A good night's sleep in the outdoors is essential, and using the best foam sleeping pads for backpacking can help get you there. Without one, you’ll feel every rock, root, and uneven surface beneath you. Discomfort leads to a lack of sleep, and lack of sleep is dangerous. A non-rested mind and body can lead to missteps, twisted ankles, and questionable route choices.
The outdoor industry has increasingly turned to inflatable sleeping pads, but they come with risks. Inflatable pads can pop, take a while to inflate, and cost a lot of money. The convenience, value, and ease of use make foam sleeping pads very attractive. Recent advances have also created hybrid models that are exceptionally comfortable, even for side sleepers.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 9 best foam sleeping pads for backpacking!
Nearly an inch thick and weighing only 14.5 oz, the Nemo Switchback is my choice for the best overall foam sleeping pad. The folding design makes stowing the pad convenient, and the bottom foam layer is abrasion resistant. The Switchback also has a R-value or warmth rating of 2, so it can be used down to 40 ℉. I included a conversion chart in the buyers guide below.
Like many similar models, foam pads don’t offer the level of insulation that an inflatable or hybrid pad would. However, you only have to unfold or unroll the pad, as opposed to inflating it. When you stumble into camp after sunset, that’s a precious time saver. Traditional foam pads like the Nemo Switchback are also a lot cheaper than other models.
I love the convenience, folding design, and general thickness of this lightweight sleeping pad. If you’re a side sleeper like I am, you may occasionally feel some rugged terrain beneath you. But, I’d rather take the cheaper price and abrasion-resistant foam over an inflatable pad that could pop on any sharp object.
My choice for the best lightweight foam sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. This compact pad has a folding design which makes it very easy to strap to the top or sides of a backpacking pack. It’s also only 10 oz., which is nice for ultralight backpackers, and traps radiant heat effectively via its ThermaCapture coating.
The biggest downside to this, and all foam sleeping pads, is that they are thinner than inflatable pads. It’s best to sleep on your back or double up foam pads if you’re a dedicated side sleeper.
However, with a soft foam layer under your body and a durable layer touching the ground, this pad can handle rougher terrain. And, like all traditional foam pads, you don’t need to inflate it so you can set up for sleep a lot faster than other options.
I’ve had this Therm-a-Rest model for years and love it. The comfort, convenience, and price are all notable highlights.
The best foam pad for side sleepers is the Nemo Flyer Self-Inflating Bluesign Sleeping Pad. The unique design, featuring foam with open-air circles in each baffle, produces twice as much thickness as a traditional foam pad. The foam and polyester lining keep the pad durable across a wide variety of terrain, giving you a consistently comfortable night's sleep.
Because of the open-cell foam design, you do have to spend a few minutes inflating it to get to the maximum thickness, which is the biggest downside. Self-inflating pads are cheaper than inflatable options like the Therm-a-rest NeoAir but pricier than traditional foam pads.
However, the benefits far outstrip the negatives. The Nemo Flyer is a bluesign product, meaning it was made with resource-conserving methods to lower the effect on the environment. Plus, the thickness of the hybrid design isn’t just a cool feature; it locks in body heat. That makes the Nemo Flyer a great choice for 3-season backpackers. The R-value of 3.3 works down to 30℉ for those colder nights under the stars.
If you’re a side sleeper who wants the benefits of a foam pad with the height and comfort levels of an air pad, the Nemo Flyer is an excellent choice.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Therm-a-Rest RidgRest is my choice for the best classic foam sleeping pad. This Therm-a-Rest pad's been around for years (I have several) and continues to deliver convenience for much less than its competitors. Like other foam pads, the risk of popping or tearing them is much less than with any inflatable pad.
The main detractors are the bulk and thinness. Even cinched down, the packet size is large. It takes a bit of expert rolling to get it strapped to your pack. And while it sports a perfectly acceptable R-value of 2, it's thin and won't retain body heat well. If you’re a side sleeper who needs extra comfort, you may want to consider something thicker.
For everyone else, this tried and tested sleeping pad is a durable champion that will last for years and won’t pop on the first rock it sits on. For summer trips, the convenience, price, and 2 R-Value make it a worthy choice.
This hybrid model takes the cake as the best self-inflating sleeping pad. It’s 3 inches thick and 79 inches long, so the pad can fit numerous body sizes and heights up to 6 ft. 5 in. Plus, with an excellent 4.3 R-Value (24℉), it’s hard to pass this one up.
