Sleeping pads are essential for insulating yourself against the cold ground when you’re camping. Unfortunately, standard sleeping pads are designed for back sleepers and aren’t very comfortable if you sleep on your side. If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to perform your best day after day in the mountains.
The good news is that there are sleeping pads that work well for lying on your side. In this guide, I’ll cover 8 of the best sleeping pads for side sleepers and explain how to get the right pad for every backpacking and climbing trip.
My Review Process
My preferred sleeping position alternates between my stomach and side, and it often feels like standard backcountry sleeping gear wasn’t designed for people like me. I routinely roll off my pad, get tangled in my sleeping bag, and wake up with sore hips and neck.
I still can’t say I’ve found the perfect sleeping pad for my sleep style, but there some pads work much better than others. I’ll share my experience and my favorite pads for a comfortable night of sleep.
The Ether Light XT is a well-rounded sleeping pad that offers a whopping 4 inches of cushioning for side sleepers. It’s more than twice the thickness of pads with similar weight and insulation, and the extra air helps keep your hips and shoulders off the ground throughout the night.
The downside of having so much airspace in this pad is that it takes a while to inflate. The stuff sack doubles as an inflation bag, which helps, but you should still expect to spend a few minutes getting this pad ready for bed.
The Ether Light XT weighs in at 17 oz and has an R-value of 3.2, which is insulated enough for early shoulder season camping. If you want to use this pad on snow, I’d recommend adding an insulated foam pad beneath it.
Overall this is an ideal sleeping pad for camping that you can use throughout the year and that offers extra comfort compared to most other pads I’ve tried.
The Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe is another luxuriously thick sleeping pad that you can use for 3-season camping. The pad is 3.5 inches thick in the center and 4 inches thick at the sides, which also helps keep you from rolling off the pad in the middle of the night.
This sleeping pad features an R-value of 4.3 and weighs in at 25 oz. The weight is one of the major drawbacks to this pad, but it offers enough insulation that it’s comfortable to sleep on deep into the fall.
Another thing I like about this pad is the soft, fleecy sleeping surface. This is great for comfort in the summer, when you may want to sleep directly on the pad instead of being wrapped up in your sleeping bag.
In summary, this is an extremely comfortable side-sleeping pad you can use from spring to fall.
If you’re trying to keep your sleeping kit as light as possible, I recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite. It weighs a scant 9 oz and is the most compact sleeping pad on the market right now.
I can’t promise you’ll have the most comfortable sleep ever on this pad, but it’s surprisingly comfortable for how thin it is. One thing to note is that the R-value is 2.3, so it’s mainly limited to summer climbing trips.
Most of the negative reviews about this pad are that the thin material tears easily. However, I’ve used it for four years with only a single leak, and that was easily fixed in the field with some seam sealant. You’ll definitely want to carry repair kits when traveling with this pad.
But at just 9 oz, you'll be hard pressed to find a lighter sleeping pad on the market.
For more backpacking options, check out our ultralight foam sleeping pad reviews.
The Klymit Insulated Static V is a robust pad at a budget-friendly price. It’s only 2.5 inches thick, so you’ll definitely feel the ground when sleeping on your side. But it’s hard to argue with the pad’s R-value of 4.4 or its 20 oz weight at this price point.
This pad has unusual V-shaped baffles, which are designed to help with the pad’s insulating properties. I don’t find them to be as comfortable as traditional vertical or horizontal baffles, but this is a matter of preference.
The Insulated Static V is a very affordable option if you need a pad for the occasional shoulder season trip or are putting together your first backpacking kit.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a widely acclaimed sleeping pad that perfectly balances weight, durability, and insulation. It offers an R-value of 4.2 and weighs in at just 12 oz, making it hard to say no to this pad on any three-season backpacking trip.
The only reason this isn’t my top pick is that it’s less than completely comfortable when sleeping on your side. The pad is just 2.5 inches thick, so you’ll feel the ground through it much more than with the Ether Light XT or Q-Core Deluxe pads. The mummy shape also means that your feet may slide off the pad during the night.
If you’re okay with that, there’s a lot to like about this pad. I love its comfort, warmth and packability. It also comes in multiple sizes for people of different heights.
The XTherm is my go-to sleeping pad whenever I’m throughout the winter and anytime I expect to be snow camping in the spring. It features an impressive R-value of 6.9 while weighing in at just 15 oz. Good luck finding a warmth-to-weight ratio like that in another pad.
The XTherm is only 2.5 inches thick, so you’ll feel the ground a little bit. But I find that it’s plenty comfortable if the ground is malleable snow instead of hard-packed dirt. In that sense, the XTherm also works well for stomach sleepers.
The XTherm is pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you only venture into the mountains in summer. If I had to pick just one pad for year-round adventures, this would be my top choice because of its versatility and light weight.
If you’re setting up a base camp rather than moving camp each day, you might be willing to trade some weight for a more comfortable sleeping setup. In that case, a heavier pad like the MonoKing 3D from Therm-a-Rest is a great option for side sleepers.
This pad is 78 inches long, plenty wide, and 4.5 inches thick. It’s as close as you can get to a full-sized comfy mattress, yet it still weighs well under 5 pounds.
