1. Expert reviews

The Best Sleeping Pads of 2021

Katarina Stenskytt

Updated July 1, 2021

Hiking, camping, and more! The outdoor lifestyle has consistently been garnering more and more interest over the years. Though, when you are outside, how do you ensure that you can rest comfortably in a tent or on the ground? After all, no-one wants to risk ruining their trip with a bad mood.

We have tested a bunch of sleeping pads and name the Exped Synmat HL M the best choice available!

If the best pad is a tad too expensive, then the Outwell Dreamcatcher Single 7.5 is a solid and budget friendly alternative.

The Best Sleeping Pads of 2021

How we did the test

We carry out the tests ourselves and use all products as they are intended to be used in reality. A family of outdoor enthusiasts used the sleeping pads 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?

  • Ease of use: Is it easy to inflate and deflate the sleeping pad? Is it easy to fold 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 for an expensive product than a cheaper one, and vice versa.

1. Exped Synmat HL M - BEST CHOICE SLEEPING PAD 2021

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

Exped Synmat HL M

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 did feel a tad too narrow according to 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 pro 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 inflate 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. 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 that stands firmly as the favourite among our testers.

Intelligent pump bagvery low weightwarm and comfortablesmall pack volume
Mummy shape rather narrowinefficient deflationhard to pack

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Exped Synmat Hyperlite Medium

£155.00
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Exped - SynMat HL M Sleeping Pad

£165.40

2. Outwell Dreamboat Single

Luxurious sleeping pad for those with room to spare.

Air channels: Transverse Inflation method: Self-inflating Model: Classic rectangular Price class: Premium Weight: 2900 grams Length: 200 cm Width: 85 cm Thickness: 12 cm Package dimensions: 77 x 22 cm R-value: 2.8

Outwell Dreamboat Single 12cm

If you’re looking for luxury and comfort when you're out camping, the Outwell Dreamboat Single is an excellent choice. With a nice size and a generous 12 cm of thickness, the Dreamboat gives you plenty of room, as well as a comfortable surface to sleep on.

Of course, all of that space and comfort does mean it’s on the heavy side. At 2.9 kg, this isn’t the kind of sleeping pad you’ll want to just roll up and take with you when you go hiking. It is, however, ideally suited to family camping where you don’t mind this figurative boat taking up its fair share of space in the car.

Setting sails on the Dreamboat

It’s very easy to get the Dreamboat set up. It has double valves that you can adjust to three different settings, which makes inflating it a very pleasant and trouble-free experience. For extra flexibility, you can also inflate it manually ... if you so desire.

The Dreamboat is a double-sided mattress with one side adapted for the summer months and the other side for winter – depending on whether you want to keep yourself cool or warm. There’s an indication on each side so you know you’re using the right side for the time of year, and we found this to be a great addition. While it was not entirely relevant during our tests, we see it as an additional possibility for the hardcore outdoors enthusiast.

Comfort, comfort, and more comfort

The Outwell Dreamboat is incredibly comfortable. It really feels like a proper mattress. You can sleep on your side without getting aches, pains, or sore shoulders. The choice of material makes it feel soft against your skin, and turning over feels comfortable. Overall, you feel that you’re sleeping in a proper bed, which is a great sensation when you’re out camping.

The Outwell Dreamboat is ideal for anyone who puts comfort and luxury ahead of minimal packing. If you don’t need to save space or worry about weight, this is a really good choice. It’s a really comfortable mattress, though if you need a lightweight, convenient mattress, you should look elsewhere.

Comfortable & durable materialversatile and clever functionsyear-round mattressvery comfortable
Heavytakes up space

3. Robens ZigZag Slumber

Lightweight alternative suitable for hiking

Material: EVA-sealed foam plastic Model: ZigZag Slumber Price class: Budget Weight: 330 grams Length: 180 cm Width: 48 cm Thickness: 9 cm Pack dimensions: 48x15x19 cm R-value: 2.2

Robens ZigZag Slumber

When it comes to sleeping pads, the German company Robens is one of the largest manufacturers, and their ZigZag is an easy and affordable alternative for those who don’t need too much comfort when camping. It’s suited to anyone who puts low carrying weight ahead of maximum sleeping comfort.

The Robens ZigZag is a fairly minimalist sleeping pad. With a low weight of only 320 grams, it’s both easy to carry and relatively easy to stow away. However, it doesn’t have the typical shape that sleeping pads normally do when packed. You don’t roll the ZigZag, you fold it. When you’re finished, the shape is more of a rectangle, which means it takes up a little more space than you might expect. However, you get two packing straps which help a lot.

Since this sleeping pad is quite thin, it won’t be the most comfortable night’s sleep you’ve ever had, especially if you’re camping on a slightly uneven surface. On the other hand, if you camp on soft, even ground you should still sleep quite well. Especially if you like a slightly firmer bed. The textured surface of this pad definitely helps to make it more comfortable. In terms of insulation, the ZigZag also does a pretty good job. The sleeping pad helps prevent both cold and moisture from seeping up from the ground.

All in all, the ZigZag is a good value sleeping pad. With its low price and relatively light weight, this is a great pad for anyone who likes to travel – and sleep – light. It isn’t the smallest pad once packed, but if you don’t mind that, the ZigZag could be right for you.

