The Top Sleeping Mats for All Types of Camping (2024)

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By Car Brand Experts

What exactly are these sleeping mats you are referring to? In my younger days, all hiking involved going uphill in both directions and everyone would sleep on the ground in sleeping bags with just a half-inch of slim closed-cell foam separating us from each rock. We used our teeth to filter water and mostly consumed raw meat and foraged ramps. The youth of today.

Nevertheless, I suppose there is value in having a comfortable sleeping mat at the end of a long day on the trail, or even in the campsite near your vehicle. Nowadays, there are various ways to ensure that no pebbles (or rocks) disrupt your sleep in the great outdoors. Over the years, we have tested sleeping mats of all kinds in different conditions, and we are pleased to say that none have ever let us down. However, there are some exceptional options and a few to steer clear of.

Make sure to explore our other outdoor guides, such as the Greatest Shelters, Top Hiking Equipment, Premier Camp Stoves, and our Camp Cooking manual.

Update July 2024: We have introduced two new Sea to Summit pads, including our latest preferred all-purpose camping and hiking mat, the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus. We have also revised prices and links throughout.

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The Top Sleeping Mat for Most Individuals

If you desire to purchase only one sleeping mat and intend to use it in various camping settings, opt for the Sea To Summit Comfort Plus SI. While there are softer mats for car camping or base camp (consider the MondoKing below) and lighter ones for extended backpacking voyages (explore the Tensor and Ether Light below), this lightweight, self-inflating mat stands out by effortlessly moving between different environments.

Weighing 3 pounds for the rectangular variant that was tested, it is double the mass of most super lightweight backpacking mats but still lightweight in the broader context (opting for the mummy-shaped version, which is 2 pounds and 2 ounces, would save you more weight). While you could shed 2 pounds and some volume with a contemporary pump-to-inflate mat when aiming for a sub-10-pound baseline weight, you would sacrifice warmth and comfort. During a three-night evaluation in the heights of Colorado where temperatures dropped to 24 degrees, this mat was notably warmer than the warmest Tensor and Ether Light options. The airy interior (allow it to expand for about an hour, then complete inflation with a few breaths) also provided a considerably cushy experience. As a side sleeper with a substantial build, my hips did not touch the ground. In actuality, I discovered it was approximately 80 percent as cozy as the MondoKing 3D below. I would gladly slumber on this mat for a week of car camping or at a music festival, and it is the primary mat I would select if I could only carry one. —Martin Cizmar

The Most Luxurious Car Camping Mat

Therm-a-Rest is the originator of the self-inflating camping mat. Over the last five decades, the brand has remained at the forefront, either pioneering or effectively replicating every major breakthrough in the field. The MondoKing is the most deluxe, comfortable mat in the collection, the pinnacle choice for discerning car campers and those who spend weeks or months stationary in the wilderness. This robust mat is a full 4 inches thick and weighs 4 pounds. While you may not want to haul it long distances, even a large side sleeper will not reach the ground.

Featuring StrataCore foam for an R-value of 7, the alleged comfort surpasses the temperature at which vodka solidifies. (WIRED has not separately verified satisfactory sleep at –20 degrees Fahrenheit during our trial nights.) Additionally, it is extremely cozy. Like the Megamat mentioned next, it has a 70-denier bottom and a stretchy 50-denier top for the authentic sag of a legitimate mattress. The MondoKing also boasts a firm border, ensuring you never feel on the verge of rolling off. It inflates and deflates quickly enough that you might consider rolling it out the next time you find yourself on a lumpy hotel bed. —Martin Cizmar

Other Choices

  • Exped MegMat 10 for $180: Known for initiating the trend of substantial car camping mats, this robust and ultra-luxurious pad is accredited to Exped. Staying a reliable pick, the MegaMat is quite akin to the MondoKing, although the latter is lighter and packs down more compactly. Conversely, the MegaMat offers slightly superior insulation and may be preferable for individuals who feel cold or plan trips during the shoulder seasons where lower temperatures are plausible.

