To cut weight and bulk, some hikers use a 3/4 length sleeping pad instead of a full-length model. This is an option whether you prefer inflatable or closed-cell foam. To help you choose the best sleeping pad length, this guide outlines the pros and cons of using a 3/4 length vs full length sleeping pad. We’ll cover weight, packed size, comfort, warmth, sleep quality, health, and more.
What is a ¾ Length Sleeping Pad (torso length pad)?
A ¾ length sleeping pad only supports your shoulders, torso, hips, and knees. Your lower legs below the knees hang off the ends of the pad. Your feet are not supported. Depending on the length of the pad, you may also hang your head off the top and use a pillow for support. ¾ length sleeping pads are sometimes called torso length sleeping pads.
Most ¾ length sleeping pads measure around 4 feet long (120 cm), give or take an inch or two. That’s about 2 feet shorter than full-length sleeping pads, which typically measure somewhere around 6 feet long (183 cm). The ideal pad length depends on your height and the position you sleep in. If you’re tall, you’ll need a longer pad. If you’re a side sleeper, chances are you sleep curled up with your knees bent. This allows you to get away with a shorter pad.
Campers who use ¾ length pads usually sleep with their backpack under their feet. Leaving some gear in the pack increases insulation. This is necessary in cold weather. The pack also elevates the feet. In Warmer weather, many campers just place a piece of plastic or tarp under their feet to keep their sleeping bag clean. If you use a pad that doesn’t extend under your head, you’ll also need a camping pillow for support.
¾ length sleeping pads are available in both closed cell foam (CCF) and inflatable options. To help you decide between the two, check out my foam vs inflatable sleeping pad guide.
3/4 Length Sleeping Pad: Pros and Cons
- Lighter- 3/4 length sleeping pads weigh around 3-6 ounces less than full length models.
- More compact- 3/4 length sleeping pads take up about 100 cubic inches or 1.6 liters less space in your pack.
- Better leg and foot health- When you sleep on a 3/4 length pad, you may sleep with your legs on your pack. This elevates your legs, which reduces swelling and improves circulation.
- Less comfortable- 3/4 length sleeping pads have a 0.75″-2.5″ drop off below the knee. This can create discomfort in your ankles and knees.
- Harder to set up- When you sleep on a 3/4 length pad, you have to put something under your legs and feet, like your pack. This means you have to set up two separate pieces of gear.
- Colder- Your legs and feet can get cold if you don’t have enough insulation under them.
- Not ideal for all sleep positions- Side and stomach sleepers may find 3/4 length pads uncomfortable due to the drop off below the knee.
Full-Length Sleeping Pad: Pros and Cons
- More comfortable- Full-length sleeping pads offer a flat sleeping surface.
- Easier to set up- You simply roll the pad out and lay your sleeping bag on top.
- Warmer- Full-length sleeping pads provide insulation for your whole body.
- Works for any sleep position- You can sleep comfortably on your back, side, or stomach.
- Heavier- Full-length sleeping pads weigh more because they contain more material.
- Bulkier- Because they contain more material, full-length sleeping pads take up more space in your pack.
¾ Length Sleeping Pad Vs Full-Length Sleeping Pad
The main benefits of using a ¾ length sleeping pad are pretty obvious. You’ll cut a bit of weight and save some space in your pack because you’re carrying less material around. As you can imagine, there are some compromises you’ll have to make. In this section, I’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of each sleeping pad size.
The main reason hikers use ¾ length sleeping pads is to reduce weight. ¾ length sleeping pads typically weigh 3-6 ounces (85- 170 grams) less than comparable full-length models. Most ¾ length sleeping pads weigh around 9.5-16 oz (around 270-400 grams). To compare, full length sleeping pads typically weigh around 14-25 ounces (around 400-700 grams).
The exact weight savings depends on the thickness and type of pad you use. If you’re already using a thin ultralight full-length sleeping pad, you might only save 2 ounces by switching to a ¾ length model. In that case, it may not be worth it to make the switch. If you currently use a plush, heavy, full-length pad, you might save well over 8 ounces by switching to a lightweight ¾ length model. That is significant.
