Getting a good night’s sleep during a backpacking trip used to be rare, but with today’s sleeping pads that are much more improved than their predecessors, things have gone better than ever. Comfort is far better than ever with advanced baffling and cell designs, and size and weight continue to drop, as well as the insulation and warmth you need for cold weather. Here, we break down the best backpacking sleeping pads of 2021. Whatever you choose, be sure to take proper care to avoid holes.
Therm-a-Rest is known for its quality backpacking pads, and their leading lightweight model is the NeoAir XLite. For most people, the 2020 XLite is a whole package: comfortable with Therm-a-Rest’s signature internal baffling, the R-value of 4.2, and weighs just 12 ounces is plenty for most 3-season trips. The XLite stuffs down impressively small, so it does not take so much space in your pack.
For a comfortable and cushy sleeping pad, the Nemo Switchback is not the best choice. However, Switchback is cheaper than the regular version, plus it never pops. Its thin quality and simplistic nature of foam pads make it a great seat around camp. Some winter explorers or comfort seekers also use Switchback for extra cushion and protection.
The NeoAir XTherm gives a serious look when it comes to warmth and durability compared to our top pick, the NeoAir XLite. Although XTherm comes with the similar lightweight internal baffling design of the XLite, XTherm adds a silver lining with ThermaCapture technology. It also mimics the build of a built-in emergency blanket by reflecting your body heat, giving XTherm a winter-ready 6.9 R-value with minimal bulk and weight. Plus, it is as comfortable as the other NeoAir models, with a gradually tapered shape as well as small, unobtrusive horizontal baffles to sleep on.
The Ether Light XT Insulated from Sea to Summit is the ticket for those who move around quite a lot during the night. The Ether is the thickest sleeping pad with a whopping 4 inches of cushioning off the ground while weighing in at 1 pound 1.3 ounces. The well-padded Air Sprung Cells is one of the most notable features of this pad. Originally introduced on the Comfort Light below, this pad is a 3.2 R-value that should suffice for shoulder-season backpacking trips and a dual pump/stuff sack for quick inflation. No wonder why Ether is one of the most luxurious pads you can find on the market.
Due to their cushy foam padding, greater durability, and convenient set-up, the self-inflating pad models have still a place in the backpacking market. Our favorite is the Therm-a-Rest’s ProLite Plus, which hits a perfect balance of warmth and price. This self-inflating pad is super easy to use: unroll it and open the valve to inflate. Its 1.5-inch thickness and 3.2 R-value give you enough warmth and protection for most trips in spring, summer, or fall.
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