If you want to level up your game with a new mousepad, one of the choices you’ll be making is whether to go for a hard or soft mousepad. The best way to find out is to try both, but that’s not always possible or convenient. So if you need guidance, this comparison of hard vs. soft mousepads might be precisely what you need.
Hard and soft mousepads both have pros and cons, and what works brilliantly for one person may be unusable for another. As with so many other peripheral decisions, which you go for will depend more on your preferences and needs than some objective measure of quality or performance.
Speed and Precision
One of the primary performance differences between hard and soft mousepads is the glide. Almost all hard mousepads are fast, offering smooth, frictionless glide with little resistance and virtually no stopping power. The main downside of all this speed is a lack of control and accuracy, which makes aiming difficult if you don’t have excellent mouse control skills.
In contrast, most soft mousepads will be slower than hard mousepads, providing more stopping power in return. Yes, you can get fast soft mousepads (mainly ones with hybrid surfaces), but most soft mousepads will be more stable and stop your mouse better than hard pads. Due to the friction, most users will find cloth pads more forgiving and accurate.
Of course, this isn’t much help if you don’t know whether you need a fast mousepad or can live with something a bit slower. While you can only find out for sure through experience, you can make a reasonable guess based on the games you play.
Do you play fast-paced FPS games like Apex Legends, where quick flicks and clean tracking are paramount? A hard mousepad (or a high-speed soft mousepad) may work better for you. But what if you play slower games like CS:GO or Valorant, prioritizing accuracy and stopping on a dime? In that case, a soft pad with more friction and control is likely more suitable.
Of course, the choice between a hard vs soft mousepad ultimately comes down to personal preference. But it’s worth bearing this general rule of thumb in mind when you’re first trying to decide whether you want more speed or more control.
Hard mousepads are relatively limited size-wise, with many hard pads only coming in one size. The average hard pad also tends to be on the smaller side, with many measuring around 10×13 inches or smaller. They’re not small, but they’re usually significantly smaller than the 18×15-inch large (or extra-large) soft mousepads that dominate many setups.
There are exceptions, of course, like the SkyPad Glass 3.0 and its two sizes (including a large XL size). But in general, hard mousepads aren’t for those who need variety or a ton of room.
A soft pad is what you want if you need room for low-sens gaming. Most soft mousepads come in at least two or three sizes, ranging from tiny 9×8-inch rectangles to desktop-spanning extended mousepads. And even if a particular soft mousepad only comes in one size, you’ll easily be able to find a similar alternative that’ll likely come in the size you need.
Hard pads, by their very nature, aren’t very portable. You can’t roll them up or fold them, so you’ll have to transport them flat. That’s fine if you opt for a tiny pad like this Honkid aluminum pad, but anything above that will be a pain to move around.
A soft pad is the only way to go if you want portability. You can roll a soft mousepad up, making it easy to transport. Of course, a desktop-length extended pad will be harder to move than a small rectangle, but they’re still much more portable than a glass slab.
Hard mousepads don’t offer much in the way of comfort. For one, the material itself has no give. Regardless of whether it’s a glass or plastic pad, a hard pad won’t offer any cushioning for your wrist and arm. This can get uncomfortable over long periods.
In addition, thicker glass pads will have a pronounced front lip, which can dig into your forearm when gaming. The best hard mousepads have low-profile designs that avoid this, but it’s something to look out for if you’re shopping on your own. If you’re stuck with a thick hard pad, you you may want to consider getting a separate mouse wrist rest to help alleviate some of these issues.
Soft pads are usually made of a cloth (or hybrid) surface attached to a foam or rubber core, so they tend to be more comfortable than their hard counterparts. Some soft pads have more give than others, but all will have a moderately cushioned feel perfect for extended gaming.
However, some soft mousepads, like the Cooler Master MP511, have a rough surface texture that some users will find irritating. The anti-fray edge stitching on some soft pads can also be problematic, especially for low-sens arm aimers.
Maintenance and Durability
If you want a low-maintenance mousepad, then a hard mousepad is the way to go. Hard pads don’t absorb liquids or dust; all you need to do to clean a hard mousepad is wipe it down with a damp cloth.
Most high-quality hard pads are also very durable. Glass pads are especially great here, as they’ll last for years without slowing down, no matter how hard you use them. Some cheaper plastic hard mousepads will slow down within a year, but they still won’t go sticky or fall apart like the rubber on most soft pads.
The main downside of hard pads is that you’ll likely notice every single impurity on (and sometimes even below) the mousepad. Stray hairs, specks of dust, and food debris; you’ll feel all of these under your mouse feet. Thankfully, a quick wipe should clear these up fine.
Soft mousepads are more variable when it comes to durability. Some, like the Artisan Hien, are known for retaining their glide for years, while others will slow down rapidly within a few months. Soft pads are also more sensitive to environmental conditions, with some (the Zowie G-SR being a good example) deteriorating much quicker in high-humidity environments.
Cleaning a soft mousepad takes more effort than hard pads, although it’s still not too bad. You’ll need to soak the pad, apply some detergent (or hand soap), and scrub it to get all the dirt, sweat, and hand oils out of the fabric. You’d better have a backup pad, too, as it’ll take a few hours (or even a whole day) to air dry your soft cloth pad.
Many soft pads now have water-repellant surfaces that make the water bead up instead of seeping into the material. But not every cloth pad has this, so it’s worth checking before you buy if you think you’ll need a water-repellant mousepad.
We wouldn’t recommend buying a hard mousepad simply for its durability, as you may not enjoy the downsides that come with it. Still, it’s a nice bonus if you’re already leaning towards one for its speed.
There’s no clear winner in the battle between hard vs. soft mousepads. For every positive of a hard pad—durability, for example—you can find a negative, such as a lack of portability and a relative lack of comfort. And the same applies to soft mousepads, which may be more comfortable but will generally only last a few months to a year before noticeable wear.
That said, hard mousepads are a much more niche option than soft mousepads, particularly since they’re so laser-focused on speed above all else. So unless you know you need an ultra-fast pad, we recommend starting with a soft mousepad. They’re usually more affordable, and you get more size and surface options than you do with hard pads.
All the best!