Gear Review: ThermaRest NeoAir Xlite
Gear Review: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite
Disclosure: The following product was donated for the purpose of review.
Weight: 12 oz
Best Feature: Well-cushioned, comfortable, and light
Worst Feature: Takes a long time to blow up, delicate (developed a leak after 9 days).
Circumstance of review:
I’m writing this from Idyllwild, at mile 151.9 on the PCT, where I am switching out for my old model of Therm-a-rest, the Zlite. Ultimately, the NeoAir didn’t work out for me, but you don’t need me to tell you that it’s a popular model among thru-hikers. It was these positive reviews that made me want to try the NeoAir in the first place. I know that the best policy when it comes to gear is ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken,’ but I thought a NeoAir would give me some extra warmth on those cold desert nights and be more compatible with my new Katabatic quilt.
Here’s the results of my gear experiment:
Durability: The fragility of the NeoAir design is its major flaw. All other concerns I have can be boiled down to personal preference, but the readiness of the NeoAir to blow a leak, even compared to other open-celled pads I’ve used in the past, is not ideal for back country living.
My NeoAir blew a leak after about 9 days on the trail. I will say that I used the pad for the lower Pacific Crest Trail desert, or ‘cactus country,’ which means there was a greater chance for thorns to puncture my pad. But on the other hand, I also didn’t use it outside of my tent, and I traveled with it inside my pack, so the leak was pretty surprising. For the record, it was a very small leak so it took most of the night for the pad to deflate, and I still stayed warm even with it mostly deflated, which says something for the NeoAir technology.
Warmth: If durability is the NeoAir’s main weak point, warmth is its strongest attribute. I stayed warm and cozy on my NeoAir every night I used it, including one rough night on a high-desert ridge with a wind advisory and a handful of nights where the pad was mostly deflated. I tested it down to around freezing, and without any warmth issues. I would probably feel comfortable winter camping with this pad and possibly an extra closed-cell just in case.
Comfort: Cursory research of this pad shows its high comfort rating, an I can’t disagree. While I love the stability and rigidity of my closed cell Zlite, I can admit that the NeoAir was pretty luxurious. For people used to sleeping in a bed, especially light sleepers, the NeoAir really eases the transition to sleeping outdoors.
On the other hand, I didn’t like how tall it was (which I’m guessing is a big contributor to its r-value and heat savings) and how it moved around slightly. It sometimes felt like I was too high off the bottom of the tent and my hands had to search for places to rest. This could be easily solved by using the NeoAir in a one-person tent where it fits snugly, of course – and that’s usually what open-cell pad distributors seem to recommend for prime use.
Value: I have to disagree with popular opinion when I say that, for me at least, this pad is not worth its selling price. Is it accurately priced for the research, work, and materials that went into it? Yes. Would I suggest it for someone considering winter camping and seeking a pad with a high enough r-value to keep them warm in snow? Yes. In that case, I could see paying full price for the pad, especially considering how light it is compared to winter camping gear. I can also admit that it’s more suited to the AT than the PCT. But for most thru-hikes, a Zlite is easier to set-up, available as a sit pad at breaks, nearly indestructible, and a lot cheaper. Therm-a-Rest is a great brand and the greatest testament to that is that, when their NeoAir didn’t work for me, I bought a new Zlite to replace my old Zlite, which I’ve had since 2011.
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