Sleeping pad Best in test

Sleeping pad

Planning to spend a night in a tent? One of the most important things to take with you is a sleeping pad. Everyone who remembers childhood camping trips with hard, cold foam pads will be relieved to hear that a variety of technically advanced sleeping pads are now available, which are inflatable or even contain a small built-in pump. Of course you can still sleep for one night on a normal foam pad, but if you're going to be out on a longer trip and want to sleep well, the modern sleeping pad provides unbeatable comfort.

On hiking trips you have to carry everything yourself, unlike canoe trips or camping holidays with a car, so it's really important that the sleeping pad is light.
Of course it must also be comfortable to lie on and insulate you properly against ground chill - at higher elevations in the mountains the temperatures are often very low at night even in the middle of summer. The sleeping pad must also be durable and easy to inflate and not least to deflate when it's time to break camp.
We looked at the most popular models of light sleeping pad that are suitable for a hiking trip, both inflatable or with a built-in pump. All of them weigh less than 600 grams and are multi-season pads, which means that they can cope with temperatures down to a couple of degrees below zero. The R-value gives an indication of how well a sleeping pad insulates you from the ground; an R-value greater than 4 is usually recommended for sleeping pads to be used in cold periods, while an R-value less than 3 is most suited for the summer. If you want to go camping in the winter and have better insulation between you and the ground without buying a winter sleeping pad, we recommend a foam pad at the bottom on which you then place the inflatable sleeping pad.

All sleeping pads in this test have essentially the same dimensions; what varies is the thickness of the pad. Several models are what's known as mummy-shaped - in other words they get narrower at the bottom. This is practical in cramped tents as sleeping pads can be laid out in an alternating pattern, but can have a negative effect on sleeping comfort as they provide less space and are more unstable than the rectangular ones. Your feet can also easily end up on the tent floor, which interrupts your sleep. However, it's said that many people like this shape once they've got used to it. Some of the sleeping pads we tested have a more classic rectangular shape.

We assessed the sleeping pad on the basis of weight, ability to insulate against ground chill, durability, ease of inflation and deflation, general comfort, width and length - taller or larger people want to sleep well too - and how much the pad rustles - few things are as likely to disturb your sleep as noise from your bed in an otherwise perfectly silent rural environment. We have also looked at whether the air channels in the sleeping pad are longitudinal or transverse, because outdoor enthusiasts have strong opinions as to which is best from a heat and comfort viewpoint. However, our feeling is that the design of the channels makes no difference in terms of comfort.

All of the sleeping pads tested are of high standard. None of the models transmitted ground chill, none of them split and all of them retained the air throughout the night. Even the slightly cheaper and simpler models are therefore good buys for hikers seeking a more comfortable night's sleep. At the same time, you need to be aware of the different properties of the sleeping pad - for example, if you are sensitive to night-time noise it can be sensible to avoid the models that rustle most, and if it's important to have a minimal pack weight you need to choose a light pad.

We counted sleeping pads costing less than £110 as budget class, and those costing between £110 and £170 as medium. If they cost more than £170, we counted them as premium class.

Products tested

How the test was made

We carry out our tests ourselves and use all products as they are intended to be used in reality. A family of outdoor enthusiasts used the sleeping pad while hiking with medium-heavy packs in the wilderness, in varying weather and on different underlying surfaces. They inflated and deflated the sleeping pads several times, and removed and inserted them into their storage bags. After this they slept on the same sleeping pads outdoors. We also tested the tear strength and general durability of the sleeping pads by subjecting them to rough handling.

In our assessment we focused on the following areas:

Weight: How heavy is the sleeping pad?

Pack volume: How much space does it take up in a backpack?

Operation: Is it easy to inflate and deflate the sleeping pad? Is it easy to fold it up? How difficult is it to get into the storage bag?

Comfort: Is it comfortable to lie on? Does it rustle? Is it long and wide enough, or do you fall off it? Does the positioning of the air channels have an impact on comfort?

Warmth: Is it warm or does ground chill penetrate? What's the R-value of the sleeping pad? In other words, how well does it insulate against the cold?

Quality: Does the sleeping pad retain air throughout the night? Does it feel stable and substantial? Does it tolerate rough handling?

