Best Sleeping Pads Review
Why Use a Sleeping Pad?
A good night’s sleep on a hike is important. On a short, easy hike, it can mean the difference between rising early to appreciate the gorgeous sunrise and crawling out of your tent late and achy. On challenging hikes, it can mean the difference between the quick action that keeps you or a buddy from falling or slowed reflexes that get you into trouble.
Sleeping bags have come a long way in providing a comfortable sleep, but even the best can do with a little help. Sleeping pads come in many styles, shapes and materials to support you in your slumber so you can make the most of your backpacking. We’ve looked at several excellent brands, with the help of testers at Active Junky. Check out our profiles of some of the best, including the Alpinizmo High Peak Lite ‘n Fast, the Big Agnes Double Z, and the Therm-a-Rest XTherm Max. For even more gear reviews, check out activejunky.com.
The Best Sleeping Pads: What to Look For
Sleeping conditions vary by the hike. Someone going on a weeklong backpacking trip in the Rockies will want a different kind of pad than someone enjoying an overnight in the desert or on the beach. One good thing about sleeping pads is they aren’t especially expensive. Therefore, you don’t need to be on the search for the perfect, all-purpose sleeping pad. Rather, you may want to find the pads that best fit your camping style.
In general, when selecting a sleeping pad, you should consider warmth, weight and packability. Ask yourself these questions while determining your needs in these areas:
Where will you be sleeping?
If you are sleeping on open ground, you’ll want something more durable and resistant to moisture than if you sleep in the stalwart family tent. If you have a small tent or sleep in a bivy, you’ll want to pay attention to the size of your pad to make sure it fits. On the other hand, if you are large in shoulders and hips, you’ll want a wider pad. There are even pads that work in hammocks, so don’t rule one out if this is your sleeping choice.
What’s the weather going to be like?
Many sleeping pads are three-season rated, meaning they can handle all but the coldest of nights. However, one person’s mild is another’s frigid. Look instead for the R-value. This rates the materials’ thermal resistance. The higher the R-value, the warmer it will be. You generally want an R-value of at least 5 if you plan on winter camping.
What kind of trip are you taking?
For a long hike that involves strenuous climbs, you want to minimize weight. You might want to find a pad that packs tight if you require special equipment that fills your pack. If you are going into narrow areas, compactability might sway your decision. Car camping allows you to choose a more luxurious pad, maybe even an inflatable one.
How many nights will you be sleeping outdoors?
How long you are hiking can also determine the type of pad you need. If it’s a long, strenuous hike, you may need a lighter pad made of durable materials. If you are a frequent camper, durability is again an important factor. However, if you tend only to car-camp a time or two each summer, a cheaper option might work just as well. However, Active Junky evaluators advise making sure you go for quality over cost if the pad is for an epic journey where your safety and success depend on each and every piece of gear.
What kind of sleeper are you?
Sometimes, the most important aspect of a sleeping pad isn’t size, weight or durability, but how comfortable it is. While some folks are perfectly fine with a thin pad, others need more support. Restless sleepers or those who prefer to curl up on their sides may need a larger pad.
Of course, even the best sleeping pad/sleeping bag combination is no substitute for a good bed; sleeping on pads can take a little getting used to. A great way to do this is to actually sleep on your pad for a night or two after you purchase it. You’ll get a good feel for how well it supports you, and if you find it’s not working out, you have a better chance of successfully exchanging it before your big trip.
For my first big hiking trip, when I was 12, my father bought me a sleeping pad, one of those heavy plastic things that would take half an hour to blow up manually – great for camping on the lake, but not for a strenuous five-day hike. The counselors didn’t let me take it. It was probably the right decision, but I didn’t think so after a night of rocks in my side. Since then, sleeping pads have come a long way. Even so, finding the best pad for you still means taking into account the situation you’re using it for.