The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus
The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus (courtesy, Cascade Designs)

What’s the best sleeping pad?

What type of sleeping pad is best for backpacking, the self-inflating or the tubular kind? Also what's the best, thickest pad out on the market? Rich Sycamore, IL

The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus
Doug Gantenbein

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Far and away, the self-inflating kind. Not so much due to comfort, but because the old-style “air mattress” you're thinking of are co-o-ld. Self-inflating pads have insulation. This is a key factor in almost all conditions, as ground is cold almost everywhere.

The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus

The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus The Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus


The other big factor is weight. In my mind you want about the lightest pad you can find. I really like REI's Lite-Core 1.5 ($75). It's pretty comfy, and weighs only 27 ounces in the full-length version. The Cascade Designs' Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus ($100) also is an excellent lightweight pad.

Now, as for comfort, probably the best out there is the Exped Downmat 9 ($199 in full-length). That's because it's an air mattress with a down filling. The down offers insulation and some cushioning. Very plush. But…weight is around three pounds.

A good alternative is to combine a very light self-inflating pad (even a ¾-length version) with a light foam pad, such as the Cascade Designs Z-Lite ($40). It's a very light (14 ounces in full-length; 10 in ¾) foam pad that really gives a single pad a comfort boost.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Cascade Designs

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