Thermarest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad – Great Night’s Sleep
I think we can all agree a good night’s rest out on the trail is important, if not at least desirable over the alternative. While camping, many things contribute to sleep quality, a good sleeping bag, perhaps a pillow or warm tent, but the foundation of it all is what you’re sleeping on.
I’d wager to say that most anyone that’s been around the camping world for even just a little while will recognize the Thermarest name, synonymous with lightweight, inflatable sleeping pads since 1971. Needless to say, they know what it takes to design a quality pad and deliver great sleep without breaking your back on the hike in, and that is exactly what Thermarest has created with their NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad.
I’ve been out of the air pad market for the last few years after having many bad nights on air pads from several different brands. I was tired of waking up to another air pad that had gone limp in the night, whether from malfunctioning valves or a pin hole I could never find and patch. So, after a few years of just adequate sleep on my trusty Thermarest Z-Lite, I was finally ready to try out something different, the NeoAir XLite. After many great nights on the NeoAir, I am excited to say I’m back on the air pad bandwagon.
The NeoAir Xlite is Thermarest’s most versatile, high-performance sleeping pad. Sure, in Thermarest’s line of sleeping pads some are lighter, some are warmer, and some comfier, but none combine all of these key elements to quite the same high standard that the NeoAir XLite does.
To get a feel for the versatility of the NeoAir, I’ve spent about 15 nights on the pad ranging from sleeping in the back of my 4Runner to 2-3 night backpacking trips in western Colorado, and even a couple overnight whitewater kayaking runs. Testing was all in a Colorado April-May with a handful of nights below freezing, many in the 40s F, a couple of warmer desert nights. I also went with a large as I am 6’3” and it’s nice to not hang off the ends of the pad.
Let’s start with comfort. The NeoAir Xlite boasts 2.5 inches of pad thickness in all sizes, with a baffled design to help with stability and air distribution. The NeoAir Xlite also comes in a Small, Regular, and Regular Wide, and for reference, the regular size is 72” by 20.” In my large size, the pad is 77” long by 25” wide, with a slight taper towards the feet.
I can be a pretty restless sleeper, rolling around a lot throughout the night, and for the most part, I think the NeoAir handled it well. I rarely slipped off, and I found the pad was still very comfortable when sleeping on my side due to the pad’s thickness, as I never felt like I was touching the ground; thinner pads usually don’t do well sleeping in any other position but on your back. Being that I was on a Large, the extra 5” of width was really nice for sprawling out, but I could be content with the regular width as well.
While pure padding is good to keep in mind, of equal importance to comfort is the warmth of a sleeping pad. If you’re cold all night, it’s hard to appreciate any amount of softness while your shivering. Striking a great balance between lightweight and well-insulated, the NeoAir Xlite utilizes Thermarest’s patented ThermaCapture materials alongside their Triangular Core Matrix construction; imagine a sort of double-layered, space blanket-esque interior to the NeoAir.
Between these two technologies, the NeoAir Xlite is given an insulation R-value of 4.2, which is a good all-season rating. If you are unfamiliar (as I was) with the R-value insulation rating system, Thermarest has a great explanatory write-up here: https://www.thermarest.com/blog/r-value-meaning/.
Affirming the NeoAir Xlite’s warmth claims I have yet to have a cold night because of this pad. One of the things I noticed right away was the pad didn’t take long to warm up after settling in for the night and after an hour it was usually toasty. Actually, I spent most of my nights on the NeoAir Xlite using Thermarest’s Vesper 20 F Quilt (if you’re not familiar, down quilts are a cross between a blanket and a traditional sleeping bag) which does not have a back to it so I relied heavily on the warmth of the NeoAir pad to complete the system.
I had a few nights out that dipped just below freezing with this setup and I generally stayed warm, and if I ever felt cold, I would generally attribute that to pushing the quilt’s comfort range, as the sleeping pad always felt warm. I would really like to get this pad out in some near-zero temps, but I’m sure if you combined the NeoAir Xlite with a full, cold-weather sleeping bag you would be comfortable in winter temperatures. The one thing I will note, as a minor detail, is that the insulating materials inside the pad (the space-blanket stuff) can be a little crinkly-noisy if you’re rolling around a bunch, but hey this isn’t your home mattress next to the thermostat.
Speaking of which, this isn’t your home mattress so you’ll probably be looking to pack, carry, and set this pad up a lot. The large NeoAir Xlite sleeping pad weighs 16 ounces and packs down to almost the same size as a standard Nalgene water bottle 11” x 4.6”, and the regular size weighs in at 12 ounces and 9” x 4.1.” To help this pad go from water bottle size to sleep-able, Thermarest has introduced their new WingLock Valve, a tough double-action valve with a larger opening for faster inflation rates, and a one-way valve that can be disengaged for deflation.
The WingLock valve deserves some attention as it can be a little more involved than the standard sleeping pad valves. To inflate the pad, rotate the “wings” clockwise to in line with the valve body, and rotate the black, top valve port counterclockwise so that it is extended. This will engage the one-way valve with the wings, and then allow faster airflow with the main port. Once inflated, just turn the black valve clockwise and down, ready for bed. To deflate the pad, rotate the wings counter-clockwise so that they are perpendicular to the valve and stick out, disengaging the one-way valve. It’s an added step, but I didn’t find it too difficult to figure out.
In addition to the faster inflation with the winglock valve, Thermarest also includes a pump bag to help save some breath. The bag is similar to a stuff stack with an added port that mates with the winglock valve and can be used to inflate the pad without using your lungs. I’ll admit I kind of thought it was a little gimmicky at first, but after using it a bit I am way sold on the pump sack and pretty much only use it now for inflating the pad.
No only is it easier on the lungs, but I think it is significantly faster and limits the amount of moisture blown into the pad. To use the pump bag, click the black port on to the winglock valve, open up the bag to collect air, and then roll the open end of the bag trapping the air and forcing it into the pad, repeat.
As for durability, I have had no issues with the pad after the near two weeks I’ve spent out with it. The pad holds air full through the night and the pad material is showing little wear, though I have been diligent to sleep on a tarp with it most nights. The valve still has a clean action and no hiccups in inflation or deflation. Durability was a big point of worry for me in the realm of air pads and the NeoAir Xlite has renewed my faith in the air pads and convinced me of their superiority to standard foam pads (though foam still has its place).
For those of you who are looking for a reliable sleeping pad that is comfortable, warm enough for year-round use, but still falls in the ultra-light category, the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite sleeping pad should be at the top of your list. This pad packs down to the size of a Nalgene water bottle, boasts an insulation R-value of 4.2 (all-season), and weighs in at less than pound. Sleep better, hike further, carry less with the NeoAir Xlite.
A transplant of the Midwest, Austen immigrated to the promised land of western Colorado in 2012 in search of good climbing, deep snow, quality rivers, and a college degree when his goofing off allowed. He learned pretty quick the difference quality gear can make on the outcome of a day (or days) in the mountains and began looking for the best gear to abuse.
In the summer Austen is an avid whitewater kayaker, bouncing his boat down the steep, rocky waterways of Colorado, trad climber in search of the route less traveled, and works as a federal river ranger along the Gunnison River. During the winter Austen spends his time telemarking around the backcountry of western Colorado and working as a ski patroller up on the continental divide.
Austen says, “A hundred days of skiing and paddling each per year and you’ll figure out what is wrong or right with your equipment, especially when your lively-hood depends on it.” Austen also has his American Avalanche Association Professional Level 1 avalanche certification, EMT-B, and ACA swift-water rescue cert, as well as a member of the Search and Rescue team in Gunnison County for 6 years.