After sampling multiple closed cell foam and air mattresses on trips ranging from single nights in the Appalachians to multi-day trips on snow, I can confidently say I’m not really sure why someone would use any other camping mattress besides the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite and Xtherm. On 90% of trips, one of those two mattresses will be my go to. But it’s not without its downsides, so I will look to highlight why I personally think the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite is the best mattress on the market but also some of its pitfalls.
There is not an inflatable mattress on the market that boasts a weight as low as the NeoAir Xlite shorty (47 inch) sleeping pad. At 8 ounces, the next lightest pad would be the Klymit Inertia X Frame at 9 ounces. However, with holes cut out, the Klymit Inertia sacrifices comfort and warmth in the name of weight, and still comes out heavier than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite.
Closed cell foam pads for years were the standard of low weight but with the advancements in textiles, the air mattresses have caught up to them. The only CCF pad that still outdoes the NeoAir Xlite is the Gossamer Gear Nightlight sleeping pad, but does so at a serious sacrifice of comfort.
A top metric for anyone spending any more than a single night in the backcountry, a sleeping pad must be able to accomplish the single thing it was designed for: allowing you to sleep. Air mattresses will always trump closed cell foam pads in this department and while companies have been fighting for enhancing the air mattresses with different baffle designs, I haven’t found any serious difference from the standard horizontal or vertical baffles. At 2.5 inches (6cm) thickness, the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite holds its own against all other air mattresses on the market. The only downside I would say is the slight crinkling noise it makes but besides the movement when you’re first falling asleep, it never poses much of an issue.
Boasting an R-value of 3.2, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite tops out the list of three season mattresses with respect to warmth. The only mattress of reasonable comparison that beats it is its winter counterpart, the Xtherm. At a 5.7 R-value, the Xtherm is suitable as a four season mattress for nearly any conditions. Both mattresses are a nylon exterior with an internal system of baffles to minimize convective heat loss and radiative heat loss. They utilize reflective interior surfaces to return lost radiative heat to the user. However, they do all this without implementing insulation that bulks up other mattresses.
The Exped Downmat 9, however, represents the high end of insulation, with an R-value of 8. But after using this mat on many winter expeditions, I now prefer the durability of the Xtherm and a closed cell foam pad combo. At 31.2 ounces, the Downmat is in its own category of heavy mattresses. The combo I use for sub-zero temps is the regular Xtherm and a shorty RidgeRest and with a combined R-value of 8.5 and weight of 24 ounces, I can’t justify bringing the Downmat on any trips other than alpine expeditions.
When packed down, the shorty version is about the size of a half-liter bottle and the regular version not much bigger. I used it on my attempt of the Appalachian Trail thru-hike record and it fit well into my 10-liter pack. It took up less space than even my Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt which packed down to about softball size.
When inflated, the shorty Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite unfurls to a sizeable 47 inch by 20 inch by 2.5 inch mattress. The regular version stretches out to 72 inches. Personally, at 5’6″ tall (or short rather), I had no problem curling up on the shorty pad and the regular is plenty long for me to stretch out on for a more comfortable night’s sleep.
Ease of use
Of course, being an air mattress, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite depends on being pumped up at camp and deflated in the morning so is less convenient than a Therm-a-rest RidgeRest. However, it takes only a couple minutes to inflate and approximately equal time to deflate and roll up. It’s not a tremendous burden considering the comfort it provides through the night.
Despite my initial concerns, the mattress has withstood weeks of tests on rough terrain and not once has punctured. It looks like a flat yellow balloon and I suspected the puncture resistance would be similar. However, with all the crap I’ve put it through, I have yet to need the patch kit. I used it on my 8 day hike of the John Muir Trail last year and on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike record attempt and was less than cautious with some of my desperate campsites. But despite the years of abuse, it’s come out of each trip without even the slightest abrasion.
However, the metallic coating on the inside of the mattress with deteriorate over time. But with Therm-a-Rest’s lifetime warranty, they’ll replace your mattress hassle free if this happens to you. I’m sure they’ll be working on a solution to this problem and hopefully models in the upcoming years will address this.
Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Conclusion
In summary, if you’ve got the money, the $130 to $200 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is the best three season mat you can buy. If you’re interested in the slightest possibility of a winter trip or are a cold sleeper, I’d recommend dropping a bit more cash on the Xtherm for $200 to $240. The Xtherm won’t be too hot for summer trips and can be used year round. If you have any questions about these sleeping pads or others, feel free to ask me in the comments below!