Update Note: April 2015
We have contacted all of the companies and have confirmed any upgrades or changes, with most of the changes being in regards to colors; any changes have been noted in the reviews. A complete review was performed in October 2014.
Best Overall Women's Sleeping Pad
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
Packs down small
Even warmer than the normal XLite
When weighted, edges tend to collapse
Made from delicate material
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
lives up to its name by being the lightest and smallest sleeping pad we tested. This mattress is so versatile, that it was our lead tester's first choice for all of her adventures. Its compact size and featherlight weight make it a great choice for extended backpacking trips or fast-and-light excursions. The NeoAir XLite is the thickest pad in this review at 2.5 inches and has a warm R value of 3.9 for extended 3 season use. To reduce bulk and achieve the NeoAir XLite's small size and weight, Therm-A-Rest uses patented construction techniques to trap your radiant heat and deflect cold air from the ground without using bulky insulating foam. The XLite is less durable than other models we tested, but when treated right, our testers have gotten years of use out of this excellent pad.
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's
At $69.95, the Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's
is the least expensive pad we have tested, and definitely offers the greatest bang for your buck. The Trail Lite is durable, warm, and comfortable. If you are looking for a good all-around sleeping pad that you can take with you on any trip from car camping, short backpacking trips, winter camping and expedition style camping, this is a great choice. It is a bit on the bulky and heavy side for a backpacking pad. When compared to the Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus - Women's
, the Trail Lite is a close competitor that costs less; the Trail Lite has a warm R value of 4.9 where the ProLite Plus is 4.6. The Trail Lite weighs 6 oz more than the ProLite Plus, but we found the Trail Lite more comfortable to sleep on because it has a slightly wider cut at the feet. We think the Trail Lite Women's provides an outstanding value for a excellent all-around pad.
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's
Top Pick for Comfort
REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's
Great valve system
Light blue shows dirt easily
Difficult to pack
Sleeping on the REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's
is like sleeping on a cloud. One of our testers went as far as to call this pad her "princess bed". Our testers loved this pad because of its cushioning rails that provide a cradling effect. We were surprised at first, because we thought the rails were a bit of a gimmick; but after sleeping on the AirRail we discovered that they are quite comforting. The AirRail is slightly wider than the rest of the pads we tested (23" versus 20") which is great for back sleeping because your arms can stay on the mattress instead of falling off the sides. Side sleepers were also happy with the air rails because they could feel when they were near the edge of the pad. We doubt this pad would stop anyone from rolling off his or her mattress, but it sure is comfortable. The AirRail is also very warm with an R value of 4.2.
Read full review: REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
What's the Difference Between a Men's and Women's Pad?
Women have a different anatomy than men (surprise!) and very often have different sleeping requirements than their male counterparts. It has been scientifically proven that typically, women sleep colder than men. Manufacturers of women's pads have realized this, and have created models that are generally warmer with more insulation added in areas that count, like the torso and foot areas. Women are typically shorter and have narrower shoulders than men, and so pads designed for them have been trimmed down to their size — thus reducing the potential bulk and weight from a larger men's specific mattress.
Veronica Palmer blowing up the Therm-A-Rest ProLite at Thousand Island Lake, CA with the Z Packs Hexamid Duplex in the foreground.
Not Just for Women Anymore
Men are starting to clue into the fact that women's sleeping pads provide a better bang for the buck in terms of weight-to-warmth ratios. All of the women's pads we tested have higher R values than the equivalent men's versions. They are usually the same weight as the men's version, but come in a smaller, more compact packed size. We have spoken to some men who prefer to buy the women's version — especially if they're under 5'6 — because of the higher weight-to-warmth ratio. Some tall men are buying women's pads too, and just putting their backpacks or other gear under their feet for insulation. This is an awesome example of products that have been designed specifically with women in mind, and in turn have become better products.
The women's pads we tested are available in two types of construction. Most of the pads we tested were a self-inflating foam and air construction
, where open cell foam is glued to the top and bottom of the pad's interior. These pads are comfortable and hold their shape well, but are not the most compact.
The one exception is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's
that uses a structurally insulated air core construction
, which is a lot less bulky than foam. It is designed with internal baffles that provide structure and warmth, and then compresses very small.
To learn more about other types of construction used in unisex versions, check out our Best Sleeping Pad Review
Criteria for Evaluation
Snow camping in Alaska with the NeoAir XLite Women's, which has a higher R value than the men's XLite.
The women's pads we tested have R Values ranging from 2.8 (Therm-a-Rest Prolite - Women's
) to 4.9 (Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite - Women's
) and are designed for use primarily in three season conditions — but some can be used for winter temperatures as well.
R value ratings are based on how well a material insulates. R values were originally used by the construction industry to rate home insulation. In the realm of sleeping pads, the R value scale measures how well a pad insulates the sleeper from the cold ground temperature and conserves the convective heat from the sleeper's body warmth. A pad's thickness and the amount of air circulation within affects its R value. Generally, the thicker the pad, the warmer, and the less air circulation the better.
