When I was growing up, the closest I got to luxury camping was sleeping out under the stars in the back garden cocooned in blankets from the airing cupboard. I spent many, many weekends thinking that my cheap foam roll up mat strapped prominently to the top of my backpack, was the coolest thing ever – cutting edge in camping technology! And somehow, the lack of warmth and comfort didn’t seem to phase me. That was until I discovered Therm-A-Rest sleeping mats. If the discomfort of a poorly insulated foam mat helped to secure my love for life under canvas, then imagine my joy when I finally felt true comfort in camping. My trusty self-inflating Therm-A-Rest provided many summers full of cosy camping weekends with not a single complaint.
Then a couple of years ago I embarked upon an epic backpacking trip across Iceland. 6 incredible days battling the wind and snow on the Laugavegur Trail – camping out every night. So in preparation for the unpredictable nature of Icelandic summer weather, I decided it was about time to upgrade my sleeping arrangements once again. My sleeping pad requirements (in order of importance) were simple:
- Packs small
At that time, air construction mats had recently exploded onto the sleeping pad market and I was pretty keen to see what all the fuss was about. As a big fan of the quality of Therm-A-Rest products, and the added appeal of their lifetime warranty, I opted for the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite to accompany me on my adventures through the land of ice and snow – and what a great decision that was. Lying on the XLite for the first time was so far removed from my first sleeping mat experience, that I questioned whether it was really meant for camping at all. And on paper it ticked almost all of my boxes, with the main concerns being its durability and price. At almost twice as much as most good quality self-inflating mats, it was certainly more than I wanted to spend, but the financial hit was soon forgotten during its first night of sub zero camping.
Our late summer trek in Iceland turned out to be more of a winter expedition. The nights were spent trusting that our cleverly erected tents would outwit the brute force of the howling wind; hoping that they would stand up to the gathering snow weighing down the thin fly sheet that protected us from the elements. But instead of making me anxious, the foul weather only heightened my excitement to properly test out the magic of the XLite in conditions it is designed to excel in.
So firstly the warmth – number one on my priority list. The temperature dropped to below freezing on more than one night during that first trip. No problem at all. And subsequent trips have left me smugly enjoying consistently solid sleeps whilst those around me complained of disturbed sleep due to the cold.
The comfort levels that the XLite provide are like no other mattress I have tried. I tend to switch between back and side sleeping. Having a bad back means that I favour harder mats for back sleeping, but often find that as soon as I turn onto my side, my girly hips bottom out and become cold and uncomfortable. But the fully inflated XLite mat provides just enough rigidity for back sleeping and heaps of cloud-like cosy cushioning for side sleeping.
Weight and size
The weight and pack volume of the XLite sell themselves. My sleeping bag is on the heavy and large side, something I am currently unwilling to compromise on for the toastie warmth that it provides. So the 350g of insulating cosiness packed down into a tiny 1.4L, more than makes up for my overweight bag.
The robustness of the XLite is its main downfall. And although it held up brilliantly on the Iceland trip, I have since managed to get a puncture on a couple of occasions. That said, if you look after it and are careful not to use it directly on rugged ground then it is plenty tough enough to deal with everyday use. As with most air construction mats, the XLite comes with a repair kit that does a good job of permanently patching up the damage.
Although there are some really excellent sleeping mat brands and products out there, Therm-A-Rest really do have the sleeping mat market wrapped up. And with such an impressive resume of excellent products, it really is no wonder that the specs of the XLite hit the spot in almost all departments:
- With an R-value of 3.2, it is suited to all 3 season camping and will also hold up really well in temperatures just below freezing. Made with nylon, and without the bulk and added weight of a down or synthetic fill, the mat owes its good insulation levels to the reflective ThermaCapture technology that traps radiant heat inside the mat. Its Triangular Core Matrix construction also minimizes convective heat loss.
- The tapered design is another feature that helps keeps the weight really low at only 350g.
- The lack of down or synthetic fill means that the 1.4L pack volume is impressively small. At 23cm x 10cm, you will barely notice it in your pack.
- At 6.3cm thick, it would be impossible not to be comfortable on this mat.
- Both the top and bottom of the mat are made of 30d rip nylon.
For a direct comparison with other sleeping mats, check out our Best Sleeping Pad article.
As with all air construction pads, the XLite lacks the versatility of foam and self-inflating mats. Their uses outside of the tent are fairly limited and I miss having a mat to drag onto the grass for some stretching or yoga. However Therm-A-Rest have developed a couple of accessories that make the XLite useable as a chair or more unusually, a stool.
As an average weight and height female, the regular size is a bit on the long side, whilst its width suits me perfectly. I should have gone for the Womens XLite. At 15cm shorter than the regular version, Therm-A-Rest have managed to up the R-value to 3.9 without adding extra weight.
However I have male friends who find the length of the regular fine but the width a few inches too narrow. So much so that in hindsight they would have been happy to have the unnecessary extra length of the large and fork out the dollars to enjoy the extra 12cm of width offered by the large mat.
The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite is an excellent quality and well designed mat that suits the needs of most campers, bar those intrepid folk who favour sleeping on snow. Its super competitive warmth to weight ratio makes it an obvious choice for fast and light backpackers, and with comfort levels that challenge your bed at home, it’s easy to overlook its few negatives. A well deserved winner of the Cool of the Wild All Rounder Award.
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