Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Very lightweight, warm, comfortable, compact, versatile.
Cons: Edges collapse when weighted, noisy when camped on hard ground, expensive.
Best Uses: All ultralight activities.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is the most comfortable lightweight sleeping pad in existence. A Regular size weighs only 12 ounces and the Small a mere 8 ounces. Both pack down ludicrously tiny. The XLite has become the standard pad for ultralight trips of all types in all conditions. This is our testers' favorite sleeping pad for multi-day trips.
Check out our Backpacking Sleeping Pad Review to compare all of the models tested.
If you’re 5’ 6” or under, check out our Women's Sleeping Pad Review. If comfort is top priority get yourself a Car Camping Mattress, which are much more comfortable than the XLite and better for car camping.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Weight and Packed Size
The NeoAir Xlite is the lightest highly comfortable sleeping pad available. In the Regular size, the XLite weighs only 12 ounces. It also packs down smaller than a Nalgene bottle. This is our top-rated ultralight pad; it makes all others, in all construction types, look poor in comparison. Yes, some other pads are lighter, but none are as comfortable. The Kylmit Inertia X Frame, for example, is three ounces lighter but only comfortable for back-sleepers around 5’10” in height.
Like other pads in the Neo Air series, the XLite uses a series of internal baffles and reflective layers that trap air and bounce heat back to the user. Halting air circulation is the crux of making an air core sleeping pad warm. The more you move about on the pad, the more air moves about within the pad. Moving air is bad because it mixes the warm air you’ve worked so hard to heat up with the cold air closer to the snow below. This, in turn, reduces the pad’s ability to insulate. The XLite’s Triangular Core Matrix technology addresses this problem by dividing up the pad’s interior space into over one hundred different cells that combat airflow and keep you warmer. At the same time, the pad’s aluminized reflective barriers reduce convective heat loss by casting heat back to you.
Although our testers found flat surfaces to be the most comfortable for laying your head on directly, the NeoAir has the best non-flat surface of all the pads we’ve tested. Its ridges are small and curve gently, unlike other pads with deep baffles (such as Nemo, Exped, and Big Agnes pads). The NeoAir’s internal baffles also help make the pad more stable. You feel more like you’re sleeping on a bed than on an inflatable pool toy. Two years of testing the XLite side-by-side with other top-tier inflatable pads shows that the NeoAir surface is the most comfortable. Trip after trip various testers report that the NeoAir was their top choice.
The primary problem with the pad's comfort relates to width. The Regular size isn't wide enough for your arms to rest by your sides when laying on your back. Thus, we often put our arms on our belly. You can also opt for a size Large, which adds 5" of width and 5" of length.
The NeoAir XLite’s ultralight 30-denier bottom is not as durable as the XTherm or All-Season, but is still astonishingly durable (see the photo below). Next we describe two examples of how the our NeoAir XLites have failed.
Torment-forbidden Traverse . Instead, he laid it directly on sharp gravel and rocks. After a night of sleeping successfully the pad tore a quarter sized hole in the bottom shortly after he woke up. The pad lasted all night on sharp rocks!! Check out the photo below. (Note: we recommend a closed cell sleeping pad for use directly on sharp alpine bivy ground. Usually people put a sleeping pad inside a bivy sack, not underneath it.)
Washington State's Olympic Peninsula via foot and packraft with OGL's oldest NeoAir XLite- the one that had been used a ton for two years. We put the pad in the bottom of an Alpacka Explorer 42 boat to insulate and elevate us, and to cushion our butts from rocks. After running into and over many rocks, and scooting over others, the pad began to delaminate in one small area (6" x 6"). The baffle structure that holds the top to the bottom began to come undone likely from the excessive pressure of two people's weight hitting rocks. See the photo below. Although no sleeping pad is intended to hold two people's weight and be used in the bottom of a packraft, we were very impressed that the ultralight XLite that had been abused for two years only began to delaminate after boating with it.
These examples suggest that the XLite and other NeoAir pads are highly durable. In the first example the author patched the pad with Tenacious Tape and Seam Grip. In the second example Therm-a-Rest replaced the delaminating pad free of charge.
Therm-a-Rest has a fantanstic warranty for their products.
"Your mattress is guaranteed without time limit against defects in materials and workmanship." NeoAir pads are super easy to patch, but if one happens to bust open or delaminate they will replace it for free.
There are two drawbacks to the construction of all NeoAir sleeping pads: they’re narrow and noisy. Although 20” is the standard width for portable sleeping pads, the NeoAir is narrower than most others (not all manufacturers measure pads the same way). For example, a 20” XLite is just over an inch slimmer than the 20” Nemo Astro insulated (see photo below). Furthermore, the NeoAir’s internal baffle construction provides little support along the pad’s edges; they collapse slightly when loaded. Specifically, the edges are supportive when lying on your back, but not when you’re lying on your side close to the edge. The combination of a slimmer pad and the edge collapsing effect make the NeoAir series feel about 18” wide. None of our testers found this to be particularly problematic, however. The XLite is still very comfortable. If you’re on the wider side consider a Large size.
The XLite's internal baffles can be noisy when you're camped on hard, compact ground. This is a very minor drawback when the pad's exceptional performance is considered. If saving weight isn't a priority we suggest considering the NeoAir Camper, which is more comfortable and silent.
Any ultralight activity.
Worth every penny.
Other Versions and Accessories
The XLite is available in four sizes that let you get the best pad for your intended use. Small (20 x 47 in., 8 oz.) is ideal for all applications where saving weight is a top priority. The XLite Women’s (20 x 66 in., 11 oz.) is great for people 5’ 6” in height and under or those who want a slightly warmer pad. Regular size (20 x 72 in., 12 oz.) will be best for the greatest number of people. And, finally, Large (25 x 77 in., 16 oz.) is an option for wider people or those who want a more surface area.
For inflation consider the Nemo Disco Pad Pump, a 2.2 oz foot pump or the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Pump Sack (3.8 oz.), which doubles as a camp stool, stuff sack, or backpack liner. We recommend one of these for inflating the pad in the winter, when water vapor from your lungs condenses inside the pad.
For seating, check out the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Jembe Seat (3.8 oz.), which turns any NeoAir mattress into a comfortable camp stool. The Therm-a-Rest Compack Chair (6 oz.) turns almost any pad (from any manufacturer) into a comfortable camp chair with back support.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 14, 2014
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