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Hands-on Gear Review
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Max SV Review
Cons: Expensive, speed valve can leak air if not properly closed, crinkly material is loud
Bottom line: Geared toward general backpacking or base camp use, this pad has a few flaws that make the high price tag tough to swallow.
The XLite Max SV is a variation of the popular Top Pick for Ultralight, the NeoAir XLite. Our reviewers have spent hundreds of nights on past versions of this pad and recommend it highly. The new SV model boasts a rectangular shape and an innovate valve system that inflates the pad with just a few breaths. The added novelty comes with a big price bump for the regular size and extra weight. Since we don't like paying more money for items that weigh more than their counterparts, we think the regular version of this pad is the better option. More importantly, we had the SV go flat on us more than a few times. We did not experience that with the non-SV version.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
When it comes to the comfort metric, the XLite Max SV's rectangular dimensions afforded it a one point lead over its predecessor. The pad's increased width freed our feet to move about without fear of touching the ground. Shallow horizontal baffles make for a smooth sleep surface, though the edges are prone to collapse. The significance of this fact varies according to inflation level, but our reviewers agreed that the 20 inch wide pad that we tested feels narrower in practice than others of similar dimensions. Consider the 25 inch version if you have broad shoulders.
But the biggest complaint: this pad is noisy! Rambunctious sleepers crinkled their way through the night testing their tent-mates' patience. Of course you can always consider buying courtesy ear plugs! The pad's noisiness decreases with use as the materials break in, but milage with the significance of the crinkle factor will vary. We've talked with people who love the design of NeoAir pads but can't stand the sound. The vast majority of our reviewers feel like the noise factor is a minor issue compared with the strengths of the NeoAir series pads.
Be sure to check out the regular version of the Therm-a-Rest XLite sleeping pad.
One reviewer preferred the XLite Max SV over the Top Pick for Comfort winning Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated. Feedback across the board, however, constrains the XLite Max SV due to the issues cited above. Overall, the XLite is a joy to sleep on and adds quite a bit of comfort over most self inflating pads and foam pads. If you want more comfort, check out the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Comfort SV.
Weight and Packed Size
Though the XLite Max SV sports some unnecessary features, it still boasts a competitive weight in the sleeping pad lineup. At just 16 ounces, it yields a great balance of comfort, weight, warmth, and ease of inflation. Ounce counters looking for maximum performance per ounce should consider the non-speed valve version of this pad or other lightweight options like the Exped Synmat Hyperlite.
When packed, the Max SV is just larger than a standard one liter Nalgene and slightly larger than the older version.
Sleep warmly in three seasons thanks to this pad's 3.2 R-value. You'll be plenty warm as long as the ground is above freezing. If you plan on doing some intermittent snow camping, just pick up a cheap closed cell foam pad like the Best Buy winning Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, cut it to a size as big as your torso, put it on top, and you're all set! As with any air constructed pad, you'll be the warmest when you inflate the pad as much as possible. This pad felt roughly as warm as the Big Agnes Q Core SLX Insulated.
Ease of Inflation
We began our testing of this pad with a high degree of skepticism and critique, but the SpeedValve lives up to much of the hype. A big downside to air construction sleeping pads has always been the difficulty of inflation. Self-inflating mats are a popular alternative for this reason. Integrated air pumps, stuff sack pumps, and electronic inflation devices have mitigated some of these issues, but none of them are as fast at inflating a pad as Therm-a-Rest's new speed valve currently found on the XLite, Camper, and Trekker pads. The seven-inch wide valve that rolls like a dry sack is easy to use and effective. Care must be taken to roll it seven times without any creases. Several testers woke up in the morning with half-deflated pads.
The same Bernoulli principle that causes airplanes to fly now inflates sleeping pads. The basics are this: fast moving liquids or gasses are lower pressure than slower moving ones. Thus blowing swift air into the SpeedValve creates a momentary vacuum that pulls higher pressure air in with it. An internal black plastic piece functions as a one way valve. But how well does all this work? In the mile high city of Denver, just four focused breaths into the SpeedValve yields the same inflation level of 14 strong puffs through the traditional valve. Lower air pressures at higher elevations increased the number of breaths to inflate, but overall it was still fast and easy.
The SpeedValve is fun to use and works well, but care must be taken to roll the top closed perfectly. Without doing so, testers found that the pad can lose air throughout the night. The first model that we tested would not stay fully inflated; after sending it back, the new one we received worked much better.
In short, the Max SV was as easy to inflate as self-inflating pads like the Therm-a-Rest Evolite, REI AirRail 1.5, and Therm-a-Rest ProLite. The plastic one-way-ish valve makes it easier to inflate than the similar Windcatcher AirPad. When it's time to move, the pad deflates instantly with just a quick unclipping of the roll top closure.
How to best use the speed valve: neatly lay the pad on the ground, position your face six inches away from the valve, take a deep breath, blow strongly and consistently for a few seconds, pull the opening closed, allow the air some time to distribute within the pad, and repeat! When inflated, just roll the top seven times, clip, and you're all set.
We had this pad go flat on us a few times. It's hard to roll up the SV closure system to be perfectly air tight. It didn't go flat all at once, but throughout the night, it slowly leaked air.
The Therm-a-Rest Max SV is a perfect pad if you're looking for a lightweight sleeping option that is comfortable, easy to inflate, and warm enough for three season use. Use it for general backpacking, base-camping, and as the one pad that'll fit most of your uses. It isn't ideal for ultralight backpacking or alpine climbing because it sacrifices weight for the convenience of the SpeedValve.
The $180 price tag is a hefty one to pay just so you can save your breath. For $20 cheaper, you can buy the Top Pick for Ultralight winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad that is 4 ounces lighter. For $20 more, you could buy the Editors' Choice winning Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm or Top Pick for Comfort winning Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated. For less than half the price, you can pick up the comfortable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture. That's not to say that the Max SV is or isn't worth its price, but you should be informed that there are higher performing options out there if you're willing to huff and puff for a few extra moments at the end of the day.
We applaud the innovation that went into the Max SV. The new valve style is easy to use and significantly decreases the hassle of inflating a pad at the end of the day. It is a good option if you want a balance of comfort, warmth, and ease of inflation at the expense of a few ounces. Still, there's a lot packed into this pad's 16 ounce package, making it a great option for people who previously had to choose between the comfort of an air construction pad and the ease of inflation of a self-inflating pad. If you aspire to pushing your limits on ultralight endeavors, buy the lighter XLite. Buy the Max SV if you want a great pad that's easy to inflate and don't mind carrying the few extra ounces or paying a few extra dollars in the name of convenience.
— Jeremy Bauman
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