A few popular sleeping pads and their weights include:
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Small (¾ length foam pad)- 10 oz or 272 grams.
- Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Regular (full length foam pad)- 14 oz or 400 grams.
- Klymit Static V (¾ length inflatable pad)- 13 oz or 369 grams.
- Klymit Static V (full length inflatable pad)- 18.6 oz or 527 grams.
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Small (¾ length inflatable pad)- 8 oz or 227 grams.
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Regular (full length inflatable pad)- 12 oz or 340 grams.
As you can see, in each of the above examples, the ¾ length model weighs 4-5 oz (113-142 grams) less than the full-length model.
Whether or not this weight savings matters depends on the type of hiking you do. If you’re trying to go ultralight or you thru-hike long distances, switching to a ¾ length pad is probably worth it for the weight savings. If you usually just hike a couple of miles into the woods to camp, saving a half a pound isn’t a big deal. You might as well stick with a full-length pad.
Because they contain less material, ¾ length sleeping pads take up less space in your pack. Most ¾ length sleeping pads measure around 40-55” in length with an average of around 4 feet. To compare, full-length sleeping pads measure around 72-75” long with an average of around 6 feet. Most sleeping pads measure 20-25” wide.
This means you’re carrying about 24” x 20” less material when you choose a ¾ length sleeping pad. The exact amount of space you’ll save by switching to a ¾ length pad depends on the thickness and material of pad you use.
A few examples of sleeping pad packed sizes include:
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Small (¾ length inflatable pad)- 4.1” x 8” x 3.9” when packed
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Regular (full length inflatable pad)- 9” x 5” x 5” when packed
- Klymit Static V (¾ length inflatable sleeping pad)- 3” x 8” when packed.
- Klymit Static V (Full length inflatable sleeping pad)- 5” x 8” when packed.
- Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol (¾ length foam sleeping pad)- 20” x 4” x 5.5” when packed.
- Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol Regular (full length foam sleeping pad)- 20” x 5” x 5. 5” when packed.
In each of these cases, you’re saving around 100 cubic inches or 1.6 liters of space when you choose the ¾ length model instead of full length. Whether or not the space savings really matters depends on the types of camping trips you take and how you carry your sleeping pad.
A smaller sleeping pad allows you to use a slightly smaller backpack or carry a bit more gear in your existing pack. The smaller packed size can also come in handy if you fly with your hiking gear. You may be able to fit a smaller 3/4 pad in a carry-on bag. If you normally strap your sleeping pad to the outside of your pack, the size difference doesn’t really matter for most campers.
Foot, Leg, and Back Health
Sleeping on a ¾ length pad can be healthier than sleeping on a full-length pad. The reason is that most hikers who use ¾ length pads sleep with their lower legs and feet elevated on their backpack. The backpack will be slightly thicker than the sleeping pad because it will be filled with extra clothes, food, toiletries, extra gear, etc. The pack’s padding also adds some thickness. Sleeping with your legs on your thick backpack elevates your feet higher than your heart.
Sleeping with your legs and feet elevated offers a number of health benefits for hikers including:
- Reduced swelling and inflammation in the legs and feet- When you hike for long periods of time, blood vessels in your legs and feet widen to increase blood supply to your overworked muscles. This causes fluid to build up, which causes swelling known as edema. Excessive swelling can cause pain and discomfort. Swelling of the lower extremities is a major problem for some hikers. Raising your feet provides relief by allowing the fluid buildup to drain. This reduces swelling and inflammation.
- Improved blood circulation- While hiking, gravity pulls blood into your lower body, where it can stagnate. Raising your legs encourages the blood to flow back to your heart so fresh blood can flow to your legs and feet. This can help you recover faster from a long day of hiking. Your legs and feet will feel stronger and healthier when you wake up in the morning.
- Reduced back pain- Many campers suffer from back pain. After all, sleeping on the ground isn’t all that comfortable. Raising your feet on your pack can improve spine alignment and reduce pressure on your lower spine while you sleep. This allows your back muscles to relax and recover better. In addition, sleeping with your legs elevated can reduce pressure on your sciadic nerve, relieving sciadica.
