Sleeping Pads for Bikepacking: How to Choose, Use, and Carry Your Portable Bed

Sleeping under the stars on a bikepacking trip can be peaceful, awe-inspiring, and empowering! But it can also be a special kind of hell without the right sleeping pad.

Yep, I’ve been there! It can feel like the sun will never rise when you’re tossing, turning, and shivering through those early morning hours.

I often see new bikepackers put a lot of thought into their sleeping bag choice while neglecting their sleeping pad. But the pad is an equally important part of a comfortable sleep system. The absolute best sleeping pad for bikepacking – if it existed – would be comfy, warm, durable, feather-light, and ultra-compressible. It would also be cheap. But since this unicorn doesn’t exist, we have to navigate the tradeoffs.

This post covers everything you need to make your backcountry bed choice: what makes a sleeping pad good for bikepacking, top sleeping pad models and what they do (and don’t) excel at, and that most ubiquitous of all bikepacking-related questions: where to carry the darn thing on your bike.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post. Buying through them provides me with a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps keep this site running and growing.

Summary: Top Sleeping Pads

If you’re in a hurry, here are my recommendations for bikepacking sleeping pads in a number of categories:

Read on for the details of each pad, plus hard-earned tips for getting the most out of your sleeping pad while bikepacking.

What to Look For

Before jumping into the top sleeping pad models, let’s quickly talk about what to look for as you make your choice.

Warmth / R-Value: Sleeping pads aren’t just about comfort, they also prevent us from losing body heat to the cold ground. (Sleeping bag insulation, when squished beneath our bodies, doesn’t help much.) A pad’s R-value measures how well it resists heat transfer between your body and the ground, in other words, how well it keeps you warm on a cold night.

Sleeping pad R-values range from around 1 at the low end (adequate for a warm summer night) to 7 or higher (for winter-weather adventures). Most three-season bikepackers should aim for an R-value between 3 and 5, and 4+ is best if you sleep cold or adventure in chilly climates.

Cushion: This is subjective, but a thicker and softer pad is generally more comfortable. Side sleepers are especially prone to aches and pains from a too-thin sleeping pad, but the details will depend on your body.

Weight: All other things being equal, lighter is better. Who prefers to ride a heavier bike? The quest for lighter weight is generally what limits a pad’s ability to excel in other key areas like comfort, R-value, and durability, so there will always be tradeoffs here.

Packability: Perhaps even more than backpackers, bikepackers care about compressibility and shape. A classic bikepacking bag setup involves lots of awkwardly shaped little bags and few good places for bulky objects.

Durability: Anyone who’s spent a night on a leaky sleeping pad knows how important durability is! Punctures are always a possibility with inflatable pads, but it’s worth thinking about any special needs you may have in the durability department (like spikey desert foliage or rocky ground).

Inflation type: Most sleeping pads in this list are inflatable, meaning you blow them up. Self-inflating pads contain foam insulation that expands on its own as air is sucked in, but these are usually heavier and not as popular for bikepacking or backpacking. Some inflatable pads have fancy lightweight pump methods to save your breath (and prevent mold and mildew inside), but it’s also not a big deal to blow them up with your lungs. Personally I find this consideration less important than all the others above.

Sometimes a sleeping pad should be as light as possible, like here during the Pinyons and Pines bikepacking race.

Top Sleeping Pads for Bikepacking

Below are six sleeping pads that excel in different ways, but all are excellent choices for the right type of bikepacker. I’ve focused on the best of the best: lightest, comfiest, warmest, and cheapest (but not all in the same pad, unfortunately) so you can make a confident choice based on your priorities and riding style.

All the sleeping pads in this list are marketed as backpacking pads, in contrast to the heavier and bulkier pads best suited to car camping. I don’t know of any sleeping pads specifically optimized for bike travel, which is fine because our needs for comfort, warmth, and packability are pretty much the same as for backpackers.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite – best all around

Price: $200
Weight: 12 oz (regular size)
R-value: 4.2 (5.4 for women’s version)
Thickness: 2.5″
Type: inflatable air pad

The NeoAir XLite from Therm-a-Rest is the gold standard for a lightweight-but-still-comfy sleeping pad. If the high price isn’t too problematic, the XLite is my top recommendation. Anecdotally it seems to be the most popular sleeping pad among weight-conscious backpackers, and it’s perfect for bikepackers too thanks to its small packed size (about the same as a 1 liter water bottle).

