Gear Review: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Mat for Women
I need to open this review with a disclaimer: I love to sleep and I like my comforts. Which means, that when I was first looking for a sleeping mat, I didn’t even consider getting just a foam mattress. As my budget was quite limited and I had to buy a lot of gear, I settled for a self-inflatable mat by Vango.
It served me well throughout my hiking in Scotland and Spain. It was easy to use and pretty comfortable. But when I was getting ready for this summer trip I decided to upgrade my sleeping mat. As much as the Vango mat was a good option it was (as all mats of this type are) heavy and big.
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Lighter and lighter - one step at a time
I’ve been trying to lighten up my load gradually for a while. When you don’t have to appropriate budget ready it takes some planning and strategic decision making. I decided to start with the heaviest and most expensive pieces: sleeping bag (changed into thick and warm custom-made down bag in February) then the sleeping mat and finally the tent (got Tarptent’s Double Rainbow, and am really happy with the choice). Just recently I also got a smaller and much lighter backpack - Gregory Maven 45. I haven't had a chance to test it properly just yet, though. But expect a nice review one day in the future :).
I didn’t just want to go the lightest possible – I needed the combination of light, small, comfortable and warm. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite seemed to fit the bill perfectly. The only downside seemed to be the price and weird noises it was supposed to be making (according to reviewers). I looked at other options but the ones that were lighter than Xlite didn’t have good opinions on insulation or comfort and if matched the comfort, were nowhere close to its weight.
One step further on my mission to lighten up my load
As I was preparing for my summer vacation I knew I would be carrying a heavy backpack. I was combining a few different kinds of vacationing: hiking in Quebec, city staycation with friends in Montreal and then hiking in Iceland. I had to carry a lot of food (I use particular kind of gluten-free powder soups so I bring them with me… for three weeks of meals) and more clothing than usual. I decided it was the perfect time to upgrade to the ultra-light sleeping mat.
Xlite or XTherm?
To the last moment, I was going back and forth between the Xlite and NeoAir XTherm. The latter is slightly bigger and heavier but provides superb isolation – it can be used during winter camping (RV 5,7). As I am a cold sleeper I was considering buying it – even though there are no winter camping trips in my plans. XTherm is slightly bigger and heavier (15 oz/425 g) than the Xlite but still much lighter than other options on the market. There is no version for women.
In the end, I decided to go with the women Xlite. I have a very warm down sleeping bag and figured it should be enough. I bought a small battery-operated air pump to save me fainting from inflating the thing. I’ve also read about the moisture gathering inside – much bigger risk when inflating by mouth. The air pump is tiny and light fits nicely into the mat’s bag. It’s also delicate – don’t throw it around too much ;-) I dropped it and the battery cover fell off. It’s good it didn’t break but I started to be more careful from then on.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite – size and weight
The moment I removed the Xlite from the packaging I was in shock. I just couldn’t believe how light it was! The inflating (with a pump) takes a few minutes – I generally was setting it to inflate while unpacking the rest of my stuff. I never filled it to be completely stiff – when you lie down it all evens out.
The women’s version of the Xlite is 168cm long and is warmer than the regular one. I am 160 cm tall and it was just enough. But I think I would prefer to have a bit longer mat – so my pillow wouldn’t escape me all the time ;-) The mat is also pretty narrow. When I lie on my back, my elbows fall to the ground. No one really sleeps with arms stiffly by their side… When you are inside your sleeping bag it holds you together a bit better and is not an issue. But it can be a bit annoying that your arms fall to the ground. If you are tall or prefer more comfort, the regular size NeoAir Xlite might work better.
NeoAir Xlite weighs only 12oz or 340 g. Can you believe it? My previous one weighed around 1kg! That's a huge difference.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite – comfort
Here I can only sing praises. This mat provides tremendous support and comfort. The only moment when you can feel the ground is when you sit on it – and only when you don’t inflate it completely. I sleep both on my back and on the side and both ways it was great. NeoAir Xlite is 2,5 inches thick - or about 6 cm.
Sometimes the mat was “dancing” a bit because the fabric is slippery. Combined with my tent’s slippery floor I had to reposition it a few times in the evening when I was moving more. During the night it was not an issue.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite – warmth
I haven’t had a chance to try it during a seriously cold weather but I slept on it in Iceland with the temperatures dropping to just above 0*C. I also have a very warm down sleeping bag (800g fill) so I was actually too warm at times! This was not always the case when I was sleeping in the same bag but on the old Vango mat in February – I was fine, warm but not too hot. The regular NeoAir Xlite has R-Value of 3,2 but the version for women is warmer - its RV is 3,9! That's much warmer than other lightweight mats on the market.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite – durability
It would be unfair for me to say much on its durability as I’ve owned it only for a few months. The mat seems delicate to the touch and I was worried a few times when I used it over a stony and rocky surface. I had no issues whatsoever but am considering buying an ultra-light foam mat just as the extra protection for harsh campsites. I’ve never used it directly on the ground – always in the tent. I’ve read people used it outside and some experienced punctures from sharp sticks, others had no issues. To be honest, the mat is too expensive to me to risk any preventable damage, so I prefer to be on the safe side. I've heard people had it for a few years with no issues, so I hope it's the case with my NeoAir as well. You get a fix kit with your sleeping mat.
I highly recommend getting this tiny and light Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Mini Pump - if you don't want to get lightheaded from all that blowing! It fits nicely into the NeoAir XLite's bag.