For more in-depth info, check out this list of benefits of sleeping with your legs elevated.
Of course, you could always sleep with your legs elevated with a full-length pad as well. If you’re going to sleep with your legs on your backpack anyway, you might as well use a short pad and save the weight and bulk.
Full-length sleeping pads are more comfortable than ¾ length models. Pretty much every camper will agree with this. Full length pads are more comfortable because they provide insulation and support for your entire body including your head, lower legs, and feet. Your sleep surface will also be flatter with a full-length pad because there is no drop below your knees.
That said, the difference in comfort between ¾ length and full-length sleeping pads isn’t all that great. ¾ length pads provide padding under the most important parts of your body, which include your shoulders, hips, and knees. This shoulder to knee portion of your body is important to support because this is where the majority of your bodyweight rests while you’re laying down. These are high pressure points on your sleeping pad.
Most campers don’t really need the sleeping pad to extend under their head because they already use some kind of pillow for head and neck support. For example, maybe you use an inflatable camp pillow or a rolled up jacket to support your head and neck while you sleep.
In warmer weather conditions, you don’t absolutely need insulation under your legs and feet because you don’t put much pressure on them while you sleep. As a result, your sleeping bag isn’t as compressed so your feet stay warm. In cold weather, your feet and legs can get cold if you don’t have insulation under them.
Comfort Issues of 3/4 Length Pads
There are a few potential comfort issues you can run into with ¾ length pads. Thick ¾ length sleeping pads force your legs to slant down at an angle below the knees. In other words, if your sleeping pad is 2 inches thick, there is a 2 inch drop from your knees to your feet. Your sleep surface isn’t completely flat. This can cause discomfort for some hikers. It can even lead to knee pain if you sleep on your side or stomach. That’s the last thing you need while hiking.
There are a couple of ways to reduce the drop-off. First, you can use a thinner sleeping pad. You won’t really notice this knee-to-foot drop as much when you use a 0.75″-1.5” pad. Foam pads tend to be the thinnest.
The second solution is to sleep with your lower legs and feet resting on top of your backpack. At the very least, this will reduce the drop. If you leave some gear in your pack, it will be thicker than your sleeping pad and will actually raise your legs, which is a good thing. If you carry a sit pad, you can place it under your feet or combine it with your pack for more padding and comfort.
When you sleep with your legs on your pack, you will want to make sure that there is nothing hard or pointy in your pack under your legs. For example, boots, food containers, and cooking equipment can make for an uncomfortable sleep surface for your legs. It can help to sleep with the part of the pack that sits against your back facing up. This way, you can take advantage of the pack’s built-in padding. You can experiment with the pack’s opening facing toward or away from your head. You might find that one way is more comfortable than the other.
Another issue you can run into when your sleeping pad doesn’t support your head is that your pillow can also sit too low. For example, if your pad and pillow are both 2” thick, your pillow doesn’t raise your head if it’s sitting on the ground. One solution is to use a slightly longer pad that supports your head. You could also use a pillow that is thicker than your pad.
Another potential problem you can face with a ¾ length pad is that it is easier to roll off in your sleep because the pad is smaller. If you move around too much, the pad might shift under you and your knees or shoulders could come off and end up on your cold and hard tent floor. This problem mostly affects taller people.
When choosing a ¾ length pad, you’ll want to choose a model that gives you a few inches of wiggle room below your knees and above your shoulders so you can move around a bit. You should measure the distance from you knees to your shoulders to help you choose a pad that is long enough for your body. For example, a short person may be able to get away with a 40” pad while a tall person might need a 55” pad.
Sleeping Pad Set Up and Ease of Use
Full-length sleeping pads are easier to set up and use than 3/4 length models. You just unroll the pad or inflate it then toss your sleeping bag on top and you’re ready to crawl into bed.
