There’s nothing worse than spending time in the great outdoors only to have a miserable night’s sleep. I’ve been a side sleeper all my life and so many sleeping pads out there result in me waking up in the middle of the night with my shoulder and hip digging into the cold, hard ground.
Thankfully, there ARE sleeping pads that can provide a comfortable night’s sleep to side sleepers.
I’ve reviewed dozens of sleeping pads to find out what the best sleeping pad for side sleepers is. And no, it’s certainly not the most popularly recommended sleeping pad!
If you’re in a rush, the best sleeping pad for camping side sleepers is the Exped Megamat 10. A super comfortable sleeping pad that is as comfortable as a real bed.
If you’re heading backpacking, I recommend the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT sleeping pad. This is a lightweight pad that doesn’t compromise on comfort.
The best sleeping pads are:
- Exped Megamat 10 Insulated Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad – Best Overall
- Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Pad – Best backpacking pad
- NEMO Quasar 3D Insulated Air Sleeping Pad – Best budget backpacking pad
- Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad – Best for cold weather
- TETON Sports ComfortLite XXL Sleeping Pad – Best budget camping pad
- NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad – Best ultralight sleeping pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
- Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Air Sleeping Pad
Do note that many of these pads come in smaller options (primarily for women) and larger options.
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Best Backpacking Pad
Best Budget Backpacking Pad
Best for Cold Weather
Best Budget Camping Pad
Best Ultralight Sleeping Pad
|Ease of setup||4.8||4.4||4.4||3.9||4.0||4.8||3.5||4.0||3.9||4.0|
A ridiculously comfortable sleeping pad for camping. Self-inflating setup makes setting up this air pad a breeze.
A backpacking sleeping pad that does a great job of balancing comfort with a low weight.
A super comfortable backpacking pad for those who love a great sleep on a budget.
Excellent insulation for cold weather and winter backpacking.
A decent camping sleeping pad found at an affordable price.
A decent ultralight backpacking pad but the materials are fragile.
Best sleeping pad for side sleepers
If you’re looking for the comfiest sleeping pad for side sleepers, the Exped Megamat ticks all the boxes.
The Exped is an air bed with a layer of comfy open cell foam padding. The easiest way to visualise this is the comfy memory foam toppers you get on mattresses. This sleeping pad is the closest thing you can get to sleeping in a bed.
The 3.9 inch thickness means side sleepers don’t wake up in the middle of the night with your shoulders and hips digging into the ground.
And the self-inflating feature means you just need to set the nozzle, leave the pad to inflate itself and then top it off with a couple of pumps of the pump sack. This sleeping pad really couldn’t be much easier to set up.
It’s a durable pad, coming with thick materials that will help avoid any tearing that can result in a deflated pad. And these help provide an r-value (read: insulation rating) of 8.9 – plenty for cold weather.
But these thick materials do mean that the sleeping pad is too heavy for backpacking and should only be used for camping trips. If you need a backpacking pad – skip down to our review of the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT pad.
The standard version is 6 foot long, so tall people will want to consider opting for the 6 foot 6 inch “long” version. And you can also get the sleeping pad in a double size if you want to share it with a partner.
Overall this is an excellent sleeping pad for camping. It’s not incredibly cheap but if you struggle getting comfortable on your side then you will not regret this pad.
The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT pad is an excellent backpacking pad for side sleepers.
These backpacking pads don’t quite compare to the added foam comfort of the Exped Megamat but the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT is very comfortable. This is helped by its four inch thickness that will keep you off the hard ground and the hundreds of air filled springs within the pad.
This pad comes in a variety of sizes, including small (5’6” and below), regular (6’0” and below) and long (6’7” and below) lengths. It comes as both a tapered mummy shaped pad and a rectangular pad.
Some side sleepers may need the extra width of the rectangular pad if you like to place your knees high up as the mummy shaped version is quite narrow.
