Summer is here, and you know what that means: evening swims in alpine lakes, dusty trails for miles and long days in the backcountry. But have you dialed in your backcountry summer sleep system yet? Or are you still deciding on your preferred insulation, and considering where to shave those unwanted ounces (or pounds!) from your pack? If so, we can help. Check out these steps for building the ultimate summer backpacking sleep system.

What’s in a Summer Backpacking Sleep System?

putting sleeping pads in tent

1. A Sleeping Pad

A great night’s rest in the backcountry starts with your sleeping pad. First and foremost, your camping mattress provides comfort. But here’s the clincher: your sleeping pad is also a major source of insulation—meaning you’ll stay warm and cozy at night by choosing the right pad. That’s why we’ve spent the last 50 years developing technology that provides ample insulation at a weight you can still carry into the backcountry.

For summer backcountry travel, you still have four basic choices of construction when it comes to choosing your pad: NeoAir® construction, the self-inflating foam option, the hybrid self-inflating and air pads, and the good ‘ol closed-cell foam pad. As for weight, we organize our mattresses into two categories  for backpacking: Fast & Light and Trek & Travel. Sure, you can still haul a two-pound mattress from our Camp & Comfort category deep into the backcountry, but that old phrase comes to mind: If you’re going to be stubborn, you better be tough.

Previously, we’ve gotten into more detail about how to choose the right sleeping pad, but we’ll give you a quick run-down here too.

inflating trail pro sleeping pad


Perfect For … the ultra-light, ounce-counting gearhead who wants the lightest, most bad-ass mattress for deep forays into the bush.

This is the crème de la crème of air pads. Basically, these top dogs employ cutting-edge technology like the Triangular Core Matrix™ to achieve high warmth and stability in ultralight designs. This patented construction, when combined with our Thermacapture™ technology, provides the best warmth to weight ratios on the market. Need warmth, lightweight performance and a minimal packed size? Look no further than our NeoAir models.


Perfect For … a backpacker who values reliability, proven thermal insulation, and easy setup. A backpacker looking to save time rather than every ounce possible will be stoked on our self-inflating models.

The classic Therm-a-Rest, originally designed by a couple of backpacking engineers with a sandwich press. To this day, self-inflating pads provide comfort, reliability and ease of use. We’ve perfected these pads over the years and offer several lightweight iterations, like the classic ProLite™. Proven by generations of trail junkies, this pad could be perfect for your summer backpacking sleep system.

The Hybrid

Perfect For … the comfort-conscious gear-seeker who values innovation and versatility, but still maintains a soft spot for reliability.

These pads combine the cushion of air with the stability of foam. Helmed by the relatively new StrataCore™ construction technology, these bad-boys and girls are catching on and getting backpackers stoked. StrataCore allows us to build a pads that are supportive, warm and self-inflating, yet still light and packable enough for the backcountry. To experience the best of both worlds check out the ProLite™ Apex™ or the Trail Pro™.

closed cell foam sleeping pad

Closed-Cell Foam

Perfect For … a backpacker who values simplicity, ease of use and utter reliability above plush comfort. Also ideal for adding a layer of protection and added warmth beneath a NeoAir pad.

The true OG backpacking mattress. We’ve perfected this tried-and-true design over the years to make them warmer and lighter. They’re still as simple and reliable as it gets, which is exactly why some adventurers swear by them. The frequent sight of a Z Lite SOL™ strapped on the outside of a thru-hiker’s backpack is a testament to its flat-out utility.

snuggling with dog in sleep system

2. A Sleeping Bag or Quilt

With so many options and more reliable temperature ratings, it’s pretty easy to chose the right insulation level for your sleep system. Now your main choice is between a more traditional sleeping bag or a quilt. A bag is still the top choice for colder weather, but quilts can’t be beat for overall comfort and freedom of movement. Ultimately, many find the best option is one of each. This gives you a warmer weather option with amazing comfort, like a Vesper 32F/0F down quilt, a cold-weather option for shoulder season with a Hyperion 20F/-6C sleeping bag, and you can combine the two for pushing it into winter, without the need for another, winter-specific bag. Our camping blankets also make great sleep system components.

By relying on the sleeping pad’s insulation beneath you and varying that to add even more versatility, you might just never need anything more.

inflating camping pillow to complete sleep system

3. A Pillow

Pillows are a really important aspect to some sleep systems. Even with limited room in your pack, there are countless lightweight down and air pillows. Gone are the days of waking up in the middle of the night to try and “fluff” your fleece jacket back up.

One Last Tip: Consider Weight

You’ll notice that we offer more than on option in each temperature range of bags and quilts. Typically, we have a more general purpose option, and then one targeted to ultralight travel for bit more investment. Higher fill power down, lighter, more advanced fabrics and a more tuned fit often account for the price difference, so be sure you’ve got your priorities in order when choosing the right solution. And keep in mind that adding a quilt and/or a warmer mattress, as mentioned above, can often be a lighter and more versatile option than the next heavier and warmer bag.

summer sleeping pad

So as the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward that glowing ball of hot plasma we call the sun, make sure you’re ready to hit the trail with the right sleep system for the season. See you out there!

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Originally Published May 16th, 2016.