Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight, warm for the weight, packs small, comfortable, versatile
Cons: Expensive, edges not as stable as other pad designs
Best Uses: Mountaineering, lightweight backpacking, missions where the performance-to-weight ratio matters
If your pack only has room for high performance products, then the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is up to snuff. This pad wins our Top Pick Award for Ultralight because for 12 ounces you won't have to sacrifice a thing when it comes to comfort and packed size. Unless you do a lot of camping in the snow, this pad is warm enough for use in most summer, spring, and fall conditions. We've used this pad in a myriad of conditions and reach for it more than most others. In fact, one tester who has been backpacking and mountaineering for the past 40 years commented that this was by far the best pad he's ever used. Aside from our Editors' Choice winner, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm (which is a bit heavier, but warmer and more durable), we think that the XLite is one of the most versatile three-season pads on the market. It's also worth noting that Therm-a-Rest redesigned the NeoAir XLite for 2015, giving it a new and softer fabric, as well as a quieter construction.
Perhaps the biggest downside to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is its $160 price tag. For the same price, you could buy the Sea to Summit UltraLight that weighs the same, is almost as comfortable, but packs even smaller. Keep in mind, however, that the UltraLight isn't nearly as warm. Below, we highlight more of the differences between these two amazing pads.
The women's version of the XLite won our Editors' Choice Award in the Best Sleeping Pads for Women review. The women's version weighs the same as the unisex model, but it is warmer and four inches shorter.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is one of the most versatile three-season pads we've ever used. Few pads offer as much performance for such a scant weight, which is why we've awarded it our Top Pick for Ultralight. Although it's a bit of an investment, if you're a weight conscious backpacker or mountaineer, we're certain you'll be psyched on this pad's high performance.
We loved sleeping on this pad! It provides a smooth sleep surface save for slight ridges created by the internal baffling. This was more comfortable than pads with deep baffles like the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite or Sea to Summit UltraLight. The horizontal baffles of the XTherm feel more stable than vertical baffles on other sleeping pads. Past reviews of this pad complained of a significant "crackling" noises when you shift around. Therm-a-Rest apparently has updated the material used, because the version in this review was quieter than past iterations of this pad. Only a couple of reviewers noted the noise issue and all of our reviewers agreed that this was mostly a non-issue.
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 inches of width and 5 inches of length. Several testers found this pad too narrow for their liking and didn't like its mummy-shaped construction. Indeed, we agree that rectangular sleeping pads are more comfortable. Further, a problem with horizontally baffled sleeping pads is that the edges are prone to collapsing. Because of this issue, we suspect that the usable width of this pad is more like 16-18 inches depending on the level of inflation.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is the lightest comfortable sleeping pad available. In the regular size, the XLite weighs only 12 ounces and the small weighs just 8 ounces! This is our top-rated ultralight pad. In this review update, the Sea to Summit UltraLight was a close contender for our Top Pick for Ultralight award, but lost because it is slightly less comfortable and retains much less warmth.
The NeoAir XLite is an air construction sleeping pad. As with any such design, heat is primarly lost through internal convection that occurs when you move air throughout the pad by tossing and turning and even breathing. Each time you move, you force a little bit of cold air (near the ground) to mix with warm air (near you). Even though the thermal conductivity value of air is quite low, when it moves across a surface, it can transport a lot of energy and zap your heat away. The XLite combats convective heat loss by using a "Triangle Core Matrix" that compartmentalizes the air and reduces its flow. Further, the internal structure is lined with a reflective surface that bounces radiative heat back to the sleeper. As with any inflatable sleeping pad, the maximum R-value occurs when the pad is fully inflated.
With a stated R-value of 3.2, Therm-a-Rest claims that the XLite should be comfortable down to about 20 degrees F. Feedback from our reviewers backs up this claim. If you want to camp around snow, just add a foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL and you'll be all set. We use this combo frequently and have even used it in Alaska with great success. If you want a pad that's even warmer, check out the Therm-a-Rest XTherm, which has an R-value of 5.7.
Want more warmth without the weight? The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's has an R-value of 3.9! Caveat: it's a bit smaller.
This pad packs down about the same size a one-liter Nalgene bottle. We thought this was super small for a full sized pad until the Sea to Summit UltraLight packed down to nearly half the size. Still, the XLite is a very compressible pad that earns a small place in our ultralight packs.
The NeoAir XLite's ultralight 30 denier nylon bottom is not as durable as the XTherm or Sea to Summit UltraLight, but we still didn't have any issues with durability when used side-by-side with the other pads in this updated review. However, we have been using this pad for years and have experience with it beyond the scope of this review. During this extended use, we have witnessed this pad taking loads abuse as well as failing. If you are concerned with durability, just be sure to use the pad inside your tent or on top of a foam pad. Below, we highlight some of the instances where this pad either shined or failed.
One tester used this pad for 40 days straight including a two night open bivy with the pad used directly on granite. Two years later, he still uses the same pad and cites that it is the best pad he has used in his 40 years of backpacking and mountaineering.
One tester neglected to put his XLite pad inside his bivy sack on the North Cascades' Torment-forbidden Traverse. Instead, he laid it directly on sharp gravel and rocks. After a night of sleeping successfully, the pad got a quarter sized hole in the bottom shortly after he woke up. 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.
On a traverse of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula via foot and packraft, two testers put a two-year old XLite in the bottom of their packraft to insulate them and to cushion their 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 second example the author patched the pad with Tenacious Tape and Seam Grip. In the third example Therm-a-Rest replaced the delaminating pad free of charge.
This pad is meant for high output endeavors were the highest performing gear is needed. Long backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, and cycling trips are the perfect application for a pad like the XLite. We don't like using it for car camping because the other camping mattresses are more comfortable, cheaper, and more durable.
At $160, this is one of the most expensive pads we tested, but it's also the second highest performing. In the sense that this continues to be one of our favorite pads, we think $160 isn't a lot to pay for a good night's sleep in such a lightweight package. The Sea to Summit UltraLight is about the same weight but costs $60 less. If you primarily travel in the summer, the UltraLight is quite worthy of consideration. Overall, we think that the XLite presents a good but not great value.
If you want to lighten your load with one of the highest performing pads we've ever tested, then our Top Pick winner is for you. It is hard to believe that so much awesome is contained in a single 12 oz package. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite continues to be one of our favorite pads and is the one we'd choose if we had to have one pad for three-season adventures. We have used it with great success in the winter when coupled with a foam pad. For long distance backpacking, mountaineering, and climbing adventures, the XLite sets the bar.
There is also a version for the women, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's that retails for $160 and earned our Editors' Choice Award. See the Best Sleeping Pads for Women review to see how this pad stacked up against other women's specific pads. We love the women's version because it weighs the same as the unisex model, but is a little warmer. Caveat: it's 4 inches shorter than the unisex version coming in at 66 inches.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm weighs 3 ounces more than the XLite, costs $40 more, but has an R-value of 5.7 and is more durable.
— Jeremy Bauman
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Most recent review: August 13, 2015
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