This pad is very lightweight. The regular mummy version comes in at only 1 lb 1 oz. This isn’t quite as light as the ultralight 12oz NeoAir XLite but all but the most hardcore ultralight crowd are likely to enjoy the extra comfort.
As is typical of backpacking pads, this pad does make a noise when you move around on it. Thankfully it is not the high pitched crinkly sound (think bags of chips) that many of the pads, such as the NeoAir XLite make.
Instead, the Ether Light makes a more rubbery sound (think rubbing a balloon). This is much lower frequency and less annoying than a crinkly sound, so if you’re backpacking with others it might be preferred.
The Sea to Summit Ether Light XT is super easy to inflate. The pump sack is really good at inflating the pad and the valve system makes it very easy to adjust the pad to find the right level of inflation for comfort.
The only important negative for the Ether Light is that it isn’t suitable for winter backpacking. The r-value of 3.2 means the pad is best used in three season weather conditions.
Overall, an excellent backpacking pad that ticks many of the important backpacking features while providing loads of comfort for side sleepers.
The NEMO Quasar 3D is another excellent sleeping pad for backpacking. So how does it compare to the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT?
The Quasar is as comfortable as the Ether Light – both of these provide superb comfort and plenty of thickness for side sleepers. I also like the elevated baffle at the end of the NEMO Quasar which provides a place for your head.
Note that the Quasar only comes in a rectangular shape. This may be preferred for some side sleepers who take up a lot of width, but do double check that it fits in your tent since backpacking tents often taper in towards the foot.
They’re also very evenly matched on insulation, with r-values of 3.3 and 3.2 respectively.
However, the Ether Light XT pad edges out the Quasar pad on weight, coming in 3 ounces lighter when comparing the rectangular versions or 8 oz lighter if you compare it with the mummy shaped Ether Light XT. Sure, the NEMO Quasar has a slightly smaller packed size, but 8 ounces is a fairly sizable weight saving.
It’s also difficult to adjust the inflation of the NEMO Quasar pad to the right comfort level while you’re lying down.
That all being said, the NEMO Quasar can quite often be picked up for cheaper. So if you’re looking for a more budget version of the Ether Light XT pad that is very close in quality, the Quasar will be an excellent choice.
The Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe is another excellent, comfortable sleeping pad that comes in a rectangular shape.
It’s as comfortable as the NEMO Quasar and the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT and as lightweight as the NEMO Quasar, even if it does take up a little more space in the backpack.
Its main benefit over these other two pads is its insulation. Coming in at an r-value of 4.3, this pad is well enough insulated to use in winter camping (extreme cold excluded).
While the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm is a better choice for very cold weather, I would recommend picking the Big Agnes pad for those who want to go backpacking in winter while also staying comfortable.
This sleeping pad does lose marks for a very small pump sack which makes setting up the pad a more painful process than some of these other pads.
Overall this pad is very versatile and provides plenty of the benefits that the Ether Light XT and NEMO Quasar do, while providing more warmth in cold weather.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm pad boasts great credentials for cold weather backpacking with the highest r-value of this review – 8.1. This is plenty for even a pretty cold winter trip.
This sleeping pad is also one of the most durable pads on the list. It comes with a 70D nylon / 30D ripstop nylon material which are much thicker and more robust materials than a standard backpacking sleeping pad.
It’s also ultralight, weighing only 15oz and coming in with a super small stuff sack that will easily fit into your pack.
So why isn’t the NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad top of the list?
Unfortunately, the NeoAir XTherm isn’t as comfortable as many of the other pads. The 2.5 inch thickness is worrying close to the ground and many side sleepers risk an uncomfortable night if there is any deflation.
On top of this, have you ever wondered what it’s like to sleep on a potato chip mattress? This sleeping pad has a loud crinkly sound whenever you move. Some people don’t mind it, but for light sleepers like myself or anyone you might be backpacking with it’s an issue.
Overall, the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm is a great sleeping pad, but perhaps not well suited to some side sleepers.
