Sleeping Pads for Families 2024

None of us like the feeling of waking up on a flat air mattress in the middle of the night. We can tough it out, but it still makes for a cruddy night. Sleep is universally accepted to be important, right? Many folks’ number one fear of camping is being unable to sleep. They have good reason! Camping in a tent never quite feels the same as our comfy beds at home, even if you are camping on a flat spot.

Having a fantastic mat or pad to sleep on can make a world of difference in the overall quality of the entire camping trip. For real. Your entire camping trip can go better if everyone can sleep well through the night.

This post will help guide you through our best sleeping pads for families, with budget options and super posh options. First, lets go over a few basic guidelines. You’ll note below that we interchangeably use the term “sleeping pad” and “sleeping mat” – both are used!

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Camping Sleeping Pad Basics

  • Sleeping mats have two basic purposes: 1) keeping you warm; 2) keeping you comfortable.
  • The older the person, the nicer the pad they need. Young children tend to sleep better than adults.
  • Always bring a patch kit along
  • Remove sticks, rocks, and pine cones from under your tent. Put a groundsheet down in shelters.
  • R-Value refers to the level of insulation the pad provides from the ground. If you live somewhere where it is below 60 at night, you want an R-value of at least 2 to be comfortable, even on summer nights. You can layer sleeping mats (say a comfy air mattress over an insulating foam pad) to increase R-values for colder nights or seasons.
A young kids sits in a tent working on blowing up a sleeping pad while a green sleeping pad is already inflated.

Keeping Kids on Sleeping Mats

This is a constant problem for the TMM team. Last summer, I had to literally drag my daughter up the open side of a shelter a few times to get her back on her sleeping mat. A few suggestions that we have:

  • Kids stay put a little better on the foam pads because the surfaces are less slippery.
  • Use a double mat (or a tent floor pad) so there are fewer cracks to fall into.
  • Use a quilt rather than a sleeping bag because those strap (or snap) to the pad. Sleeping bags with a pad sleeve would serve the same purpose.
  • Have less space for kids to move around. If you have a smaller tent, they can’t slide around so much.

Camping Sleeping Pad Types

Self Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self inflating mats are basically a hybrid between and air pad and a foam pad. Generally, these types of pads are made with a shell filled with a varying thickens foam core and a valve. The valve opens and closes to allow air to be drawn into the pad. You can usually help inflate them with a few extra breaths as well.

We like them because even if they get a hole, the foam instead prevents the pad from sinking all the way to the ground. The foam also provides insulation from the cold ground. They tend to be intermediate between air pads and foam pads in both comfort and price (and often weight as well).

Air Pads

An air mattress gets its primary source of support from blowing air into it. There are the classic, large and thick air mattresses as well as lower profile ones designed to be lightweight. Air mattresses have great support but are often colder to sleep on.

Modern air pads have space blanket material (mylar) layered into them to increase R value. This makes some of them really loud, but that is improving with more recent designs. Some newer air pads, like the Exped Ultra 7R, actually have down in them for insulation.

A downside to air filed sleeping pad is that they are VERY uncomfortable if they get a leak in the middle of the night. Because they can be a little fragile, it’s important to carry a repair kit and to sleep in a tent or on a groundsheet, even in a shelter.

Like the noise issue, durability is improving as this becomes a more common type of sleeping mat. These can be really comfortable but lightweight ones with good insulation can be pricey. Although they pack small, they can be kind of heavy.

Foam Pads

Foam mats are made out of a dense foam material. They fold or roll up for storage or transportation. They provide great insulation from the ground. They can range from comfy to very thin and unsupportive. They are stable, which makes them easier for kids to stay on compared to an air filled pad. Usually they are pretty cheap and light, but bulky. Usually people put these on the outside of their packs for backpacking.

Team Favorite Sleeping Pads

Before we dive into the details of some of our best sleeping pads and mats, here are some of our top recommendations for different scenarios. If you are lucky enough to live near an REI or another outdoor gear shop, head on over there and try before you buy to see if the pad will match your sleeping style.

Best Car Camping Sleeping Pads

The Exped Mega Mat 10 gets to the top of the list for the TMM Team. And if you need a double mat, there is an Exped for that too, the Exped MegaMat Duo.

