Ice is cold. Weight compacts goose down. These are the quintessential problems of mountaineers trying to get good sleep. If you’re going trekking and want to sleep on snow or ice, an insulated pad is absolutely essential gear or you’ll have a miserable night. I learned this lesson the hard way some time ago, and ever since then I use pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm to get a good night’s sleep on a tough trip.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Features:
- Reflective ThermaCapture™ technology traps radiant heat and Triangular Core Matrix™ construction minimizes convective heat loss
- 2.5” thickness using soft-touch fabrics
- Internal structure provide unrivaled stability and support.
- XTherm™ mattress packs to the size of a one-liter water bottle.
- Advanced materials and a tapered design reduce weight without compromising warmth.
- R-value: 5.7 – What are R values?
- Weight: 15oz (regular)
- 30D top fabric, 70D bottom fabric
- Made in the USA
- MSRP: $199.95
A pad to forget about
The best night’s sleep is one that you don’t think about. You crawl into the sleeping bag, warm up and them sleep. You don’t remember any particulars about your new pad or fancy base layers, you just sleep. That’s really the gold standard for a lot of outdoor gear – forgetability. So, is the NeoAir a forgettable pad?
In many ways, it is. It’s really a wonderfully comfortable pad, considering it uses a classic horizontal baffle design that is a far cry from some of the fancy patterns being employed by other manufacturers. But with 2.5 inches of cushion when fully inflated, the NeoAir keeps you well off the ground. ‘Comfort’ is a bit subjective, of course, but I found the NeoAir very comfortable, and for the most part that seems to be the consensus among other users that I’ve consulted. And, really, we ought to expect that – it’s an expensive pad that drops around $200 from your wallet.
The NeoAir XTherm retains its heat through a combination of technology and design. On the one hand, it uses Therm-a-Rest’s proprietary ThermaCapture layering technology to retain body heat throughout the night. On the other hand, they also lay up that technology in a targeted way throughout the pad so that you keep heat where you need it and shed weight where you can. Mind you, I have no idea how the ThermaCapture tech works – and Therm-a-Rest really isn’t saying much about it. It works, though – myself and my friends have used this pad on several glaciers or snowfields in the PNW and it does a good job. It has an R value of 5.7, which is high – but those R values are somewhat subjective so don’t be too impressed by the number. Instead, be impressed with client testimony – it’s a warm pad.
An interesting trait of the pad, which might be caused by the ThermaCapture layering, is that it’s a bit loud. It has a very crinkly sound to it, especially when it’s brand new. It’s not as bad as a potato chip bag, but it does make you think of something unpleasant like that. I’ve found that the pad ‘wears in’ over time and becomes quieter, which is definitely a welcome quality.
The pad inflates quickly, but not too quickly. It takes me a good 15 deep breaths or so to get it where I like it, and of course it’s not self-inflating so you can expect to do this every night. The value is a good design – a simple two-way affair that’s familiar to anyone who has used an air pad. Moisture can be a problem with pads like this. Therm-a-Rest includes a neat ‘pump’ of sorts that you can use to inflate the pad without breathing into it, which is a major boon in cold weather where the moisture can be an immediate problem. It’s really just a modified stuff sack that you use like a bellows to push air into the pad, but boy does it work well. It’s also a good idea at altitude for those who get light-headed inflating these big pads manually.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the NeoAir XTherm is that it’s durable. I’ve had several other air pads that have developed leaks, and that’s normal to a degree – but Therm-a-Rest’s offerings have something special going for them. They’re produced in America, right in Cascade Designs’ Seattle-based factory. For users like me, this is huge – gear that’s Made in America has, for me, an impeccable pedigree of durability. That’s been the case during my testing of this pad, which has seen everything from sand to ice in my testing. However, I have to qualify this – only time will really tell.
I tested a rather enormous version of this pad, the MAX. The MAX is suitable for cold temperatures when more protection is needed from the ground; I appreciate this on snow and ice. However, for other users the normal version will be great. My particular model comes in at 17oz, but the regular model clocks in at 15oz. That’s not light for a pad, but for all that the pad is really quite packable. With careful rolling, it becomes smaller than a Nalgene and disappears into the bottom corner of your pack. Obviously you can get even better results with the regular size.
- Wonderfully warm on cold nights
- Packs down small
- Very comfortable – though this is somewhat subjective
- Easy to inflate, especially with included ‘pump’ stuff sack
- Very durable fabrics and excellent manufacturing in Seattle, WA
- Starts off rather loud and crinkly
- Not cheap at almost $200
- Lighter options are out there
The Bottom Line: Therm-a-Rest XTherm
Boy, this is a comfortable pad. It’s warm, it’s durable – and it’s expensive. If you can fork out the $200 I’m confident that this pad will last you for years and will certainly fill all of your needs, but there’s no doubt that it’s an expensive piece of gear. Customers who can’t drop that cash or younger backpackers would be well advised to combine a cheaper air pad and one of Therm-a-Rest’s closed-cell foam pads – this gives you similar comfort and comparable warmth, but at a much reduced price. However, for those who want a single, exceptional pad – the NeoAir Xtherm is looking pretty hard to beat right now.
Buy Now: Available from Backcountry.com