Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Very lightweight, warm, comfortable, compact, versatile.
Cons: Edges collapse when weighted, noisy, expensive.
Best Uses: All ultralight activities.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is the lightest comfortable sleeping pad in existence. A Regular size pad weighs only 12 ounces and the Small a mere eight ounces. Both pack down ludicrously tiny. The XLite is, hands down, the best pad for any ultralight activity.
Though three ounces heavier than the Klymit Inertia X Frame, the NeoAir XLite is much more comfortable, warmer, and more versatile. Our testers prefer the XLite. For multi-day winter trips get the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, the pad with the greatest warmth-to-weight ratio.
For those who spend less time backpacking and more time base and car camping we recommend the Nemo Astro Insulated, a cheaper and slightly more comfortable alternative to XLite. Or, for the cheapest sleeping pad, choose the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL, a durable and lightweight closed cell foam pad that won’t break the bank.
If you’re 5’ 6” or under, check out our Women's Sleeping Pad Review. And finally, if comfort is top priority get yourself a Car Camping Mattress. These luxurious portable beds turn roots and rocks into plush, heavenly clouds.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The NeoAir XLite is the updated version of Therm-a-Rest's original NeoAir pad. Compared to the original version the The Xlite is almost 15% lighter, has an R-value of 3.2 instead of 2.5, and has a tapered shape that reduces weight. The new pad also uses improved materials, has more internal reflective barriers, and is constructed in a more durable fashion. The two pads have the same dimensions (20" x 72"), but the new one has slightly less surface area.
The NeoAir Xlite is the lightest 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, other pads are lighter, but none is as comfortable. The Kylmit Inertia X Frame, for example, is three ounces lighter but only comfortable for back-sleepers around 5’10” in height. The NeoAir XLite is versatile, too. You can use it car camping, backpacking, mountaineering, and for any application where saving weight is a top priority.
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.
All NeoAir pads lift you 2.5” off the ground, which prevents your hips from jamming into the ground and makes the pad comfortable for sitting and kneeling. This is particularly good if you’re tent bound for several days waiting for weather to clear. 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. 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.
The XLite’s shockingly low weight, small packed size, and fine blend of comfort and warmth make it the best ultralight sleeping pad available. If saving weight is a top priority the XLite can’t be beaten.
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.
Warning: everything you do on the XLite can and will be heard by others. The crinkle-crackle of its internal baffles and foil-like reflective layers make the XLite the second the loudest pad we’ve tested. Turning over is loud, sitting up is louder, and kneeling on the pad even louder. Romantic adventures sound like a symphony orchestra. A noisy pad is fine when you’re camping alone in a remote locale. When in a campground or at a base camp, however, everyone within 100 feet can hear you roll over. Does this impact the pad’s performance? Absolutely not. The noise is only a drawback when other people are nearby and if you care that they hear you.
Although the XLite utilizes a top-of-the-line 30-denier nylon, the pad isn’t the most durable. (The fabric is transparent.) Feathered Friends, a top sleeping bag maker, explains the pros and cons of ultralight materials in their warranty. Keep the following in mind when buying ultralight outdoor gear:
“While we strive to make durable products, it is important to realize that some of the materials we use sacrifice durability, abrasion resistance, and tear strength to achieve lighter weight. Customers purchasing products made from the lightest fabrics should be aware of the inherent limitations these fabrics have. Accordingly, customers should adapt their expectations of how products made with ultra light fabrics will perform over time to reflect their reduced durability.”
Any ultralight activity.
You’re paying top dollar for top quality.
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.
— Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: April 9, 2013
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