A hard-wearing hero of countless thru-hikes and climbing expeditions, the Z-Lite Sol is the ultimate evolution of the classic closed-cell foam sleeping mat.
- Extremely durable
- Good value
- Not very warm
- Not as comfortable as a self-inflating or air mat
- Comparatively bulky when packed
Basically, the Thermarest Z-lite Sol sleeping pad is a 2cm-thick wedge of foam padding. You unfold it, concertina-style, lay out your sleeping bag, get in and go to sleep. Simple. Of course, there’s a little bit more to it than that. But in essence, it’s the same sleep system that has existed since forever. Think back to the first time you ever went camping – we’re willing to bet you used a foam mat.
However, there’s a reason that these mats are still trusted by many adventurers all over the world. Firstly, they can be used and abused to a greater degree than even the toughest air mat or self-inflating mats. Even if they get ripped or punctured, they’ll still work.
As a result, you don’t have to be so careful with campsite selection, and if your options are very limited – like an airy, rocky climbers’ bivvy, for example – it’s one of the few genuinely practical mats available, and one that’ll still prove far more comfortable than lying on bare rock. The Z Lite is therefore a versatile beast, as well as being surprisingly lightweight, if slightly bulky.
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This version also hides a fair bit of clever tech within its seemingly simple exterior. Firstly, it has dual-density foam that is softer on top for extra comfort and denser on the bottom for extra durability. The design also incorporates unique dimples that are designed to trap more heat, while the SOL’s shiny finish is actually a ThermaCapture coating that helps to reflect body heat.
According to Thermarest, this can increase overall warmth by nearly 15%. So, with a rated R-value of 2.0, it should work well for camping trips from late spring to early autumn.
In the field
We strapped this mat to our pack and headed to the hills. Despite its comparative bulk, it’s actually very lightweight, and will fit through the compression straps of most backpacking rucksacks – in this regard, it is far better than a standard roll mat. Carrying it outside your pack also means it is easily accessible to pull out for rest stops, which is pretty handy.
Set up after pitching the tent was a cinch. There’s nothing to do other than unfold it, remembering to put the silver reflective side facing upwards to maximise warmth. You can be ready for bed in seconds, which after a long day’s hiking can be a real blessing.
The dimpled foam is fairly comfortable and very quiet, making no audible noise no matter how much you toss and turn (which, to be fair, you might). That’s because, inevitably, sleeping on 2cm of foam padding will never be as comfortable as sleeping on 8cm of lofty air, but nevertheless we still slept pretty well and certainly appreciated the reasonable levels of cushioning that the mat did provide.
Ultimately, if you are a hardy camper and tend to sleep on your back, it’s unlikely that you’ll need the additional loft of an air mat or even a self-inflating mat, in which case this foam mat might be a good choice. It will certainly give good service, making it a good value buy too.
And if you do decide to upgrade to something a little more luxurious in the future (hey, we all get older, after all), don’t forget that this can also be used as a secondary layer underneath or on top of another mat to boost the warmth of your sleep system.
As such, it’s an economical solution and one that, despite its obvious limitations, is hard to fault. As closed-cell foam mats go, this is just about the best one out there.
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