Like the idea of the Exped Megamat 10 pad but you’re on a tight budget? Enter the TETON Sports ComfortLite XXL Sleeping Pad.
This is another camping only pad due to its weight and packed size. To be up front, it’s not as comfortable as the Exped. There’s no comfy foam. And this pad is only 2.5” thick which is thin enough to start worrying about hips and shoulders digging into the ground if there is any deflation through the night.
But there’s a lot going for this pad. First and foremost, it’s ridiculously affordable. If you’re buying pads for all the family, buying a bunch of ComfortLite’s would certainly be more budget conscious.
It’s also a self-inflating pad, making it easy to inflate and set up. And it comes in wider than the Exped Megamat which is good for anyone with broad shoulders.
However, it’s just not quite as comfy or durable as the Exped Megamat pad. So while it’s still a “best buy”, I would recommend upgrading when possible.
The NEMO Tensor sleeping pad is an excellent ultralight sleeping pad coming in at 14 ounces and by FAR the smallest packed size of all these sleeping pads. Yes – it even takes up half the volume of the ultralight NeoAir sleeping pads.
The r-value is fairly decent at 4.2, the same as the NeoAir XLite. This is plenty for cold weather camping but not high enough for extreme cold.
The NEMO Tensor is surprisingly comfortable given its ultralight status. This is certainly helped by its 3 inch thickness – more than the NeoAir competitors. For this reason, I would encourage any ultralight backpackers to consider the Tensor if they’ve found 2.5” pads too thin.
However, there is a major drawback with this sleeping pad and this relates to how NEMO have managed to keep this sleeping pad so light given the extra thickness. The materials are super thin and the pad feels fragile.
You will probably want to bring something to put under the pad to reduce any chances of punctures.
Overall, an excellent ultralight sleeping pad for side sleepers but you’ll have to be okay with taking care of this pad.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is one of the best known sleeping pads. It’s certainly ultralight, coming in at only 12 ounces and a small packed size.
The NeoAir XLite is very similar to the XTherm where the former is built for three season and some cold weather while the latter has been built to handle very cold temperatures.
The NeoAir XLite therefore is less insulated than the XTherm, but it’s still good at an r-value of 4.2. The other major difference is the materials. The XLite is lighter due to thinner, 30D ripstop nylon fabric which is not untypical for backpacking sleeping pad.
Unfortunately, the NeoAir XLite suffers from many of the same issues as the XTherm. It’s dangerously thin for side sleepers at 2.5 inches but some people might get away with it.
The XLite also makes a crinkling noise every time you move. This high pitched rustling is likely to wake up anyone else you’re outdoors with and may make you self conscious about moving around too much or turning over.
Overall, the XLite is a good sleeping pad but many side sleepers will be frustrated at the lack of thickness. The NEMO Tensor is probably the better option for ultralight backpackers. And for everyone else, there is a big jump up in comfort when opting for the sleeping pads at the top of this review.
The Sea to Summit Ultralight sleeping pad is pitched as a budget ultralight pad and certainly provides value for money.
It’s lightweight at 17 ounces and has a small packed size.
However, it’s outclassed by many of the other sleeping pads in this review.
The R-value is the lowest of these sleeping pads, coming in at only 3.1. You’ll want to avoid using this pad in very cold weather.
And while it’s light, ultralight backpackers will be able to shave 5 ounces off by going for the NeoAir XLite instead.
Weighing in at 17 ounces, you could choose the 17 ounce Sea to Summit Ether Light XT pad instead. The Ether Light is much more comfortable and doesn’t come with the thin 2 inch depth of the Sea to Summit Ultralight pad.
It does make a rubbery noise when you move around on it but this is preferable to the crinkly noise of the NeoAir XLite.
But overall, if you want an ultralight pad – choose the NEMO Tensor or the NEOAir XLite. If you want a lightweight and comfortable pad, choose the Ether Light XT. Yes, they’re often a little more expensive but this is for a reason.
