Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Super warm, packs down small, comfortable, versatile
Cons: Edges aren’t as stable as other pads, expensive
Best Uses: Full four-season use, mountaineering, backpacking, climbing
Once again, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm earns our Editors' Choice award because it provides an unmatched combination of warmth, comfort, weight, packed size, and durability. If we had to have just one pad to do everything all year round, this would be it. This was the warmest pad in this review update but still only weighs 15 ounces. It's warm enough for winter expeditions, and light enough for long backpacking trips closer to home. The biggest downside to this pad is its $200 price tag, but if you want to sleep well on any surface winter or summer, this pad is worth it. Our only other complaint was that its edges are less stable than other pad designs, making it feel narrower than the 20 inch width would suggest. This was a relatively small issue for most of our testers and the pad comes in a large size that is 5 inches wider. If you don't need a super warm pad for winter use, you should consider saving $40 and 3 ounces by picking up our Top Pick for Ultralight: the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Overall, the Editors' Choice winning XTherm is a very high performing pad that is ideal for year round use. Buy this pad if you want one pad that can handle any conditions or environments.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is the highest scoring pad in the review and the winner of our Editors' Choice award. It is comfortable, lightweight, super warm, packable, and pretty durable. Typically sleeping pads must sacrifice in one of these categories in order to excel at others, but the XTherm scores highly across the board.
When fully inflated, this pad gives a little more than two inches of padding between you and the ground. The horizontal baffles are very comfortable and resist the bounciness often felt in vertically baffled pads. We also loved the relatively smooth surface of this pad. When you deflate if just a tad, it's super comfy! We gave this pad a comfort score of 7/10. The most comfortable pad we tested was the Best Buy winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture.
Several factors detracted from the XTherm's comfort score: dimensions, edge collapse, and nosiness. The biggest complaint our casual testers had about this pad is that it was too narrow. We tested the regular size that is 20 inches wide. The large version is 5 inches wider and is recommended for those who don't mind five ounces of extra weight. Most of our testers are happy with the Regular size. Another good option is to consider the MAX version of this pad that is shaped like a rectangle rather than a mummy and weighs just 2 ounces more.
The second issue we had with this pad as well as the XLite is that the edges are less stable than the middle. This means that the usable width of the pad is more like 16-18 inches depending on how fully you inflate the pad. We think the edge collapse issue is a very trivial price to pay compared with this pad's otherwise stellar performance. Third, some (not all) of our testers complained that this pad sounds "crinkly." They are referring to the internal reflective barrier that sounds like aluminum foil when you shift body positions. However, multiple testers who slept on the XTherm, the Sea to Summit UltraLight, and the Sea to Summit Comfort Insulated complained that the Sea to Summit pads were louder. Overall, we don't think the "crinkly" issue is enough to significantly affect our view of this pad especially since snow tends to muffle the sound.
Warmth is the primary reason to get an Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. If you aren't a cold sleeper or won't use the pad in the winter, we suggest considering the XLite, which is about half as warm but three ounces lighter. The XTherm is the warmest pad we reviewed with a stated R-value of 5.7. One tester didn't believe it was possible to be warm when backpacking until she slept on this pad. As she reluctantly returned the pad she commented, "I've never slept so well because I've always been freezing!"
The XTherm uses a series of internal baffles and reflective layers that trap air and bounce some heat back to the sleeper. Halting air circulation within air construction pads is the crux to reducing heat loss. Movement on the pad (even as slight as just breathing) forces air to circulate within the pad. This is a very bad thing because this process mixes the warm air you've worked so hard to heat up with the cold air closer to the cold ground below. The thermal conductivity of air may be low, which is why it's such a good insulator, but when air moves it can transport a lot of energy. The bane of air construction pads is the flow of air within the pad.
Other pad manufacturers use synthetic insulation or down to trap air; this approach is effective but heavy. Therm-a-Rest addresses this problem with the XTherm's "Triangular Core Matrix" technology, which divides the pad's interior space into over a hundred different cells that restrict airflow and encourage heat retention. Inflating the pad to maximum capacity will let you utilize the full insulation value of the pad. Deflating it slightly for comfort will start to decrease the pad's warmth retaining capabilities. Besides limiting convection and conduction, the pad's ThermaCapture reflective barriers reduce radiative heat loss by reflecting that heat back to you. From our experience, we can tell you that this pad is warm! We tested it on Denali in Alaska, in Greenland, and all over the Lower 48, including cold places like northern Maine, Montana, and Wyoming. The pad's exceptional warmth to weight ratio has made it the new standard for winter pads. It has also pushed winter sports to a new level by allowing skiers and climbers to travel more comfortably while carrying less weight.
Until this pad came out, it was unheard of for a single four season sleeping pad to weigh under a pound. This pad provides an unparalleled warmth to weight ratio. As mentioned previously, if you don't need the added warmth of the XTherm, you can save three ounces and $40 by going with the XLite instead. We tested the regular size of this pad and weighed it at 15 ounces. Unfortunately, Therm-a-Rest no longer makes a small 11 oz version of this pad.
The XTherm packs down to a fairly average size for many air construction pads. We calculated that it's about 1.6 liters in size, but in practice it feels like it packs down to about the same size as a one-liter Nalgene bottle. Usually, pads with R-values as high as the XTherm are very bulky when packed regardless of construction type. For a pad as comfortable and warm as the XTherm, we are very impressed with the small packed size.
A 70 denier nylon bottom and 30 denier ripstop nylon top makes this pad suitably durable. If you use it inside a bivy, tent, or on top of a tarp, we expect this pad to last for years and years. We have friends who have used this pad for years on end without any durability problems. If you are concerned about durability on long winter expeditions, it would be advantageous for you to compliment this pad with a secondary foam pad. This gives you redundancy in case the XTherm pops and increases your total R-value, keeping you even warmer.
If you don't need the extra warmth or durability, the Therm-a-Rest XLite received the same comfort score and costs $40 less.
This is the pad to buy if you want maximum warmth performance, high comfort, and low weight. We have used a lot of sleeping pads in the winter and this has become our go-to. At a weight that rivals many summer sleeping pads, the XTherm is a true four season contender. Buy this pad if you want one pad for every environment.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is neither cheap in quality or price at a hefty $200, but it is the best pad we've ever used. It is the pad you want if you're pushing your limits and don't want to sacrifice weight for performance. If you're just getting into winter camping or backpacking, you might be just as happy with a less expensive pad. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season is a high scoring option that might inflate your interests. The All Season has an R-value of 4.9, weighs 18 ounces, has a comfortable rectangular design, and is constructed with more durable fabrics. Unless you want the highest performing pad ever, you will likely be happy with other pads that cost less.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm once again is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award because it provides an impressive balance of packed size, durability, comfort, and warmth all the while boasting the most warmth retention of any pad we tested. The horizontal baffles make for a smooth and comfortable sleeping surface but the edges are prone to collapsing. We are thoroughly impressed with this pad and highly recommend it to anyone looking for the highest performing pad on the market.
XTherm MAX ($200) shaped like a rectangle rather than a mummy and weighs just 2 ounces more.
— Jeremy Bauman
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Most recent review: August 13, 2015
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