3 Sleeping Pads to Make Mornings Great Again

These pads will make alpine starts bearable and every other night awesome.


You know those “from the tent” Instagram shots? The ones of some gorgeous view bathed in misty morning light, framed by nylon tent flaps, maybe a hand wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee in the foreground? Clearly those people have never had a case of camp shoulder.

Yeah, waking up in a tent isn’t usually something to complain about, but it’s not always the most blissful experience either. Maybe your tent-mate took over your sleeping pad and you woke up shoved into a condensation-covered corner. Maybe you’re snow camping and slept on top of an empty backpack to insulate your tired, furless, useless-in-the-winter body from the frozen ground. Maybe you’ve got a braid of knots wrapped around your shoulder blade and an altitude headache. All we’re saying is sleeping on the ground isn’t always easy. But these great sleeping pads are here to help.

Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Classic Sleeping Mat

Therm-a-Rest’s Ridgerest hasn’t changed much since it first hit the market, and for good reason. It’s inexpensive–$20–and reliable. We’ll get to the fancy, inflatable, super-lite stuff in a minute, but the classic black foam won’t pop when it gets packed next to a wayward crampon. It provides great insulation when cold-weather and snow camping (and for $10 extra you can purchase the SOLite, which has a thin layer of aluminum inside to reflect body heat and keep you warmer). You can buy 5 of ’em for family camping trips and not break the bank. You can fold it up and sit on it next to the campfire, wrap it around your waist under your backpack strap when the hip hickeys get gnarly (I’m serious, this looks goofy but can be a life-saver on long backpacking trips), and roll it out on the car seat before your dirty friends pile in. And even though it might not be all that easy to pack, it weighs just 0.1 oz more than the “ultralight” inflatable below. It’s versatile, simple, and a true classic.

$15-$30 • BUY

Sea to Summit UltraLight Mat

Despite the fact that, at 13.9 oz, the UltraLight isn’t much lighter than the RidgeRest, this is an incredible sleeping mat. It packs down to about the size of a Nalgene, and unlike other inflatable mats is quick to inflate and deflate and really easy to pack. I still have stress dreams about trying to fit my parent’s 1985 Therm-a-Rest inflatables back into their stuff sacks and for the longest time shunned inflatables because of the hassle factor. Well, the hassle factor isn’t a factor with the UltraLight. When you first inflate the mat, it might seem diminutive but don’t be fooled: just because it doesn’t look burly doesn’t mean it isn’t durable and super-comfortable. Though the UltraLight isn’t remarkably warm–I wouldn’t use it for camping in weather much below freezing–you can get an insulated version for just an extra 1.6 oz that helps keep your body heat from seeping into the ground. Both the insulated and non-insulated versions come in three degrees of “comfort” as well. If you’re not worried about an extra five ounces, extra layers of Sea to Summit’s “air sprung cells” give you a softer sleep without sacrificing packability. The bare-bones UltraLight will run you $100–so, a far cry from a foam mat, but a pretty reasonable price for an ultralight inflatable.

$100-$140 • BUY

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm

Therm-a-Rest’s best inflatable option, the XTherm, has a great warmth and comfort to weight ratio. It weighs in at just 15 ounces, but is appropriate for all-season camping and packs down well (though not quite as small, once packed, as the Sea to Summit above). An awesome inflatable option for side sleepers, the Xtherm’s inflation pattern makes sure pressure points–so, hips, elbows, shoulders–don’t press through its 2.5 inches of cushion to the ground. It has won awards from many gear testers and outdoor publications and might be unbeatable when it comes to lightweight inflatables. Well, the price, which starts at $200 and goes upward for larger sizes, could definitely be beat. On the flipside, Therm-a-Rest has a great lifetime warranty, and once you’ve rested your weary head on an Xtherm, you won’t be sleeping mat shopping for a long time. The only other downside, which plagues many lightweight inflatables, is the noise. This one crackles a bit when you roll around at night, but that’s nothing compared to your tent-mate’s snoring. (If you prefer a rectangle pad, there’s the NeoAir XTherm MAX.)

$200-$230 • BUY

Photo by Visit Gros Morne

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Showing 8 comments
  • Cody L Custis
    Reply

    Point of order: The Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Classic Sleeping Mat link goes to the Sea to Summit Pad.

    • Abbie Barronian
      Reply

      Thank you! Fixed.

  • Ryan Hill
    Reply

    I’ve had the X-Therm for 3 years now, used it too many nights to count. Only the Therma-Rest Dreamtime is more comfortable/warmer. One of the great things about the high R-Value is that you can afford to bring a lighter sleeping bag with you. My ultralight summer bag has now becoming my spring and fall bag due to the extra warmth the pad provides.

  • Mark
    Reply

    Regarding the Thermorest Neo Air…..I decided to get one last year, I had two great trips with itbut then had to blow it up twice in one night!!!
    When I gothome I checked it out and found ithad developed a leak around a heat weld, not a puncture!
    True to their word, it was repaired quickly and under warranty with no problems at all but, it’s a bit of a shame that it happened in the first place,,,
    i haven’t used it in anger since but I’ve got no reason to doubt it’s abilities!

  • yogibimbi
    Reply

    I have had two Neo Air XTherms and both had delaminations (bubbles of increasing size springing up at one point of the surface) within a couple of months. Disclaimer: I sleep on my mattresses every night, so “a few months” means number of months x 30 nights, but to me that is still unacceptable, especially at such a price.

    In contrast, the uninsulated NeoAir has no problems with delaminations, but is not as durable as self-inflating foam mattresses (which, however, also suffer from delaminations), my first one was done in by a tiny shard of glass that had snuck into a room I was sleeping in. I patched the hole but somehow the mattress kept losing air. Funny enough, I sent it in to the retailer, after asking if they have any ways of finding holes other that submerging the inflated mattress in a bathtub (which I had done two times) and they told me,”just send it in, we’ll check it” and I got a refurbished one back. However, that started losing air in small amounts as well after a couple of months, and I still have to find out where that comes from. Places I rent usually don’t have bathtubs anymore. My latest NeoAir, however, is still going strong after about a year of nightly use.

  • GnarlyDog
    Reply

    nothing comes close to comfort as the Neo Air (I have several versions). Nowhere near as durable as the original ones that seemed indestructible and had 4 delaminate on me but the warranty is solid: always replaced with new one. I also tend to puncture the Neo Airs way easier than the solid foam-core ones…

  • David
    Reply

    Abbie, Right on with the Ridgerest!!! Simple. 100% reliable. Cheap. Classic. I have many other pads, but use this the most. No worries at all…ever. Thanks for including it in your article. Everything else if over-engineered. I have had mine for almost 30 years now!

  • Dave
    Reply

    Ridgerest link went to S to S, S to S link broken.

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