The Sea to Summit Comfort Light is a backpacking sleeping pad aiming to prioritise comfort. Ironically, its name does not reach the intended aim of being comfortable and light, but is better described as light on comfort.
Firstly, it’s not that light. The regular model comes in at 1 lb 6 ounces while only being a meagurly 2.5 inch thick. Many of the other pads in this review are much thicker and more comfortable for side sleepers at similar or lighter weights.
With only 2.5 inch thickness, side sleepers are always going to be worried about hips and shoulders digging into the ground. But the sleeping pad also feels a little … lumpy. Rather than vertical baffles or horizontal baffles, it comes with a cell design. Some like this, others won’t.
And like the NeoAir pads, it also emits a high pitched crinkly sound due to the reflective barriers and baffling.
Is this a bad sleeping pad? Certainly not. It’s still a good pad compared to most products out there. However, I would recommend you check out the sleeping pads at the top of this review given that they provide better comfort for a similar price.
Our criteria for a good sleeping pad
What are you using your sleeping pad for?
While some sleeping pads are better than others, there is no such thing as a perfect sleeping pad. Instead, different sleeping pads aim to excel in different conditions.
The first condition you’ll want to consider is whether you’re using the sleeping pad for camping or for backpacking.
Campers typically primarily care about how comfortable the pad is, the ease of setup, durability, shape and cost. Primarily you’ll want a comfy sleeping pad for a great night’s sleep.
Backpackers should still care about all of the above, but weight and packed size also enter the equation. No matter how comfy a sleeping pad is, it won’t suit a backpacker if it weighs ten pounds. The desire for a lightweight or ultralight pad does necessitate the use of specific materials and often adds to the price.
Next up is the season. Most sleeping pads perform great in three season weather. But when heading into a winter, you’ll really start to care about the insulation that the sleeping pad provides you from the cold ground. Insulation ratings are covered in our section on “R-value”.
I’ve laid out the criteria below that I’ve used to rate these sleeping pads. Just bear in mind that the situation you’re using the pad in will affect which criteria matter the most, so do consider whether you’re in the trail or camp category.
Choosing the right type of sleeping pad
Air pads fill up with air (suprise surprise!) to provide a comfortable bed on the ground. These sleeping pads are very versatile as they typically pack down small in a backpack when deflated and can be fairly lightweight.
Most people find air pads more comfortable than closed-cell foam pads. The trick here is to make sure you don’t fully inflate the pad. A slightly deflated pad will better conform to the shape of your body.
Some air pads can be noisy when you’re moving about at night so this is something to consider if you’re going outdoors with others. Another minor annoyance is that you’ll want to avoid bare skin against these pads as the feeling isn’t very pleasant.
Air pads can vary in price, but ultralight varieties can get very expensive.
Air pads are a good choice for either campers or backpackers but lightweight options excel for backpacking.
Closed-cell foam sleeping pads
A foam pad is made of a very dense foam and is typically found rolled up like a yoga mat.
They’re cheap, lightweight and durable but they aren’t particularly comfortable to sleep on. You’re also going to need to attach most of these to the outside of your backpack as they can take up quite a lot of packed space.
Closed cell foam sleeping pads are a good choice for thru-hikers due to their durability. For most other cases, I would recommend an air pad or self-inflating pad.
Self-inflating sleeping pads
Self-inflating sleeping pads combine open cell foam and air pads and can be very comfortable. Even better still, their self-inflating feature makes them super easy to set up without the need for a hand pump.
The additional foam also provides less chance of a puncture which provides a more durability than air pads. On the flipside, this does add weight to the pad so if you’re an ultralight backpacker you’ll probably prefer an air pad.
Open cell foam sleeping pads
If closed cell foam sleeping pads are like yoga mats, then open cell foam sleeping pads are like a thin memory foam mattress. These can be super comfy and are the closest thing to sleeping in a bed.