We gave each sleeping pad a score according to its value for money; in other words, how good it is in each area in relation to its price tag. We thus have higher expectations of an expensive product than a cheaper one, and vice versa.

Exped Synmat HL M

Quiet, comfortable, light and includes a practical pump bag

Air channels: Longitudinal Inflation method: Pump bag Model: Mummy Price class: Premium Weight: 365 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 52 cm Thickness: 7 cm Pack dimensions: 19x9 cm Lowest temp: -6 °C R-value: 3.3
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Exped Synmat HL M is one of the market's best and lightest sleeping pads. It's also comfortable and quiet to lie on, with no annoying rustling, and the outer material is resistant to rough treatment. It's very light and takes up little room in your backpack. The longitudinal air channels are comfortable, the air stays in all night and the sleeping pad insulates you well from the ground.
The model is a mummy-shaped one - in other words it gets narrower towards the feet. This saves space in the tent but the pad was felt to be unnecessarily narrow by our testers. The Exped Synmat HL M has a practical pump bag that enormously facilitates inflation while also preventing moist air from entering the sleeping pad. An additional plus point is that the valve is located on the bottom of the sleeping pad, where there's no risk of knocking it and letting out the air at night.

It's also easy to fill the Exped Synmat HL M, but more difficult to remove the air. It takes a long time to deflate the mattress as there's only a one-way valve, which you have to hold open the whole time. It takes a long time and is relatively difficult to deflate the mattress as there's only a one-way valve, which you have to hold open the whole time. Another negative is the difficulty of getting the sleeping pad and the pump bag back into the very small storage bag after use.
Despite these criticisms, the Exped Synmat HL M is a good demonstration of "you get what you pay for". This is a very good, high quality sleeping pad, which was the test panel's favourite.

+Intelligent pump bag, very low weight, warm and comfortable, small pack volume
Mummy shape rather narrow, inefficient deflation, hard to pack
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4.5 of 5

Best price at:

Nemo Vector 20 R

Stable and comfortable with built-in pump

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Built-in footpump Model: Classic rectangular Price class: Medium Weight: 565 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 51 cm Thickness: 8 cm Pack dimensions: 20 x 11.5 cm Min. temp: -9 °C R-value: Nemo don't state the R-value, but around 3-3.5

The Nemo Vector 20 R is a substantial sleeping pad with transverse air channels and a practical integrated foot pump. It's stable, quiet and comfortable to lie on, has a generous thickness and retains the air throughout the night. The rectangular shape makes the Nemo Vector 20 R sufficiently wide and comfortable even for slightly larger users. No ground chill penetrates, the fabric is tough and stable and the pad provides good sleeping comfort. The built-in pump in the Nemo Vector 20 R adds a couple of hundred extra grams, which is a negative point, but makes it easy to inflate the sleeping pad. In less than a minute you have a well-inflated sleeping pad without having to strain your lungs. However, the valve was very stubborn on our test example, making it impossible to open without some kind of tool.
It's easy to deflate and fold the sleeping pad, and to get it into the storage bag.
The Nemo Vector 20 R is a reliable, high quality sleeping pad for people who aren't counting every gram and who value sleeping comfort slightly more than overall weight.

+Comfortable, quite, warm, stable, easy inflation and deflation, easy to pack
Very hard to open the valve, relatively high weight
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4 of 5

Nemo Tensor Insulated 20 R Mummy

Good choice for smaller people

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Manual Model: Mummy Price class: Medium Weight: 410 grams Length: 180 cm Width: 51 cm Thickness: 8 cm Pack dimensions: 20 x 9 cm Min. temp: -9 °C R-value: Nemo don't state the R-value, but around 2-2.5

The Nemo Tensor Insulated 20 R Mummy is a slightly thicker model for increased comfort. This is a good idea, particularly as Nemo have succeeded in making the sleeping pad, with its transverse air channels, well-insulated against ground chill without appreciably increasing the weight. On the plus side, it's also quiet, easy to inflate and just as easy to deflate and pack up. A practical strap further compresses the sleeping pad, economising on space in your backpack.

