Insulated Air Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
$200, 11.5 oz./330g (size regular short, not including stuff sack or pump sack)
Sizes: four sizes from 20×66 inches/51x168cm to 25×77 inches/64x176cm
Choosing the absolute lightest air mattress you find doesn’t always go well: The hours of sleep lost to discomfort may exceed the weight savings in ounces. Put another way, the personal energy lost through a poor night of sleep may eclipse what you gain from shaving a few ounces of pack weight. The latest iteration of Therm-a-Rest’s ultralight NeoAir XLite air mats, the NXT, will flip that equation to the positive side of the energy ledger for many backpackers, as it did for me on several spring and summer backpacking trips.
I have (so far) slept on the NeoAir XLite NXT for a total of 19 nights, including: four nights on a pair of three-day hikes in April on a section of the Arizona Trail along the Gila River and in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon; another four nights on three-day hikes on both the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park and the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route in the White Goat Wilderness of the Canadian Rockies in early August; three nights in the Wind River Range in mid-August; six nights in September in Glacier National Park; and two more nights on the 22-mile Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow Loop in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in early October.
On the Arizona Trail and in the Canadian Rockies and Winds, I slept on this air mat in the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 30, comfortable in just underwear and a light T-shirt or a midweight, long-sleeve top on nights in the 40s F/4-8° C; and inside the Nemo Riff 30 in similar temps in the Escalante and on nights down to the upper 30s in Glacier. But facing chillier nights in Aravaipa, I used the Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy 15F/-9C on this air mat and stayed perfectly warm wearing just a T-shirt, underwear, and socks on one night that dropped to just above freezing.
The XLite NXT looks good in direct comparisons with other top three-season air mats of key metrics like thickness, weight, and packability. At three inches/7.6cm thick (a half inch fatter than the previous XLite), it matches some competitors that are slightly heavier and exceeds the very short list of air mats that are lighter. As someone who’s been sleeping on the ground for more than three decades and is done with pads that aren’t comfortable—and I’m always looking to review air mats that hit a nice balance of comfort and low weight and bulk—I’m happy to say I slept quite soundly on the XLite NXT.
And yet, this ultralight pad weighs in at 13 ounces/370g (regular) and measures 9×4.1 inches/23x10cm stuffed (regular), roughly the dimensions of a one-liter water bottle. That’s a nice weight-to-comfort ratio. As a five-foot, eight-inch side sleeper who curls up a bit, I found the regular short length (20×66 inches/51x168cm) perfectly fine for me—and I’ll take that weight savings when it comes with no comfort penalty.
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The XLite NXT uses ThermaCapture technology to radiate body heat back to you and a Triangular Core Matrix, consisting of two stacked layers of triangular baffles to create a stable surface and minimize heat loss; Therm-a-Rest says it’s six times quieter than the previous XLite generation. The result is an R-value of 4.5, meaning it’s warm enough for shoulder-season adventures and temps around or below freezing—it even approaches the level of insulation adequate for temps well below freezing and sleeping on snow or frozen ground, which is an R-value of 5 or higher.
That puts the XLite NXT at the leading edge for warmth-to-weight ratio.
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Using the voluminous Therm-a-Rest Pump Sack (included) to inflate the air mat eases that process, although it doesn’t necessarily speed it up, unless you’re quite fast at repeatedly opening the sack to let air inside and then rolling it up tight to force that air into the air mattress. I often found it faster to the XLite NXT by simply blowing into the valve, which requires about 15 to 20 strong breaths, whereas using the air bag took me several minutes. Either way, inflating it is aided by the efficiency of the one-way WingLock valve, which Therm-a-Rest says cuts the inflation time by two-thirds; a simple turn of the valve’s “wings” deflates it almost instantly.
The 30-denier ripstop nylon fabric, with durable TPU laminate, offers greater protection from punctures than some lightweight air mats have.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT MAX ($230-$250, 1 lb. 3 oz./540g) is a rectangular version available in two sizes, both 25 inches/64cm wide and from 72 to 77 inches/183-196cm long.
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Hitting a sweet spot for comfort and packability, at one of the lowest weights and highest warmth-to-weight ratios you’ll find in a three-season air mattress, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT sets a new standard for ultralight air mats.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or thermarest.com, or the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT MAX at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or thermarest.com.
See all reviews of air mattresses, sleeping bags, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear at The Big Outside, plus “Pro Tips for Buying Sleeping Bags” and “10 Pro Tips For Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag.”
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my stories “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be,” “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
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 The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all my reviews and expert buying tips.