¾ length sleeping pads, on the other hand, make setting up camp a bit more complicated. When you use a ¾ length sleeping pad, you’ll still have to put something under your legs and feet. You don’t want your sleeping bag laying directly against the tent floor or the ground because it could get wet or dirty too easily. If you’re camping in cold weather, your feet and lower legs can also get cold if there is no insulation under them.
In warm weather, you can use a small piece of tarp or plastic under your feet to protect your sleeping bag. You could also use your rain gear if it’s dry. In cold weather, you can sleep with your legs on top of your pack with some gear inside. This will provide a good amount of insulation from the cold ground. Some campers also carry a sit pad. This can also be used for padding and insulation under your feet while you sleep.
The main drawback is that it is a bit of a hassle to set up because you’re sleeping on two separate pieces of gear. Whatever you place under your feet can shift around independently from your sleeping pad as you sleep. This is usually just a minor annoyance. If the ground is not completely flat, you may find that it is an issue. For example, on a sloped surface, whatever you place under your feet could migrate downhill during the night.
One trick you can use if you sleep with your legs on your pack is to place the bottom of your sleeping pad inside of your pack and cinch the cord around it. This can help hold everything in place. If you carry a sit pad, you can place it inside of your sleeping bag so it doesn’t move around while you sleep.
If you sleep with your legs on your pack, you’ll also have to make sure that there is nothing lumpy or hard under your feet that could cause discomfort. You don’t want your legs resting on the lumpy soles of your bots. You’ll also have to remove anything that could get damaged by the weight of your feet. For example, you don’t want to sleep with your feet on top of soft foods or a fragile camera lens. It can take a bit of extra time to organize your pack, depending on the type of gear you carry.
A common misconception about sleeping pads is that their purpose is to provide a soft surface to sleep on. That’s not really the case. Comfort is actually a secondary function. The most important function of sleeping pads is to keep you warm. Your sleeping pad provides insulation from the cold ground to prevent body heat loss.
You need to use a sleeping pad because your sleeping bag does not provide insulation for the underside of your body. Your sleeping bag compresses under your body weight. Down or synthetic insulation cannot trap heat to provide insulation when compressed because there are no air pockets.
Most sleeping pads use air as an insulator. Closed-cell foam pads have small air pockets within the foam. Inflatable pads are obviously full of air. Sleeping pad insulation is measured in R-value. Pads with a higher R-value provide more insulation and can keep you warmer.
Full-length sleeping pads can keep you warmer than ¾ length. The reason is that they provide insulation for your entire body including your head, lower legs, and feet. No part of your body touches the ground directly. You don’t need to rely on other sources of insulation like a pillow or your pack. In addition, you’re less likely to slide off of a full-length pad during the night because the pad is larger. For these reasons, full-length pads are better for camping in cold conditions where you need reliable insulation under your body to keep you warm.
Some campers find that their feet get cold when using a ¾ length sleeping pad. In order to stay warm with a ¾ length pad, you need to have some form of insulation from the ground under your whole body. This means you’ll need some insulation under your lower legs and feet to keep them warm. You’ll also need a pillow to insulate your head and neck.
Your backpack can provide enough insulation in warmer weather if you store some clothing or gear inside of it. In temperatures below around 40° F, your pack may not provide enough insulation. Your feet could get cold during the night. Some campers are more sensitive to cold feet than others. For these reasons, ¾ length pads are better for three season use. You may want to use a full-length foam pad under your ¾ length pad during the winter.
Another problem is that your feet can come off of your pack in the night and end up on the ground. Your head can come off of your small camp pillow. Your small pad can also shift and leave your shoulders or knees on the ground. If any part of your body touches the ground, it will get cold. To warm back up, you’ll have to wake up and re-position your pad, pack, and pillow so they’re under your body. This can get annoying.
Campsite selection also plays a role in warmth. You’ll stay warmer when you camp on an insulated surface like a bed of pine needles instead of a cold surface like snow or rock. If you find that your pad isn’t warm enough, you can double up pads. Some campers place a cheap foam pad under their inflatable pad to increase the R-value. If you use two pads, you can save a bit of weight by using full-length foam pad with a ¾ length inflatable pad on top.
