Gear Review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite

As any distance trekker can tell you, the post-trail blues are a very real thing. In the months following previous long-distance trips, I’ve deeply missed the community of hikers, the simplicity of walking, and the unexpected challenges. This year is no exception. But to be honest, never have I missed my sleep system until now. I used Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir Uberlite as my sleeping pad for over half of the Pacific Crest Trail this year, and I’ve never slept better in the wilderness. Here’s the lowdown on this piece of gear.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite At-a-Glance

A cold, foggy evening in the San Gorgonio Wilderness on the PCT, just before a snowstorm.

Size: Small / Regular / Large
Weight: 6 ounces / 8.8 ounces / 12 ounces
Materials: 15 denier rip nylon (top) and 15 denier nylon (bottom)
R-value: 2.0

Durability and Versatility

Despite the fact that this is a beautiful summer-like day in the Winds, it was below freezing at night. With a warm ground temp, the Uberlite served me well.

Despite the fragility of the Uberlite’s 15 denier fabric, I have not had any issues with punctures or tears. That said, I was more wary of lazily throwing down a cowboy camp without a groundsheet to protect the delicate fabric from sand, rocks, and other potentially sharp debris.

To date, I have used the UberLite in the varied conditions afforded by the southern California desert, the sweltering heat of northern Oregon, the cold, rainy conditions of Washington, and also early fall/first-frost conditions in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. The Uberlite’s appropriateness in all these conditions undoubtedly speaks to its versatility, making it a great choice for a thru-hike. There is one caveat: despite some cold air temperatures, the ground temperature in all of these conditions was still relatively warm. Had this not been the case, the Uberlite’s low R-value likely would not have kept me warm enough. (For more on R-value, see this article.) Given that R-values are additive, I will be eager to see how the Uberlite holds up in conjunction with a Z-Lite (a total R-value of 4.6) as I continue to adventure into the winter months.

Importantly, the Uberlite also doubles nicely as a float for pristine mountain lakes (and also hotel pools, if you’re really good hiker trash). I forgot to get someone to take a photo of me enjoying it in this manner, but trust me: it is glorious.

Comfort

I carried the regular size, which was more than long enough for my entire body (I’m 5’2″). In the future, I will likely switch to a small and use my pack for my legs/feet.

This is the first time I’ve been comfortable in the backcountry without the cost of added weight. The Uberlite is 2.5 inches thick and provides plenty of cushion for all sleeping positions, including side sleeping.

This was a stark contrast to my previous setup (and a very common choice among thru-hikers): a few sections of a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite for my torso, my pack under my legs/feet, and a stuff sack filled with all remaining soft materials under my head. While this system only costs your base weight a few ounces and is relatively inexpensive, the Z-Lite is quite thin, considerably less comfortable from the start, and because it is a closed-cell pad, it wears out (just like the foam in your trail runners). For the most part, the Uberlite’s inflation holds up well throughout the night, with the exception of some minor predictable air loss due to colder air temperatures.

Having heard many a hiker crunching around on a NeoAir X-Lite, I was worried the Uberlite might be equally noisy and annoying. Fortunately, the Mylar film used in the X-Lite is not part of the Uberlite’s construction. The Uberlite’s ultralight nylon does still make some sound, but it is not noticeably disruptive.

For a full comparison of the Uberlite and the X-Lite—another common choice among thru-hikers—check out this link.

Convenience

It’s really small.

I am continually surprised by how easy it is to deflate, fold, and roll the Uberlite into its tiny stuff sack (packed down to about the size of a Nalgene). I fold mine into vertical thirds and roll from bottom to top, but I also find Andrew Skurka’s method compelling as a potential means by which to reduce unnecessary wear and tear.

One of the only drawbacks of the Uberlite, as far as I’m concerned, is the amount of time it takes to inflate it. I usually end up slightly lightheaded, and sometimes a little annoyed, but then I take a minute to assess my annoyance and realize it actually only took about 30 seconds longer to inflate the Uberlite than it would to inflate something like the ProLite. On the flip side, the valve is also slow to release air, so deflation takes slightly longer as well.

Value

A nice place to float on your Uberlite while you stall getting to Canada because you don’t want it to be over.

In my opinion, the Uberlite is worth its price. It is versatile enough for a thru-hike, theoretically pairs easily with a Z-Lite for colder seasons, and in my experience can endure at least 1,500 miles without any damage. Moreover, unlike popular closed-cell foam options for long-distance treks, the Uberlite won’t lose its cushion. Thus, what begins as a more expensive purchase probably ultimately comes out as a longer-lasting investment. If you’re concerned about the long-term durability and want the additional warmth, you might want to opt for the slightly heavier NeoAir XLite.

Shop the UberLite Here

Feature image via Maggie Slepian

This item was donated for purpose of review.

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