Gear Review: NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Dimensions: 72 x 20 x 0.9 in / 183 x 51 x 2 cm
(Short version available: 51 x 20 x 0.9 in / 130 x 51 x 2 cm)
Packed Size: 20.0 x 5.0 x 5.5 in / 51 x 13 x 14 cm
Materials: Axiotomic™ dual-density foam, Metalized thermal reflective film
Temp Rating: 20 to 35F / -7 to 2C
NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad Overview
Sleeping pads come in many forms these days, but the closed-cell foam sleeping pad is a classic choice. The Switchback™ was designed to deliver better thickness while still achieving industry-leading pack size, so I decided to take it out during the first few months of the year and test the pad on the Florida Trail and the Ocean to Lake Trail—North and South Florida, respectively.
This time of the year, these two spots offered a great mix of temperatures ranging from the mid 30s to the 80s (Fahrenheit), giving me an idea of the pad’s three-season performance. Florida terrain is also flat, but the topography is great for testing a sleeping pad in a tent. The ground ranges from soft, powdery sand to harder, limestone-filled karst topography with a dash of soil on top. I also strapped on this feat of engineering and carried it on a variety of distances, from nine to 24 mile days, so I could see if it offered a quality night’s sleep regardless of my exhaustion level.
For hammock lovers, I went camping with this pad in my hammock setup as well.
Thickness/packability: Almost a quarter-inch thicker than competing closed cell pads, this pad offered some comfort and packed down easily with its hexagonal nesting pattern.
Lightweight: Suitable for a lightweight setup, the 14.5-ounce weight is on par with other closed-cell foam sleeping pads suitable for backpacking and lighter than most inflatable pads. This is a solid choice for weight conscious hikers.
Insulation: Taller nodes and the reflective film provide good insulation and help give this pad its rating. NEMO claims this design will also help your sleeping bag retain insulation properties.
Fast setup: It’s super simple. Unfold it, accordion style, and your sleeping pad is setup.
Ease of use: Elaborating on the fast setup I mentioned above, the Switchback unfolds, refolds, and nests into itself easily. No inflation, deflation, knobs, or anything else to delay your beauty sleep or keep you from getting out of camp quickly. It was less noisy than inflatable pads and stayed in place better at night in both the tent and the hammock.
Multiple functions: I added a sit-pad to my gear awhile back because my butt needed a break and I didn’t want to sit on wet surfaces as often. Carrying this sleeping pad made it easy to unfold a portion of it and sit for short breaks. I won’t carry a sit-pad when I use this sleeping pad because it conveniently replaces the need.
Insulation: Though I didn’t take the pad to its limits, I’m a cold sleeper and it slept well down to 36 degrees in the tent for me so the rating seems appropriate from my testing. I don’t see any disadvantage here for thru-hikers facing colder temps if paired with an appropriately rated bag/quilt.
Cost-to-weight savings: If you’re trying to make affordable weight savings, this addition to your sleep system could pay off. It’s a lightweight option that is less expensive than some leading inflatable pads and several ounces lighter than other options as well.
Reliability: I won’t speak for the long-term durability of the pad since I didn’t hike continuously with it for months on end, but closed-cell foam technology isn’t new and has a good reputation for durability as a general rule. At the very least, a person doesn’t have to worry about their pad deflating in the night for whatever reason. That’s a pro in my book.
Comfort: Having used inflatable pads in the past, I would give them a higher comfort rating as a general rule. Typically, inflatable pads have a few inches of height off the ground and give that extra cushion off the ground. This is probably the strongest argument against any closed-cell pad, including this one. If we are strictly comparing closed-cell foam pads, then the extra height/padding this offers gives it the edge in comparison to other pads. I didn’t notice as much of a difference in the comfort level when using this in my hammock.
Here’s the bottom line for me regarding comfort with this pad: As a side sleeper, I only woke up an extra time or two in the night due to prolonged, stationary times on my side when I became uncomfortable from the concentrated pressure at my hips or shoulders. Stomach or back sleeping resulted in no additional waking due to lack of comfort. I didn’t notice this at all in the hammock.
Storage space: While this packs down as good as the other leading closed-cell foam pads on the market, it obviously doesn’t pack down as small as inflatables. Some packs may allow for internal storage of this pad. Other packs will probably require attaching it to the outside. For many, storing it on top of your pack will be your option, which requires moving it out of the way to access your pack contents. The slight width this adds to your person may also catch on brush or branches depending on your pack width and personal measurements. Something to consider, but the few times my pad hit a branch it glanced off and I kept moving without an issue or any damage to the pad.
Overall Thoughts on the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Ready for this? I think the Switchback has converted me away from using an inflatable pad and over to this closed-cell foam model. The ease-of-use it offers and the fact that it stays in place better at night outweighs the realization that I may wake up a time or two at night when side sleeping, especially true since my prior pad would shift in the night and I was accustomed to waking up and adjusting it. If you have a hammock setup, using this pad is even more attractive because of its ability to stay in place and no discernible difference in comfort.
The Switchback also offers me comfort in that I don’t need to worry about my sleeping pad deflating at night. I can also ditch my sit-pad and use the this during breaks instead. Lastly, the price-to-weight ratio makes this a good value economically for your wallet and your body. All this considered, it should be clear why I’m making the switch (no pun intended) until something convinces me otherwise.
Going into the review, I was pessimistic this product had the value I was looking for in a sleeping pad. After testing, I would have to turn to sentimental reasons to talk myself out of using the Switchback.
If you’re looking to compare this pad apples-to-apples on the market right now, you should check out the Therm-a-Rest ZLite. The Switchback packs down to the exact same size, but boasts almost a quarter inch thicker sleeping surface. The weight difference between them is within a half-ounce.
This product was donated for purpose of review.
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