For four-season outdoor explorers going on multi-day missions – trekkers, backpackers, hikers and bikers – the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT sleeping pad is simply the best mat on the market, offering excellent warmth and superb comfort for a very low weight and space penalty.
Very lightweight for a four-season mat
Extremely quiet (no crinkling)
Easy to carry
Excellent insulation protects users from the cold ground all year round
Available in a range of sizes
No recycled materials used
Takes a little effort to inflate
Only one color
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Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT: first impressions
Therm-a-Rest – or Cascade Designs as the brand was called back in the 1970s – revolutionized backpack camping several decades ago by inventing self-inflating sleeping pads that actually made overnighting in the outdoors a genuinely comfortable experience. The range has expanded and evolved massively since then, to include closed cell sleeping pads and inflatable pillows as well, but the American brand is still setting the bar when it comes to making the best sleeping pads for camping, and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT is probably the most advanced and highest performing four-season, lightweight mat on the market.
• List price: $277 (US) / £210 (UK)
• Style: Insulated inflatable
• Sizes available: Regular Short / Regular / Regular Wide / Large
• Colors: Yellow
• Weight (regular): 370g / 13 oz
• Shape: Mummy
• Inflated dimensions (regular): 183cm x 51cm / 72in x 20in
• Inflated thickness (regular): 10cm / 3in
• Pack size (regular): 23cm x 10cm / 9in x 4.1in
• R-value: 4.5
• Extras: Stuff sack, pump sack, repair kit
• Compatibility: Four-season backpacking and camping
As soon as I got the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT out of the box I was impressed by the small pack size and low weight of this mat; it’s about the same size as a classic widemouth Nalgene water bottle. There are smaller and lighter mats out there, including the Alpkit Whisper, but not with an R-value as good as 4.5. Used with a good sleeping bag and a decent tent, this superbly insulated pad will protect you all year round from the chill that can seep up through the floor while camping.
It’s important to note that the NeoAir XLite NXT does not self assemble – you need to BYO blowing power to get this insulated inflatable pad pumped up and ready for use, which is one of the reasons it’s so light. It comes with a large pump sack, which attaches firmly to the valve on the pad, and it’s important to use this in order to prevent the buildup of moisture and mold on the inside of the mat. This is a premium product, with a corresponding price tag, and you do not want to ruin it.
Besides a pump and stuff sack (two separate but very lightweight bags), the NeoAir XLite NXT also comes with a small repair kit, because when using inflatable mats you always run the risk that they could puncture (always check the ground beneath very carefully before pitching your tent for sharp stones, prickly plants and other hazards).
The most significant improvement made to the new generation NeoAir XLite NXT is its solemn promise to be a whole lot quieter at night than its forebears. The curse of lightweight, highly insulated sleeping pads has always been the cacophonous crinkling noise they make whenever you move on them. Therm-a-Rest say they have made this iteration of their top-end four-season backpacking mat six times quieter than its predecessor, by refining the way the mat’s “Triangular Core Matrix” integrates with the warmth-radiating “ThermaCapture technology”.
What the hell does that mean? We didn’t really know either, so instead of Googling it, like one of those desk-surfing online reviewer types (boo!), I spent a load of nights sleeping outdoors on the NeoAir XLite NXT in a range of conditions, temperatures and scenarios to see if the fancy sounding words translated into something tangible.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT: in the field
Practicing what I preach, I’ve been using the supplied pump sack to inflate the NeoAir XLite NXT sleeping mat every time I use it. It takes a good eight or nine full sack-loads of air in order to get the mat completely inflated, which can feel like a bit of a faff at the end of day on the trails, but it is well worth it. Your mat will last a lot longer if you look after it, and you can only enjoy the full levels of comfort this pad offers if you fully pump it up.
Once inflated, it’s 3in / 10cm thick and boasts an R-value of 4.5; I really appreciated this level of thermal protection during the first few nights I spent sleeping on the NeoAir XLite NXT, which happened in early spring. I haven’t yet used this mat in mid winter, but once the orbit of the planet makes it possible I shall be taking it snow camping, and I have every confidence it will do a cracking job.
Comfort wise, the NeoAir XLite NXT proved to be every bit as sumptuous as promised, and I have enjoyed a full and restorative night’s sleep each time I’ve used it. This has been helped by the almost complete lack of crinkling and crackling that usually accompanies a night spent on an insulated sleeping mate. So bravo Therm-a-Rest, your product tweaking has worked absolute wonders.
Each morning, I found the mat very easy to deflate (using the quick release valve), roll up and get back in its stash sack, and it then fits into a backpack without taking up much space at all. Bikepackers might find it a little tricky to stow in their more restrictive frame bags, but if you’re adventuring all year round, then the combination of low weight, advanced thermal protection and incredible comfort that the NeoAir XLite NXT offers is very hard to beat.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.