Finding A Sleeping Pad For Side Sleepers

by Andy Amick on March 13, 2014

in Backpacking, Bikepacking, Camping, Gear

I’m a side sleeper.  One who prefers to curl my legs way up into an almost fetal position when I’m sleeping.

The other night while testing out my Tour Divide sleep setup, I woke up several times with pain in my bottom knee when sleeping on my side.  It occurred when sleeping on either side so it was somehow related to my sleep position. This pain has happened in the past when camping, but never to this extent.


  1. Was it due to me trying out a sleeping bag for the first time in several years instead of using my quilt?
  2. Was it due to the colder temps and somehow curling up differently when sleeping?
  3. Was it due to the mummy shape of the sleeping pad?
  4. Am I just getting older and a thinner pad doesn’t work as well?
  5. Is there an issue with the vertical baffles of my pad versus the horizontal design of other pads?

It was time for some research and testing.

It Must Be The Thickness

Initially, I thought the thickness of the pad was causing my pain.  My current pad is a Kooka Bay 3/4 length inflatable mummy pad that I’ve had for about 5 years.  The pad is 1.75″ thick which doesn’t allow for much adjustment in softness by removing a bit of air.  Remove too much air and you’re hips and shoulders are touching the ground.

After pulling out a thicker Big Agnes mummy pad, I was able to rule out thickness as the issue.  Yes, the thicker pad was a more plush feeling pad, but my knee pain was still present.

I realized that when I curled my legs up when side sleeping, my knees would end up off of the pad by a couple of inches.  Being in that position for a couple of hours of sleep must have been putting extra pressure on the bottom knee and twisting/tweaking it just enough to cause the pain.

Both of the mummy shaped pads begin tapering just past the hip area.  If they were rectangular, then my knees would not end up off of the pad.  Time for another test.

Nope, It Must Be The Shape

I went to the way back gear machine and pulled out my rectangular Therm-a-rest from my college days.  This test was successful, and I’m able to curl up and still keep my knees on the pad.  Success!  Full fetal position is not possible without having my knees off of the pad.  The result was enough to convince me to look at rectangle pads.

Now the question turned to which rectangle pad?  My criteria were a full length pad weighing less than 1 pound.

Which Pad To Choose?

With my requirements in hand, I did what any good gear geek does – fire up “the Google” and open lots of browser tabs.  Gossamer Gear has some new lightweight pads, but the longest one is 56″ so it doesn’t make the cut.  Big Agnes has a bunch of options with one of those being a new 4″ thick pad.  That’s practically a mattress and is that really camping? :)  The Therm-a-rest pads are lightweight and full length, but they have a taper which I’m trying to avoid.

In the end, I settled on 4 options.

 Pad DetailsProsCons
Klymit ozone sleeping padKlymit Inertia O Zone

21.5"W x 72"L x 1.75" D

12.2 oz
Widest pad

Integrated pillow

Side rail baffles
May sleep colder

Thinnest pad
Nemo air core 20 padNemo AstroAir Lite 20R

20"W x 72"L x 3"D

14 oz
Lighest full pad

Elevated head section
Do horizontal baffles work better?

No side rail baffles
Big Agnes AirCore SLBig Agnes Air Core SL

20"W x 72"L x 2.75"D

17 oz
Thickest pad

Interesting baffling design
Heaviest pad but still lightweight

No side rail baffles
Exped SynMat UL7Exped SynMat UL 7 M

20"W x 72"L x 2.75D

Only insulated pad

Side rail baffles
Is an insulated pad required?

Based on this information, I’m actually leaning towards the Klymit pad.  Although it gets the “funky looks” award, I’m intrigued by the integrated pillow (no need to carry a separate pillow) and it’s extra 1.5″ of width for my knees.  My only concern is if it sleeps a lot colder than other non-insulated pads, especially when using a quilt.

So, I’m wondering if any other side sleepers have gone through a similar experiment?

Does anyone have experience with the Klymit pad?

Which of the four would you choose?

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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  • Been looking at a number of sleeping pads lately myself. I am fairly sure that the klymit pads are designed for use with a full sleeping bag vs a quilt. The holes in the bottom are supposed to reduce the compression of any insulation in the bag that is underneath you.

    Right now, as a first cut, I’m using a women’s Thermarest NeoAir Xlite. The women’s pad is 6″ shorter than the regular men’s pad (66″ vs 72″) and it has an R value of 3.9. Not bad for only weighing 350g. It is a tapered pad, but not as heavily tapered as some other pads I’ve seen.

    I’m a stomach and side sleeper.

    • Andy Amick

      Interesting idea on the shorter women’s NeoAir. The taper on this is less pronounced and should work for you.

      I ended up going with a rectangle BigAgnes instead of the Klymit. I decided to go for a “full” pad since I use a quilt a lot in the summer.

  • 1st. Great site and info I have already added it to my bookmarks and have spent the better part of an hour poking around.

    2nd. I am a “semi-side” sleeper, I pull my upper knee up but leave the lower one extended. The issues I had were similar at first with a felling of having twisted my knee somehow. (that was on a old thermarest closed cell pad from the 80’s ) I figured it was just age getting to me (50+ now) but I needed to fix it no matter what was causing it. I went with a BigAgnes 2.5″ rectangular 25″ with a BigAgnes bag that the pad slips into. Not the lightest or compact choice but good greif it is wonderful. I wish I had changed one thing at a time in order to know exactly if it was the pad, the narrower bag or that other thing. But I think I know…..

    • Andy Amick

      Joe, glad you like the site and thanks for stopping by.

      That 25″ pad has to be super comfy. If you can get a full night’s sleep, the weight and bulk are worth it. Since I posted this, I have switched to a BigAgnes QCore SL and it’s working great.

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