From thickest to thinnest. From bottom to top: Therm-A-Rest's NeoAir XLite Women's, REI AirRail 1.5 Women's, Therm-A-Rest TrailLite Women's & ProLite Plus, Kelty Backpacker (discontinued) and Therm-A-Rest ProLite Women's. Generally the thicker the pad, the warmer.
We evaluated the comfort of these pads on how well we slept on various ground surfaces, including rock solid granite slabs and lumpy sand. In our testers' opinions, the most comfortable pads we tested were the REI AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating - Women's
and the Therm-A-Rest Trail Lite. Not surprisingly, these were two of the thickest mattresses we tested, making them cushy to lay on, especially for side sleepers. We also liked the generous shapes of these mattresses, which were both slightly wider than the others we tested. We especially loved the REI AirRail's "air rails", tubes on each side that made the mattress wider and gave it a cradling effect for back-sleepers.
We think the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is also quite comfortable with its 2.5 inch thickness, but it takes a bit of getting used to because it is bouncier and crinklier than the other pads in this review.
Our side sleeping testers find the REI AirRail comfortable because you can feel the rails so you know where the pad ends, but we do not believe they would stop someone from rolling off the pad.
All of the pads we tested in this review are inflatable, and therefore inherently less durable than closed-cell foam pads that are reviewed in the unisex pad review. We evaluated durability mostly on the toughness of the materials of these pads, which ranged from 30-75 Denier strength fabrics. The Trail Lite Women's features the strongest materials and the NeoAir XLite Women's has the most fragile. That being said, we think the NeoAir XLite is surprisingly durable, and some of our testers have owned this model for many years without incident. Luckily all of the pads we tested are relatively quick and easy to patch.
Another durability factor our testers noticed was the color of the top materials. The lighter colored mattresses like the REI AirRail and the ProLite Women's showed dirt much easier than darker colored mattresses like the ProLite Plus. For the NeoAir this is a non-issue because of its rubbery, cleanable surface. One tester hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail with the women's ProLite, and the bright orange turned an ugly brown by the end. It is also interesting to note that during her 2000+ mile hike she never once had to patch her Prolite pad.
Therm-A-Rest's ProLite Plus has a durable 70 denier fabric and a more rubbery underside that helps it stay in one place, but does tend to pick up more dirt.
For all backpackers, the weight of their gear should be carefully considered. As part of your sleeping system, your pad should be considered part of the big 3 items (shelter, backpack, and sleeping system) that affects pack weight. Choosing these three items carefully can greatly reduce your pack weight, and therefore boost your hiking enjoyment.
Foam weighs more than air, so all the self-inflating foam mattresses can not compete with air core constructed mattresses. Knowing that, the lightest women's pad that we tested by far was the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's, weighing in at a slim 12 oz. The heaviest was the Trail Lite at 27 oz, almost a full pound heavier than the NeoAir.
All of the women's pads we tested came with their own stuff sacks. From L to R: Neo Air, Prolite Plus, REI Air Rail, Prolite, Trail Lite, and a discontinued model from Kelty.
This is another important factor to consider when trying to slim down your pack size. Again, foam insulated mattresses cannot compete with air core construction. The NeoAir XLite Women's has the smallest packed size at 9x4 inches, followed by the Therm-A-Rest ProLite - Women's
at 10x4.25 inches. The bulky Trail Lite has the largest packed size at 10.5x6 inches. Many people have difficulty rolling their inflatable pads up to the original size it came in, and are not able to fit it back into its stuff sack. For more information on how to do this properly, check out our Buying Advice article
Inflation Method & Accessories
Although many of our reviewed sleeping pads claim to be "self-inflating" some people are disappointed by the amount the pads inflate on their own. Just so we're all on the same page, even the manufacturers don't claim that their pads are able to completely inflate on their own. Instead, they claim they will inflate most of the way, and if people prefer a firmer mattress they can blow a few more breaths in before closing the valve.
The Trail Lite is self-inflating, but sometimes we were impatient and blew it up ourselves because we wanted to lie down on it!
For those of us who have chosen to go with a non-self-inflating mattress, like a NeoAir, we may get a bit light headed before our mattresses are full. There are several accessories to aid us with filling our mattresses like the NeoAir Torrent Pump
, an electrical pump that will annoy your neighbors while you fill up your mattress; and the NeoAir Pump Sack
that allows you to fill up your mattress manually without fainting, and also acts as a stuff sack.
The NeoAir XLite is a great choice for long and strenuous backpacking trips like the Sierra High Route. Jessica Haist blows up hers in the Bear Lakes Basin.
Because women sleep colder than men and have a different anatomy and size as well, manufacturer's have created pads for sleeping specific to these qualities. This review is here to help you find the pad that is the most comfortable, compact, and/or durable, depending on your specific needs. Check out our Buying Advice article to find out why women's models are a great option for both men and women
, and how to choose the one that is right for your needs.