Gear Review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
If there is one piece of gear that can make or break your backpacking trip, it is a sleeping pad. The advancements made on this simple item have been profound in the last few years, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you´re still sleeping on the piece of foam you used to carry with you in the boyscouts. There are a plentitude of options available, but out of them all, my partner and I unanimously agree that nothing tops Therm-a-Rest´s NeoAir series. If you´re looking for warmth, durability, and comfort, but also aren´t willing to sacrifice more than 1 pound to your sleeping pad, then this is truly the product for you. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite excels in every category, and most importantly, it´s comfortable!
Weight: There are 3 general categories of sleeping pads - closed-cell foam, open-cell foam, and air pads. Closed-cell foam pads are very lightweight, but tend to be extremely bulky, and only offer minimal cushioning. Open-cell pads (also called self-inflating, although most require some manual inflation) are more comfortable, but they get increasingly heavier, with the most deluxe pads weighing in at over 7 pounds. Air pads are really the solution for lightweight backpacking, and fortunately, they also tend to offer more depth, and therefore more comfort. Within the air pad world, every ounce matters. Therm-a-Rest´s NeoAir XLite weighs in at a measly 12 ounces in the regular size (8 ounces in small and 16 in large), which makes it one of the lightest pads on the market. The XLite also easily rolls up (another benefit of the air pad style) and gets smaller than the size of a 1 liter nalgene bottle. Gone are the days of giant foam pads that make an oncoming hiker look more like a grizzly bear than a fellow adventurer.
Warmth: Many people overlook the importance that a sleeping pad plays in keeping a person warm. It is assumed that warmth is the job of the sleeping bag you use, and perhaps the tent, which will protect you from the elements, namely rain, snow, and wind. In actuality, it is conduction, the heat that escapes your body when it comes into contact with the cold ground, that will affect most people when the temperature drops. Air pads are especially susceptible to this problem, as a completely uninsulated air pad has its user laying on a bed of cooling air all night long. The XLite address this problem by utilizing a layer of reflective material that radiates heat back to the user. It is a phenomenom that you can feel as soon as you lay on the inflated pad. It should be noted that Therm-a-Rest also sells the XTherm which is nearly identical to the XLite, except that it sacrifices a few more ounces for a bit more warmth. The R-value on the XLite is 3.2 (R-value is a scale used to measure sleeping pad warmth, generally ranging from 0 on the coldest end to 6 or 7 on the warmest), while the R-value on the XTherm is an impressive 5.7.
Comfort: Above all, our favorite quality of the XLite is its comfort. Many air pads come close in their weight, size, and warmth, but only the XLite uses well-designed horizontal baffles and a slighty tacky face material to keep you evenly resting on your pad all night long. Sometimes thickness can become a detriment, especially if it means you and your slippery sleeping pad are rolling off the pad all night long. The XLite finds that perfect balance with 2.5¨ of thickness, and 20¨ of width (25¨ in the large). To be fair, some people compain that the XLite material is too noisy, and this is certainly more apparent in a store than anywhere else. For some, the rustle of the pad takes a little getting used to, but most people report that once they are in their tent and in their sleeping bag, they hardly notice it at all. The latter has been our experience.
Durability: The primary concern of most first-time air pad users is whether the sleeping pad is going to be durable enough. It´s a valid concern, since the airpad does feel a bit like an inflated balloon, but I´m happy to report that there is in fact no need for worry. So long as the user isn´t laying directly on rocky ground (ideally there is at least a tarp or tent underneath) then the sleeping pad should be no more susceptible to punctures than any other. We have crawled all over ours, folded over the end while sleeping in the back of a car, and even used our Crazy Creek chairs on it, and haven´t had any problems with leaks or punctures. According to one rep, Therm-a-Rest has actually had significantly less warranty issues with the NeoAir series than they have with their self-inflating pads. One could argue that the NeoAir users are being more careful, but shouldn´t we all make an effort to protect our gear and make it last?
Price: Inevitably, no matter how amazing a product is, it won´t sell if it´s not appropriately priced. The XLite is priced at $159.99 for the regular, $129.99 for the small, and $179.99 for the large. Of course a sleeping pad at this price is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to dish out a little more dough, they will never regret it. It is competitively priced for what you´re getting, plus it comes with a Lifetime Warranty and is built in the USA. People with back problems, or who are trying to lighten their load, or who plan on spending a significant amount of time sleeping outside should definitely take the XLite into consideration. It is absolutely the pad of choice for most long-distance thru-hikers. The real question is, what is a good night of sleep worth to you? Get your ThermaRest XLite today!
Don feeling especially rested after a night on his NeoAir XLite - at Refugio Frey in Patagonia