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How To Choose The Right Sleeping Pad | Ultimate Guide

Choosing the right sleeping pad for your camping or backpacking adventures is important to your overall enjoyment. This ultimate guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how to choose the right sleeping pad. Whether you are looking to cut out as much weight as possible on your next backpacking trip or want the plushest and most comfortable sleeping pad on the market, (or something in between) this guide will help you find the perfect sleeping pad to fit your needs. 

View of Sundial Peak at Lake Blanche Through the tent with Jake and Emilys feet

With technology advancements, you can pretty much find a perfect sleeping pad that is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to blow up for your car camping and/or backpacking needs. Let’s dive into how to choose the right sleeping pad ultimate guide. 

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Different Types of sleeping pads: 

First, let’s break down the different types of sleeping pads. There are three main types of sleeping pads on the market today: inflatable, closed-cell foam, or self-inflating. 


Big Agnes Q Core

My personal favorite sleeping pad is an inflatable sleeping pad. Think “pool raft”, but with way better technology to make sure the sleeping pad is puncture resistant, mold resistant and some even come insulated.

Inflatable sleeping pads usually need to be manually blown up either with your mouth or a hand pump. They are one of the most comfortable options because they offer the most thickness. You won’t feel the hard ground or rocks that might be poking out from underneath the tent.

However, they are the least durable, and a popped one can leave you sleeping on the ground.

Closed-Cell Foam:

Exped Closed-cell foam sleeping pad

Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are the most basic style of sleeping pad. They are usually the cheapest and lightest option. Plus they cant be popped and can require basically no setup. They make a nice cushion for sitting around camp. But they also tend to be bulky and the least comfortable sleeping option.


REI Self-inflating sleeping pad

Self-inflating sleeping pads come with an added convenience. They are a combination of open-cell foam and inflatable. There is an open/close valve that helps bring air into self-inflate the pad on its own, so it saves you time when setting up camp. But you will still need to add a little air at the end to get the appropriate firmness.

Although they are a little bulkier than an inflatable when packed away, they do pack down relatively small. An added benefit is if a self-inflating sleeping pad does happen to pop, there is still foam inside, so you won’t be fully sleeping on the ground! 

Sleeping Pad Temperature Rating (R-value):

Next up, on the ultimate guide for how to choose the right sleeping pad is temperature. Companies usually rate sleeping pads by R-Value. But you might be wondering, what is R-value? R-value is the rating of temperature that attempts to quantify the quality of an insulation material. 

The measurement techniques aren’t completely standardized amongst companies (although they try), so it can be hard to compare R-value between brands. But most companies run an R-Value system 1-6. With 1 being the least insulated and 6 being the most insulated. In general, the higher the R-value, the warmer the sleeping pad will be. Therefore, if you plan to camp or backpack in colder temperatures, you will want to find a sleeping pad with a higher R-value. 

As most things go with outdoor gear, the higher the R-value the more expensive and/or heavier it tends to be. So finding a nice balance for your average camping needs is key.

Some sleeping pads will indicate what seasons they are designed for.


Great Basin National Park: Jake with backpacking pack on

Weight is an important factor when choosing the right sleeping pad if you plan to do any backpacking. You will want to find a sleeping pad that is lightweight yet still comfortable so you can still get a good night’s rest. Weight isn’t really a huge factor if you plan to car camp because you don’t need to carry the weight on your back. So comfort should be more of a factor than weight if you only plan to car camp. 

So depending on the activity, you will need to decide if weight or comfortability is more important. With current technology, there is a wide range of great sleeping pad options around 1lb (16oz) which is generally what you should aim for in sleeping pad weight for backpacking adventures. 

Obviously, if you go for an ultralight pad but you can’t get any sleep because you feel every rock under you while backpacking, then the sacrifice of comfort might not be worth it.  A common complaint about very thin or minimalist sleeping pads is that they don’t provide enough cushion for the hips and shoulders.

My suggestion is to rate how well you sleep on average. Do you wake up often throughout the night? If so, I’d probably try to find a sleeping pad that inflates vs a closed-cell foam. Or if you basically sleep like a rock no matter what, then I would go for something that is a little more lightweight and minimalistic.

For ultra-light backpackers, there are some sleeping pads designed just for you. They find way to cut weight, putting less of an emphasis on comfort. Most ultralight pads are thinner, and in some extreme cases only cover the length of your torso. Or they can cut the amount of material by strategically omitting padding from certain areas.  For example, the Klymit Inertia Ozone or X-frame  have holes in the middle of the pad to cut weight and also allow your sleeping bag to loft more under your body.


There are a few different factors to consider when choosing the size of your sleeping pad. There are three main size differences: small/petite, regular and large. Or if you are looking to share a sleeping pad with your significant other or child then there is the option of getting a double. And if you are big-boned, there is also an option for an extra-wide pad.  Or some people prefer an extra wide pad because it allows more room for their arms on the pad.

I am 5’3”, so I can get away with a petite sleeping pad, but Jake is 5’8”, so he will need a regular-sized sleeping pad. And if you are 6’ or taller you might need an extra-long sleeping pad. 

Size can be important if you are trying to fit a sleeping pad inside your backpacking pack. But if you primarily car-camp then size doesn’t matter nearly as much. Because when car camping, you might have a sleeping pad that is literally as big as a backpacking pack. 

Generally, inflatable sleeping pads will pack down the smallest because there is no foam inside the pad. So if you are looking for a pad that doesn’t take up much space in your backpacking pack, then inflatable is the best option.

