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.