Sleeping on the ground is a deal-breaker for many outdoor enthusiasts. Getting used to a comfortable bed does not bode well for the idea of sleeping on a 1-inch piece of foam with some air around it. On the other hand, innovations made in the sleeping pad industry lesson the gap between the comfortable mattress and thin piece of foam.
We all know the bare ground is not only uncomfortable for a night’s sleep but also something that literally sucks your body warmth right out of you. Having a piece of insulation between your body and the ground is critical for a reasonable night’s sleep. The piece of foam insulating us from the cold ground has evolved into some appealing options. You can read about some of the gear industry’s evolution here.
The sleeping pad comparisons made in this post are not intended to be an “apples to apples” type comparison, rather, it provides a list of the top sleeping pad in the major categories: standard, lightweight, innovative, comfort, and maintenance-free.
Thermarest Trail Pro (standard sleeping pad)
The Trail Pro is a classic. Even though this particular model is one of Thermarest’s newer models, its history goes back in time. It is a self-inflating sleeping pad with laminated foam, that can be used in all 4 seasons. The R-value (the higher the number, the more insulation it offers) is 4.0, weighs 1 lb 14 oz, covers 72 inches in length (full body), and lofts up 2 inches.
This pad is a workhorse. Not too heavy, not too light, dependable, folds down smaller than most pads, and is field repairable. If you need just one pad in your quiver, this is the go-to pad.
Pros: Proven design of materials and workmanship, 4 season use, high R-value for weight, packs down small enough, and is truly a “one sleeping pad does all”.
Cons: Weight (believe it or not, 2 lbs is considered heavy these days).
Big Agnes Double Z (lightweight sleeping pad)
Big Agnes stepped up their sleeping pad game with the Double Z. The Double Z boasts a 4-inch loft (yes, that’s 4 whole inches), incorporated an internal stabilizer design to distribute weight (air mattresses really need this), and a 2 part valve where it is a one way street for inflating but then a full release allows for incredibly fast deflation. The Double Z comes in 3 sizes but all hover around the 1 lb mark.
Full air mattresses have become a part of most outdoor gear quiver. It usually means lightweight and compact, something that seems to be very important for many folks. It is only a 3 season pad as the R-value is only 1.5.
Pros: Lightweight, compact, distributes weight, and a unique 2 part valve.
Cons: Low R-value and the material is a little loud when you’re on it (as with most air mattresses).
Klymit Inertia X Frame (innovative sleeping pad)
Klymit’s Inertia X Frame is where technology and research meet the ground. The body geometry was mapped by Klymit’s crew to find out which parts of the body are in contact with the ground. Utilizing this data produced the Inertia X Frame, the industry’s first sleeping pad that is rated to be the lightest and smallest around. The sleeping pad only uses air chambers on the parts of the body that has contact with the ground, minimizing any waste in material and weight.
This is not the pad for everyone but if you need light and small, this is it. No other comparisons exist.
Pros: Lightweight at 9 ounces, compact (packs down to a size of a 12 ounce can), has full body dimensions.
Cons: Many void spaces if you are not a “back sleeper”, only a 3 season sleeping pad
Montbell U.L. Comfort S Pad 180 (comfort sleeping pad)
Car camping sleeping pads have come to a long way as well. The days of rolling up a huge foam pad can be over. Also, the old air mattress you picked up at the local retailer can be retired. The options for comfortable sleeping pads are now taking over. These sleeping pads are not for the weight conscious but rather, for the folks looking for a comfortable night out.
Montbell’s U.L. Comfort S Pad 180 is 2 inches thick, and not just with air. A foam pad resides inside this pad. You will notice the balance between having a sleeping pad that is too much air and a sleeping pad that is just foam. You get the best of both worlds, plush foam with the softness of air. This comes with a 39-ounce weight though – which a car can carry no problem.
Pros: Thick, plush, well balanced between air and foam.
Cons: Weight, not compact
Termarest Z Lite (maintenance free sleeping pad)
Most sleeping pads require a valve system to hold air. This usually introduces a field repair scenario. If you poke a hole in your sleeping pad, it is continually on the ground, after all, then you have little choice but to repair it in the field. This is especially true for the ‘all air’ type sleeping pads. The Z Lite, on the other hand, is a closed-cell foam pad that has been part of the outdoor community for decades. It is designed around simplicity and effectiveness.
The Z Lite is the eggshell crate pattern, which is designed to trap more body heat. It folds like an accordion-style pad and is extremely lightweight. It weighs only 10 ounces and provides an R-value of 2.6. The best part, you can’t poke a hole in it.
Pros: Lightweight, maintenance-free, and been proven in the outdoors for many years.
When choosing a sleeping pad, having too many options can deter anyone from wanting to make a decision. With the options above, you can usually find one that is specific to your needs. There is no need to be intimated by the idea of sleeping on the ground these days. Comfort and function can coexist.