A Note About Sleep Positions: Side Sleeping, Back Sleeping, and Stomach Sleeping
Full-length sleeping pads work fine for all sleep positions. It doesn’t matter if you’re a back sleeper, side sleeper, or stomach sleeper. ¾ length pads can work for all sleep positions as well but you may have to make some minor adjustments to your setup to improve comfort. The reason is that your sleep surface may not be completely flat when you use a 3/4 length pad.
For example, when you sleep on a ¾ length pad, there is a drop off below your knees where the pad ends. This deop will be between 0.75″ and 2.5″ depending on the pad you use. If you sleep on your side, the drop from the pad to the ground can angle your knees and ankles into an unnatural and uncomfortable position. This can put pressure on your knees which can cause discomfort or pain. To relieve this, you’ll have to find a way to raise your legs to reduce the drop when you sleep on your side. Stomach sleepers can have a similar issue. Placing your pack or sit pad under your legs can help reduce the drop and improve comfort.
If you’re a back sleeper, you may not have this problem because your knees can just bend slightly to accommodate for the drop. You might be able to sleep comfortably with just a groundsheet under your feet. For some back sleepers, the drop-off may still be bothersome. It may take some trial and error to find the most comfortable sleep position with a ¾ length pad.
Another Consideration: Inflatable Vs Foam Sleeping Pads
Another important decision you’ll have to make when choosing a sleeping pad is whether you want to go with an inflatable or foam model. Both types of pads are available in ¾ and full length versions. Both have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Inflatable pads tend to be thicker and more comfortable. They also pack down smaller and typically offer a higher R-value. They are usually lighter as well.
One drawback to the extra thickness of inflatable sleeping pads is that will be a larger drop below your knees on ¾ length models. Most inflatable sleeping pads measure 2″-2.5″ thick. You’ll want to take this into consideration if the drop bothers you. Another drawback of inflatable sleeping pads is the possibility of punctures. A thorn or sharp stick can poke a hole, causing your pad to deflate. Luckily, patches are usually included. After enough use, the a seem can wear out and fail. This makes inflatable pads a bit less reliable and durable than foam models. Inflatable pads are also more expensive. In addition, they take more time to set up and take down because you have to inflate and deflate them.
Foam pads, on the other hand, are more durable, reliable, and long lasting because they can’t puncture. They are also cheaper. In addition, foam pads are faster and easier to set up and take down. The below the knee drop on ¾ length models is also smaller because foam pads are typically thinner than inflatable pads. Most measure around 1” thick.
The main drawback of foam pads is their large size. They are bulky. They also tend to be a bit heavier. Many campers also find foam pads to be less comfortable than inflatable pads. You may not want to use a foam pad for long term use.
For more info, check out my complete guide to inflatable vs foam sleeping pads.
Who Should Use a ¾ Length Sleeping Pad?
¾ length sleeping pads are ideal for ultralight hikers who want to carry as little weight and bulk as possible. On average, switching to a ¾ length sleeping pad saves around 3 ounces of weight and 1.6 liters of space in your pack. With lightweight and compact gear, you can hike further and faster. ¾ length pads are also ideal for those who travel with their camping gear. The smaller and lighter pad can easily fit in a carry-on-sized bag. Those who only camp 1-2 nights at a time may also appreciate ¾ length pads. When you’re only camping short-term, sometimes comfort is less important than weight. If you suffer from swelling or poor circulation in your legs and feet, it may be worthwhile to try sleeping on a 3/4 length pad with your feet elevated on your pack.
Who Should Use a Full-Length Sleeping Pad?
If you can’t sleep comfortably on a ¾ length pad, you should stick with a full-length model. There is absolutely no reason to sacrifice your quality of sleep to save a few ounces of weight. Those who camp in extremely cold weather will also be better off with a full-length pad. They can provide insulation for your whole body, which helps you stay warmer. The pad is less likely to shift around under you as well. Those who are camping long term may also appreciate the extra comfort and ease of use of a full-length sleeping pad. Most thru-hikers use a full length pad.
