Last Christmas, after having the opportunity to observe first hand how uncomfortable I occasionally was on the PCT with a pretty cheap and old inflatable camping mat, my brother kindly bought me what is generally considered the gold standard of inflatable mats; the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm – probably the warmest and most comfortable option on the market for its size and weight.
And, well, it’s kind of a revelation. I’ve spent so much of my life sleeping on ‘less than comfortable’ foam roll-mats, cheap inflatable mats, or just directly on the ground that I’ve come to assume that spending the night squirming around to try and stop my hip and shoulders digging uncomfortably into the ground (and feeling the warmth sucked from my body into the cold dirt) is pretty much an inevitable part of camping. Turns out, it’s not.
Read on for my review of the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm.
NeoAir XTherm Overview
The NeoAir XTherm is the warmest option in Therm-a-rest’s lightweight range, and has the best warmth/weight ratio of any of its sleeping mats.
It’s an in inflatable sleeping mattress that can be inflated either by blowing into it or by using a sort of simplistic pump that is supplied with the mattress, but weight-conscious hikers are probably unlikely to carry with them. It inflates to a fairly hefty 6.5cm thick, but when deflated is just milimetres thick, allowing it to be tightly rolled up.
Like any inflatable mattress, the biggest risk for hikers will be punctures, and understandably many thru-hikers learn to sleep on the far less comfortable but more robust foam sleeping mats. The Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm is, however, made from 70D nylon (on the bottom) and 30D nylon on the top, so it’s reasonably robust and if you are careful and check the ground there is no particular reason why you should suffer a puncture. It does also come with a field repair kit.
NeoAir XTherm size and weight
As far as practicality goes, the XTherm rolls up remarkably small, to a size not much larger than a nalgene bottle. Depending on whether you have the regular or long, it weighs only around 500g – perhaps still on the heavy side for the ultra-light thru-hiker who has got used to sleeping on a cut-down hip-pad but, for the rest of us, so extraordinarily small and light that you can chuck it in your backpack and barely notice the difference.
Warmth and comfort
The XTherm takes a bit of time to inflate by hand (or rather by mouth…), but once inflated it’s well worth the effort. Despite being over 6cm thick it is stables and firm enough that you don’t feel as if you’re perched on top of a pile of jelly.
A good sleeping mat is one of the key ways to stay warm while camping. The XTherm has an R-value of 6.9, which is probably a little meaningless on its own but a useful way to compare it to other products. Suffice it to say that Therm-a-rest describe this as making it suitable for use somewhere in the margins at the top end of ‘four-season’ and up to even ‘extreme cold’. Personally I’ve now spent a good couple of dozen nights on it in environments including frozen dirt, on a concrete floor, on a camp cot (these might sound comfortable but, rather like a hammock, they leach the warmth from your body like you wouldn’t believe) and in a pine-cone-strewn forest. Temperatures have varied from cool English nights to well below freezing. In all of those conditions, practically the only element of my sleeping system that has consistently been comfortable and warm has been the mat. That’s pretty life-changing.
The more I do serious hiking and wild-camping, the more I appreciate the benefits of not ‘making-do’ with kit that is just about ok. Top-end pieces of equipment like this don’t come cheap, but the grams they save make a huge difference when you’re lugging your pack up the third ascent of the afternoon, and the comfort they offer at night is completely invaluable when you’re spending night after night in the wilderness, and morale starts to be really impacted by the quality of your rest.