If you are nervous about having a comfortable sleep pad while sleeping in a tent, this blog will help you choose the best sleep pad for you.
I’m not the type of person who can just sleep anywhere. And while I love sleeping under the stars, it’s not worth it if I’m going to be uncomfortable all night. Our family of 7 has tried out many different sleep pads over the past 5 years of travel.
Here’s a breakdown of which sleep pads we’ve loved and which sleep pads are best for car camping, backpacking, or traveling abroad.
Table of Contents
5 Years of Testing Sleep Pads
Over this past year, we’ve often chosen not to road trip with our RV, and instead, we load up the truck with camping gear and hit the road in search of adventure and epic camping destinations.
- Best campgrounds in the Black Hills South Dakota
- Best campgrounds Washington
- Best campgrounds Oregon
- Best campgrounds California
- Best campgrounds in Idaho and Wyoming (coming soon)
- Best campgrounds Montana (coming soon)
Having a comfortable sleep pad while tent camping can make all the difference in the success of your travel.
When we fly to Hawaii or New Zealand to tent camp, we pack a sleeping pad that is a little heavier since we won’t be hiking with it and we can check it in our luggage.
For our trip to France to backpack the Tour du Mont Blanc, we opted for the lightest sleep pads possible since that trek is very steep and difficult.
And when we jump in the truck to go camp in the many BLM lands of Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, size and weight don’t matter so we bring our most comfy sleep pads.
Quick Links To Our Favorite Sleep Pads
- Best Sleep Pad for Backpacking: NEMO Tensor
- Best Sleep Pad for Car Camping: REI Co-op Camp Bed
- Best All-Around Sleep Pad: Sea To Summit Comfort Light SI
- Best Kids or Budget Sleep Pad: REI Co-op Kindercamp
What to Look For In a Sleep Pad
What purpose is your sleep pad serving you? Yes, as if contemplating your life purpose wasn’t enough, Nomads With a Purpose is going to make you contemplate the purpose of your sleep pad too.
But this is extremely important to consider before purchasing a sleep pad. A good sleep pad for backpacking isn’t necessarily the best for car camping. Not to worry though, I’ve taken the liberty of listing the sleep pads for the adventures they best serve.
Weight, R-value, thickness, pack size, length, width, shape, repair kit, noise, gender, and price are all things you will want to take into consideration when buying a sleeping pad.
- Weight: The heavier the sleeping mat, the thicker and usually comfier it is. How heavy of a sleep pad do you want? If you’re car camping it’s not a big deal but if you are looking for a sleep mat for backpacking, a lighter is better.
- R-Value: R-Value is the measurement for how much heat your sleep pad resists ranging on a 2 to 5.5+ scale. The higher the number, the more heat it holds in. The colder the temperature is the more insulation and the higher number R-value you want.
- Thickness: As much as a thicker sleep pad sounds better, that isn’t always the case. The thicker the mat the heavier (and usually more pricey) it will be and sometimes that doesn’t make it comfier.
- Pack Size: Of course, we all want a mat that packs to the size of a California breakfast burrito, but that will probably end with us all having severe back pain because the sleeping pad was so thin that you were practically on the floor. In short, yes you want something small but not so small that it isn’t functional. And if you want something durable, warm, and small, it will cost more.
- Length, Width, and Shape: On our first family trip, we made the mistake of not checking the size of a sleeping mat and my husband (who is a very big guy with lats the width of a doorway) ended up with what seemed to be a sleeping mat made to accommodate someone much narrower than him… oops :/. Check the size chart when you order and make sure it’s what you want ESPECIALLY if you are like me and want to be able to do the classic “falling out of the sky” sleep position. Sleep mats also tend to have two different shapes, rectangle and mummy. The big difference there is that the mummy shape holds heat better.
- Repair Kit: Some sleep pads come with them, and some don’t. I’d say it doesn’t make too much of a difference because the mats we list are pretty durable and you can buy a repair kit later. We have only had to use a repair kit once for our Nemo Tensor pad and it’s held up very well.
- Noise: Everyone hates the guy with the loud sleep mat in the tent. If you know that you toss and turn a lot and don’t want to bother your tentmates, it may be better to get a less noisy one.
- Gender: Sleep pads come in male, female, and unisex shapes. Female sleep pads have a shape wider around the hips, while the male shape is narrower, and the unisex is an in-between.
- Price: How much do you want to spend on a mat? The average price for a good sleep pad is $100.
Best Backpacking Sleep Pad: NEMO Tensor Sleeping Pad
For backpacking sleep pads, you always want something light but also comfortable.
I can tell you from experience that I have chosen a thin yet light sleep mat in the past far too many times and my body paid the price. But it’s also important that you aren’t carrying a 30 lb mattress for a sleep pad.
Another important factor for choosing a sleep pad is what time of year you think you are going to be using it. This is where we look at the R-value. If it is going to get cold at night, you’ll want a higher R-value. We thought backpacking the Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop in August wouldn’t get that cold, but boy were we wrong!
If it isn’t going to get close to freezing when you backpack, then you can look for a 3 season sleep pad like the NEMO Tensor.
