How to choose the best sleeping pad – comparative review
Going out camping brings the question of where and how do we sleep and people often think of tents at this particular moment. While tents are probably mixed in the plans as well, we can simply not refute the importance of sleeping pads. They add a great deal of comfort and isolation while at the same time not taking up too much space or weighting too much to make it hard to carry. In order to produce viable answers to the question which sleeping pads are the best and why, we tested a number of great sleeping pads and thoroughly evaluated their durability, comfort, size and weight. Read on if you need more exhaustive information on the matter.
What types of sleeping pads do exist?
Based on the way they were manufactured, there basically are six different sleeping pad types: closed cell foam, self-inflating foam, standard air core, synthetic insulated air core, down filled air core and structurally insulated air core. Closed cell pads are universally used by both beginners and expert hikers. Their most prominent downside is their size, however that does not take much from their potential usefulness. Self-inflating foam models are all glued up and generally hold their shape well, however these are also rather bulky and not the lightest either. Standard air core models have inflating mechanisms and can save you a good deal of money if you are aiming at savings, however these were definitely not the warmest we have tested and also rather uncomfortable. If comfort is at all important, and it should be, then place your bet on another type of sleeping pad. Synthetic insulated air core offer about mediocre warmth and comfort but giving their price, we have these as a reasonable compromise between price and quality. If you need a rather inexpensive product, these ones are probably for you. The down filled air core models are very warm, in fact the warmest models we had the chance to test. Great for winter conditions, however rather heavy. If you can organise your stuff well and are not bothered by trivialities such as weight, this model is just right for you. The structurally insulated air core has one very prominent example to produce – the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir. This product offers top of the line warmth, comfort and weight and by far beats the competition as far as we are concerned.
How did we evaluate these products?
In order to produce a solid logical conclusion about which sleeping pads are the best, we picked several criterions according to which we evaluated different products.
This is one of the main reasons people buy sleeping pads in the first place – to insulate themselves from the cold below. This is especially important when camping in cold weather when the difference between the body and the ground temperature can be absolutely staggering. The pad’s thickness and air circulation (the less the better) are crucial factors in determining pad’s quality. Although its hard to come up with a precise system for evaluation, we have tested all pads on snow in order to see how they perform. The absolute warmest pad we happen to test was the Exped Down mat 9 closely followed by the great Therm-a-Rest NeoAir.
If you are out on long distance journeys, you know the importance of weight. Having a backpack too heavy can crush your back over time and produce pain. Therefore, the lighter the pad, the better. There are varying types of pads when it comes to weight and we observed models ranging from 9 to as much as 40 oz. The lightest one we’ve got was the Klymit Intertia X Frame adding only 9 oz to your overall travelling weight whereas one of the most heavy ones was the Exped Down mat 9 with its whopping 36 oz. One should be aware that there are different sizes for many of the manufactured and tested models. Some campers reduce the overall weight of their baggage by simply taking up a smaller pad and using additional items to place underneath the legs such as the backpack itself, the boots and other.
Weight is one important consideration, however size matters too, completely contrary to what many men say, mind you. As pointed out previously, closed cell pads are the largest. Bulky pads may become an obstacle if you are passing through dense vegetation therefore, generally speaking the smaller the pad, the better. The smallest one we tested was the Klymit Interia X Frame which is small enough to get into your pocket which really speak well for its size. The next smallest one was the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir.
We are all used to sleep in beds and that made us spoiled in a way. We needed to thoroughly test how these pads cushioned rocks and uneven surfaces in an effort to provide higher degree of comfort when sleeping. Generally speaking, thicker pads work better than thinner parts when it comes to comfort. There is no one system of evaluation that could be applied here since comfort is a subjective term but as soon as one start to feel the pains and aches of an uncomfortable pad, its already a bit too late. NeoAir performed really well in this category followed by Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus.
Having in mind we actually have to put these pads on the ground and test them under the harshest of conditions, it is surprising how much punishment they can endure before showing signs of wear. The most durable pad we managed to test was the Nemo Zor and once again it was closely followed by the NeoAir.
If you use a model which requires you to breath into the pad in order to inflate it, this contains certain risks. Or breath contains tiny bits of water vapour which enter the pad and generally stay there until deflation. That is true in warmer conditions, however if it gets any colder, the vapour liquefies and stays inside the pad even after deflation which is harmful to the pad over long periods of time. Therefore, we do not advise you to ever inflate pads with your breath when in an adventure during the cold months of the year, especially if the temperature is below the freeze line. It is much better to choose a manufacturer that has already provided an in-built system of inflation that does not require you to inflate the pad yourself. Examples include the NeoAir and the DownMat 9.
Picking out the best sleeping pad was a rather easy decision having in mind all the great qualities and high scores in every category associated with the NeoAir model. You can see for yourself that this particular model scored either first or second in every tested category making it by far the best sleeping pad we happened to try. Its downsides are the fact that it is rather noisy when used on hard surfaces and also the fact it is rather expensive compared to other models. If the price, however is not a main consideration but merely a formality, you should definitely consider this model for your next big adventure.