The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is ideal for those looking to shave ounces off their overnight kit without sacrificing too much comfort or warmth. After years of gear testing, it's rare that we get excited about new gear updates, but after learning of Therm-a-Rest finally pulling the trigger on updating their valve system, we got pretty excited. The XLite was a recipient of this new winglock valve, as well as a boost in R-value. The 2020 XLite exceeds our expectations for an ultralight backpacking sleeping pad and thus once again takes the Top Pick Award in the Ultralight category.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, warm for the weight, packs small, comfortable, versatile
Cons: Expensive, edges not as stable as other pad designs
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Before we go too deep, the XLite didn't win the Top Pick in the Ultralight award because it's the lightest pad. It took home this award because it is very light and retains an impressive 4.2 R-value, is quite comfortable, and dishes out substantial versatility.
Over the years of testing sleeping pads, we've come to love horizontal baffles. Many pad companies have opted for either a quilted pattern or vertical long baffles, which both have their benefits. The 2.5 inch thick horizontal baffles of the XLite, however, seem to dampen bounce quite well and generally feel smoother and less noticeable than long vertical baffles, especially if the pads are inflated with a higher psi.
The XLite of 2020 is largely similar to the 2019 version when it comes to comfort and footprint. We are once again testing a size regular pad with our main tester being about 5 foot 11 inches and 175ish pounds. While the regular pad absolutely fits and offers enough space for a little tossing and turning, those who do move a lot at night or feel more comfortable with a bit of extra wiggle room should consider sizing up as the size large offers 25 inches of width versus 20.
One comfort-related issue which has been well documented by others as well, is the relatively loud crinkling sound that emanates from the XLite. While the crinkly sound isn't an issue for our main tester, it is certainly a consideration if you're sensitive to sounds when shifting sleeping positions.
Weight and Packed Size
It's actually pretty baffling how light the XLite is when considering its thickness and 4.2 R-value. On our scale, the regular size XLite weighed in at 13.7 ounces by itself, plus 2.3 ounces for the pump sack and stuff sack. Sixteen ounces is a bit more than the advertised 12, but one pound is quite good for a sleeping pad that packs such a high level of versatility.
Without too much packing effort, we could get the XLite packed smaller than a one-liter Nalgene bottle. For our testers, the level of comfort and warmth given from the NeoAir XLite far outweighs the tiny packed size and a little bit of pack space sacrificed. If we compared the volume of space taken up by the XLite compared to the closed-cell foam pads, the difference is laughable. Compared to ultralight inflatables, the XLite stacks up, but there are smaller packed pads if you're willing to sacrifice some comfort and warmth.
The NeoAir XLite is an air construction sleeping pad. As with any such design, heat is primarily lost through internal convection that occurs when you move air throughout the pad by tossing and turning and even breathing. Each time you move, you force a little bit of cold air (near the ground) to mix with warm air (near you). Even though the thermal conductivity value of air is quite low, when it moves across a surface, it can transport a lot of energy and zap your heat away.
The XLite combats convective heat loss by using a Triangle Core Matrix that compartmentalizes the air and reduces its flow. Further, the internal structure is lined with a reflective surface that bounces radiative heat back to the sleeper. As with any inflatable sleeping pad, the maximum R-value occurs when the pad is fully inflated.
With a stated R-value of 3.2, Therm-a-Rest claims that the XLite should be comfortable down to about 20 degrees F. Feedback from our various reviewers backs up this claim. If you want to camp around snow, just add a foam pad like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL, and you'll be all set. We use this combo frequently and have even used it in Alaska with great success. If you want an even warmer pad, we recommend the Therm-a-Rest XTherm, which has an R-value of 5.7.
Ease of Inflation
The most notable difference between the older versions of this pad and the new is the new exceptional valve system. While many pad manufacturers have been fitting their pads with some variation of the same auto sealing valves, Therm-a-Rest has been holding out. The new winglock valve was worth the wait. It visually looks like a chunkier version of past valves, but its function is lightyears beyond. First, no backflow or air is allowed to escape during inflation. Second, the moving parts feel substantial and durable compared to past valves. Lastly, the volume of air we can get in and out through the valve seems exponentially greater.
We have noticed during our product research that a vast amount of people think the pump sack pops off the valve a bit too easy. We too encountered this problem during the first inflation of the pad, though we quickly developed a sixth sense of how much pressure to put on the bag for optimal speed without popping it off. It generally would take us seven or eight bags of air to top off the pad, with an additional breath to really firm it up. While we agree that the pump sack isn't perfect and would be more user-friendly if it was more snug fitting on the valve, this new system solidifies the whole fleet of Therm-a-Rest pads as top performers. Honestly, we were willing to futz around with the miserable old valves just to have the lightweight warmth offered by these pads.
While we wouldn't recommend throwing down on open ground with an inflatable sleeping pad of any type, we did just that with the XLite. We were probably lucky to have no incidents using the pad in this manner, however, it does speak to a decent level of durability. While there are new components present, the fabric type and durability remain the same 30d we are used to.
The winglock valve system is a significant boost in durability. The old valve system felt flimsy and vulnerable, whereas this new system feels substantially thicker in hand, and the moving parts feel solid both when locked in place or when being manipulated. While we didn't have the gusto to step on either valve system, we would wager the winglock would have a much greater survivability if someone accidentally gave it a stomp.
One tester neglected to put his XLite pad inside his bivy sack on the North Cascades Torment-Forbidden Traverse. Instead, he laid it directly on sharp gravel and rocks. After a night of sleeping successfully, the pad got a quarter-sized hole in the bottom shortly after he woke up. (Check out the photo below.) Note: we recommend a closed-cell sleeping pad for use directly on sharp alpine bivy ground. Usually, people put a sleeping pad inside a bivy sack, not underneath it.
On a traverse of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula via foot and packraft, two testers put a two-year-old XLite in the bottom of their pack raft to insulate them and to cushion their bums from rocks. After running into and over many rocks, and scooting over others, the pad began to delaminate in one small area (6" x 6"). The baffle structure that holds the top to the bottom started to come undone, likely from the excessive pressure of two people's weight hitting rocks. (See the photo below.) Although no sleeping pad is intended to hold two people's weight and be used in the bottom of a pack raft, we were very impressed that the ultralight XLite that had been abused for two years only began to delaminate after boating with it. These examples suggest that the XLite and other NeoAir pads are highly durable.
We tested the regular length version of this pad, which is unquestionably expensive. While there is a pretty big barrier to entry on this thing, the performance justifies the cost, making it a solid value. If you're on a budget and looking for a pad that will just get the job done, the XLite might not be the pad for you. This thing is ultra-versatile, warm for its weight, packable, and comfortable. If you're looking for a top of the line pad that isn't miserably heavy, this is a pretty dang good choice.
For years we made a conscious decision to just deal with the frustration of having a dated valve system on our Therm-a-Rest pads. The new winglock valve exceeded our expectations and solved the low flow, back flow, and durability issues we had with the XLite. Not only did the XLite get kitted out with the new new, but it also gained a full number R-value, further boosting the usable temperatures. While we saw fit to award the XLite with our Top Pick in previous years, this year really solidified our decision, and we're more impressed than ever.
— Brian Martin