I’ve been using a NeoAir XLite for eight years. The first finally developed a sneaky slow leak after 7 years, so I recently replaced it with the women’s version (shorter and warmer for the same weight). The XLite also comes in large, wide, and short (torso-length) versions.

Many people have commented that the XLite is crinkly and noisy when you move around on it, due to the metallic insulation inside. The pad does make a little noise but I’ve never found it problematic, even during many nights of sharing a tent with my husband (both of us on XLite pads). My newer version seems quieter than my original from 8 years ago.

Pros:

  • Excellent warmth and comfort for the weight
  • Packs down very small
  • 2.5″ thickness is appreciated by side sleepers
  • WingLock one-way valve and pump bag make inflating easy
  • Comes in multiple sizes including wide and torso-length

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Narrow profile may feel too slim for some people (but it comes in a wide version)
  • Vulnerable to punctures and the occasional frustrating slow leak
  • Makes crinkly noises (more recent model is better)
Woman in bivy sack drinking coffee on bikepacking trip
Breakfast in bed with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad.

NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad – most affordable and durable

Price: $55
Weight: 14.5 oz (regular size)
R-value: 2
Thickness: 0.9″
Type: closed-cell foam pad

If the price of the NeoAir XLite made your eyes water, consider the NEMO Switchback. Closed-cell foam pads offer the best balance of weight and affordability, plus they’re nearly indestructible (no risk of punctures) and can be tossed down as a sit pad pretty much anywhere.

The NEMO Switchback is considered an excellent closed-cell foam pad for its superior balance of thickness, small folded size, and light weight compared to its closest competitors (like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL).

There are three main drawbacks of closed-cell foam sleeping pads for bikepacking. First, they’re not very warm, so they’re a poor choice if you like high-alpine or shoulder season adventures. Second, they’re not very comfortable. Personally I can’t sleep on them.

Lastly and importantly for bikepackers, they’re bulky! The Switchback folds down relatively small for its category, but it’s still a blocky 20 x 5.5 x 5″ at its smallest. You’ll need to strap it to your handlebars or seat bag if you don’t run a rack (see Carrying a Sleeping Pad below) which can be tricky if you also carry a tent.

A word of warning: I’ve seen new bikepackers start out with this kind of pad because the price is so tempting, only to upgrade after a few trips because they were so uncomfortable. Spry young folks with excellent biomechanics can get away with a closed-cell pad, but the rest of us – especially side sleepers – usually need more cushion for a good night’s sleep.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Failsafe, can’t leak or be punctured
  • Quick and easy setup

Cons:

  • Thin and hard
  • Not very warm; R-value of 2 is on the low side for spring or fall conditions
  • Bulky and hard to fit in a bikepacking setup

Klymit Static V2 – best budget inflatable pad

Price: $70
Weight: 16 oz (regular size)
R-value: 1.3 (higher for insulated version)
Thickness: 2.5″
Type: inflatable air pad

My very first sleeping pad was a Klymit Static V, and their updated V2 model is still a favorite with budget-minded bikepackers and backpackers. For less than half the cost of a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir, the Static V2 offers comparable pad thickness at a 4 ounce weight penalty and similar packed size.

The biggest issue with the Static V2: its measly R-value of only 1.3. It’s a summer-only pad, and this is the main reason I eventually upgraded to the NeoAir XLite after too many chilly shoulder-season nights. There is an insulated version of the Static V that’s 9 ounces heavier and has a claimed R-value of 4.4, making it a more direct (though much heavier) comparison to the XLite. (Note: Klymit’s claimed R-values don’t match up with the ASTM standard R-values, in part because their design enhances insulation from your sleeping bag which isn’t measured by the standard. Here’s their explanation.).

If you want a decent entry-level sleeping pad for bikepacking in mild conditions, the Static V2 (or insulated Static V for cooler weather) is a great affordable choice.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Quieter than NeoAir pads, no crinkly noises
  • Decently lightweight and small for the price

Cons:

  • Uninsulated version is not very warm
  • Vulnerable to punctures and the occasional frustrating slow leak

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite – best ultralight pad

Price: $220
Weight: 8.8 oz (regular size)
R-value: 2.3
Thickness: 2.5″
Type: inflatable

If you’re counting every ounce, the NeoAir UberLight is the most minimal sleeping pad in Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir lineup. Its design is similar to the XLite but somehow shaves 4 ounces and packs down even smaller, to an incredible 6×3.5″ compared to the XLite’s 9×4″. The torso-length small size, if you’re into that (more on this option below) weighs in at a truly impressive 6 oz.