For car camping, Exped is where it’s at for comfort and warmth!

TMM Team Member Cait C.

Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads

The NEMO Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad is a crowd favorite for backpacking. Quiet and comfy! For a double pad, the Big Agnes Double Sleeping Pad is used by some of our backpacking families.

Four tensor sleeping mats in a dark lean-to. Each mat has a sleeping bag on it, and three of the sleeping bags have people lying in them.
TMM Team Member Amanda S.’s family on a recent winter backpacking trip with their Nemo Tensor mats. The adults have wide sized pads and the kids have regular ones. Three of us have Nemo Fillo Elite pillows and my husband (in the orange sleeping bag) has the Nemo Fillo pillow.

Make sure to check out these two posts for some our favorite backpacking gear recommendations: Solo Backpacking with Kids and Family Backpacking: The Gear You Need.

Best Kids Camping Mattress

Folding foam pads like the Thermarest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad and Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad are great options for kids since they are lightweight and since they are not too tall, harder to roll off. Many of our team members use these with their kids for car camping and backpacking.

If they are needing a bit more cushion, a few of us like to use Small Therm-a-Rest self-inflating pads.

Double pads are also great for kids as you can put multiple kids on one pad, and there is less rolling off that can happen. Another option to help kids keep from rolling if is to grab a sleeping bag with a pad sleeve, keeps the sleeping bag on the pad (however, if you have a real wiggler, they will just flip the pad all the way over).

Best Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads

Self-inflating mats have a foam core that sucks in air to self-inflate, use your breath to adjust firmness. Storing these pads can be a little trickier than air filled pads as they like to be stored unrolled, with the valve open. They store well under a bed or behind a couch!

Exped Mega Mat 10

The Exped MegaMat is a huge crowd favorite among the Tales of a Mountain Mama team. It provides a comfortable, bed like sleeping experience for adults that is hard to rival. The pad has a thick, self-inflating foam core that expands into a mattress that it 4 inches thick. That is pretty cushy by car camping standards! It also comes in a duo size.

Pros: Comfortable, good insulation from ground, thick enough to hide roots and rocks, durable, soft, quiet exterior.

Cons: Large, heavy, expensive

Exped MegaMat

UST Fillmatic Sleeping Mat

The Fillmatic Mat from UST also earns high marks for comfort. It is filled with a self-inflating foam, and inflates easily with a clever two way valve. We have one of these mats and it is designed to both inflate and deflate easily. It inflates to a cushy 4 inches. The exterior fabric has a soft, non-slippery feel.

The Fillmatic was designed with clips at each corner to allow you to tether two mats together. This idea works great because it keeps the mats from shifting, but lets each person move around in the night without disrupting someone else’s sleep.

Check out our full review of the UST Fillmatic here!

Pros: Comfortable, thick, good insulation, easy to inflate

Cons: Heavy, expensive, bulky

UST Fillmatic

REI Co-op Campwell Self Inflating Mat

The Campwell Mat from REI earns high marks for its price point and over all comfort in a smaller package. It is 2.5 inches thick when fully inflated, so it is less bulky than the Exped or UST mats when rolled up. Because it is made with a dense foam, it is still comfortable for most folks. This is an ideal mat for good sleepers or kids. Adults who need the ultimate mat should stick with the Exped or UST mats. This mat comes in a regular and extra wide size.

Pros: Packs into a smaller space than the ultra premium mats. Durable exterior. Price is reasonable. Has attachment points for connecting mats.

Cons: Not as thick as the Exped or UST

REI Campwell

REI Co-op Kindercamp Sleeping Pad

This pad from REI is designed just for kids! It has a short, yet relatively wide design to help kids from rolling off in the middle of the night. It is only 1.5 inches thick when inflated, but because children have less mass than adults, they don’t need as thick of a pad until they are 10+. The great feature of this pad is that its smaller size takes up less room in the vehicle and the tent.

Pros: Kid sized, durable

Cons: Will not “grow” with your child; too short for adults

REI Kindercamp

Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite

Therm-a-Rest is the first brand self-inflating pad I ever had. The Trail Lite is their classic self-inflating pad. We have bought short women’s versions at a discount for the kids. It’s also a top TMM recommendation for their comfort, insulation, durability, and price. They take up fairly little space, don’t weigh too much, and can be purchased on sale (sometimes previous season’s models), making them a great option for bargain hunters.