One minor uncertainty factor is that the valve on the top of the sleeping pad is relatively easy to knock in your sleep, which means that it can start to deflate. Otherwise, the Nemo Tensor Insulated 20 R Mummy retains the air well and stands up to various stresses. However, our test panel felt that the generous thickness of the sleeping pad made it a little bit unstable. The mummy shape and the fact that the sleeping pad is a few centimetres shorter than standard also makes it feel relatively small and narrow, at least for taller and wider hikers. For smaller people, teenagers and children, however, it's a good choice as it's light, quiet and warm.

+Low weight, quiet, warm, easy inflation and deflation, easy to pack, low pack volume
Slightly wobbly, rather small and short, some risk of accidentally opening the valve
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3.5 of 5

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker

Comfortable, but not noiseless

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Manual Model: Classic rectangular Price class: Medium Weight: 510 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 51 cm Thickness: 6.3 cm Pack dimensions: 23 x 11 cm Min. temp: -7 °C R-value: 3.0

Many of Therm-a-Rest's models have reflecting outsides which reflect body heat - what they call Therma-Capture technology. This makes their sleeping pads warm to sleep on, and that also applies to the NeoAir Trekker. The rectangular shape, with transverse air channels, also contributes to good sleeping comfort and the sleeping pad is stable both in terms of material and overall feel.

The NeoAir Trekker inflates manually without requiring great effort and retains the air throughout the night. The valve is robust and doesn't open very easily. The sleeping pad is easy to deflate, fold up and get into the storage bag. However, it takes up a good bit of space in a backpack, which is a disadvantage if you want to travel with baggage that's as compressed as possible. Another downside is the noise level. The sleeping pad rustles every time you change position, which can be irritating for light sleepers. In general, the NeoAir Trekker offers good levels of comfort and provides a solid overall impression.

+Good sleeping comfort, warm, substantial and stable, easy to inflate and deflate, easy to pack
Rustles quite a lot, large pack volume
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3.5 of 5

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite

Noisy but warm lightweight

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Manual Model: Mummy Weight: 340 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 51 cm Thickness: 6.3 cm Pack dimensions: 23 x 10 cm Min. temp: -5 °C R-value: 3.4

The major advantage with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite is its low weight - 340 g is impressively low for a comfortable sleeping pad. The X-lite is comfortable and warm to lie on and insulates well against ground chill, thanks to Therm-a-Rest's Therma-Capture technology, which utilises body heat and reflects it towards the surface material. However, the sleeping pad rustles loudly at the slightest movement, which can easily waken light sleepers. But we have nothing negative to say about the durability. The NeoAir X-lite tolerates being handled roughly and the air stays in all night.
The sleeping pad has transverse air channels that are easy to inflate manually and easy to deflate and fold up, but getting it into the storage bag after use requires a good deal of patience. It's also what's known as mummy-shaped, narrowing at the bottom, and we feel that it's unnecessarily narrow. However, if you value low weight and good insulation more than absolute silence, the NeoAir is a good buy.

+Very low weight, warm and comfortable, easy to inflate and deflate
Rustles, unnecessarily narrow mummy shape, difficult to pack
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3 of 5

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture

Faithful budget buy for standard hiking trips

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Manual Model: Classic rectangular Price class: Budget Weight: 560 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 51 cm Thickness: 5 cm Pack dimensions: 23 x 11.5cm Min. temp: 0 °C R-value: 1.8

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture is Therm-a-Rest's appealing budget alternative for those who want to make their hiking trip a little more pleasant with a comfortable inflatable mattress but who don't want to or can't afford to spend a fortune on professional kit. For a relatively low price you get a perfectly good sleeping pad that doesn't rustle, is stable and substantial, retains the air throughout the night, insulates nicely via transverse air channels and is easy to inflate and deflate. The disadvantage is that it's very thin, and unnecessarily heavy given that there's no built-in pump. It's also pretty much impossible to get back into the bag after use. And finally, it takes up a lot of room in a backpack, so it's perhaps not suitable for the minimalist or someone counting the grams. But a night's sleep is guaranteed to be better on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture than on an old-fashioned foam underlay, even though the price difference isn't enormous. A good buy for a weekend hiker with a limited budget.

+Cheap, substantial, quiet, easy to inflate and deflate
Relatively high weight, quite thin, large pack volume, very difficult to pack
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3 of 5