Ultralight gear usually comes with tradeoffs, and the UberLite seems to be no exception. Many reviewers say they need to add a few puffs of air several times a night as the pad slowly deflates. I’ve been in this position with other pads that developed slow leaks, and while it’s not my favorite thing, it doesn’t actually bother me much since I wake a few times per night anyway.

The UberLite also sacrifices considerable warmth with its 2.3 R-value, making it more of a summer pad than the more versatile XLite.

If you’re on the fence between the XLite and UberLite, consider your use case. For most bikepackers needing all-around reliable performance in a variety of conditions, I would recommend the XLite. It’s a more robust and reliable pad that can handle colder nights, and it’s still crazy-light compared to the competition.

But if you’re racing and just need a place to rest your weary bones for a few hours at a time, the torso-length UberLite might be just the thing. Surely adding a few puffs of air in the middle of the night is still better than sleeping on a foam sit pad, which is the only way you’re going to beat the UberLite’s 6 oz weight.

Pros:

  • The lightest, period
  • 2.5″ thickness is appreciated by side sleepers
  • WingLock one-way valve and pump bag make inflating easy
  • Comes in multiple sizes including wide and torso-length

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • Users report that it gradually loses air even with no punctures
  • Narrow profile may feel too slim for some people (but it comes in a wide version)
  • Vulnerable to punctures and the occasional frustrating slow leak
  • Makes crinkly noises

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm – best for cold weather

Price: $230
Weight: 15 oz (regular size)
R-value: 6.9
Thickness: 2.5″
Type: inflatable

If you adventure in winter weather or gnarly high-alpine 3-season conditions, the NeoAir Xtherm can’t be beat for its warmth-to-weight ratio. With an R-value of 6.9 and a weight of only 14 ounces, it’s the perfect sleeping pad for lightweight all-season bike travel.

The Xtherm is basically a more insulated version the Xlite, so it comes with similar drawbacks, notably the narrow shape (for some people) and an even higher price tag. Of course it also offers the same big advantages: 2.5″ thickness that’s side-sleeper-friendly, WingLock valve, and excellent warmth-to-weight ratio.

If you’re on the fence between the Xtherm and XLite, consider that the XLite is already fairly warm for an inflatable pad. I use my XLite in sub-freezing temps from time to time and it’s usually not the limiting factor in my setup. If you’re 5’5″ or shorter, the women’s version of the XLite (R-value 5.4) is a great middle ground. But if you plan to do some serious all-season bikepacking, the Xtherm is as cozy as it gets and still weighs less than many 3-season inflatable pads.

Pros:

  • Super warm!
  • Excellent warmth-to-weight and warmth-to-space ratios
  • 2.5″ thickness is appreciated by side sleepers
  • WingLock one-way valve and pump bag make inflating easy
  • Comes in multiple sizes including wide and large

Cons:

  • Expensive!!
  • Narrow profile may feel too slim for some people (but it comes in a wide version)
  • Vulnerable to punctures and the occasional frustrating slow leak
  • Makes crinkly noises

Exped Ultra 5R Sleeping Pad – most luxurious

Price: $190
Weight: 20 oz (regular size)
R-value: 4.8
Thickness: 3″
Type: inflatable

Exped is known for their quality outdoor gear and comfortable sleeping pads in particular. I tried one once, when a fellow bikepacker and I decided to swap for the sake of curiosity. It was noticeably plusher and cradled my body better than my NeoAir XLite. Apparently she thought so too, because after a few minutes she wanted it back! The tradeoff was clear: I’d rather have my NeoAir XLite while riding and her Exped while sleeping.

What makes Exped mats feel luxurious? Compared to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir line the Exped pads are thicker, and some use a rectangular shape (as opposed to a narrow mummy profile) which makes them feel wider. The vertical baffles compress slightly when weighted, making the pad feel a bit indented in the middle for a nice stable feeling.

