Traveler's Gear Box: Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad Wards Off Cold Nights

Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad truly is revolutionary, offering an R-Value of 5.7 in a pad that weighs a scant 15 ounces. Kurt Repanshek photos.

Perhaps it comes with age, or inadequate sleeping pads, but in recent years I've often found myself shivering through the night during fall backpacking treks. But the arrival of a revolutionary pad from Therm-a-Rest carries the warm promise of making those nights distant memories.

Staying warm in the backcountry always is a concern, and to deal with it a few years back I added a 15-degree down sleeping bag to my closet. Sadly, it wasn't accomplishing the task. Whether my aging body simply had a lower thermostat onboard, or the sleeping bag was mislabeled, remains for debate.

When I heard Therm-a-Rest was coming out with a new pad -- the NeoAir XTherm -- one it promoted as a four-season pad, I was intrigued. I also was somewhat leery, as my current sleeping pad was a Therm-a-Rest Prolight, and it wasn't achieving the desired result. So leery was I, in fact, that I picked up a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Pad during REI's Labor Day Sale.

With a backcountry trek in Yellowstone National Park's "Cascade Corner" on tap for earlier this month, a field test was quickly scheduled.

When I received a demo version of the XTherm, which goes on the market in January, I was both astounded and even more curious than I had been when reading about it. It was tiny, at least in terms of sleeping pads, about the size of a quart-sized Nalgene bottle when rolled tight, and incredibly light, at just 15 ounces (for the regular size, 20 inches by 72).

How could something so outwardly slight keep me warm when the temp fell below freezing? But that's exactly what it did as I settled down onto it in our camp below Albright Falls. So cozy was this pad, which provides 2.5 inches of cushion when fully inflated, that it almost felt as though I was sleeping on a heating blanket while ice droplets were forming on my tent's rainfly just inches away from my face.

But what was driving this warmth? The pad was not filled with either down or synthetic insulation that could keep the ground's cold from seeping into my bones.

Here's how the Therm-a-Rest folks explain how they achieved a 5.7 R-Value with the XTherm:

The patent-pending multiple-layer design of the NeoAir Reflective Barrier achieves warmth in extreme conditions with multiple layers that reflect heat back to the user’s body and reduce convective heat loss to the ground. The patent-pending Triangular Core Matrix design creates internal walls that trap warm air while providing a stable, comfortable sleeping platform. Advanced fabrics and a tapered design offer exceptional compressibility, compactness and light weight.
One side of the XTherm is silver, the other grey, leading me to consider the possibility that the silver side was meant to reflect my body's heat. However, I later learned, the colors really are insignificant in that aspect. But the grey side is a higher-denier fabric (70 denier nylon with soft grip) that helps keep the pad in place on the floor of your tent -- no backsliding.

The top is a finer, 30 denier High Tenacity Nylon, which also helps keep your sleeping bag from scooting around while you doze.

Not entirely surprising, these pads are not exactly inexpensive. With sizes ranging from small (20 inches by 47 inches, 11 ounces) to large (25 inches by 77 inches, 22 ounces), the XTherm's MSRP ranges from $149.95 to $219.95. Included are a stuff sack and patch kit.

But if you sleep cold, as I do, shouldn't you treat yourself to the resulting warmth and the light weight for a great night's sleep in the backcountry?

Traveler footnote: For most users, those not heading into the highest elevations on Earth, the NeoAir Pump Sack that's built into the pad's stuff sack, is superfluous. It's designed to trap air in the sack, and as you roll up the sack the air is forced into the pad. If you've got lots of time and little breath to spare, this might be a good option. But if you're at lower elevations and can spare a dozen or so deep breaths, inflating the pad is much easier and quicker the old-fashioned way. And since there's no insulation inside, a little moisture from your breath won't do any harm.

Comments

Jan 2012 and no x therms

Great Review Kurt, unfortunately I just stopped by both REI's in my area and the story was the same that here we are February 2012 and the Xtherm still isn't out yet.
Supposedly it's "coming soon", but I wonder if I can wait...trips are being planned and provisions being procurred.

My question is: What about the sound of the Xtherm?
The crinkle of the Xlite and All Season drive me crazy, so much that Ialmost considered the original with all of it's failure modes because the crinkle was so much less.
The only one I can stand is the Trekker which has a paltry R-value of 2. (Holy Ice Capades Batman!)
Any advice (should I wear earplugs and live with it?)
Did you try any of the Exped products at low temps?
-Cheers
P.B.

Hmmm, seems to be a kink in the production line somewhere, P.B.

A quick Internet search shows the XTherm is on back order. And a quick call to Cascade Designs informed me that they've decided to do a larger production run than initially anticipated, and so rather than release some at a time, they want to wait until they have a larger number for distribution. And that means they probably won't be available until April.

I didn't notice any sound issues with my demo...though after an 18-mile day, sleep came easy;-)

I do have a buddy who swears by the Big Agnus Insulated Air Core. It's rated to 15 degrees, though not as light and compact as the XTherm. Unfortunately, I haven't tried an Exped.

Wish I could have been more encouraging re the XTherm availability....

Most interesting. As I get older, I'm colder too. On the other hand, as I get older I can more easily afford gear like this. Thanks for the review.

So there's no foam in there?

I've seen what they do with the little star shaped pieces they cut out of their regular pads. They're cut out to save weight and to compress a little better. Their women's models have less material cut out; they say it's something about women being more sensitive to the cold. They actually use the pieces as stuffing in their compressible pillows.

I also would give a shout out to Cascade Designs. Once my wife's Therm-A-Rest cut (never actually used it in practice but it was moved around the house) and the standard repair kit didn't have a patch in the same pink color that was big enough. So I called them up and they sent a big 'ol piece of the material for me to use as a patch. Of course that repair kit is really hard to use. The kit comes with several plastic resin pouches that are boiled until the resin flows, and the pouch is torn open, the hot resin spread, and the patch applied. You have to work quickly and the result is messy. The kit can be used in the field though with whatever it takes to boil water. They also recommend a water bottle to use like a rolling pin on the patch.