The NEMO Tensor is extremely light and small making it perfect for backpacking. This is a great sleep pad for backpacking as long as you aren’t in cold temperatures because it has a 1.6 R-value. I love this sleep mat for summer backpacking. Besides being extremely light, it is also very comfortable.
If you are going to be sleeping in cold temperatures, this sleeping pad has an insulated version that increases the R-value by 1.9 for only $20 extra. And the pack size stays the same! This mat also comes in long wide, regular wide, and regular mummy.
NEMO also has a new model, Cosmo 3D, which is designed for the crazy sleepers who toss and turn or if you are sleeping on uneven terrain. It even comes with a foot pump! It’s only a little bigger than the original Tensor but a lot warmer. If you get cold easily, this might be a better mat for you. Otherwise, I’d stick to the lighter Tensor.
Also, from so many years of use, I did have to use the repair kit once due to a slow leak, but the repair kit worked perfectly and it has held up with the patch since then.
This is a great sleep pad for backpacking. I love this sleep mat for summer camping too! It’s soft and cool making it the perfect go-to for any backpacking adventure.
NEMO Sleep Pad Specs:
- Weight: 13 oz.
- Pack Size: 3 x 8 in
- Dimensions: 72 x 20 x 3 inches
- R-Value: 1.6
- Repair Kit: Yes
- Self-Inflating: No
- Price: $140-160
Links to Purchase a NEMO Sleep Pad:
Best Car Camping Sleep Pad: REI Co-op Camp Bed SI Sleeping Pad
If you don’t have to haul your sleep pad up 3,000 feet of elevation and are only tossing it in the trunk of your car, then I’ve got the perfect sleep pad for you.
The REI Camp Bed is the comfiest sleep pad I’ve ever slept on!
It’s wide, thick, and warm making it the comfiest possible way to sleep on the floor without bringing an air mattress on your camping trip.
I love that I can sprawl out and be comfortable on this sleep pad. Because this mat is so comfortable, it is also pretty heavy so it’s not your best bet for backpacking but makes it great for car camping!
It’s pretty big when packed up, making it not the best for abroad travel, however, I packed this for our last trip to Hawaii!
I also love that this mat is super durable and that it comes in XL size. It’s so comfortable that my oldest son sleeps on it in our RV every night.
This sleep mat is the closest you can get to a mattress. If you are looking for a sleeping mat for car camping or if you’re a larger-sized person looking to be comfortable, this is the mat you should get.
REI Camp Bed Specs
- Weight: 3 lb. 10 oz.
- Pack Size: 5.5 x 26 in
- Dimensions: 72 x 25 x 2.5 in
- Repair Kit: No
- R-Value: 7.6
- Self Inflating: Yes
- Price: $100-120
Links to Purchase a REI Camp Bed
Best Multipurpose Sleep Pad: Sea To Summit Comfort Light SI Sleep Pad
The Women’s Comfort Sea to Summit Sleeping Pad is perfect for abroad travel and short backpacking trips.
This is a foam-based mat rather than an air mat making it softer to lay on. I took this mat with us on our camping trip in Hawaii and it was perfect. It was a little big to fit in my bag but it made my tent camping experience more comfortable.
It’s great for cool and warm weather camping camping. I love how this mat is designed for women with narrower shoulders and a wider hip and knee area, along with Comfort Warmth Zones on the hips and feet where women need more warmth.
We haven’t tried the men’s version but I imagine it is just as great.
If you are looking for a sleeping pad for abroad travel or you have the room on your backpacking trip for something bigger, definitely go with this one. This mat also comes as a large one for $20 more.
Women’s Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleep Pad Specs
- Weight: 1 bl 7.5 oz.
- Pack Size: 6.25 x 8.25 in
- Dimensions: 67 x 21 x 2 in
- Repair Kit: Yes
- R-Value: 3.8
- Self Inflating: Yes
- Price: $120
Links to Purchase a SEA TO SUMMIT Comfort Light Sleep Pad
Best for Kids (or Budget) Sleep Pad: REI Co-op Kindercamp Sleeping Pad
We own the REI Trekker kid sleep pad but they no longer sell that exact pad. The Kindercamp, however, is the newer updated version of this sleep pad that’s pretty much identical to the one we own, the only difference between the two is that the Kindercamp is 2 inches longer when packed down.
The Kindercamp sleep pad is extremely durable, light, and small, making it easy to blow up and pack away. It is surprisingly comfortable and Victor often chooses this sleep pad over the inflatable ones.
Honestly, if you aren’t picky about having the top-of-the-line gear, aren’t using it frequently, or just want something comfortable without a huge price tag, I would purchase this one even for adults. The fact that it is self-inflating, packs down pretty small, has a high R-value, and is only $50 makes this sleeping pad a great all-around sleep pad choice. The only negative is that it is shorter so your legs will hang off, but the padding on your hips and back is still pretty good.
The REI Kindercamp Sleeping Pad is the most budget-friendly sleep pad. It’s light, thin, short, and easy to put away. If you want something simple for you or your kids at a low price, go with the Kindercamp.
- Weight: 1 lb. 13 oz.
- Pack Size: 5 x 12 in
- Dimensions: 60 x 20 x 1.5 inches
- Repair Kit: No
- R-Value: 4.5
- Self Inflating: Yes
- Price: $50