I love my gear and gear in general, but I’m so over it right now. That being said, maybe I can be of use to someone out there. To stray from having an entire book written about my gear, and to make things interesting for myself (because I’m selfish), my planned format is to review things one at a time, day by day. I also want to go into other viable options when I can. My gear rocks the world, but it isn’t the #1 ideal setup.
Today, I want to talk about amazing things. The Thermarest NeoAir Xlite.
On my first backpacking trip ever, we used foam mats. And not the good kind either, they were absolutely terrible. After that we switched to self-inflating mats, which were a step above terrible, but weren’t quite ‘it’. They’re heavy, they really don’t actually self inflate (“You mean I have to work for this?! Ugh!“), and as much as you’d think they provided some kind of comfort, they really don’t. It’s not like we go out into the woods for comfort, but if you’re going to carry something that heavy and awkward, you’d want it to work right?
I switched to the NeoAir mostly because it weighed less and I’m still emotionally scarred from my experience with foam mats. I took it out of the box, inflated it, laid down… Holy shit! What is this?! Why am I comfortable?!
Below is a reenactment done by non-paid actors
It inflates in such a way that supports my back better than any regular mattress I’ve ever used. It contours to my body in the best way possible. I almost feel guilty that I will be this comfortable on my thru-hike. Not only that, but it’s designed to trap heat very well. Using it inside, I run a little hot (I wonder why). Outside, any area making contact with the pad stays comfortable. I won’t pretend to know everything about insulation ratings, I’m just going to say it works well. Well enough to make me switch to a quilt without feeling uneasy about it (more on that in a later article). Later down the line, I paired it up with my quilt and what I plan on using as a pillow, and I totally fell asleep on it.
It Can’t All be Good, Right?
Nah, but what is? Here’s some things I’m not particularly crazy about:
This thing is so loud! Taking it out of its respectably sized bag, unfolding it, and inflating it is a crinkly symphony. Even when I’m finished inflating it, moving around on it is pretty much like trying to make a bed out of a pile of old crackers. I cringe every time I need to move a little, and I feel bad for anyone camped near me. I take solace in the fact that I know others will be using it, but… man, I’m sorry guys.
I’m not going to complain here about this, but I need to say it. It does take a while to inflate, and I run a little lightheaded afterwards, but I accepted that this would be something I’d deal with. It doesn’t take too long (1min30sec at most) since you aren’t inflating it to capacity. I’d like to quote someone on this issue:
I have to breathe anyways, right?
Too true my friend, too true.
For $40 and 2.5 oz, you can get a little inflation gadget to do the work for you. Benefits of this are you don’t have to do it yourself, and you’re not blowing moisture into yoursleeping pad which can cause mold buildup. Yeesh.
But it’s an entire 2.5 ounces guys.. no thanks. You can also use some ingenuity: trap air into a stuff sack, secure the stuff sack around the nozzle of the NeoAir, and push air into it. I’ll try this out, and probably quit in a fit of frustration.
This is another thing that I’m not exactly upset over, but just need to let it known. If you get a regular sized version of this, you will notice that it’s a little narrow. This mat is really best for side-sleepers, which I happen to be 80% of the time. I’ve done a couple things to help stay warm for the nights where I feel like sleeping on my back, so I’m not worried about it. Even on the self inflating mats, my arms tend to dangle off the mat a bit, it’s not a huge issue.
You can’t exactly throw this thing over a bed of sharp rocks like you can a foam mat. If you’re going to take an inflatable mat like this over rough terrain, you need to be careful with it. In order to feel comfortable with using it, I’m only inflating it when I’m in my tent or nestled safely on my Tyvek groundsheet. Ideally I’ll be using both, but I’ll be cowboy camping occasionally. This thing is staying the hell away from sharp branches and other prickly back-country flora. It comes with a couple of patches to fix potential holes though, so that’s nice.
Take a Look for Yourself
I need to find a better place to take pictures next time..
Alternatives (I’d go for)
My bias against foam mats is a bit unfounded at this point, there’s really great stuff out there. For one, I love my foam pad from Gossamer Gear. It came with my backpack to help support the frame, and I use it as a pillow. Mine is just a small section of it of course, I imagine the full thing is magical. If my NeoAir meets an untimely demise, I’ll be going with this pad from Gossamer Gear for sure. Note that it’s only torso sized.