Lightweighthandy packing straps
Large even in packed formatfairly low comfort levels

4. Outwell Dreamcatcher Single 7.5

Self-inflating and very comfortable sleeping pad for family camping

Air channels: Horizontal Inflation method: Self-inflating Model: Classic rectangular Price class: Medium Weight: 2200 grams Length: 195 cm Width: 63 cm Thickness: 7.5 cm Package dimensions: 66 x 16 cm R-value: 6.6

Outwell Dreamcatcher Single 7.5cm

Outwell's Dreamcatcher is a self-inflating sleeping pad made of foam plastic. The foam in the Dreamcatcher is corrugated, which makes for a very comfortable experience.

The corrugated form also makes the pad easy to pack as all the pieces compress and fit into each other - pretty much like a jigsaw puzzle. This makes the pad unexpectedly compact, but unfortunately still too large to take with you on a backpacking trip. Instead, it’s something for a camping holiday with the whole family where you need a really comfortable night's rest.

Inflating the Dreamcatcher takes approximately 2.2 seconds. There’s still space to add a little more air, which is actually a good thing as that allows you to choose how much air you want in it. For those who like it a little softer, it’ll be fine as it is, but if you want it as hard as possible, just manually fill it up a bit more. The two built-in valves make the job easy, and we see it as a solid plus that you can adjust the hardness of the pad to your personal preference. Similarly, draining the pad of air is also easy, and it takes about a minute.

The Dreamcatcher really does the job. It’s comfortable, preserves heat well and keeps the cold at bay. In addition to a tent, we also tried sleeping on it in a hammock. Hammocks are notorious for letting the cold seep in from the ground. Say, if you use a sleeping bag in a hammock, the bag is compressed by your weight and the cold penetrates from underneath. So we took the Dreamcatcher and laid it in a hammock to see what would happen. Honestly, it did the job very well. With a width of 63 cm, there was no problem making it fit in the hammock. It stopped the cold and the wind, and kept us incredibly comfortable and warm all night; lovely.

The weight of the Dreamcatcher is around 2200 grams, which puts it slightly on the heavy side. It’s also quite large. Thus, this isn’t a mattress to take with you on a bike or motorcycle, and it is much more suited to be packed in the car where you can afford it takes up the space.

Another small plus was that the straps that come with it were of good quality and made it very easy to roll the pad up.

Comfortableconducts heat welleasy to pack and use
Quite heavysomewhat bulky

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

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Regular

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 solid levels of comfort and provides a good overall impression, albeit with a few downsides.

Good sleeping comfortwarmsubstantial and stableeasy to inflate and deflateeasy to pack
Rustles quite a lot]large pack volume

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6. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite

Noisy, but warm and 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

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Regular

The major advantage of 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 awaken 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 some 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 weightwarm and comfortableeasy to inflate and deflate
Rustlesunnecessarily narrow mummy shapedifficult to pack

7. Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air

Comfortable to sleep on when the temperature is above zero

Air channels: Longitudinal Inflation method: Pump bag Model: Rectangular Price class: Premium Weight: 510 grams Length: 183 cm Width: 64 cm Thickness: 9 cm Pack dimensions: 20x9 cm Lowest temp: -9 degrees (manufacturer), 0 degrees (our estimate) R-value: 3

The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is an insulated 3-season sleeping pad that’s mostly made of nylon. It also has a TPU coating and antimicrobial treatment.

The AXL Air reflects away a large part of the cold that comes from the ground below, and we think this sleeping pad actually does a good job in this respect – but not as good as the manufacturer claims. This sleeping pad works from zero degrees and upwards.

Big Agnes claim that this sleeping pad weighs 510 grams, but when we weighed it, it came out about 20 percent heavier than that. Uninflated, we weighed it as 599 grams. We also measured the length and width when rolled up, and got 23 x12 cms which is also a bit bigger than the manufacturer claims. The pack dimensions the manufacturer gives are probably based on when you pack it perfectly, but to be honest it’s a bit tricky to do that with a sleeping pad. It’s always very difficult to get the last bit of air out, which is noticeable when you roll it up. So this means their pack dimensions are also incorrect.

Included in the price is a pump bag, which is a really good addition for anyone who doesn’t want to inflate the mattress manually. It also comes with a repair kit.

Big-Agnes-Insulated-AXL-Air

Inflating the AXL Air is very easy when you use the pump bag. But if you want it done quickly, it’s actually faster to inflate it with your mouth. If you want to let some or all of the air out, you can do that easily via the valve. You simply press down on one corner. This is actually a good feature because you can then easily adjust the sleeping pad to get a comfort level that suits you.

And when it comes to comfort, our testers claimed they slept really well on the Big Agnes AXL Air. But it’s ideally suited to people who sleep on their back. You can sleep on your side, but there are other options out there that provide higher levels of comfort for side sleepers.

There’s also some friction noise when you move around.

The Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air is a comfortable sleeping pad with several good functions. It’s a bit bigger and heavier than promised, though still within acceptable limits.

Comfortable for sleeping on your backplenty of space for accessorieseasy to inflate
Heavier & bigger than promiseda little tricky to packmakes a fair bit of noise

8. 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

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture Classic Valve Large

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture is an appealing budget alternative for those who want to make their hiking trip a little more pleasant with a comfortable inflatable mattress, but 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. 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.

Though when all is said and done, your 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.

Cheapsubstantial quieteasy to inflate and deflate
Relatively high weightquite thinlarge pack volumevery difficult to pack

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