Top Option for Couples and Families

We highly recommend REI’s in-house collection, which is durable and functions admirably without exceeding your budget. During a recent camping escapade, each family with children under 10 had this mat, including mine. It spans 56 inches in width and 6 inches in elevation, wide enough to accommodate Mom and two young students and fit inside MSR’s 6-person Habitude tent. (Dad and the canine still needed to slumber on the ground.)

Equipped with a compact carry bag for effortless transport that includes a manual air pump, you can utilize a battery-operated one with the universal nozzle for prompt and convenient inflation. The welded seams maintained the mat’s tautness and resilience across three days and nights while children bounced on it. The surface is soft enough to rest your face against if you squirm out of your sleeping bag, and it is insulated with an R-value of 2.6. An additional quilt was necessary beneath our sleeping bags for 40-degree nights. —Adrienne So

Other Choices

  • Kelty’s Kush Queen Airbed for $100: Featuring a PVC-free queen-sized airbed from Kelty that includes a pump for effortless inflation (ensure it is charged before. . .you go), and the 6-inch-thick pad is adequately cozy. It’s not an insulated air mattress like the REI above, so it’s ideal for warmer seasons, yet it can function as an additional bed at home.

The Finest Ultralight Sleeping Pad

While delving into the wilderness, particularly if you’re a fanatic of ultralight backpacking, every ounce holds significance. Concerning sleeping pads, there’s always a compromise. You seek the fewest ounces with the highest R-value. Nemo Equipment’s latest 2024 Tensor-insulated sleeping pads (8/10, WIRED Recommends) offer the most favorable R-Value to weight ratio among all our experiments. The Tensor All-Season highlighted here presents an impressive R-Value of 5.4 and a mere weight of 18.2 ounces. This itself is remarkable, but what I admire about the Tensor is that it’s plump, pleasant, and notably, nearly noiseless. I detest that swoosh of nylon that’s essentially synonymous with sleeping in the backcountry. With the Tensor, there’s scarce of that noise, making it totally worth the investment. The insulation comprises a dual layer of reflective film, alongside a baffled air chamber structure, aiding to maintain its quietness. The structure also eases it to roll up into a compact stuff sack. It’s about the size of a 16-ounce Nalgene bottle. For those aiming to cut down on weight and expenses, there’s also the Tensor Trail for $190. It weighs merely 16 ounces for the regular wide, yet the R-Value is moderately lower at 2.8.

Other Alternatives

  • NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad for $210: The evident rival to the Tensor is Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XLite, as stated by WIRED critic Matt Jancer. The Xlite NeoAir could be light in weight but not in warmth. He has utilized it on freezing glaciers without a chill creeping up on his posterior. It requires manual inflation, yet the simple-twist valve streamlines the process, and he has been impressed with its long-lasting nature over five years. No punctures or scuffs. It tends to slide around a bit, but it’s noiseless.
  • Sea to Summit Ultralight for $129: If you are the type who truncates your toothbrush handle to shed weight, this mat is worth contemplating. With an R-value of 1.1, it serves as a pad solely for summer. However, it weighs a mere 11 ounces, packs up very compactly, and comes at a $70 lower cost compared to the Tensor. If most of your camping happens in the summer, it will suffice. It is slightly louder than the Nemo.

The Optimal for Backcountry Comfort

Should you be willing to bear a few additional ounces in return for some extra comfort and a (theoretically) improved night’s rest, the NeoAir Topo is our preferred pad. At 21 ounces, it veers towards the heavier side, yet at 3 inches thick, you won’t feel the pebbles, not even small rocks, beneath this pad. The 2.3 R-value makes it an excellent choice for three-season camping or backpacking, and I discovered the regular size to be adequately broad. Along with the pad, Therm-a-Rest includes a saving-breath pump sack, condensed stuff sack, and field repair kit.

