How To Pick The Right Sleeping Pad For You (For Backpacking)? Follow Our 7-Point Checklist
This article is for anyone who is interested in inflatable ultralight/lightweight sleeping pad for backpacking and/or lightweight travel.
We will cover self-inflating sleeping pad in another article (coming soon).
Here is our 7-point checklist: weight, size, comfort, inflation, durability, R-value, and price.
Let's get right to it.
Every ounce counts when hiking through the mountain.
We recommend getting getting a 1 lb (16 Oz, 454g) or less ultralight sleeping pad. For highly insulated sleeping pad (for cold weather), try to stay under 19 Oz.
Size includes the inflated size, thickness, and the packed size.
Usually you don't have much room in your backpack so pack size is very important. A good size is about the size of a 16 to 20 Oz water bottle.
Once inflated, we find a good size for most people to be at least 72" long, 21" wide, and 2" thick.
Thickness is important, especially for side sleepers, to prevent you from touching the ground and feel every little leave or rock underneath.
It can be rectangular or mummy shape but usually mummy shape works better because of the weight saving and the ability to pair with mummy sleeping bag.
Comfort is probably one of the most important but hardest to quantify factors.
After all, what good is a sleeping pad if you wake up with all kinds of hip and back pain?
The goal here is to provide the right level of support for different sections of your body at different sleep positions.
Side sleepers need more support than back sleepers. Side sleepers usually require a thicker sleeping pad (2 inch or above). But thicker sleeping pad doesn't always translate to more comfort. For example, BIG AGNES Q-CORE SLX is 4.25 thick - about 1.25 to 2 inch thicker than most pads. But most reviewers/users feel it's a bit lacking in stability.
Our recommendation is to get a pad that's between 2 to 3 inch thick. This range provides a good balance between cushion, support, and stability.
Comfort is where our patent-pending OutdoorsmanLab ultralight sleeping pad stands out.
We use inter-connected, self-adjusting air cells that conform to your body to provide optimal support. All of the air cells are interconnected so they work together to distribute your weight evenly throughout the pad. These air cells have gentle curvatures so you can lay on it comfortably.
Tens of thousands of users have used our pad with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Some say it's the most comfortable sleeping pad they ever own. And we are very proud of it!
See what Amy from Armed Rogue say about our pad
An inflatable sleeping pad is useless if you can't inflate it.
Easy inflation and deflation are very important because you certainly don't want to be struggling to inflate the pad after a tiring day of adventure.
Look for pads with large air valve with air locks that can easily inflate and deflate. We recommend looking for pads that you can inflate in 10 to 15 breaths.
The bottom fabric and the laminated layer inside are very important for durability.
The high-end pads usually use Ripstop 20D or 40D nylon that is ultralight but yet very strong and durable. Cheaper pads usually use 75D polyester, which is thicker and heavier.
The coating material on the inside of the pad is another important factor to both weight and durability.
TPU and PVC are two commonly used materials.
Laminated TPU is the one to use for high performance ultralight pad.
TPU is much stronger, durable, and lighter compared to PVC. TPU also doesn't degrade over time or under harsh (i.e. cold) weather conditions.
However, this premium performance comes with a premium price tag. Pads with laminated TPU usually cost more than twice of that of PVC pads, all else being the same.
Mike from Gear Testathon did an impressive series of test on our ultralight pad. Check it out!
(Durability test is ~ 1:20 to 2:05.)
Simple rule of thumb - 0-2 for 2 season camping, 2-4 for 3 season (32F), 4+ for extreme weather (15F or below).
You can also consider a combination of different types of pads such as adding a thermal insulation layer or a non-inflated (closed foam) pad to add some R-value.
Know your budget, know what you are paying for, and know the conditions you are going to use it in.
Higher price doesn't always mean better pad.
For example, you really don't need an ultralight pad if you are going for a weekend car camping trip. If you are going outdoors on a hot summer day, then you certainly don't need a highly insulated pad with high R-value.
There is also really no point to spend $200 on a pad that you will only use once a year for couple cause camping nights.
But if you have been shopping for sleeping pads (especially at large outdoor specialty stores like REI), you will most likely have a hard time finding a good ultralight pad under $100.
Do you really need to spend $100+ to get a sleeping pad? Where are the choices? (we will get back to this question shortly)
So, how do you pick the best pad for you based on the above 7 check points?
Really, the best pad for you really depends on what you value the most.
If money is no object, and comfort is medium on the list, we'd most likely recommend Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite.It's warm (R-value 3.2) and super light (12 Oz).
But we don't really like the horizontal tube-like design. It is less stable compared to some other pads. It's also a lot more difficult to inflation compare to other pads.
If money is no object (again...), comfort is really high on the list, and you need a good R-value, plus you are very strong so you don't mind the extra weight on your back (~25 Oz). Then Sea-To-Summit Comfort series offer a few great choices. You trade weight for comfort.
Now, if you include money in the picture, put comfort and weight in the front of the list, then our OutdoorsmanLab Ultralight Sleeping Pad is probably the best pad you can buy for the money.
Our ultralight sleeping pad weighs only 14.5 Oz, packs down tiny, extremely comfortable, uses top of the line ripstop 20D nylon and laminated TPU layer for maximum durability.
All these premium specs come with a unbeatable price of $47.95, about half of a comparable pad you can buy at specialty outdoor stores.
You must be wondering how we are able to offer our pad at this price…
Certainly not by cutting any corner!
The main reason you can't find a good pad under $100 is because most of the outdoor industry is dominated by big companies/brands and large retailers.
There are also multiple layers of buying and selling BEFORE the gear reaches you. Plus, it's not their best interest to sell you a $50 pad if they can sell you one for $100 or even $200!
We are here to create an alternative...
We can offer our pad at this price because we design and source/manufacture our pad directly AND we sell our pad directly to you.
By circumventing traditional channels, we cut out the middle man so we can provide great gear at a revolutionary price to you. We want you to enjoy great outdoor gears and the great outdoors with money in your pocket.
It's simple - great gear, great price, great outcome.
Now, the choice is yours to make.
We certainly don't claim to have the best all-around pad on the market (yet), but unless you need high R-value or extra-thick pad, we believe our pad is the best pad you can get for the money.
We stand behind our products and we provide the best customer service with lifetime warranty on all our products.
We guaranteed you will love your new OutdoorsmanLab Ultralight Sleeping Pad!
Worst case, just try it out for 30 days and return it completely free with our no-question-asked FULL refund policy!