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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Sleeping Pad Shopping Guide

by: The Backpacker Editors


The Standard: For years, the unquestioned king of good snoozing has been the self-inflating, foam-filled mattress. The best are comfortable, durable, warm, and easy to fill. Recently, though, variations on the old-fashioned air mattress have been making serious inroads, bringing improvements in cushion, durability, and price. For as little as half the price of a standard self-inflater, you can get an air mattress that blows up twice as thick, albeit with less insulation (usually) and lots more effort.


Closed-cell foams mats still have fans–mainly ultralighters who cut them to hip length and even use them to cushion unpadded backpacks.

You sleep... You should buy...
Like a rock Why carry extra? Go for a short, thin closed-cell pad like the Z-Rest.
Like a princess For three-season camping, choose a full-length air mattress that inflates to 3 inches thick. For colder conditions, get the same thing with insulation or a (slightly warmer) 1.5-inch-thick self-inflater. Thicker self-inflaters are available, but are too heavy and bulky for backpacking.
Warm Short air mattress.
Cold Try either of the cold-weather princess options, plus a short closed-cell pad to layer under your torso for extra insulation.
In the snow Go with a full-length self-inflater and full-length closed-cell pad; even insulated air mattresses have a hard time in deep cold due to the seams between chambers. Put extra clothes under your bag and your backpack under your legs for maximum warmth.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 22, 2013

I've used the BA with inculation for several years now and don't think I could accept anything else at this point. I guess I fit the princess bill. I am over 50 and like my comfort as well. I've used it mountaineering and in the dessert and works well.

Jun 25, 2010

I like the ether elite for the price, weight and warmth. Hard to beat a good nights sleep for under a pound, packed as small as a can of sprite, and half the price of an air neo

Nov 22, 2009

I just ordered the Therma rest neo air...
$170 WHOA...... @ that price it should sleep 4 ya.....

Apr 24, 2008

I have found the Therma-rest ProLite 4 line of mens and womens sleeping pads to be very very nice. They are excellent at keeping you warm in winter camping, yet they are light, and compact enough to store inside your backpack. Totally worth it.

Michael King
Apr 16, 2008


It's the BA pad with the Qualofil insulation (I believe)...I'm using one this weekend on the AT. It's 2.5 in. thick and weighs 1lb. 6 oz. Not bad if you ask me but I'm almost 50 and I enjoy being comfortable.

Mar 29, 2008

W/in the past few months Backpacker magazine print edition recommended a certain Big Agnes pad - anyone recall which one or which months magazine discussed this?


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