New NeoAir XLite
Since our test period, the NeoAir XLite has been granted a new valve system as well as a higher R-value. The new valve, called WingLock, has "wings" that toggle for one-way inflation. This addresses the pesky problem of having to block the valve with your tongue during inflation to keep air from leaking out between exhales. The R-value has increased from 3.2 to 4.2, which should provide for a warmer nights sleep. Compare the two pads; the new model is shown first.
We have yet to test the updated NeoAir, but we will report back with our findings when we do. Until then, the review below is our account of the previous model.
Hands-On Review of the NeoAir XLite
It's critical to know the NeoAir XLite is not the lightest sleeping pad on the market. What it is is a functional balance of weight, comfort, and warmth. At under a pound, the NeoAir XLite is more than warm enough for a solid three seasons and comfortable enough to keep you snoozing night after night. If you're looking for the lightest of the light, check out the Uberlight, which weighs in at only eight ounces, though you do sacrifice a significant amount of warmth and durability to the thin denier fabrics used to attain such a light weight.
The XLite was an excellent sleeping pad. Shoulder season backpacking gear decisions were made easy with the XLite in our kit. While it isn't highly insulated, it got the job done in unpredictable weather.
Side sleepers rejoice. For our testers that sleep primarily on their side, the NeoAir XLite is fantastic. The 2.5 inch thick horizontal baffles were plenty thick to keep our shoulders and hips elevated above the hard ground. There are some important size considerations when considering the comfort of the NeoAir XLite. If you are a taller/wider person, the edges of the mat can feel like they want to spit you off. Other sleeping pad brands have made their baffles run the length of the pad with thicker baffles on the sides, almost like the bumpers you put in the gutters when children go bowling. As the NeoAir XLite doesn't this feature, it's important to size up if you're in doubt. Our main tester for this year's shootout was about 5'11" and 175 pounds, and he would have been more comfortable on the large pad.
Another consideration that falls under the umbrella of comfort is the noise generated by shifting around on the NeoAir XLite. While some of our testers weren't put off by the crinkle, others found it a tad annoying. It was nowhere near as noisy as the XTherm, but still, the noise was noticeable. Admittedly this is a small price to pay for such a lightweight and ultimately comfortable sleeping pad.
Our biggest gripe with the XLite and XTherm comfort was how narrow the regular-sized pad was. If you're near the size of our 5'11" 175lbs tester pictured, it might be worth sizing up to the wider pad and taking the weight penalty.
Weight and Packed Size
For a sleeping pad that offers any insulation, much less the solid three-season insulation in the NeoAir XLite, weighing in under a pound is amazing. Our gear testers remember their introduction to the outdoors when pad choices were either a closed-cell foam pad like the ZRest or a super heavy inflatable. Those days are gone, and the NeoAir XLite is leading the insulated but light pack.
Without too much packing effort, we could get the NeoAir 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 NeoAir XLite compared to the closed-cell foam pads, the difference is laughable. Compared to ultralight inflatables, the NeoAir XLite stacks up, but there are smaller packed pads if you're willing to sacrifice some comfort and warmth.
It's easy to see why this was one of our top scorers in the packed size category. The XLite packs in tighter than rush hour traffic on I-25 into Denver.
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 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 a pad that's even warmer, check out the Therm-a-Rest XTherm, which has an R-value of 5.7.
Want more warmth without the weight? The NeoAir XLite Women's
has an R-value of 3.9! Caveat: it's a bit smaller.
The XLite certainly isn't as warm as the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus but it is significantly lighter and can still see you through a cold night or two with your life intact.
Ease of Inflation
The NeoAir XLite's dated air valve is a bit of a frustration even though it is very lightweight. Most sleeping pad companies have pivoted to new one way valves that don't restrict inflow and keep your precious breath from pouring back out while you try to seal the valve in a panic. Therm-a-rest has stayed true to their screw cap do it all valve. The upsides are that it gets the job done, and it is significantly lighter than the big chunky valves found on newer pads.
There is an optional pump sack included with the XTherm, which can be used on the XLite. The rubber gasket attachment design is frustrating to use and left us wondering why anyone would bring such a heavy pump sack when dealing with the gasket, potentially with cold hands, might be nearly impossible. We opted to use lung power, and while it does take several minutes to get the XLite fully inflated, it wasn't the slowest!
The dated nozzle on the XLite restricts inflow and requires some maneuvering to get it sealed while the pad is fully inflated.
The NeoAir XLite's ultralight 30 denier nylon bottom is not as durable as the XTherm or Sea to Summit UltraLight, but we still didn't have any issues with durability when used side-by-side with the other pads in this updated review. However, we have been using this pad for years and have experience with it beyond the scope of this review. During this extended use, we have witnessed this pad taking loads abuse as well as failing. If you are concerned with durability, just be sure to use the pad inside your tent or on top of a foam pad. Below, we highlight some of the instances where this pad either shined or failed.
One tester used this pad for 40 days straight, including a two-night open bivy with the pad used directly on granite. Two years later, he still uses the same pad and cites that it is the best pad he has used in his 40 years of backpacking and mountaineering.
There are really only a few ways to shave weight. Cutting material, or using lighter material. Compared to the already light weight XTherm, the XLite keeps the same footprint but utilizes a thinner less durable material on the bottom.
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.
Katabatic Gear Sawatch bag and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pad on the Torment-Forbibben Traverse, Cascades, WA. The pad was used directly on the sharp rocks and popped shortly before sunrise ...it lasted all night on sharp rocks!!
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 butts 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 began 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.
A Regular size Therm-a-Rest Neo Air pad (Xlite shown here) fits perfectly inside an Alpacka Explorer 42 raft and insulates and elevates you from cold water. Hoh River, Olympic Peninsula, WA.
These examples suggest that the XLite and other NeoAir pads are highly durable. In the second example, the author patched the pad with Tenacious Tape and Seam Grip. In the third example, Therm-a-Rest replaced the delaminating pad free of charge.
There's no denying how expensive this sleeping pad is, and the high cost makes it less suitable for every-day use and car camping. However, the extremely high level of performance does justify the price tag. Of the mountain of sleeping pads, we have tested over the years, the NeoAir XLite has scored well over and over and is a tried and true personal favorite of many gear testers.
If you're looking to lighten your load and your wallet without sacrificing warmth, comfort, and packability, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is one of the best. There are some important considerations, such as user size and which of the three sizing options will work best for your needed application. If you're looking for a comfortable car camping pad that can put up with years of abuse, your money might be spent elsewhere, as the NeoAir XLite is a lightweight adventure specialist.
We've used the XLite directly on the ground and on rock on multiple occasions without any durability issues.