A Few Sleeping Pad Recommendations
There are a ton of sleeping pads on the market. Many models are available in both full-length as well as ¾ length sizes. Oftentimes ¾ length sleeping pads are sold as small sized models. Sometimes they are marketed as torso length. A few of the most popular sleeping pads include:
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite
The NeoAir Xlite is the current standard for ultralight backpacking. These pads are incredibly lightweight and packable. They also offer excellent comfort. The 2.5” thickness and baffled construction give the pad plenty of support. They are also surprisingly warm with an R-value of 4.2. A large WingLock valve allows the pad to inflate and deflate quickly.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is availble in both ¾ length (small) and full-length (regular) options. The ¾ length mode measures 20” x 47” x 2.5”. It weighs 8 oz and measures 9” x 3.3” when packed. The full-length model measures 20” x 72” x 2.5”. It weighs 12 oz and measures 9” x 4.1” when packed. There is also a wide model available that measures 25” wide.
Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad
The Klymit Static V sleeping pad is made from durable 75D polyester fabric. The wide valve allows you to inflate the pad in about 10 breaths. The v-chamber design allows the pad to provide excellent support. This full-length sleeping pad measures 72” x 23” x 2.5” when inflated. It weighs 18.6 oz and measures 3” x 8” when packed. A patch kit is included.
I have owned this sleeping pad for the past few years and have been pretty happy with it. For the price, it’s one of the lighter and more durable pads on the market. For more info, check out my full review of the Klymit Static V here.
The Klymit Static V is also available in a ¾ length size that measures 50.4″ X 23″ X 2.5” and weighs 13 oz. It packs down to 3” x 8”. This pad offers the same design and features as the full-length version.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol
This is Therm-a-Rest’s classic foam sleeping pad. The Z Lite Sol is ultralight and is made from durable compact closed-cell foam. The pad features a reflective ThermaCapture coating. This captures heat to improve insulation. The pad has an R-value of 2, making it ideal for 3 season use. The pad consists of two layers. The top is made from soft and comfortable foam. The bottom layer is made from a denser foam for extra insulation and durability. The Z Lite Sol folds in an accordion style, making it quick and easy to fold and unfold.
The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is available in both ¾ length (small) and full-length (regular) options. The ¾ length model measures 20” x 51”. It weighs 10 oz and measures 20” x 4” x 5.5” when folded. The Full-length model measures 20” x 72”. It weighs 14 oz and measures 20” x 5” x 5.5” when folded. Both pads measure 0.75” thick. The Z Lite Sol is available on Amazon.
Another Option: Cut Down a Full-Length Pad
Many campers make their own ¾ length sleeping pad by simply cutting a couple of feet off of a full-length pad. Obviously, you can only do this with foam pads. The benefit of this is that you can choose the exact length that you need for your height and sleep position.
To measure your pad, simply lay down on it as if you were going to sleep. Take a marker and mark where the bottom of your knees hit. Use a knife to cut the pad off 6-8 inches below that mark. This gives you some wiggle room. Test it out and cut it a bit shorter if you like. You can save a bit more weight by cutting some material off the sides of the pad at the foot end to make it a bit more narrow.
You can do this with any foam pad. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’ll enjoy using a ¾ length pad, it may be a good idea to cut down a cheap pad and try it out before you go out and buy an expensive inflatable pad. For example, this ALPS Mountaineering Foam Camping Mat would work well.
Final Thoughts About 3/4 Length Vs Full Length Sleeping Pads
The best sleeping pad size really comes down to personal preference and your comfort. If you’re going ultralight, it’s worth trying a ¾ length pad out to see how well you sleep on it. You can save a decent amount of weight and cut some bulk from your pack by switching to a torso length pad.
If you find the short pad to be uncomfortable, then you know that ¾ length pads aren’t for you. It’s not worth getting a bad night of sleep to cut a few ounces of weight. If, on the other hand, you find that you can sleep comfortably on a ¾ length pad, then there is no reason to carry around the extra weight and bulk of a full-length pad. Whichever type of sleeping pad you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.
Do you use a ¾ length or full length sleeping pad? Share your experience in the comments below!
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