Pros: Lots of size options, durable

Cons: Can be a bit heavy and bulky (but depends on the size)

Thermarest Trail Lite

Best Air Mats for Camping

Best sleeping pads for families

Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad

If vehicle space is at a premium for your family, the Klymit Insulated Pad is the way to go. This is an air-filled pad that inflates with 10-20 breaths This pad packs down into a space smaller than a Nalgene bottle. The unique v-shaped pattern of the pad helps relieve pressure points and discomfort. This is my 13 year old daughter’s favorite pad. The mat inflates to 2.5 inches, and because of the design of the baffles it feels thicker than that.

It does not have a foam core like the self-inflating mats, so if it gets punctured, you are on the ground. We like the insulated version instead of the non-insulated because our camping trips involve cool evenings. If you were camping in a hot climate, the un-insulated version would be fine.

Pros: Super lightweight, space saving, often on sale

Cons: Bouncy, more delicate fabric

Klymit Static V

Big Agnes Insulated Rapide SL Camping Mat

Several members of the Mountain Mama Team have this air pad and like it for their families. They have found it durable and comfortable for both car camping and backpacking. This pad inflates with your breath using the included inflation sack to 3.5 inches–lots of cushion from the ground below!

The pad is designed with thicker rails on outer edges which helps to keep kiddos on their mats in the middle of the night. My husband had a previous version of mat for a long time and the kids complain that it sounds like he is rolling around on a bag of potato chips. I hear that the newer versions are quieter.

Pros: Lightweight, thick cushion, included inflation sack

Cons: “Bouncy” compared to a self-inflating mat, heavy, loud

Big Agnes Rapide SL

NEMO Tensor Trail Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad

I personally have this sleeping mat and totally love it. I used it for a 30-day backpacking trip in Maine in summer 2023 and had no problems with it. We saw many, many thru-hikers with the same mat. It’s quieter than the Big Agnes Q-Core and slightly less warm, but warm enough for our three-season activities.

Pros: Lightweight, thick cushion, included inflation sack

Cons: “Bouncy” compared to a self-inflating mat

Nemo Tensor UL

Foam Camping Mattress

Two of the pads we recommend here are made of closed cell foam. With a closed cell foam pad, that individual pockets of air are permanently trapped and so the pad doesn’t “squish” by taking in or releasing air. Closed cell foam is firmer than open cell foam, but also more durable. The density of the closed cell foam allows it to be shaped with bumps or egg shell patterns which provides pressure relief and a lot of cushion for the size of the pad.

Even if they aren’t your primary mat, these mats also do a great job adding extra warmth to mats with a lower R-value. We use these (and similar mats) under our air mattresses for winter camping. The third pad we recommend is a pretty unique option that is better suited to car camping. It is an open cell foam pad with an integrated sheet and blanket system – better for keeping your kids ON the mat instead of next to it.

Thermarest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

This camping mat is a workhorse for both car campers and backpackers. It folds up compactly, and because of its reflective layer, it also keeps you warm. It has an eggshell-like texture to help avoid pressure points. Pads like this are great to have as an extra padding layer under a thin pad, or as a primary layer for young kids.

Pros: Cheap, easy to store, good R-value

Cons: Thin, narrow, prone to damage if caught on branches

Z-lite

We use the Therm-a-Rest Z pads because they are durable, lightweight, and honestly our kids don’t really need much more. If we do feel like they need inflatable ones then we go with Therm-a-Rest 3/4 pads. I’ve tried so many inflatable pads and the Therm-a-Rest brand is the only one that has held up (I have a couple that are 20 years old!)

TMM Team Member Mary B.

Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad

The Nemo Switchback is a very basic, workhorse mat. We have used it backpacking, car camping, on its own, and layered with another pad. It has an excellent R-value for its weight. It folds up and stores easily. Because of its egg-shell type design it lays flat. It is a bit slippery with certain sleeping bags but we haven’t been too bothered.

