For a cushy, lightweight sleeping pad, the Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping Pad is one of the best. It is a full three-inches thick, which is thicker than the NeoAir XLite, and weighs just over 13 ounces—a competitive-by-comparison weight. The biggest competitor to the Nemo Tensor is the NeoAir Xlite, which is warmer and slightly lower weight, but the Tensor is $50 less expensive. We don’t think you sacrifice much by choosing the Tensor over the XLite. Instead, our conclusion is that this is one of the best lightweight inflatable sleeping pads you can buy.
The Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping Pad is Nemo’s ultralight pad option. It boasts three inches of thick cushion while maintaining a low weight. The Tensor comes in a range of sizes and options which vary in price: either mummy or rectangular shape; mummy comes in Short or Regular lengths; rectangular comes in Regular, Regular Wide, Long, and Long Wide sizes. Then all of those sizes come in insulated or non-insulated versions. The benefit to this range of options is that customers can choose the pad that best fits their body size, sleeping bag, tent, and budget. We tested the rectangular Regular non-insulated pad for this review, which runs about $120 for that set of features.
At a confirmed 13.7 ounces on our scale, the Nemo Tensor weighs roughly one ounce more than the NeoAir XLite and Sea to Sumit Ultralight Mat, and about the same as the Klymit Inertia Ozone and Therm-a-Rest ZLite. This means it ranks up there with the lightweights. It is especially remarkable that such a thick pad weighs so little. We brought this pad along with us on many backcountry missions where weight was a concern because it was one of the lighter and smaller options.
Along with low weight, the Nemo Tensor has a remarkably small packed size. At 8×3 inches, it was slightly smaller than the NeoAir and just barely larger than the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat and Klymit Inertia Ozone. We love that this is a small and lightweight option for backpacking, which is why we ended up bringing it along on so many trips, from Wyoming to California. When weight and packed size are factored in, the Nemo Tensor is one of the best options in this test.
The Nemo Tensor is a full three inches thick, which provides more cushion than any of the other inflatable pads in this test. For people who like a lot of padding, this is luxurious. It is a half-inch thicker than the NeoAir XLite, which we view as the Tensor’s biggest competitor, and this extra thickness could lure some comfort seekers to choose the Tensor over the XLite. In practice, our testers reported feeling as if they were about to roll off the pad, which reduced the comfort. The raft-like feel of this inflatable pad takes a bit to get used to, and its extra height can make sleepers feel as though they are perched up on the pad rather than resting comfortably near the ground. For those who prefer a firmer or more spongy sleep surface, we think that the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat and the Therm-a-Rest Prolite are more comfortable, but for those who like a lot of padding and cushion, the Nemo Tensor can’t be beat.
Nemo does not rate its sleeping pads with an R-value for a variety of reasons, the primary reason being that the company does not believe most customers can accurately translate an R-value into an understanding of how warm a pad will be in a specific temperature range. This is a valid criticism of that system, but since most other sleeping pads on the market do have an R-value, the lack of this rating makes it more difficult for customers to objectively compare across the board and assess which pads will be warmer. Nemo instead suggests that the Tensor is appropriate for a temperature range of 30-40 degrees F, which means it should be more than adequate for summer camping and backpacking. However, multiple testers reported having a cold night while using this pad. One tester was a male (males are typically thought to sleep warmer) on a summer car-camping trip with his family at Grover Hot Springs in California. The campground there is at 6000 feet elevation. Another tester was also a male in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, who slept at about 6000 feet in elevation near the base of the Cirque of the Towers before a climbing objective. The other tester was a female on a backpacking trip in the High Sierra, and she camped at a lake at approximately 11,000 feet elevation. All three reported being colder than usual overnight, which doesn’t speak to the Tensor’s insulating ability. It is an air construction pad that is three inches thick, thicker than any of the other pads we evaluated, and three inches of air is a lot of space for your body to keep warm. Nemo describes the technology inside the pad as “Thermal Mirror metalized film”, which is a lightweight metallic material suspended in the center of the pad that is designed to reflect radiant body heat back towards the sleeper while being quieter than other crunchy pads. Somehow the NeoAir XLite is 2.5 inches thick and manages to feel much warmer than the Tensor (the XLite has a 3.2 R-value). So while we found that the Tensor was adequate for most summer camping, it is not nearly as warm as some of the other options in our test.
One of the ways that Nemo keeps the weight down in the Tensor is by using ultralight fabrics. The face fabric is a lightweight 20-denier. (Denier measures the linear density of fibers in a material, with the higher number indicating more dense fibers for a given length.) To compare, the NeoAir XLite uses 30D material, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat uses 40D, and the Therm-a-Rest ProLite uses 50D material. All this means is that the Nemo Tensor is a little more fragile. However, in our testing we had no problems with the durability of the pad. We used this pad a lot: for an overnight trip into the Wind River Range in Wyoming, for several multi-day backpacking trips in the High Sierra, and for multiple nights car-camping in campgrounds, and we never had a scratch or a pop in the pad that needed to be patched. In general, this lighter material just helps to keep the weight low without sacrificing much in terms of durability.
Ease of Use
Just like with the NeoAir XLite, when inflating the Tensor our testers always had a brief moment of panic when they felt as if the pad would never inflate. In other words, it takes a lot of breath to inflate something so thick. Then it also takes a lot of pushing and pressing to fully de-inflate and roll this pad small enough to fit into its stuff sack. We do prefer the easy inflation of the self-inflating models or the unique stuff sack roll system of the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat, but this pad is not significantly harder to use than most other sleeping pads that require inflation.