The extra weight of this sleeping pad is noticeable at nearly 2 pounds, which may be a turn-off to the lightweight and ultralight backpacking crowd. Additionally, the large rolled size takes more space than similar models. To be honest, though, these are small grievances. It’s still less than 2 pounds, and I found it easy to include with a few days of outdoor gear.
This Camp Plus pad trades a bit of convenience for a higher level of warmth. And because a comfortable sleep in the outdoors is critical, it’s easy to justify the higher price and larger packed size. At camp, set up the pad, let it self-inflate while you set up other items and return to a durable, comfy, and stable sleeping pad.
The stability, comfort, and exceptional warmth make this self-inflating pad a great choice for back, side and stomach sleepers.
The MeMoreCool Memory Foam Camping Mattress is my choice for the best extra-thick foam sleeping pad. This deluxe option has 3.5 inches of extra comfort memory foam, rolls up with foam pad straps, and features a non-slip base. It’ll give you a comfortable night's sleep whether you're a back, side, or stomach sleeper. It'll even work for cold-weather camping.
This camping mattress is enormous. If you’re on a group trip and someone has to carry this thing, take lots of breaks. Additionally, at 10 pounds, it’s just too heavy for longer-distance backpacking. However, if you only have a few miles to go camping and you’re not interested in much more than excellent comfort levels in a camping mattress, I would consider it.
My choice for the best anti-slip foam sleeping pad is the ALPS Mountaineering Foam Mat. This isn’t the most comfortable mat on the market, and its low R-Value may turn some heads. However, it is a great mat to set a sleeping bag on. The textured surface keeps your sleeping bag from moving around at night.
If cold weather is forecast, I'd opt for a mat with a higher level of warmth. However, this mat does have additional useful features like its width (30 in.), small packed size, and straps to ease the roll-up process. The width means your arms won’t be dangling off the side in the middle of the night, which helps you retain body heat.
If you need a grippy mat to hold your sleeping bag in place for a summer night outside, I recommend the ALPS Mountaineering Foam Mat.
If you want cushy comfort for two, the KingCamp Double is my pick for the best double-foam sleeping pad. This 3-inch thick camping pad is a hybrid self-inflating option that can sleep 2 comfortably. Boasting an outrageous R-value of 9.5, the camping pad provides exceptional warmth, even in cold weather.
Like other plush entries, the packed size, weight, and bulk are serious detractors. If you plan to carry this with your outdoor gear, take lots of breaks and choose campsites less than a few miles from the trailhead. Can you carry it farther? Sure, but the extra weight will be cumbersome and unattractive to most.
If you want a comfortable double sleeping pad and your camping adventure won't take you far from the trailhead, consider this extravagant option.
If you’re on a tight budget, the AceCamp Portable Foam Sleeping Pad is my choice for the best value foam sleeping pad. The price is attractive, the 2.3 R-value is better than many comparable models, and the pad is easy to fold up and attach to your outdoor gear.
The biggest knock against this option is the questionable durability. And while the pack weight is only 11 ounces, it didn’t get my vote for the best lightweight model because of durability issues. However, the pad's lifespan can be extended with careful use and care.
If you want an easy-to-set-up, lightweight sleeping pad for a handful of trips a year, the AceCamp Portable Foam Sleeping Pad should be on your radar.
Foam Sleeping Pad Buying Guide
Foam sleeping pads have been around for a long time, and there's a reason for that. Also called closed-cell foam pads, these icons of outdoor gear continue to provide value where inflatable sleeping pads don't. Take a look at the factors below to decide if a foam sleeping pad is the right choice for your backpacking goals.
Types & Sizes
There are two main types of foam pads. A traditional design, like many older Therm-a-Rest pads, is lightweight, cheap, and easy to set up. These foam pad types are thin and may not be the most comfortable for side sleepers. However, they can be coated with additional thermal insulation to reflect radiant heat to you, which increases their level of warmth.
Self-inflating pads are a hybrid design between inflatables and traditional foam. They still use a piece of foam, but there are holes within the foam. These are comfortable and easy-to-inflate sleeping pads. It does take time for it to inflate, and they cost more. However, they are often thicker, which provides exceptional warmth and blunts the impact of rough terrain on your body.