Pros: Ultra lightweight, good insulation, comfortable for kids, hard to roll off of

Cons: Narrow, less comfortable for some adults

Switchback

Disc-O-Bed Duvalay Luxury Sleeping Pad

This is a bit of a different type of sleeping mat. It’s an open cell foam pad to use as a mattress on camping cots, but it is thick enough that TMM team member Jami’s kids use it in hotels and when visiting families. She recommends it for car camping as well. This solves a really big issue that many families (including mine) have with kids and camping: it’s impossible to keep children ON the sleeping mat. This has the sheets and blankets integrated into the pad, so the kids can’t fall off. What a great bonus!

The Duvalay comes and children, adult and adult XL sizes!

Pros: Hard to roll off of, comfortable, unzips for easy washing

Cons: Bulky for travel and heavier

Discobed Duvalay Luxure Sleeping Pad

Two Person Sleeping Pads

Sometimes throwing a couple double sleeping pads in the tent means fewer cracks for kids to fall down. If you live in an area that gets cool at night, sleeping pads verses inflatable air mattresses will keep you much warmer. These are the ones we recommend. Note that double sleeping pads are expensive, but the comfort trade-off is worth it.

Double sleeping pads are great for families, as you can get multiple kids and/or adults on one pad!

Make sure to check out our Family Sleeping Bags roundup, they work great on these double pads!

Nemo Roamer Sleeping Pad

This self-inflating double pad is a great option for comfortable camping without having to really rough it or haul your whole bed with you. At just over 7 pounds, it’s not light, but the comfort makes up for it if you prefer to get a really good night of rest in your tent.

Pros: Easy to inflate, large and comfortable.

Cons: Heavy

Nemo Roamer

Big Agnes Double Sleeping Pad

This double pad is a bigger version of our Big Agnes recommended single pad. It is definitely the lightest option, but it is also the most fragile. Bring a patch kit and be aware of sticks or rocks that could potentially put holes in it. I am really intrigued by the combination of this pad and a Big Agnes double sleeping bag for my husband and me… but right now we have to have a boys’ tent and girls’ tent because the kids don’t sleep if they are in a tent alone.

Pros: Light and folds small; no cracks for kids to fall in; tapered shape matches tent taper.

Cons: More fragile

Big Agnes Rapide SL double

Exped MegaMat Duo

As mentioned about the single Exped above, this one is a crowd favorite for good reason. It is very comfortable and warm, but heavy. One of the best for car camping.

Pros: Extremely comfortable, high R-value (8.1), very thick.

Cons: Expensive, hard to store (supposed to lay flat for storage), and heavy.

Exped MegaMat Duo

We love our Exped 2 person for car camping. It easily fits 2 adults and 1 young child or 1 adult and 2 kids. It is thick and comfortable and love that it makes no noise with anyone rolling in the night.

TMM Team Member Cece R.

Klymit Insulated Double V Sleeping Pad

With how much the TMM team loves the Klymit Static V, it’s no surprise that the Double V shows up as a top choice for a double mat. This is a light option (lighter if it isn’t insulated than if it is). However, like the Big Agnes option, it is a bit fragile, so carry a repair kit.

Pros: Super lightweight, space saving, often on sale

Cons: Bouncy, more delicate fabric

Klymit insulated double V

Other Camping Mat Options

This list we have here is not exhaustive, nor do you have to buy a pad to get a good night’s sleep. This list is a gathering of all of our favorite mats, so we can share our experiences with you.

You don’t have to run out and purchase a pad! I know folks who sleep awesomely when they camp because they bring a memory foam mattress with them! We have never had room for that, but if you did, it would be a great, cheap option. Similarly, my in laws like to put an air mattress in tents when they camp. They already have air mattresses for guests, and that works well for them for camping.

If you have a lot of blankets and sleeping bags, but not many camping mats, you can always layer a bunch of bedding to make a cozy sleeping nest for your kiddos.

The best sleeping mat option is ultimately the one that you sleep well on and you can afford. Because sleep is so critical for my husband and me, and we backpack and bike pack a lot, we tend to be more concerned about weight of tents and sleeping bags than sleeping mats (and pillow); the good sleep is too important to sacrifice. Whatever you decide to buy, make sure you test it out at home before departure!

At the end of the day, every body needs to sleep. Here is hoping you find some options that help provide the foundation for a good night’s sleep for your next camping trip.