However, they’re super bulky and heavy compared to these other pads. Open cell foam pads only work well for car camping.
Most comfortable sleeping pad for side sleepers
The Exped Megamat 10 is easily the most comfortable sleeping pad for side sleepers. The combined foam, air pad, space and thickness result in a great night’s sleep whether you sleep on your side or your back.
However, the Exped Megamat is large and heavy enough to make it okay for camping only.
Related: Check out our list of the most comfortable sleeping pads for camping and backpacking.
Starting with the basics, you’re going to want a sleeping pad that fits your shape. If you’re tall, double check the length of these pads as they’re often quite economical in size.
If you’re a side sleeper you may want a slightly wider pad. This will allow you to sleep in the foetal position without your knees hanging off the side of the pad.
Sleeping pads typically come in one of two shapes. Rectangular pads are … well … just that! Mummy shaped pads are shaped like an Egyptian sarcophagus for a mummy and has a wider head area that runs inwards to narrower feet.
Some side sleepers prefer rectangular pads so that their knees don’t go off the pad but this can be quite person dependent as to whether it is an issue.
If you’re considering a rectangular pad, do bear in mind that many backpacking tents similarly have a wider head area and a narrower foot area. So you’re going to want to make sure that the pad fits inside the tent at the narrowest end.
Thicker sleeping pads are also comfier. A thick pad is especially important to a side sleeper as it prevents your hip and shoulder from digging into the hard ground.
I recommend a minimum thickness of 2 inches and all of the sleeping pads in this review meet this threshold.
Air pads, self-inflating pads and open cell foam pads are all comfortable. Although backpackers will need to be wary about the amount that foam pads weigh.
Best lightweight sleeping pad and ultralight pads
Every pound on your back counts when you’re backpacking in the wilderness. Cutting weight where possible could make a big difference to your experience.
If you’re planning on backpacking, I recommend choosing a pad that weighs less than 2 lbs. Ideally you should opt for one that is as light as possible but the ultralight varieties are often significantly more expensive.
If you’re car camping, skip this section!
The lightest sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, coming in at only 12 ounces.
However, if comfort is a priority and you’re happy to add six ounces, I would recommend the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT sleeping pad as the backpacking pad that combines both comfort with a low weight.
Small packed size
It can often be quite difficult to compare the packed size of sleeping pads when some are thicker and others are longer. To make up for this, I’ve calculated the packed size volume for each sleeping pad in the table below.
The NEMO Tensor easily wins for the smallest packed size. It is 3 ounces heavier than the XLite but this sleeping pad is able to pack down so small that it may be preferable for backpackers with limited backpack space.
The table below also does highlight that some of the more comfortable sleeping pads do take up more space in the backpack. So if space is a concern. The NEMO Quasar 3D pad provides a good balance between packed size and comfort.
|Sleeping Pad||Packed Size (in)||Packed Size Volume (cubic inches)|
|NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad Regular||8 x 3||226|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Sleeping Pad Regular||9 x 4||452|
|Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad Regular||9 x 4||452|
|Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Air Sleeping Pad Regular||9 x 4||452|
|NEMO Quasar 3D Insulated Air Sleeping Pad Regular||8 x 4.5||509|
|Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Pad Regular||9.5 x 4.5||604|
|Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Air Sleeping Pad Regular||9.5 x 4.5||604|
|Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe Sleeping Pad Regular||8.5 x 5||668|
|TETON Sports ComfortLite XXL Sleeping Pad||31.5 x 6.75||4509|
|Exped Megamat 10 Insulated Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad Regular||31.3 x 9.8||9444|
Best sleeping pad for cold weather – r-value and warmth
Many people incorrectly consider comfort to be the primary reason for a sleeping pad. The most important job of a sleeping pad is, in fact, keeping you off the ground. The cold ground will quickly sap away any body heat and can leave your temperature dangerously low.
