It is the sleeping mat that you should be looking to first if you’re after a good night’s sleep when camping. Sleeping mats define your comfort by providing protection from the ground below, whilst also working as the most crucial element for warmth.
The nuances of sleeping mats are almost as diverse as sleeping bags. You’ll find varying degrees of weight, durability, value, thickness and, most importantly, warmth. All sleeping mats (or pads, as they’re sometimes known) for backpacking will have temperature ratings similar to sleeping bags. We’ve tested a handful that roughly fall into the three-season range, and that are suited to a variety of activities.
The Best Sleeping Mats For Backpacking
Here’s our pick of the best lightweight sleeping mats out there. We’ve picked a variety of different types and constructions here, but all of them are lightweight and packable enough for life on the trail. The majority of these, with only a couple of exceptions, made it into the current or previous editions of our Outdoor 100 product guide and all of them have been fully tested and reviewed by our team.
Best Overall Sleeping Mat: Nemo Tensor Insulated
Best Ultralight Sleeping Mat: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Uberlite
Most Comfortable Sleeping Mat: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Topo Luxe
Best Sleeping Mat for Colder Weather: Sea-To-Summit Comfort Light Insulated
Best Foam Sleeping Mat: Big Agnes TwisterCane BioFoam
Best Value Sleeping Mat: Vango Aotrom Sleeping Mat
Best Overall Sleeping Mat
NEMO Tensor Insulated
Weight: 425g (regular)
Best for: 3 to 4-season camping and backpacking
Key attributes: Super comfortable, clever design, convenient size
Ideally suited to backpackers or weekend wild campers who want a sleeping pad that’s lightweight but also warm enough to see them through some cold nights, the NEMO Tensor Insulated mat is a great pick. With an R-Value of 3.5, it’ll be able to get you through all but the most extreme of winter nights in the UK.
It’s available in standard or ‘long wide’ sizes. The latter model, with its large and rectangular shape has a slight weight penalty (tipping the scales at 675g), but is well suited to side sleepers, and/or those who tend to move about in their sleep.
The mat has an interesting quilted construction, mixing both horizontal and vertical baffles (the horizontal ones being slightly more prominent) and this results in a very comfortable 3-inch platform that doesn’t collapse too much with any pressure at the sides. For insulation there are two layers of a ‘aluminised’ film to reflect body heat back to you. Fortunately these are designed to be rustle-free, so there won’t be much noise when you move about at night. The same thought has gone into the outer material which is a 20D PU coated ripstop polyester which is soft to the touch – useful for quilt sleepers – and provides a slight bit of grip to stop you sliding about too much.
It comes with a little pump sack which can be quickly and easily fastened to the mat’s valve to make for a remarkably effortless inflation. You simply blow into the pump sack (you don’t even need to put your lips to it), then roll the end, squeezing air into the mat. Within less than 10 breaths your have a nice solid mat.
Featured in our 2020/21 Outdoor 100. Read our full NEMO Tensor Insulated Long Wide review.
|BUY NOW: NEMOEQUIPMENT.COM|
Best Value Sleeping Mat
Best for: 3-season camping and backpacking
Key attributes: Quick and easy to inflate, small packed size.
This mat is excellent value for money. We’ve found it to be light and packable, comfortable enough for backcountry use and, perhaps best of all, it’s super quick and easy to inflate and deflate. We found that just blowing into it was effortless enough but you can attach a pump or pump sack if you want to inflate it without blowing in moist air – and to save your breath.
It’s made from a 20-denier ripstop nylon which feels quite tough. You obviously wouldn’t want to plonk it on top of a gorse bush but, from our experience with it, it’s tough enough to withstand the sharp claws of a border terrier that’s trying to make itself cosy for the night.
Unlike the usual transverse or longitudinal baffles that you see on most sleeping mats, the Aotrom has air-filled welded channels. These mould to the contours of the ground and to your body, ultimately making for a more comfortable night’s sleep. It’s not the thickest mat, and though we could lie on it without ‘bottoming out’, we’d still say it’s better suited for people who tend to sleep on their back or front rather than their sides.
We found this mat was perfect for mild spring, summer and autumn conditions. You’ll want the Aotrom Thermo if you’re planning any winter stuff.
Featured in our 2020/21 Outdoor 100. Read our full Vango Aotrom Sleeping Mat review.
|BUY NOW: VANGO.CO.UK|
Best Ultralight Sleeping Mat
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite
Best for: 2 to 3-season ultralight backpacking
Key attributes: Comfortable, impressively light and packable
This has been dubbed the lightest inflatable air mat ever made, and we’re not going to argue with that. At 250g this is super, super light. Much lighter than any of the other mats featured in this round up.
When something comes in that low on the scales, we’re obviously all going to immediately question how durable it is, and with this the answer is that it’s, well, not that durable – the fabric is just 15D.
The thing is, if you look after it and be careful with what you’re laying it out on top of, there’s no reason why this won’t last a good amount of time without breaking, and if keeping your pack weight as low as possible is hugely important, perhaps it’s worth taking the risk.
When this thing is packed up in its stuff sack, it’s about the size of a Coke can. It’s quite remarkable really, and a potential game changer for any fastpackers or ultralight hikers out there.
It’s comfy – as comfy as any of the other mats in this round-up – and it creates plenty of space between your body and the ground, but there isn’t too much space to move around here as it’s tapered to the shape of someone lying on their back. It’s also not insulated, so look elsewhere if you want something for winter use.
Read our full Therm-a-rest NeoAir Uberlite review.
|BUY NOW: THERMAREST.COM|
Best Sleeping Mat for Colder Nights
Sea-To-Summit Comfort Light Insulated
Best for: 3 to 4-season camping and backpacking
Key attributes: Comfortable, lightweight, quick and easy inflation
The immediate thing that’s noticeable about this is the intriguing looking air cells. It’s what Sea-to-Summit call ‘Hybrid Layer Air Sprung Cell technology’. The idea is that small pockets of air are more stable than a few big ones, offering you much more comfort and support than large lilo-like tubes.
The Exkin Platinum fabric used here reflects radiant heat back to the camper, while Thermolite insulation prevents heat loss between the user and the ground, and this combination of tech makes the mat warm enough to be used in cold weather.
We tested this on a week long trek through Lapland where the temperature hovered around zero degrees celsius at night. It was perfectly comfortable to sleep on – both in terms of how warm it kept us and how it felt. In fact, after a while we stopped worrying about pitching our tent over smaller rocks because we knew we just wouldn’t feel them through the mat.
As for the inflation method, it comes with a lightweight bag that you scoop air into and then force it into the mat through the valve by pressure. It’s remarkably easy and quick and most importantly, it saves your breath!
Check out our full Sea-to-Summit Comfort Light Insulated review.
|BUY NOW: SEATOSUMMIT.CO.UK|