The pad comes with some thoughtful features, including a stuff sack that doubles as an air pump. It also uses Therm-a-Rest’s winglock valve, which makes inflation and deflation go pretty quick. The pad has an R-value of 8.0, so you can use it in any season.
In summary, the MonoKing 3D is ideal for side sleepers who want a mattress-feel at base camp.
The MeMoreCool camping mattress is a memory foam mattress that rolls up for portability. It’s great for car camping in style in the summer, although you wouldn’t want to carry this pad into the backcountry.
The pad is made with 3.5-inch thick memory foam and covered with a soft, quilted memory foam mattress topper. It’s extremely comfortable and the undulating design helps with pressure point relief when you’re sleeping on hard ground.
Why Do You Need A Sleeping Pad?
A sleeping pad plays two important roles in your backcountry sleep system: keeping you warm and helping you sleep more comfortably.
You might not think of the ground as being cold, but it is. If you sleep directly on the ground, even in the summer, it will suck heat away from your body quickly. Even the best sleeping bag won’t do much to insulate you against the ground since the insulation is compressed beneath you.
However, the air or foam inside your sleeping pad acts as a strong insulating layer to prevent heat from being sucked out of your body and into the ground. Having the right sleeping pad is key to staying warm in a tent.
Of course, there’s more to sleeping comfortably than just being warm enough. Sleeping pads also give you a soft surface to lie down on so you don’t end up with severe pressure points or pain in your neck when you wake up.
How To Choose A Sleeping Pad For Side Sleeping
The main things I consider when choosing a sleeping pad are its R-value and weight. I’ll explain why these matter and how to pick the right sleeping pad for your next trip.
R-values are to sleeping pads what temperature ratings are to sleeping bags. They indicate how insulated a sleeping pad is and what types of conditions it’s suitable for.
Sleeping pads with an R-value in the 1-3 range are not very insulated and should only be used for summer camping. If you plan to backpack or climb in the early spring or late fall, look for a pad with an R-value of at least 4.
Camping on snow or in colder months when the ground is frozen, requires a much more insulated sleeping pad. Look for pads with an R-value of at least 6 for cold conditions. Anything less and you’ll be able to feel your body losing heat to the ground throughout the night.
Your sleeping pad won’t be the heaviest part of your sleeping kit, but every ounce counts. There are many ultralight sleeping pads that weigh 0.75 lbs (12 oz) or less. I tend to gravitate towards these over heavier pads, but you do give up some quality of sleep and durability.
Generally, thicker pads that are more comfortable for side sleeping weigh around 1 lb (16 oz). If you have trouble sleeping in the backcountry, the extra few ounces can be worthwhile for the added comfort they provide.
Tips for Comfortable Side Sleeping in the Backcountry
Getting a good night’s sleep on even the thickest pad can be a challenge for side sleepers. Here are some tricks that help me get comfortable in my tent.
1. Pick the right ground
You get to decide where you put your tent, and the ground you’re sleeping on can make a big difference to your comfort.
Ideally, I look for soft dirt or mossy ground that’s more forgiving if I have a thin sleeping pad. Snow is also good, and you can pack it down to contour to your body. However, remember that you need an insulated pad to stay warm enough when sleeping on snow.
Also keep Leave No Trace principles in mind. Choose a spot that’s been camped on before if you’re in a popular area.
2. Use your extra clothes
If you have extra clothes with you, you can use them to add padding to your sleeping pad. Put them under your body or under your pad around your hips and shoulders. This helps relieve pressure points so you don’t need to flip over multiple times in the night.
3. Bring a pillow
All kinds of sleepers can benefit from a backpacking pillow. I bring one on every trip I take. They’re terrific for providing neck support and ensuring spinal alignment throughout the night. Plus, you can inflate them to the exact firmness you like.
If you don’t have an inflatable pillow, you can also use a stuff sack filled with clothes.
Getting the right sleeping pad is important to sleeping well in the backcountry. I recommend the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated for side sleepers because of its 4-inch thickness and relatively light weight.
The Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe is slightly heavier, but it features a quilted surface and is more insulated for shoulder season camping trips. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite is the best choice for backpackers and climbers who want to travel as light as possible.
Based on my experience, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated is the best sleeping pad for side sleepers. It’s 4 inches thick and weighs just over 1 pound. This pad is very comfortable and keeps you well off the ground.
20 inches is the standard width for most ultralight sleeping pads. This width doesn’t provide a ton of room to move around, but most side sleepers will find this to be wide enough for comfort.
Side sleepers will be most comfortable with a sleeping pad that’s at least 3.5 inches thick. However, these pads tend to be much heavier than 2.5-inch thick pads. Side sleepers who want to balance weight and comfort may choose a 2.5-inch thickness instead.
Most side sleepers prefer a thicker and firmer sleeping pad. The thickness is determined by your pad’s design, but you can control the firmness by inflating your pad more or less.
Unless it’s very hot out, it’s unlikely that your sleeping pad will ever be too warm. Pads are designed to prevent you from losing heat to the ground, but they don’t do much to trap body heat around you.
*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.