A restful night in the backcountry starts with a dependable sleeping pad. Unlike backpackers who rank weight above most else, packability, price and pleasure tend to be more critical metrics for paddlers when choosing a pad. Here are five top inflatable pads that prioritize creature comforts while minimizing bulk, perfect for your next kayak camping adventure.
Sea To Summit // Ether Light XT Extreme
Clever construction for all seasons, Sea To Summit’s Etherlight XT Extreme features an R-value of 6.2 and four inches of opulent comfort. Our tester is the women’s version, built with narrow shoulders and wider hips than the unisex size. This toasty platform minimizes convection heat loss with internal Thermolite insulation and is as about as snug as it gets for cold nights while minimizing bulk. Packed up, the Etherlight XT Extreme has the largest silhouette of the pads we tested here by just a small margin—shaped more like a 1.5-pound loaf of Wonder Bread than a water bottle. Sea To Summit’s innovative stuff sack design doubles as the inflation pump bag. It’s a remarkably efficient bag, getting the Ether Light XT filled with just three bags of air, the fastest inflation of all the designs tested here.
$199.95 USD | seatosummitusa.com
Thick, lightweight and also the most compact of the pads reviewed here. Big Agnes’ Q-Core Insulated SLX inflates to a bump-banishing 3.5 inches and features even chunkier 4.25-inch-thick outer rails to keep you comfortably cradled all night long. The 20-inch width of our tester model is best for side sleepers and lithe paddlers, while larger paddlers and back sleepers will want to opt for the 25-inch-wide option. Open the inflation valve and peek inside; you’ll see a reflective layer, part of the Q-Core’s toasty silver insulation system that gives this pad a cozy R-value of 3.2, welcome on late summer nights around the Paddling Magazine office. We found Big Agnes’ upcycled inflation bag a bit stiff and low volume; it took eight repetitions to inflate the pad using it. We’d leave the inflation bag at home and blow up the pad with some old-fashioned huffing and puffing. Antimicrobial treatment keeps the pad’s interior microorganism-free if you choose this route.
$149.95 USD | bigagnes.com
A lightweight, full-size sleeping pad is the height of luxury on trip and Klymit’s Static V Luxe SL summer pad delivers. Named for its V-shaped air chambers, these diagonal baffles create comfortable, 3.5-inch-high pods of heavenly support. Our tester measured in at a spacious 27 inches wide—perfect for bigger paddlers or those camping with a snuggly furry friend. The Static V’s raised side rails make it easy to stay on the pad through the night, even if you toss and turn, and its 30-denier polyester fabric is soft and quiet even if you’re prone to flopping around. A slight taper at the foot of the pad trims its weight down to a respectable 1.3 pounds. Rolls up into a tidy Nalgene-sized sack, especially notable given its broader inflated size. With an R-value of 1.5, the Static V Luxe is best paired with summer adventures.
$119.95 USD | klymit.com
Suited to most year-round exploits, Exped’s Synmat UL Winter is a lightweight, lofty pad that packs down into an impressively small 5- by 9-inch silhouette given its toasty R-value of 5.2. Rated for temps down to -4F (-18C), our tester provides far more insulation than most kayakers will ever need—but it does so while tipping the scales at just over a pound in a standard 72- by 20-inch size. If you’re looking for one sleeping pad that can handle most overnight adventures, the Synmat UL Winter is a strong contender. Exped’s Schnozzel Pumpbag system is an editor favorite. It’s intuitive to use and blows up this voluminous pad in about five bags of air. A small but thoughtful design feature we’re big fans of is the stuff sack’s hidden pocket storing a tiny repair kit, so it doesn’t get accidentally lost or left behind. Another thoughtful feature we love? New this year, Exped’s mats are carbon neutral.
$179 USD | exped.com
Experts at crafting industry-leading pads, Therm-a-Rest elevates their NeoAir line to new heights with the Topo Luxe. Pairing luxury with hatch-friendly compression, the Topo Luxe offers a lofty four inches of insulated comfort for an R-value of 3.7. The wizards at Therm-a-Rest have made a pad comfortable enough for car camping but designed with backcountry portability in mind. Made without bulky fill materials, our tester model in regular 20- by 72-inch size is just a titch larger than a Nalgene when packed. The topside fabric is soft nylon featuring a cool topo map design—soft and comfortable next to skin. Despite the large volume of the provided inflation sack, it took us about 10 repetitions to get the pad to optimal fill, likely due to the cotton sack not being air-tight. Available in several lengths, including a roomier wide option.
$149.95 USD | thermarest.com
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Sleep(n): A time machine to breakfast. | Photo: Kaydi Pyette