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Hands-on Gear Review
Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream Review
Cons: Expensive, foam tends to bunch up, no stuff sack for inflatable mattress.
Bottom line: The most versatile option among the car camping mattresses while still performing excellently.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream is the second highest rated car camping mattress in this review and is our Top Pick for Convenience. As an adaptable mattress, you can remove the inflatable NeoAir mattress that comes inside the protective outer cover and use it separately as a lightweight backpacking air mattress. This air mattress pairs with a foam pad to live inside the plush protective cover while used in "basecamp" mode, as was intended. Besides its great versatility, this mattress packs down into one of the smallest packages and is relatively light, making versatility one of its strongest features. It is also really comfortable and plenty warm. As one of the best performing car camping mattresses we tested, and including attributes not found on our Editors' Choice Award-winning Exped Megamat 10, we are happy to recognize the NeoAir Dream as our Top Pick.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Much like the Big Agnes Sleeping Giant, what sets the NeoAir Dream apart from the competition is its versatility. It was the top performer in this category, and this attribute, combined with the ease of using it and the tiny packed size, inspired us to name it the Top Pick for Convenience. Where it differs from the other adaptable mattress, the Sleeping Giant, is that the entire package is sold as one, rather than as separate component parts. Also, the sheet of foam that resides on top of the air mattress seems in the case of the NeoAir to be slightly lower quality and is prone to creasing, folding and moving about, but has the advantage of being removable so that the cover can be washed. It does not come with a separate stuff sack for the air mattress, should you want to take only that part on a backpacking trip, but is also quite a bit less expensive than the Sleeping Giant and Big Agnes QCore SLX combo. Compared to the rest of the car camping mattresses in our review, it is among the best we tried, providing great comfort, warmth, and versatility.
We awarded the NeoAir Dream 8 out of a possible 10 points for comfort, roughly the same as its most similar competitor, the Sleeping Giant, but not quite as nice as the Exped Megamat 10. The component parts that make up this pad all contribute to its comfort. On the bottom is the NeoAir mattresss, an inflatable air mattress much like the Therm-a-Rest Luxury MAP, but composed of insulated, horizontal baffles. On top of that is a layer of simple foam that does a nice job of smoothing out the vagaries of compression points from a human body while sleeping. Finally, those two layers are encased in the outer cover, made up of soft plush material on the sleeping surface, and a tough, cordura-like material on the sides and underneath, where it is likely to experience abrasion. The plush top was the single most comfortable face material of any we tested, and certainly needs no sheet. Since the insides are removable, the outer cover is easily washed if it becomes dirty. The three layers of this system add up to four inches of padding and comfort, roughly the same as the Megamat 10.
Ease of Use
All of the mattresses that we tested require at minimum a slight amount of wrangling to get inflated and deflated. So while none are truly perfect, this one is among the best. We gave it the highest score, 9 out of 10 points, along with the Lightspeed 2-person air bed and the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed. The simplest way to inflate this mattress is to use your own breath — which takes a bit of work — because this mattress doesn't self-inflate like the REI Camp Bed 3.5. It also comes with the NeoAir Torrent Pump, which will get the job done for you in two minutes flat, the second fastest of all the automatic pumps we tested (although that may be because it is a small, single mattress). While having the option to use the Torrent Pump is nice, we have small complaints that it only plugs in with a car-lighter adapter, and doesn't have a standard wall plug for home use. It will also run off of four CR123A batteries, but those aren't exactly as household as your typical AAs. But using either option, this mattress is not too much of a hassle to get inflated.
Deflation is likewise relatively simple. While the air mattress only features one nozzle valve instead of two like the Luxury MAP or the Camp Bed 3.5, it is still quick and easy to squish the air out. To fit it into the stuff sack, fold the mattress in half lengthwise before rolling it up. Sewn in buckle cinch-straps keep the tight roll secure once it is rolled up, and ensure that you can transport it without the stuff sack if so desired. It doesn't do the work of inflating and deflating itself for you, but it is about as simple and easy as a XL sized car camping mattress gets.
The triple layer of insulated air mattress, foam topper, and plush cover combine to give the NeoAir Dream has an R-value of 6.0. This is roughly the same as the REI Camp Bed 3.5, and only slightly lower than the Therm-a-Rest Luxury MAP. It does check in as slightly higher than the 5.0 value of the Sleeping Giant. Sleeping on it in the back of our van, which naturally radiates cold temperatures from the metal shell and frame, we never experienced discomfort due to cold, something that we could not say about the nights that we slept on the air beds in the same conditions. For warmth it earns 7 out of a possible 10.
Because of the ability to adapt from a luxurious, XL-sized base camp mattress into a wide but very light backpacking mattress, the NeoAir Dream was the king of versatility. Our only wish was that it also came with the stuff sack for the interior air mattress included in the package. We loved how the outer cover has sewn- in straps that are designed for mating two of these single person pads together to form a double wide. The ability to take all of the pieces apart allows you to wash the plush cover in the laundry machine should it become dirty, a feature not included on any other mattress we tested. All of these great features inspired us to grant it a perfect 10 for versatility.
Further contributing to our assessment that this is the most convenient car camping mattress in our review is the fact that it has the second smallest packed size, next to only the Lightspeed 2-person. For that we granted it 8 out of 10 points. We didn't give any mattress a perfect score because, well, have you seen how small backpacking mattresses are these days?
The NeoAir Dream makes for a fantastic base camp mattress, and is also ideally suited for car camping excursions, tent camping near a car, or as a single person sleeping mattress in almost any situation. Due to its adaptable nature, it can also be taken apart and the inflatable air mattress can be used exclusively on its own while backpacking (provided you find or buy a stuff sack that fits). While this mattress is obviously not suited for two people, it has features that make it very simple to mate with another of its kind.
The NeoAir dream retails for $260, which is not exactly cheap. It is about $40 more expensive than our absolute favorite car camping mattress, the Exped Megamat 10, so if you simply want the best mattress for the money, check that one out. That said, this mattress was our second highest performer, and comes with the added bonus of incredible versatility. It is still $80 less expensive than the combination of a Big Agnes Sleeping Giant with a QCore. Because it is one of the best single person mattresses you can buy and has its own unique uses not matched by any other product, this is a pretty darn good value.
The NeoAir Dream is our Top Pick for Convenience because it is easy to use compared to the competition, it packs down smaller than all but one other mattress, and it has unparalleled versatility. Did we mention that it is also very comfortable and plenty warm? In short, this great mattress is one of the highest scoring in our review, and one we would happily recommend to a friend any day.
Other Versions and Accessories
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream - Large
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Pump Sack
— Andy Wellman
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