I’ve chosen the Exped Ultra 5R here because it strikes a good balance between features and weight, but it’s squarely in the middle of Exped’s lineup. The Ultra 7R uses goose down to achieve an R-value of 7 for just two extra ounces, while the Dura 8R ups the thickness to a plush 3.5″ if you don’t mind carrying a 2 pound pad. Exped also offers lighter and less warm options for summer adventures, as well as mummy-shaped pads, all with the same design of vertical baffles and 3″ minimum thickness.

At 20 ounces the Ultra 5R is the heaviest sleeping pad in this list. But for just 4 ounces more than the Klymit Static V2 (and of course an extra $120) you’re getting a much more comfortable pad that can be used in cold conditions where the Static V2 just wouldn’t cut it.

I’ve met a few long-haul bicycle travelers who love their Exped pads, and I think they work especially well for that scenario. If you’ll be sleeping on your pad for the better part of a few years, in all-season weather, and you’re not running an ultralight setup, the Exped Ultra 5R is a great choice. It could also be worth the weight for any bikepacker who has trouble sleeping comfortably in a tent.

Pros:

  • Thickest pad in the list
  • Comfortable vertical baffles feel plush and keep body centered on pad
  • Quite warm (with options for higher or lower R-value)

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • On the heavy side

Short Length Sleeping Pads

If you’re into ultralight bikepacking or bikepack racing, you may be curious about short-length sleeping pads. Some ultralight hikers swear by a torso-length pad with their backpack under their legs and feet. Bikepackers don’t usually have a large backpack, but we can still use torso-length pads in some situations.

In warm summer conditions or when moving fast is more important than comfort, a torso-length pad saves meaningful bulk and weight for minimal sacrifice. If you’re riding all day and part of the night you’ll be too tired to even notice the missing bottom half! A space blanket or rain jacket could be used as a lightweight ground sheet under the legs in place of a backpack.

Therm-a-Rest offers short versions of their NeoAir XLite and UberLight inflatable pads, as well as their Z Lite foldable foam pad. The UberLight Short weighs an impressively light 6 ounces, surely the best balance of comfort and weight savings on the market. For a more affordable but arguably less comfortable solution, any closed-cell foam pad can be cut down to your desired length.

Are Expensive Pads Worth It?

At first glance the prices of higher-end models like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir might seem surprising. All we need is something soft to lie on, right? As an enthusiastic proponent of affordable gear, I totally get it.

But after spending hundreds of nights in my tent, I’m here to tell you that a quality sleeping pad is absolutely worth the cost. You’re not paying extra just for brand prestige or small business charm; the more expensive models really are lighter, warmer, and comfier.

If you can spare the money and plan to use the pad a lot (either often or for a long time), I recommend getting the nicest pad you can afford. Sleep quality can truly make or break a trip, and longer multi-week trips become virtually impossible if you can’t get a good night’s sleep in your tent.

Another way to think about it: say you spend $200 on a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for a two month tour of the Great Divide. That’s $100 per month even if you never use the pad again, and you might sleep on it for 20 nights each month during that trip. Consider that just one night in a hotel is likely to cost about $100, the same as a month’s use of your pad. From that perspective the cost of the sleeping pad is quite reasonable!

On the other hand, if money is tight and you plan to use the pad for occasional short trips, an affordable option could make a lot of sense. Do what you gotta do to get out there and go bikepacking.

Carrying A Sleeping Pad on Your Bike

Now that you have your bikepacking sleeping pad, where should you pack it on your bike? While not quite as challenging as finding a spot for your tent or carrying lots of water, packing a sleeping pad into a tight bikepacking setup still takes some thought.

Every setup is unique and you’ll have to find what works for your bike and gear, but here are ideas to get you started:

Fork cage: Inflatable sleeping pads fit nicely into a gear cage or oversized bottle cage on the front fork. Be sure to protect it from abrasions with a durable dry bag or other container. When I carry my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite on my fork I use a Blackburn Outpost bottle cage, 25″ Voile strap, and a RockBros 2L dry bag (just barely fits) for protection.

Top of seat bag: If your seat bag has shock cord on top (or you rig your own strap) a small inflatable sleeping pad can fit nicely just behind your saddle. Some people can also fit an accordion-fold foam pad here, either parallel to the seat bag or even across it perpendicularly.

Front of handlebar roll: Folding closed-cell foam pads often work well strapped to the front of a handlebar roll. They take up a lot of space, but they’re not heavy enough to affect steering much.

