The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is hands down the best lightweight sleeping pad on the market. It hits every metric that we ask of a sleeping pad: it is small, lightweight, and warm, with the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any pad we have tried. It is also comfortable and surprisingly durable for an inflatable sleeping mat. The only real downside to this pad is the high cost. This is the sleeping pad you should own for lightweight backpacking.
The NeoAir XLite is an air construction sleeping mat that revolutionized the camping mattress market. It is lighter, warmer, and packs smaller than most of its competitors. It comes in Small (47 in), Regular (72 in), and Long (77 in) lengths, as well as a Women’s model, which falls in between a short and a Regular size at 66 in. The Women’s version might be our favorite iteration of the XLite because it is even warmer than the Unisex model. The XLite is a premium product, and that is reflected in its price. At $170 for the Regular length, this is not an inexpensive purchase. However, in this case, we believe that the high price also equals high performance.
The shining feature of the NeoAir is its low weight. It is advertised as weighing 12 ounces, but when we put it on our scale inside its stuff sack, we recorded only 11.8 ounces. This is lighter than any other pad in our test. The only way to get a lower weight sleeping mat is to choose smaller length pads. This low weight alone is what makes the NeoAir so desirable for backpacking, bikepacking, alpine climbing, or any other type of camping trip where weight is a concern.
The best way to reduce packweight is to reconsider every element to your sleep system: tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. When going through this weight calculation, choosing the XLite is a sure way to keep the pad as the lightest possible option.
A twin feature to low weight is small packed size. The NeoAir XLite scores high here as well. With a packed size of 9×4 inches, it is one of the smaller sleeping pads in this test. It is far smaller than either of the closed cell foam mats or the bulky self-inflating ProLite, but it is a tiny bit larger than the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat and Klymit Inertia Ozone. However, it is remarkably warmer as well as a little bit lighter weight than either of those, so in this case we are willing to forgive a little bit of bulk. When we add the NeoAir to our backpack, we barely notice that it is there.
The NeoAir is a firm yet cushioned sleep surface that is a full 2.5 inches thick when fully inflated. The interior of the mat is made up of 2 stacked layers of triangular baffles, which create an even and supportive surface. We never notice feeling our hips dig into the ground or any uneven weight distribution when sleeping on our sides. We do think it takes a couple nights to get used to sleeping on an inflatable mat like this, since it feels different than sleeping on a bed. Several testers reported that their system with the NeoAir was to inflate it fully, and then when laying on it and about to sleep, opening the valve to let out just a bit of air so that the mattress feels a tad bit squishier. It does still have a little of the pool-raft feel, and does not have the spongy feel of the self-inflating ProLite or the more mattress-like feel of the Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat, but we think it is an extremely comfortable mat. We have taken the XLite on lightweight multi-day off-trail hikes in the Sierra, brought it on expeditions to Alaska and Patagonia where we slept in snow caves and on glaciers, and have used it for single nights in campgrounds. Every time we have been warm, comfortable, and gotten adequate rest on this pad.
How does Therm-a-Rest do it? Most other air construction sleeping mats end up feeling cold, like a pool toy filled with frigid air. Somehow the NeoAir XLite manages to be 2.5 inches thick, full of air, AND significantly warmer than all the rest. With an R-value of 3.2, it is rated as the warmest product in our lightweight sleeping pad test, which is a significant accolade. The two pieces of technology that Therm-a-Rest uses to achieve this warmth is a Triangular Core Matrix—which is essentially 2 layers of stacked triangles forming the interior frame—that creates individual cells of air that increase insulation and support. The other secret ingredient is the Thermacapture technology. This is a reflective material that is layered inside different sleeping mat models in various ways in order to achieve more or less warmth in targeted areas. This material reflects radiant body heat back towards the sleeper and is what allows the NeoAir to have an unprecedented warmth-to-weight ratio. In our testing experience, we would say that this works exactly as advertised.
For ladies in the market for a sleeping pad, or for men who don’t mind a shorter length pad, the Women’s model of the Xlite is even warmer than the standard version, with an R-value of 3.9. This Women’s version is 66 inches long, falling right between the 72 inches in length for the size Regular XLite and the 47 inches for the Small XLite, and it is warmer than either. This higher insulating value is because women tend to sleep colder than men, and benefit from increased warmth in the same conditions as someone who sleeps hotter. Most female backpackers that we polled listed the Women’s XLite as their favorite camping mattress. A couple of our male testers have even reported purchasing a Women’s XLite simply because it is warmer and lighter weight than the Regular XLite. We have used the XLite and Women’s XLite extensively, from cool nights in the High Sierra backcountry, to sleeping on top of snow on Alaskan glaciers, to frigid desert nights in Utah, and have always felt warm and well-cared for on this mat.
At first use, the XLite feels incredibly fragile, but in practice it is not. Several of our testers have owned XLite sleeping mats for years and we have yet to have any durability issues to report. Even when laid on rough rock or uneven ground surfaces, we have not had a puncture. The face material is 30D rip HT nylon. D, or denier, is a measurement of the mass of the fibers that compose a material, with the higher number indicating higher mass. We typically find that higher denier materials are more durable, though the weave, sewing pattern, and other factors also contribute to this. 30D is right in the middle in terms of the burliness of materials used on sleeping mats. The Sea to Summit Ultralight Mat uses 40D and the ProLite uses 50D, while the Nemo Tensor squeaks by with 20D. Though any inflatable mat must be treated with care, and we highly recommend traveling with a patch kit, we trust the durability of the XLite.
Ease of Use
Every time we use this pad and begin to blow it up, after investing quite a few breaths into the pad and it still looks fully deflated, we have a moment of despair when we feel as if it will never fully inflate. Thankfully, this worry always turns out to be unfounded. But it does take a significant amount of breath, and also a noticeable amount of time, to fully inflate the NeoAir. This is the pad’s biggest downside. Then it takes time and effort to fully deflate as well. The thinness of the pad’s material makes it difficult to fold into thirds and roll into its signature small package. It is definitely not as simple as folding or rolling a closed-cell foam pad. Ease of Use is the NeoAir XLite’s lowest scoring metric. However, these ease of use complaints seem minor when the low weight, small packed size, warmth, and comfort are all considered. As long as a few moments dedicated to inflating the pad every night are manageable, the XLite will reward users in every other aspect.