But sleeping pads, and particularly air pads, don’t automatically protect you from the cold ground. These need to be insulated to avoid the cold transferring through the air in the pad.
The standard measurement of sleeping pad insulation is the R-value. The higher the R-value, the more insulated the sleeping pad.
Here’s a quick guide to picking the right minimum R-value:
- Summer (min 50°F / 10°C): R-value of 1 – 2
- Three season (min 32°F / 0°C): R-value of 2 – 4
- Cold (min 20°F / -6°C): R-value of 4 – 5.5
- Extreme cold (min 0°F / -18°C): R-value of 5.5 and higher
The Exped Megamat 10 sleeping pad has the highest R-value and is therefore the most insulated sleeping pad. This is helped by all the foam surrounding the air pad.
However, this pad is for campers only.
For backpackers, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm pad has the highest R-value and will be plenty for most winter situations.
If you’re not backpacking in very cold weather, all of these pads will be warm enough for your trip. And you can always bring some extra foam to place below a sleeping pad to add a little extra insulation.
Easiest sleeping pad to set up and inflate
Sleeping pads can be inflated in a number of ways. Those who are used to more old school camping will be familiar with blowing up the pad with their mouth.
But sleeping pads have advanced a lot and many pads are easy to inflate without having to go red in the face.
Backpacking pads are typically inflated using the sack the sleeping pad comes in. You just need to hook pump sacks up to the valve, open the sack up wide to get plenty of air in, and then close the sack and start crushing the sack. Once you’ve filled the pad to the desired firmness, you just need to chuck your sleeping bag on.
The added benefit of the pump is that it avoids getting any moisture into the sleeping pad from your breath.
Sleeping pads that are easy to set up typically have large sacks that inflate the pad without taking too many pumps with the pad sack.
Overinflating an air pad is a recipe for a poor night’s sleep. Side sleepers will likely wake up with a dead arm. Trying to find the right level of comfort often takes deflating the sleeping pad to the preferred level.
Easy setup here will be helped by gear with good valves that allow you to easily adjust the deflation while you’re lying on the pad.
Self-inflating pads are as simple as using the valves and letting them self-inflate. They’ll then typically need a small top up to get to your preferred level of inflation using the pump sack.
However, bear in mind that these self-inflating pads work best when you store them correctly. This is doubly true given the foam on these pads.
You’ll want to store them inflated at home. This is technically true for all pads, but more so for the self-inflating ones.
Most durable sleeping pad
When we’re spending a pretty penny on a new sleeping pad, we all want it to last a lifetime. But, to be frank, sleeping pads are not known for their durability.
All it takes is the smallest hole for your pad to start deflating during the night. No one likes waking up in the middle of the night with their shoulder and hip digging into the ground. These issues are so common that most sleeping pads come with a repair kit already included.
No sleeping pads win full marks for durability because … this is the nature of all sleeping pads. But some choices certainly are more durable than others.
What makes a sleeping pad durable? Generally, thicker materials and good build quality. Thin materials risk tears on rocks or twigs resulting in a leak.
The Exped Megamat 10 pad is the most durable sleeping pad in our review. This is thanks to its high denier materials (50D nylon and 75D polyester) and the foam padding that you often see in the heavier camping pads.
However, the backpacking pads try to avoid using materials this thick to avoid adding too much weight.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm is the most durable backpacking sleeping pad and comes with a 70D nylon and 30D ripstop nylon materials.
The rest of these hiking and backpacking pads typically come with 30D nylon or a 30D and 40D nylon combination.
The one exception here is the NEMO Tensor pad. This comes with very thin materials – 20D nylon. And you can tell. It feels very fragile when you’re handling it, to the point that I would consider putting something under it to avoid tearing. Unless you’re an ultralight fan, I probably wouldn’t pick this pad for longevity.
In general, it’s better to go for a big brand rather than the constantly disappearing brands that appear on many marketplaces. Not all big brands are good, but at least the warranty is often more reliable.
The table below shows our reviews for durability.