Best Pillows for Camping

Since sleeping mats and pillows often go hand-in-hand, we wanted to provide some team recommendations for pillows as well. Pillows come broadly in three categories: inflatable, cushioned, or hybrid. Hybrid pillows have some cushioning and also inflate. Cushioned pillows can also include stuffing your clothes in a pillowcase or stuff sack and calling it a day.

You don’t need to buy fancy equipment if weight doesn’t matter, like in car camping situations. Many TMM families like to use Squishmallows for their pillows for their kids when they are camping. Other families take their pillows from home.

Best Pillows for Backpacking

For backpacking, weight really matters, so we recommend inflatable or hybrid pillows.

Nemo Fillo Elite

At the moment, my kids and I have the Nemo Fillo Elite (a hybrid pillow). The Fillo Elite is wonderfully comfortable and a similar weight. Last summer the kids got so jealous of my Fillo Elite that they saved up their gift money and allowance to buy their own this winter.

Nemo Fillo

Klymit Pillow X

We previously used Klymit Pillow X (an inflatable pillow). The main thing going for the Klymit Pillow X is that it is very, very light.

Klymit Pillow X

Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase

If you are happy to stuff clothes in a stuff sack, the Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase could be a good alternative that weighs just a little but adds a lot of comfort.

Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase

Luxury Option: Nemo Fillo

My husband always struggles to sleep when we are camping, so he splurged on a heavier and more comfortable pillow: the Nemo Fillo. Instead of a thin padding layer, this hybrid has a thick layer of foam on top of the inflatable bit. It is really, really comfortable, but weighs a lot more than the other options.

Nemo Fillo

Best Pillows for Car Camping

If you are car camping and choose not to take your Squishmallow or a regular pillow from home, you have more options to choose from. Any of the backpacking pillows above will work, but you want something potentially more comfortable, here are some other TMM Team recommendations. The options below are largely cushioned pillows, but I do include one hybrid.

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow gets rave reviews from several TMM members, but they say that it can be a little bulky to pack up.

Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow

L. L. Bean Flannel Camp Pillow

The L. L. Bean Flannel Camp Pillow is another long-time TMM Team favorite. Like other cushioned pillows, it can be bulky to pack.

LL Bean camp pillow

REI Trailmade Mummy Bag Pillow

The REI Trailmade Mummy Bag Pillow has a unique shape that makes it fit better inside the hood of mummy sleeping bags. This can be a real bonus if you tend to lose your pillow overnight (especially off slippery sleeping mats).

REI Trailmade Mummy Bag Pillow

Klymit Luxe Camping Pillow

Like the Nemo Fillo that my husband loves so much, the Klymit Luxe Camping Pillow has good cushioning on top of an inflatable pillow. This improves the comfort significantly, making it a top team recommendation.

Klymit Luxe Pillow

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Best Sleeping Pads for Families 2024

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Authors

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  • Rita Muller is a born and raised Vermont girl and mom of five children (yes, she knows one is missing in the photo below – she’s working on that!) She works and plays from the northeastern corner of her tiny state. She likes to think that Vermont is small but mighty. Living one hour from the largest mountains in the Northeast and a major part of the Appalachian Trail is a constant source of outdoor adventure ideas. She divides her time between cooking, chicken wrangling, gardening, teaching her children, trail running, hiking, backpacking, and getting outdoors to camp and explore WITH her children. She and her husband Ryan have a deep love of the outdoors that they seek to share with their children, even though it might look different than adventuring with adults.

  • Amanda, her husband, Josh, and their children, Colby and Lua, live in Oberlin, OH where Amanda is a Geosciences professor at Oberlin College. Amanda's parents live in New Hampshire and so they spend a lot of time there as well. They take advantage of homeschooling to maximize outdoors time for everyone. Amanda grew up in Hong Kong and spent summers in New Hampshire, where she found her love for nature. Pursuing a PhD in geosciences to study why Earth looks the way it does and how people change those processes was a natural outgrowth of her love for being outside. Their outdoor sports sort of follow seasons: the winter they love to ski, in the fall they race cyclocross, in the spring they ride bikes on day trips, and in the summer they rock climb, bike tour, take overnight canoe trips, and backpack.

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