What Activity Will You Be Using The Sleeping Pad For:

Emily looking out at Reflection Canyon from our campsite Campsite

Activity is important when choosing the right sleeping pad. Activities range from car-camping, backpacking, ultra-light backpacking, thru-hiking, bikepacking, etc.

If you mainly backpack, you should aim for an ultra-light sleeping pad so you can optimize the weight of your pack. But if you strictly car camp, I would aim for a large, plush sleeping pad where size and weight doesn’t really matter. 

And if you want a sleeping pad that does it all, I would try to find one that is a good balance of weight, size, and comfort so the pad is versatile.

Thru-hiking is sometimes approached differently than backpacking and ultra-light backpacking, because durability is extra important. You don’t want to get one night into your 3 month trip to realize your inflatable sleeping pad has a hole. Therefore, some thru-hikers prefer a closed-cell sleeping pad to ensure provide some insurance against problems on the trail.

Our Sleeping Pad Suggestions For Each Activity:

Best Sleeping Pad For Car-Camping

ust Fillmatic sleeping pad

ust Fillmatic

Best Sleeping Pad For Backpacking

Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe

Best Sleeping Pad For Ultralight Backpacking

Klymit Inertia X-Frame sleeping pad

Klymit Inertia X-Frame

Best Sleeping Pad For Thru-Hiking

NEMO Switchback sleeping pad

NEMO Switchback

Shape Of The Sleeping Pad:

There are a few different shapes of sleeping pads: rectangle, semi-rectangular or mummy. A rectangular shape is how it sounds, a rectangle. Semi-rectangular are rounded near the top and tapered at the bottom to save on weight. A mummy shape is usually tapered at the bottom. Both Mummy-shaped and semi-rectangular sleeping pads are designed to limit the overall weight and size of the pad and/or some fit in a sleeve of your sleeping bag.

So when choosing the shape of a sleeping pad, you might need to choose a sleeping pad that fits your specific sleeping bag model. For example, Big Agnes is famous for making sleeping bags with an integrated sleeve designed to perfectly fit their sleeping pads.  Or if you are looking to cut out as much weight as possible and optimize the space in your pack, a mummy shape or semi-rectangular is your best option. 

Check out our post: How To Choose The Right Sleeping Bag

Choosing The Best Brand For Your Budget:

I think brand is important when choosing a sleeping pad. Well known brands in the outdoor community have put in a lot of time, money and research to creating the best sleeping pads. Some of our favorite well known brands are Big Agnes, Klymit, Therm-a-rest, Nemo, etc. 

That’s not to say there aren’t other quality brands out there, but you want to find a sleeping pad that is high-quality and will last you many camping adventures in the future. You don’t want to get out on an adventure to find that your pad isn’t comfortable enough or got damaged. Or to possibly find mold in your inflatable sleeping pad because the pad wasn’t made with antimicrobial treatment inside the pad to prevent microorganism growth.


Lastly, one of the most important aspects for how to choose the right sleeping pad is price. Obviously if we could have a different sleeping pad for every activity that’d be ideal, but most car campers and backpackers want a sleeping pad that can do it all for a decent price. So you must take in all the above qualifications for what sleeping pad will be best for you. 

Questions to ask yourself before purchasing a sleeping pad is how often you will be using it? The amount of money invested in your sleeping pad should typically reflect how much use you get out of it.  But I will tell you that most campers and backpackers advocate for spending up for a quality sleeping pad.  Getting a comfortable nights rest is key to enjoying your time in nature.

Therefore, my opinion is if you won’t be using a sleeping pad often, you should aim for a sleeping pad that is less than $50. But if you will be using it multiple times a year, it will most likely be worth it to spend $100+. But that’s not to say you can’t find some good deals of quality sleeping pads under $100. Shop around, see if you can find a good deal on a quality sleeping pad. 

How To Choose The Right Sleeping Pad For You: 

Personally, a sleeping pad is something I am willing to spend a decent amount of money on, because quality brands have done their research and built products to last. I do both car camping and backpacking, so I wanted to find a sleeping pad that was lightweight, compact but still comfortable. So I went with The Big Agnes Q-Core Inflatable sleeping pad. It is very comfortable, lightweight, compact, and has an R-value of 4.3.

When choosing the right sleeping pad for you, prioritize what you want most in a good night’s sleep. If you primarily car-camp, but want to take your heavier sleeping pad on a backing trip, you will probably be fine. Or there are even companies who rent out used gear for those people who only plan to use the gear for a short weekend trip.

Here is a list of our top choices for sleeping pads in each category. We hope this helps you decide which sleeping pad is best for you!

Tops Choices For Inflatable Sleeping Pads: 

Best Inflatable Sleeping Pad for Ultralight Backpacking

Klymit Inertia X-Frame sleeping pad

Klymit Inertia X-Frame

Best Inflatable Sleeping Pad for Both Lightweight & Comfortable

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe

Most Comfortable Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI

Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI

Tops Choices For Closed-Cell Sleeping Pads: 

Best Lightweight Closed-Cell Sleeping Pad

Thermarest Z Lite SOL™ sleeping pad

Thermarest Z Lite SOL™

Best Closed-Cell Sleeping Pads Both Lightweight & Comfortable

NEMO Switchback sleeping pad

NEMO Switchback

Most Comfortable Closed-Cell Sleeping Pad

Exped FlexMat Plus Sleeping Pad

Exped FlexMat Plus Sleeping Pad

Tops Choices For Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads:

Best Lightweight Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

Therm-a-Rest ProLite

Best Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad Both Light & Comfortable

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus SI

Most Comfortable Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

ust Fillmatic

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