When you have to spend five to six months on the road for a long-distance hiking session, what you have to carry with you from one point to another is of the utmost importance. Of course, you’ll be making supply stops along the way, but if there’s one thing you’re going to need on at all times, it’s a sleeping pad to snooze in at night. Just any old sleeping pad won’t cut it – you need an option with the insulating capacities suited to the type of weather in your environment or the hiking season you’ve picked so you keep warm through the night.
If you’re going to be sleeping over rocky terrain, a sleeping pad capable of handling the bumps without puncturing or bottoming out is imperative, especially one that’s long and wide enough to comfortably cushion your frame and support your body so your sleeping posture remains healthy. And crucially, as well as meeting all your requirements in holding up under prolonged use and environmental conditions, your sleeping pad must also be portable and lightweight, since it is an item you’re going to be carrying at all times through your session. Fortunately, we’ve been able to find a couple of options meeting all these criteria, shortlisted for your perusal below.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Ultralight Air Mattress
Thru hiking is a single season activity, usually scheduled during the warmer months, but it’s bound to get chilly at night and depending on where you are, during the day too, so it’s better to be prepared for the unpredictable turns the weather might take. Our top pick lets you do just that, designed specifically for use by backpackers and mountaineers. Available in three sizes, the inflatable mattress is, as the name suggests, incredibly lightweight, the regular sized option weighing just 12 ounces. When empty, it can easily be folded up and rolled into roughly the size of a one-liter water bottle; this not only saves an incredible amount of space in your baggage, but also doesn’t lump on some additional weight for you to lug about.
With an R-value of 3.2 (great for 3-season backpacking activities), the reflective, trademark ThermaCapture technology works to trap heat inside the mat while the mattress’ Triangular Core Matrix construction keeps heat loss on the down low as you sleep at night, all without bulky materials to add extra pounds to your baggage, making it one of the most impressive in terms of warmth to weight payoff ratio.
At 2.5 inches (6 cm) thickness, the mattress is cushy and soft when inflated and comfortable to snuggle down in, structured out of soft-to-the-touch and skin-friendly fabrics, with a nylon core and high-tenacity nylon top and bottom covering ensuring both a very durable and heavy-duty mattress as well as a soft and breathable one. The baffled interior works to hold heat and air in, providing you proper stability and support as you lay back on the mattress. A multi-award winning pad, this air mattress comes with its own repair kit and stuff sack so you’re equipped to use it effectively on the go.
KEN’S BUGDET PICK
Klymit Static V Lightweight Sleeping Pad
For the hiker on a budget, this is a great heavy-duty but affordable option to consider for your thru hiking needs. Another inflatable option, the sleeping pad weighs just 18.7 ounces, rolling up into dimensions of 3 inches by 8 inches, compact enough to tuck into your backpack when on the go with just 10 to 15 breaths enough to inflate it again for use. Structured out of soft, breathable but highly wear and tear-resistant polyester with an impressive denier rating of 75, the unit comes with an R-value of 1.3 – better suited for use in warmer conditions. Nonetheless, the V-chamber design of the mattress works to trap air and limit air movement, retaining heat and keeping you cozy through the night, while also being ergonomic and comfortable for you to lay back in and keeping your body properly aligned, so you don’t risk waking up sore and stiff the next morning.
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm Lightweight Air Mattress
For a great sleeping pad you can use all year around, not just for thru hiking but also backpacking, camping and mountaineering especially in wintry cold environments, this incredible inflatable mattress has an R-value of 5.7, making it the sleeping pad to reach for if you’re going to be traversing winter landscapes, sleeping in the snow or backpacking during colder months and through chillier trails. The trademark reflective ThermaCapture layers capture and retain heat, similar to our top pick, with the same Triangular Core Matrix construction working to prevent heat loss as you sleep so you’re toasty warm and cozy through the night.
Weighing just 15 ounces (for the regular sized option), and equipped with a stuff sack and repair kit, this sleeping pad is arguably better equipped for use on rough terrain to deter punctures and tears thanks to the high-tenacity nylon bottom cover with a denier rating of 70. The top fabric is also high-tenacity nylon of a lower denier rating, soft and breathable while also being durable and wear- and tear-resistant. Comfy, with a thickness of 2.5 inches and available in two sizes, the weight to warmth ratio of this sleeping pad makes it a no-brainer for heavy-duty outdoor usage, despite the steeper price point than the other options on this list.
Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat
The pad’s trademarked Air Sprung Cell construction works to evenly distribute your weight and pressure to keep your body properly aligned, supported and comfortable, aptly emulating snoozing on your mattress at home, the pocket-sprung structure working better than a baffled interior can in some cases. With an R-value of 3.3, great for use for 3-season outdoor activities, the pad features Exkin Platinum, a reflective non-woven fabric to help retain heat, combined with Thermolite insulation keeping you warm. A few breaths are enough to inflate the unit, weighing 16.9 ounces (for the regular sized option), and is available in 4 sizes.
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thru-hiking
- Backpacker: https://www.backpacker.com/trips/appalachian-trail-thru-hike-gear-list
- The Trek: https://thetrek.co/how-to-thru-hike-appalachian-trail-101-guide/
- Pacific Crest Trail Association: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/thru-hiking-long-distance-hiking/thruhiker-faq/