
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″ 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. It will weigh about eight ounces if you trim it down to only eight sections — which seems to be about the right size for most folks’ shoulders and hips.
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 like the four-inch thick Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat — would take up space 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 at 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 NXT Max Sleeping Pad, which has an R-value of 7.3. This pad is a little heavy at 22.3 ounces, so you may want to spend a bit 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 NXT Sleeping Pad. It has an R-value of 4.5 and weighs only 13.2 ounces, making it the best option if you want warmth and low weight.
My sleep pad’s inflation bag is heavy. Do I need to carry it?
No, and yes. Carrying an inflatable pad’s inflation bag is not mandatory because it is 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, reducing its overall warmth. We’d recommend that you take the inflation bag along and find an alternate use for it so it doesn’t feel like an unnecessary weight. Stuff extra clothes in it and use it as a pillow. The Therm-a-Rest inflation bags are large enough to be used as a pack liner in smaller fastpacking packs.
Of course, if you’re trying to save weight on a fastpacking trip, you might want to tough it out with the Gossamer Gear Thinlight Foam Pad 1/8″.
How light must my pad 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 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. If you want to carry the extremely warm Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT Max Sleeping Pad, you’ll want to ensure that all other parts of your fastpacking kit are as light as possible.
How durable are inflatable pads?
Some of our testers have had 70-denier pads last for ten years, while others have gotten holes in those same pads in a matter of days. If you know you are hard on gear or will be camping on rough and jagged surfaces, choose a thicker, heavier inflatable pad because it will likely 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. If you’re worried about a pad springing a leak in the middle of a trip, you might just want to go with a foam pad like the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad.
How do I protect my inflatable sleeping pad during a fastpacking trip?
Getting a leak in a sleeping pad during a trip can make for some miserable and potentially dangerous nights out in the wilderness. To protect your inflatable pad during a trip, you’ll want to always use it either in a tent or on a ground cloth. Taking the time to sweep a sleeping area clear of rocks and sticks can also keep your pad safe. The pads on this list, even the very light ones like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad, have proven to be durable and reliable as long as they are properly cared for.
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! For now, we’ll give you the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT Sleeping Pad as our favorite inflatable sleeping pad for fastpacking.
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?