The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite air mattress is the best sleeping pad for 80 percent of backpackers at least 80 percent of the time. Yes, it’s that good. It has plenty of cushion and it’s surprisingly comfortable. It’s lightweight, durable and it’s insulated, too.
To get us a closer look, Therm-a-Rest sent us a review unit in the large size. This is what we learned:
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review: Comfort
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a fantastic ultralight air mattress that’s designed primarily for three-season backpacking. It is, however, so comfortable that some mixed-activity users happily take it camping. In fact, we’re seeing more outdoor enthusiasts taking backpacking style air mattresses car camping these days. Not surprisingly, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite makes our list of the best sleeping pads for backpacking and camping.
Are there any cons? You bet. We’ll get to those, but first, let’s cover the awesomeness in more detail.
First, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is 2.5-inches thick, so it has plenty of cushion. Better yet, the construction of the baffling system inside the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite provides even more comfort. The Triangular Core Matrix, as Therm-a-Rest calls it, use two stacked layers of triangular baffles. This construction not only reduces heat loss and cold transfer inside the mattress, but it also results in a very stable design.
Even though the mattress is fairly thick, it doesn’t feel tippy — even when a reasonably big 220-pound guy like me is sleeping on it. In addition, when I sleep on my hip, my hip doesn’t bottom out. In case this isn’t clear, I very much like sleeping on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite air mattress.
The 30D rip HT nylon exterior fabric of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is pretty good, too — it feels OK on skin-to-skin contact. If you’re a stomach sleeper, though, especially if you prefer to use an ultralight down quilt as a sleeping bag, you might like this trick: Slip a t-shirt over the top portion of the sleeping pad so that your cheek can rest on the t-shirt vs the sleeping pad itself.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review: Insulation
The downside of an uninsulated air mattress is that they can let cold from the ground transfer to you as you sleep. In summer during warm temps, this isn’t usually a problem, but at high elevations and with spring and fall temperatures dropping lower, uninsulated air mattresses can result in some cold nights.
To combat this, Therm-a-Rest uses the aforementioned Triangular Core Matrix design . . . but also adds in its patent-pending heat-reflective ThermaCapture layer that helps trap radiant heat. Therm-a-Rest says ThermaCapture can reduce heat loss by 50 percent.
The result in the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a respectable insulation R-value of 3.2. What does this really mean? Most people can comfortably use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for spring, summer and fall backpacking and camping — especially when they pair their sleeping pad with an all-around excellent 20-degree down sleeping bag like the new Therm-a-Rest Parsec (full review on the way, too).
If you want to try winter backpacking, you’ll want the NeoAir XTherm, which has an R-value of 5.7 (even so, we recommend that anyone heading far off the path in winter also takes a closed-cell pad like the Z Lite Sol, too, not only for the extra insulation but as an emergency backup — in the low chance you experience an air mattress failure, the last place you want that to happen is in the middle of a snow storm).
The Therm-a-Rest ThermaCapture insulating design does, however, bring up the mattress’ main con: It’s a bit noisy. The reflective layer sounds a bit like the sound of a foil paper chip bag crinkling inside the mattress.
The noise doesn’t seem to bother most people — and it doesn’t bother us. In fact, during one test, I was using a down quilt and stomach sleeping with my ear to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite mattress. As I moved to get comfortable, the XLite sounded loud. My partner right next to me, however, didn’t mention it. I wiggled around a little extra here and there before I fell asleep, curious to see if the noise bothered my partner . . . the next morning I asked her about it, and she said she didn’t notice.
That said, sensitive sleepers are sensitive sleepers — if you or your partner has trouble sleeping, you might want to try the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus, which is filled with a lightweight foam and is quieter.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite comes in three sizes: Small, Regular and Large. All are slightly rounded at the corners, slightly mummy shaped. The Small is 20″ x 47″ and weighs just 8 oz. The Regular is 20″ x 72″ and weighs just 12 oz. The Large is 25″ by 77″ and weighs 16 ounces.
If you’re a larger person, save yourself some grief and just go with the large — it’s worth the extra 4 oz.
Therm-a-Rest is now also offering a women’s specific version of the NeoAir XLite — at 66-inches long, it’s six inches shorter than the Regular but it includes a second ThermaCapture layer that boosts the R-value up to 3.9. It weighs in at 12 ounces.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review: Inflation
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a surprisingly large-volume air mattress. Some other mattress designs create pockets and dimples in their baffling systems, which reduces the amount of air inside the mattress — not so with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. The triangular baffles maximize air volume — which certainly helps side sleepers. The downside is that it takes quite a few breathes of air to inflate the NeoAir XLite. Is it terrible? No. Is it harder at 10,000 feet of elevation? Yes.
The best, lightest weight solution is to nab the NeoAir Pump Sack. This little stuff sack attaches to the inflation nozzle and lets you easily blow air into the bag and then roll or squeeze the air into the mattress. It works surprisingly well.
In addition, you can use it as a stuff sack and even stuff your mattress inside and partially inflate it to create a cushiony seat.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Review: The Verdict
Of course, I mentioned cons, plural, at the start of this review but only mentioned one con so far — what’s the other? Price. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is a premium ultralight air mattress but it also comes in at a premium price point. There are other air mattresses that cost half as much that still deliver a decent experience. Are they as comfortable for most people, most of the time? Not in our experience. Are they more durable? Sometimes, but usually only when they use heavier fabrics, which makes them weigh more in your backpack.
Personally, when I’m exhausted, I can sleep most anywhere on most anything . . . but it’s how I wake up that matters more. The NeoAir XLite has lots of relatively flat and predictable cushioning that results in me waking up feeling, seemingly, just a bit more rested than I have on some other backpacking sleeping pads. I don’t know how to turn this into a metric, but I do sleep remarkably well on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite.
Most importantly, it is the entire blend of features that makes the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite a truly great air mattress — the reasonable weight, the solid 3.2 R-value, the durability and overall comfort. When you’re ready to upgrade your entry-level air mattress, it’s hard to go wrong with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Very highly recommended.