Inside sleeping bag roll: When riding with an inflatable pad, lightweight sleeping quilt, and bivy, I roll them all up in a “bivy burrito” and slide it into my handlebar bag. Bonus: saves time with camp setup and strike. This only works with my most minimalist setup, otherwise it’s too bulky to fit in the handlebar bag.

Backpack: Not everyone likes bikepacking with a backpack, but on technical terrain and for small riders it’s often the only option. An inflatable sleeping pad can fit inside a larger hydration pack and won’t be too heavy on the shoulders. I’ve even seen people strap an accordion-fold foam pad to the outside of their backpack.

Tips for Inflatable Sleeping Pads

Finally, a few hard-earned words of wisdom about inflatable sleeping pads and bikepacking.

Carry the patch kit. On every trip. You’ll thank me later. To find the leak, inflate and submerge in still water (bathtub, lake, cow trough) and look for bubbles.

Fine-tune air pressure for comfort. Inflatable pads can feel very different depending on how much air is in them. A full pad will be firm and warm but can feel unstable and hard. A slightly deflated pad will cradle your body and allow space for shoulders and hips to sink in, and is often preferred by side sleepers. Experiment to see what works best.

Adjust air pressure in changing temperatures. Cold air is denser and takes up less space in an inflatable pad, so what seems like a slow leak might just be changing temperature. If you blow up your pad in the afternoon sun, be sure to add a few more puffs of air when you crawl into your tent in the cool evening.

Protect with an additional layer when attaching an inflatable pad to the outside of bike bags. If you lay your bike down in rough gravel, the little stuff sack the pad came with won’t do much to protect it.

Choose your campsite carefully. Inflatable pads are vulnerable to punctures, so check the area carefully for rough or sharp things before laying down your pad. Desert foliage is notorious for popping pads, but it can happen anywhere.

Consider a foam layer for desert bikepacking. In the thorn-ridden deserts of Arizona, for example, chances of puncture are high no matter how well you prep your site. Some folks choose a closed-cell foam pad for this reason, but if you can’t sleep comfortably on one, consider adding a thin foam pad like the Gossamer Gear Thinlight (which I used during my AZT thru hike) underneath your inflatable pad.

Comparison Table

PadPriceWeightR ValueThickness
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite$20012 oz4.22.5″
NEMO Switchback$5514.5 oz20.9″
Klymit Static V2$7016 oz1.32.5″
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite$2208.8 oz2.32.5″
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm$23015 oz6.92.5″
Exped Ultra 5R Sleeping Pad$19020 oz4.83″

In Conclusion

These are just a few of many possible sleeping pads for bikepacking. You’ll find plenty of other middle-of-the-road options — moderately light, somewhat affordable, comfy-ish — from a number of brands. But this post highlights the best of the best in each category, the pads I feel comfortable recommending to any bikepacker depending on their specific needs.

If you’re still on the fence and need an all-around great lightweight sleeping pad for bikepacking, you can’t go wrong with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (or, if you’re under 5’5″ tall and sleep cold, the women’s version). It’s been my primary pad for over eight years of bikepacking and backpacking. I recommend it to anyone unless specific circumstances (winter bikepacking, budget constraints, etc.) dictate otherwise.

I hope this article helps you choose the perfect sleeping pad for your bikepacking adventures, and I wish you many peaceful, warm, comfy nights under the stars.

More Bikepacking Resources

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve traveled over 17,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more or say hi.

Bikepacker’s Companion eBook

Your experienced riding buddy in eBook form: 140 mobile-friendly pages packed with how to’s, problem solving tips, and hard-earned wisdom from the trail and road.

Excited to try bikepacking but need help getting started? The Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook can help you take the next step.

Bike resources in your inbox?

There’s more where this came from! Sign up here for occasional emails full of inspiration and information about bikepacking and bicycle touring.

Share the Adventure

If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing so more people can benefit from it:

You might also like my other project:

Town Day Checklist!

Sign up to receive the free downloadable bikepacking town day checklist to help with your resupply stops:

    You’ll also receive occasional emails with other bikepacking and touring resources. I think you’ll like them, but you can unsubscribe at any time.

    1 thought on “Sleeping Pads for Bikepacking: How to Choose, Use, and Carry Your Portable Bed”

    Leave a Comment

    Item added to cart.
    0 items - $0.00

    0 Shares
    Pin
    Share
    Tweet