Each model will come in numerous size options. A regular sleeping pad measures around 72 inches long, while larger sizes can run up to 80 inches. Width is usually between 23-27 inches, although some can be 30 inches wide. With a wide variety of size options, you should be able to find a version that fits you.
Traditional foam pads can cost anywhere from $25-$60. Hybrid models like the self-inflated variety run from about $70-$160. For reference, a top-of-the-line inflatable air sleeping pad can easily cost over $200.
Traditional closed-cell foam pads are comfortable for back-sleepers and for ultralight backpacking. Occasionally, you’ll feel rougher ground beneath you, but it shouldn’t be enough to distract from a good night's sleep. Side-sleepers may take issue with the thinner models and should hunt for anything with 1.5 inches or more of thickness.
Another aspect to think about is noise. Inflatable sleeping pads tend to produce a crinkly sound that's obvious if you toss and turn. Foam pads are much quieter. Finding a comfortable position is much less annoying without hearing a crinkly sound every time you move.
Heavy-duty self-inflating pads can weigh quite a bit, which may be a detractor. However, the best foam sleeping pads can weigh anywhere from 11-16 ounces, which is perfect for backpacking trips. The weight ratio is better for inflatable sleeping pads, but an 11-ounce foam pad, like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, is great for ultralight backpacking.
R-Values are included in the descriptions of most sleeping pads. They are a measurement of warmth as it relates to temperature. Each R-value corresponds to a minimum temperature that it can work down to. Broken up, the scale looks like this:
- 1-R-Value = (50℉) (10℃)
- 2-R Value = (40℉) (4.4℃)
- 3-R Value = (30℉) (-1.1℃)
- 4-R Value = (20℉) (-6.6℃)
- 5-R Value = (10℉) (-12.22℃)
- 6-R Value = (0℉) (-17.8℃)
- 7-R Value = (-20℉)(-28.9℃)
- 8-R Value = (-38℉)(-38.9℃)
- 9-R Value = (-50℉)(-45.5℃)
The scale is constant until you get to negative fahrenheit temperatures. A 2.3 R-value, for example, equates to a temperature minimum of roughly 37℉. Generally, the thinner the sleeping pad, the less the R-Value. Thicker foam pads provide extra warmth but may weigh more.
Traditional sleeping pads are usually between 0.5 and 2 inches thick and use large pieces of foam to achieve the desired level of comfort. They aren’t as thick as an inflatable sleeping pad but can easily provide enough cushioning. Hybrid self-inflating models can get up to 3 or 4 inches thick, which is great for side-sleepers.
Because inflatable sleeping pads like the Therm-a-rest Neo Air deflate, they offer more packability than traditional foam sleeping pads. Self-inflating foam sleeping pads pack down better than foam but still lag behind inflatable options.
A good foam pad can get down to the packed size of a rolled sleeping bag inside a stuff sack.
A nice additional benefit to foam sleeping pads is the roll-up or fold-up design. You can store them on the outside of your pack using existing straps. Conversely, inflatable sleeping pads will likely be stored inside your pack, which takes up space.
If you'd like extra comfort and sleep on your side, give the Nemo Flyer Self-Inflating Bluesign Sleeping Pad a look. And, if you're on a tight budget, I recommend the AceCamp Portable Foam Sleeping Pad.
Yes, foam sleeping pads cost a lot less than other options. They also take less time to set up since they don’t need to be inflated. Keep in mind that self-inflating pads do need some time to reach their full size. However, these hybrid options do offer a higher level of warmth.
A good foam pad should be between 0.5 and 3 inches thick. The thicker it is, the higher the R-value and body heat retention levels. However, thicker foam is harder to roll up and won’t pack down as well. Check out our winter sleeping bag article to complete your cold weather setup.
The best lightweight foam sleeping pad for backpacking is around 10 ounces. At this weight, you can still complete an ultralight setup and have the benefit of a sleeping pad that doesn't need to inflate. The weight ratio is a little better with inflatable sleeping pads, but they aren't as durable.
Check out our article on the best ultralight sleeping bags for great ways to stay ultralight.
If you want another layer of comfort, you can put an additional pad underneath your primary one. You can also get a tent footprint, which adds a bit of padding to the underside of your tent.
For foam pads, the Nemo Flyer is the best option for side sleepers. However, inflatable pads are nice because they get thicker when fully inflated. For the best results, check out the inflatable Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.