NEMO Switchback Review
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|Pros||Inexpensive, lightweight, great insulation adjunct||Lightweight, warm for the weight, packs small, comfortable, versatile||Great value, wide, reasonably light||Lightweight, affordable, great warmth adding supplement||Lightweight, extremely affordable, small packed size|
|Cons||Bulky, loses suppleness over time||Expensive, edges not as stable as other pad designs||Low R-value, thinner than some||Breaks down over time, dimples gather dirt and moisture||Thin, comfort lacking|
|Bottom Line||If sleeping on ultra-firm surfaces doesn't keep you up at night this is a solid option that won't pop||This model boasts a big weight savings, is comfortable, and provides great all around performance||This pad boasts an excellent value in a light and compact package||An effective pad that offers decent three season warmth in a very lightweight package||An ultra light and ultra cheap option for your next backpacking trip|
|Rating Categories||NEMO Switchback||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Klymit Static V2||Therm-A-Rest Z Lite...||Sleepingo Large|
|Weight and Packed Size (30%)|
|Ease of Inflation (10%)|
|Specs||NEMO Switchback||Therm-a-Rest NeoAir...||Klymit Static V2||Therm-A-Rest Z Lite...||Sleepingo Large|
|Weight||14.5 oz||16 oz||17.5 oz||14 oz||14.6 oz|
|Thickness||0.9 in||2.5 in||2.5 in||0.75 in||2 in|
|Claimed R Value||2||4.2||1.3||2||2.1|
|Length||72 in||72 in||72 in||72 in||75 in|
|Width||20 in||20 in||23 in||20 in||23 in|
|Packed Volume (L)||8.9 L||1.8 L||0.9 L||9 L||1.2 L|
|Breaths to Inflate||0||15-20||12-14||0||8-10|
|Type||Closed-cell foam||Air Construction/Baffled Insulation||Air Construction||Closed-cell foam||Air Construction/Synthetic Insulation|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Switchback is in direct competition to the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol, and in many aspects, they are very similar. Overall, the Switchback performed quite well. Notably, the packability is a touch better than the competition and is arguably more comfortable.
Rugged functionality is the name of the game for closed-cell pads such as the Switchback. Deployment and packing is a snap; it can't be popped and is incredibly lightweight, though it does take up quite a bit of space.
To start with a big caveat, closed-cell foam pads are not even on the same planet when it comes to overall comfort and the Switchback is no different. The little egg carton dimples of the Switchback are noticeably taller and more spread out than past foam pads we have tested, and the effect is noticeable. Throwing the Switchback down on a giant flat granite block is probably not where you would want to camp, but it did accentuate the superior design of this pad over other designs and especially over the completely smooth yoga pad looking mats. We could even prop up on our elbows for a bit before the pressure points became too uncomfortable.
When compared to inflatable pads, even the not so comfortable ones, the Switchback is lacking. If you're prone to restlessness because of pressure points, you'll either have to find some uber soft pine boughs to supplement the padding or check out some of the inflatable pads in our review. We noticed a significant amount of time spent waking up to shift and adjust as our hips and shoulders dug in.
Weight and Packed Size
At 14.46 ounces on our scale (410 grams), the Switchback isn't heavy and lands in the middle of the pack for pads we have tested. The really unfortunate feature, however, is the large packed size. Yes, there are definitely closed-cell pads that take up more space, but this is a significant consideration. If you need to transport your pad inside your pack, the Switchback may be a no go. Attached to the outside, it can snag on branches easily, highlighting a significant downside of all closed-cell pads, not just the Switchback. That said, having an ultralight kit and backpack that utilizes a closed-cell pad as structure and padding for the back would be an excellent strategy with this pad.
If you're boarding the ultralight boat, consider this; each segment of the Switchback weighs about an ounce, and cutting the pad down is easy. Cutting it to cover just your hips and shoulders would leave you with a pad weighing in at only about seven ounces and packs down quite small.
Closed-cell foam and heat reflective film give the Switchback a claimed r-value of two. While that doesn't sound like much compared to pads that weigh a similar amount, such as the Therm-a-Rest Neoair XLite, which has more than double the r-value and way more cushion, it does have some solid heat retention properties. We found summer high country camping on chilly nights to be quite comfortable. Our thin 30 degree down sleeping bag is prone to dumping our heat into the ground without insulation. The Switchback proved to be a nice barrier, and while we might have developed some pressure sores on our hips, we didn't freeze. Other closed-cell pads with a similar foam/heat reflective film combo were nearly imperceptible in the differences felt with insulation.
Ease of Inflation
It's pretty easy to inflate because you don't have to inflate it! Joking aside, a massive benefit to the Switchback is that you can just chuck it down without any Wim Hof Everest prep breath work. Some inflatable pads that don't have included pump sacks can take several minutes of often uncomfortable huffing and puffing, and every once in a while, they even require some middle of the night puffs to keep it fully inflated. Not only does the Switchback set up in about one second, but the fact that it can't be popped makes it excellent for mid-day rests or use as a seat around camp before night night time.
The Switchback has an interesting give and take with durability. While it can't pop and doesn't require any patches or pump sacks, it is vulnerable to rips and tears. As we typically pack light and take small backpacks for overnights these days, the side storage packing method left the Switchback vulnerable to tree branches, which scuffed it up. Additionally, after about a month of use, the egg cartons are showing a bit of collapse and degradation. A high point is the lifetime warranty offered by Nemo, which could prove valuable if you accidentally rip it in half mid ashtanga on your next backpacking trip. But hey, if you do rip it in half, it will still work quite well.
If you're looking to get into backpacking and need a pad that offers some warmth and a bit of padding without breaking the bank, we felt that the Switchback is on point and does represent good value. There are very comparable sleeping pads that offer nearly the same attributes for a few bucks cheaper, but the Switchback does offer a touch more comfort and packs down a little smaller than the competition, and the few dollars extra it costs do seem to be right on the mark.
As a first backpacking pad or winter warmth adjunct to an existing sleeping system, the Switchback works well. For those who have not succumbed to the terrors of the aging process and developed a "princess and the pea" sensitivity for hard ground and debris, the Switchback will serve you well. For those of us prone to tossing and turning or side sleeping, an inflatable pad will offer worlds more comfort and likely a better night's sleep.
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