I had been on the fence in regards to buying an inflatable sleeping pad for a very long time. I’d been using the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite closed cell sleeping pad for quite a while and had no complaints, but I just couldn’t get away from all of the rave reviews from those who switched to inflatable pads. Now that I’ve made the switch, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to do so. My sleep, warmth, and overall nighttime comfort have drastically improved. I’m definitely the type that likes to feel like I’m outside and rouging it to a certain extent while camping, and can’t stand the idea of “glamping”. That being said, this is one bit of comfort I won’t be leaving home without anytime soon.
For this review, I’ll first list the reasons that kept me from making this jump to an inflatable pad sooner and why I was wrong to do so, just in case any of you are still on the fence. After that, I’ll list the reasons that lead me to finally pull the trigger on this sleeping pad over the many other offerings on the market. Finally, I’ll leave my impressions of this mat after a few nights of varied use that included some beach camping and sub-freezing mountain top camping.
Why did I stick with a closed cell pad for so long?
As I mentioned above, I’ve been kicking myself for not switching to an inflatable pad sooner. So the question I ask myself is “Why?”.
- My first line of reasoning was that a closed cell foam pad is nearly indestructible. I was living with an irrational fear that all inflatable pads were like over-inflated balloons just waiting to be punctured and popped. I could just see myself laying on a hissing mat on a rocky mountain top with nothing to do but wait it out in the cold of night for a creaking body in the morning. I have found this fear to be unjust. To start, I always lay a Tyvek groundsheet below my NeoAir Trekker and make sure to remove any possible pad pokers out of the way as best as I can. I’ve slept in areas with lots of pine needles, sharp rocks, gritty sand, and lots of sticks, and the bottom of my pad looks as good as new. I haven’t owned the NeoAir Trekker for long enough to say for sure, but I’m confident that this pad will prove me wrong about inflatables being fragile.
- My second reason for keeping a closed cell pad was the ease of use. With my Z Lite, I can just detach it from my pack and it’s ready to go. With the NeoAir Trekker, and all inflatable pads, it takes a little effort. Still, the amount of effort to inflate this pad is far less than I initially thought it would be. In only a minute or two of light work from my lungs, I can have this pad ready to sleep on. It’s not as easy as a closed cell, but for the added comfort, it’s well worth the effort.
- My third reason for liking the closed cell pad was versatility. I like that I could detach it from my pack and use it as a seat cushion for midday breaks. The inflatable can’t fill this void, but I cut two sections off of the Z Lite for a lightweight seat cushion, and I’m able to use it for overnighters and day hikes.
- The final reason I took my time on making the jump to an inflatable was the cost. At $45 dollars, the Z-Lite was a steal. This Regular length NeoAir Trekker will set you back $130, but I’ve found that’s it’s worth every penny. After hiking long days and up mountains, it’s hard to put a price tag on a good nights rest. I got used to sleeping with the closed cell pad on hard ground, but always felt a bit creaky in the morning. The NeoAir Trekker leaves me feeling like a just slept on my home bed, which is a huge bonus when doing long multi-day trips.
Why the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker over the competition?
There were a few things I was looking for when I wrote down my criteria for what I was looking for in an inflatable pad. First, the pad had to be relatively lightweight with a limit of 20 oz. Second, the pad had to be “3 season warm” with 3 as the lowest R-Value I’d be willing to accept. Third, the pad had to fit my body. Lightweight is nice, but if the pad was too small for my frame, the saved weight would not be worth it. Forth and finally, the pad had to be available at REI. With my fear of durability in regards to inflatable pads, I wanted to buy this at REI so I could take advantage of their incredible return policy should anything go wrong.
With these as my guidelines, I went in to REI and tested the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, and the Big Agnes Air Core.
The first pad that I excluded from contention was the Big Agnes Air Core. Although I liked the specs, it was just a tad too heavy, and the vertical baffles never let me feel totally balanced while fake sleeping on my side. The final straw was reading the reviews online which were full of reports of this pad deflating and puncturing very easily. The second pad that I excluded was the NeoAir XTherm. I really loved this pad, but the price of $199 was quite a bit higher than the other two Therm-a-Rest pads, and I wasn’t really needing a pad with an R-Value of 5.7. Finally, I excluded the NeoAir XLite, as the tapered shape felt a little too small for my frame, and the materials used seemed to be a bit too crinkly and noisy when trying it out in store. The same can be said in this regard for the XTherm, as it shares the same tapered shape and noise as the XLite.
I chose the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker as it met my requirements by weighing in at 17 oz, has an R-Value of 3, the rectangular shaped pad with horizontal baffles fits my body very well regardless of sleep position, and it was available in store at REI. It was a close call between the Trekker, XTherm, and XLite, but the cost, pad shape, and low movement noise are what moved the Trekker to the top of my list. If you have a smaller frame and are looking for something lighter, go with the XLite. If you’re looking for something warmer, go with the XTherm. In all honesty, all three Therm-a-Rest pads were pretty incredible in the store, so I really don’t think you can go wrong here.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Sleeping Pad Review:
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker is a rugged three season sleeping pad that I’ve tested on nights ranging from an island beach to a sub-freezing mountain top. The trekker weighs 17 oz. (481 g), and has the dimensions 72 x 20 x 2.5 in. The trekker has an R-Value of 3 and costs $129.95. The pad employs a ThermaCapture reflective layer and horizontal baffles to trap warmth, and a 50D polyester top to provide sleeping comfort.
I’ve found the polyester top to be very comfortable, and the pad to be very warm. Two weeks ago, I took this pad up to the summit of Cucamonga Peak for an overnight camping trip. The overnight temperatures were in the low teens, but I was very warm. I’ve done this hike in similar weather with the same sleeping bag and my Z Lite foam pad, and was much colder. I’m usually a side or chest sleeper, but have been enjoying some nights on my back as of late. The great thing about this pad, is that it is incredibly comfortable in all positions. I especially enjoy the untapered rectangle shape, as it allows me some wiggle room, and still gives my dogs enough space to curl up at my feet. I’m really looking forward to using this pad in similar temperatures in the Eastern Sierra this summer.
The inflation of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker is a breeze. It has a screw cap on the upper left hand corner that acts as the valve. It’s nice to feel like all of the air I’m forcing from my lungs goes into the pad without resistance. It takes me about 2 minutes to have the pad fully inflated and ready to sleep on. In the morning, I just untwist the valve and slowly lay back down to work the air out before rolling the pad back up. Thus far, I have had no issues with leakage or any other problems in regards to inflation.
The durable bottom is made of 75D polyester with airtight coatings and sealing. To add an extra layer between the bottom of the pad and the ground, I’ve been using a Tyvek ground sheet that is cut to size. So far, I have had no issues with punctures or popping of the baffles.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker packs up pretty small to the size of 4.5 x 9 inches. This is probably one of the biggest improvements over my closed cell pad. It’s really nice to not have anything hanging off of my pack when I take it off. I noticed this a great deal while hiking the Trans-Catalina trail, with stops at the airport, campsites, and a few rest spots. The weight of 17 oz. is only 3 oz. more than my Z Lite, which is not noticeable at all.
I’m really looking forward to getting a lot more use out of this pad in the coming months, and would highly recommend it if you’re in the market for an inflatable sleeping pad.