Air Mattress and Foam Pad
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite
$130, 9 oz., 47x20x2.5 ins. (small)
$160, 12 oz., 72x20x2.5 ins. (regular)
$180, 1 lb., 77x25x2.5 ins. (long)
Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol
$45, 13 oz., 72x20x0.75 ins. (regular)
$35, 10.5 oz., 51x20x0.75 ins. (small)
My preoccupation with keeping my backpack light usually steers me to the lightest gear—but I draw the line at sleeping uncomfortably, which made me slightly apprehensive about the featherweight NeoAir XLite—one of the shortest air mats I’ve ever used. I had no need to be. On a four-night backpacking trip in Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, I slept great on the smallest size. I’m five feet, eight inches, and the pad stretches from my shoulders to just below my knees, so I slept with an inflatable camping pillow (which I always carry) and my empty pack under my feet. Taller people would want the regular or long. The 30-denier nylon fabric is tougher than what’s used on some air mats. But best of all, this air mat packs away smaller than a liter bottle and weighs half as much as competitors.
The classic egg-carton-pattern, closed-cell foam sleeping pad got better when Therm-A-Rest first introduced the accordion-style Z Lite, which folds up quickly and lies flat instantly when you open it up. They’ve now made it better again with the Z Lite Sol, by adding an aluminized surface that reflects heat. Cascade Designs says that surface increases warmth by almost 20 percent over and above the insulation value created by trapping warm air in the egg-carton pattern on its surface.
My kids, age 11 and nine, slept comfortably on this pad on spring and summer trips in Idaho’s Smoky Mountains and City of Rocks, Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, and Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
While bulky, the pad’s low weight makes it a good choice for ultralight backpacking on the cheap or keeping a kid’s backpack weight down. The proprietary closed-cell foam is softer on top for comfort and denser on the bottom for durability. I generally prefer an air mattress, but I’ll use this foam pad when camping on soft ground (like pine duff) or as a second pad when camping on snow or cold or frozen ground.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite at moosejaw.com or rei.com, or a Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol at moosejaw.com or rei.com.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.