Long ago, in a land far, far away, I could sleep on a thin foam pad on the ground. Then I turned 40. Even though I believe in backpacking as light as possible, I’ll lug a comfortable air mattress versus a lighter foam pad because I lose more energy to a restless night than I do to hauling a few extra ounces on the trail.
But there’s good news. Manufacturers have reduced the weight and bulk of air mats while making them thicker and more cushy, ensuring nights spent on the ground that are as restful as sleeping in your bed at home — or pretty close, at least.
If you want to get a better night’s sleep beneath the stars, try one of these awesome sleeping pads.Looking for low weight and cost? The REI Co-op Flash Insulated weighs less than a pound and will set you back only $100. It’s a reasonably cushy 2 inches thick with a dimpled design that keeps the air evenly distributed. A layer of reflective Mylar boosts the R-value up to 3.7. Available in varying sizes.The Klymit Static V delivers impressive value at a hard-to-beat price — $50! —and you can find it at scoutstuff.org or at select Scout shops. The mat offers 2.5 inches of thickness and weighs just 1 lb., 2 oz., with an R-value of 1.3. When it’s inflated, the V-shaped air tubes prevent flat spots, and side rails keep you from bouncing off.Sea to Summit Comfort Light SI Pad might be the most comfortable self-inflating air mat out there. A construction technique speeds the self-inflating process; topping it off requires only a few breaths. The company also cored out the foam to reduce its weight by nearly half, keeping the mat’s overall weight (1 lb., 5 oz.) and bulk moderate. Starting at $110; available in varying sizes.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is an all-season air mat that packs more insulation, pound for pound, than any competitor. It reflects heat back to your body, giving the mattress a winter-worthy R-value of 5.7. And with 2.5 inches of thickness, it will cushion a tired body. One con to note: The mat is a little noisy. Starting at $200; available in two lengths.Nemo Tensor air mats are treated with a thermal mirror film to reflect body heat back at you, keeping you warm in temps down to around freezing. Weighing as little as 15 oz., the undulating lateral baffles create a stable bed, and the ripstop nylon fabric cleans easily. Starting at $100; available in varying sizes.
For its packed size, nothing compares in comfort to the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra. A fat 3.5 inches thick, it is plush to sleep on, yet it packs down to slightly larger than a liter bottle. Separate valves make deflating a three-second task, while inflating requires a couple dozen strong breaths. Rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting at $85; available in varying sizes.
If you want the most deluxe air mat for camping near your car (when weight doesn’t matter), get the Exped MegaMat 10. This one-person air mat balloons to nearly 4 inches thick. Although it requires some work to inflate — aided by self-inflating foam and an included mini-pump — you might wake up thinking you’re in bed at home. And the 9.5 R-value basically means you could sleep outside in Antarctica. $229; 5 lbs., 10 oz.
I used the ExPad MegaMat for three weeks at long term Boy Scout events this summer. It was a better nights sleep than many hotel mattresses I have slept on. Truly bed like. I covered it with an inexpensive twin bed fitted sheet and it was wonderful. Car camping at its best.
I would also add the therm-a-rest neoair sv series pads. These are also reasonably priced and very comfortable.
I also have the Big Agnes pad listed above and it is also very comfortable. Plus it works with the Big Agnes pad sleeves under the Big Agnes sleeping bags so you won’t roll off the pad at night.
The Exped MegaMat coupled with the separately available shnozzel inflating bag is worth every penny when car camping or at long term camps if you like to be comfortable at night.
I have the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra and it is VERY comfy, but I have issues with its insulation. It was not enough in my Big Agnes Farwell 0F bag (BA system bag, so no insulation on the bottom) at 36F. Currently seeking a warmer pad.
I used Therm-A-Rest which is Very comfy especialy if sleeping on the ground and inflates easy. I like it better then sleeeping on a full size air mattress.
I had looked at the ExPed MegaMat 10 for almost a year. I ended up with the Therm-A-Rest Mondo King 3D. Love it! It’s a bit cheaper and has a R value of 11; highest on the market.
I have spent many nights on the Big Agnes insulated air core. It’s very light without sacrificing comfort. Well Worth the price.
I have an L.L.bean camp futon which I love. It is a 3 inch thick pad and isn’t very expensive.
My suggestion is that you first consider how the pad is to be used and what the average night time temperature will be when you are camping. If you will be breaking camp frequently and backpacking your gear from one location to another, in addition to weight consider just how easy it is to pack your pad. I find a 3″ foam pad is quite difficult to both deflate and roll up. However, if I’m going to be in a static camp for the duration of the camp out, a 3″ pad is greatly appreciated.
Still using a 30-year-old ThermaRest, but those patches are making it heavier…
I have a thermarest neoair camper SV that is very comfortable. I also have a Big Agnes insulated air core mattress this is also comfortable and a bit warmer for colder months due to the insulation. As a scout though I used a thermarest closed cell foam mattress exclusively. Now that I’m older I need much more padding between me and the ground.