Insulated Air Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm
$200, 15 oz. (regular)
Sizes: regular (20x72x2.5 ins., tapered), large (25x77x2.5 ins., tapered), Max (25×77.2.5 ins., rectangular)
When sleeping outdoors at any time of year, you have two simple objectives: comfort and warmth. We tend to associate the former with our choice of air mattress or pad and the latter with our choice of sleeping bag. But the air mat is actually the key to both goals, because dollar for dollar, your money achieves more warmth from an air mat or pad that adequately insulates your body from the cold ground (which can rapidly drain heat from you) than from your bag. In the NeoAir XTherm—which I tested on numerous trips, including several nights sleeping on snow—you get an all-season air mat with more insulation, pound for pound, than any competitor.
My teenage son and I took turns using the NeoAir XTherm on two trips camping on snow: a four-day, mid-April climb of the Mountaineers Route on California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, with lows in the teens Fahrenheit; and three February nights in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, with lows that ranged down to just below freezing. I also used it sleeping outside on grass while on a mid-October backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and my son used it on a family backpacking and car-camping trip in southern Utah in late March.
The XTherm’s superior warmth-to-weight ratio comes from the ThermaCapture Radiant Heat Technology, which has reflective layers that bounce heat back to your body, giving it a winter-worthy R-value of 5.7 (compared to an R-value of around 3.3 for many three-season mats).
At 2.5 inches thick, with a tapered, mummy shape, it was comfortable on a variety of surfaces, from hard ground to packed snow. Inflating and deflating with a standard valve, it requires 19 to 20 strong breaths to make it firm, slightly less effort than thicker mats. Triangular Core Matrix construction traps air in dozens of tiny cells, minimizing air circulation that conducts heat away from your body, without the much greater weight and bulk of other air mats designed for sleeping on frozen ground. The construction technique also creates baffles that make the XTherm more stable—you don’t bounce off its edges.
Tough, 70-denier ripstop nylon fabric on the bottom resists puncture, while the 30-denier top has a no-slip surface. Its packed dimensions—4×9 inches, slightly larger than a liter bottle—compare with some the most compact three-season air mats.
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Air mattresses for sleeping on snow or frozen ground have always been heavier and bulkier than three-season air mats; and many winter campers would supplement an air mat with a foam pad underneath it, to beef up the insulation, while adding weight and bulk to their backpack. But with the weight and size of some of the smallest three-season air mats, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm has enough insulation for sleeping on frozen ground, making it the only air mat you need for camping year-round. If you don’t plan to camp on frozen ground, though, there are less-expensive air mats that are just as comfortable, or more so, including four exceptional models: the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra, Exped SynMat Hyperlite, Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated Air Mattress, and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Max SV Air Mattress.
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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.