Finest 4-Season Backcountry Pad

When heading out to camp in the snow, this is the pad I’d opt for. Exped’s Ultra 7R provides (as the name implies) an R-value of 7 in a pad that weighs less than 2 pounds for the wide version. I do advocate for choosing the wide alternative. I judged the regular to be slightly narrow, and the weight discrepancy (5 ounces) doesn’t justify the compromised sleeping area. I have employed this pad in 30-degree Fahrenheit weather and felt extremely comfortable (inside a 20-degree bag). Exped indicates it’s suitable down to –20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Exped’s Schnozzel pump bag ($45) is also exceptional and is imperative if you’re camping in the cold, as you wouldn’t want the moisture from your breath within your mat.

Other Choices

  • Nemo Tensor Extreme Conditions ($260): Boasting an R-Value of 8.5 and weighing only 22 ounces for the regular wide version, Nemo’s recent Tensor Extreme Conditions pad presents the utmost warmth-to-weight ratio presently available in the market. Employing four layers of foil and offset baffles, it reaches that top status of the lightest, coziest pad. While it’ll likely be our leading choice for this category in a subsequent update, at the moment, I haven’t completed full testing in moreextreme cold temperatures. Similar to the Exped pad mentioned earlier, I recommend opting for the broad pad, as the standard one is quite slim.
  • Ether Light XT Extreme Insulated Air Sleeping Mat for $229: Should you be trekking in the winter or at great elevations, you’ll appreciate the additional warmth provided by Sea To Summit’s Thermolite-insulated pad. Weighing 1 pound 9 ounces, it’s marginally heavier than the Tensor Extreme, with a slightly lower R-value of 6.2. However, I’ve used it comfortably in subzero temperatures while using a 15-degree rated down mummy bag, finding it pleasantly warm if not exceedingly cozy. Inflation is effortless with the included pump bag, making the mat 4 inches thick. Unlike the very similar Tensor Extreme, I didn’t experience bottoming out when sleeping on my side, finding it to be more comfortable and slightly warmer.—Martin Cizmar

Top Old-School, Closed-Cell Foam Pad

I may have been slightly joking in the introduction, but there’s also some truth there. This pad was my introduction to backcountry slumber, and it continues to be a favorite (even though mine was technically a generic brand). The Z-Lite and its equivalents are ultra-lightweight (10 ounces for the small size), fold up compactly for easy lashing to any pack, and serve multiple purposes like extra padding on cold nights, a makeshift chair, or even a table. While I’ve outgrown relying solely on a Z-Lite, I still bring one along on nearly every journey. Combining it with the aforementioned Nemo inflatable provides me with a versatile range of sleeping and seating options, all within a total weight of under 2 pounds. This allows me to pack more delicious steak, as quality backcountry cuisine truly enhances the experience.

Top Children’s Sleeping Pad Recommendation

Let’s face it—if your child is old enough for backpacking, they’re likely prepared to use an adult-sized sleeping pad that can evolve with them as they grow older. However, in a lapse of parental indulgence, I procured child-sized sleeping pads for my youngsters to match their Kindercone sleeping bags, and these have proven unexpectedly durable. My daughter, now in third grade, has been using hers since kindergarten.

At 60 inches, it’s rather long—almost tall enough for me to use comfortably. This model boasts an R-value of 4.5, keeping my kids toasty in temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit over several years. The separate inflation and deflation valves make setup easier for little ones, minimizing confusion. Surprisingly, these sleeping pads are also much simpler for my kids to roll up and pack back into their sack compared to my own; perhaps REI unknowingly did me a favor there. —Adrienne So

Noteworthy Alternatives

While the following sleeping pads didn’t quite match up to the ones mentioned earlier, we’ve tested them and still consider them worthy choices if none of the others catch your eye.

Sea to Summit Women’s UltraLight Insulated Air Sleeping Mat for $160: We deliberated for quite some time on whether women necessitate distinct sleeping pads. Following extensive discussions with our female testers, we concluded that there isn’t a significant difference. Nevertheless, this particular sleeping pad is suitable for anyone. It closely resembles the Sea to Summit Ultralight model mentioned earlier.

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