Once in a great while, a piece of gear comes out that is something new and innovative.
It does not often happen as there are only so many ways to design a pack, sleeping bag, puffy, rain jacket, etc.
But every so often, a piece of gear comes out that changes the way we backpack or otherwise enjoy the outdoors.
And one of those pieces of gear as well? The NeoAir by Therm-a-Rest.
The NeoAir is a compact pad that gives the comfort of a classic Therma-a-Rest, the weight savings of a closed-cell foam pad, and a higher R-Value. The short version favored by many lightweight backpackers weighs only 8oz but a comfortable sleep that, for many, ends up being superior to a foam pad.
In short, a person can be comfortable and backpack light at the same time.
The downside of these pads? They need some TLC and very expensive compared to other pads.
And comfort is arbitrary, of course. The original rectangular design of the first generation of NeoAirs is replaced by mummy-shaped ones that might be slightly lighter (by an ounce or so). Still, some people do not find them as comfortable who prefer more shoulder space. Myself included.
So I use my rectangular foam pad of choice. And since I cowboy camp regularly, admittedly beat on my gear, and prefer a more firm mattress, the closed-cell foam fits my needs better for three-season hiking.
The exception? Cold weather backpacking.
As with many people, I use a combo of a foam pad, and a NeoAir type mattress; my R-Value increases, and I have a backup in case the NeoAir fails. I may not have an ideal sleep on just a foam pad in winter, but not having a pad at all would be disastrous.
But I never slept all that well on the mummy-shaped NeoAir even in winter. But I made do.
But then “good luck” of sorts happened: Both Joan and I had old Therm-A-Rests leaking that was too old for warranty repair and a bit worn to fix. So Cascade Designs issued a discount code and we each purchased the NeoAir XTherm MAX. (Well, I bought one first, but Joan stole mine so much and loved it, she finally purchased on her own with said discount. 😀)
An admitted splurge.
But though I enjoy finding budget gear that works well, there are some pieces of equipment worth every penny. I am quite happy to use a higher-end quilt, my winter weight down parka, my shoes of choice, etc.
And the XTherm MAX ends up being one of those pieces. The reason we went with the MAX vs. the standard XTherm is simply because of the rectangular shape for a two-ounce weight penalty at 17oz vs the 15 oz of the mummy-shaped pads. But for fuller coverage above the cold winter ground, we’ll take it.
For deeper shoulder season and winter, we use these pads a lot.
They’ve been light for a winter pad at 17oz, comfortable, warm, compact, and effective.
What is also convenient about these pads since they are so compact, they easily packed in our luggage for camping out in Florida this past December. And they are light enough that we could take them for potential backpacking, too. Very versatile.
Though not as durable as my foam pad of choice, I rarely cowboy camp in the temperatures when I use this type of pad for backpacking. The XTherm gets treated better than my beat up foam pad, too!
With the revised ASTM standards, the R-Value of these pads is a healthy 6.9, firmly in the deep winter category use.
Add a light foam pad for a more R-Value, and a measure of safety, and you have a useful deep winter system pad wise.
And speaking of revised standards…
But if you want to save over $50, Amazon still has the XTherm MAX pads with the older style valves for $162. These older pads have the specs as the newer ones otherwise.
Get one now if you’ve been thinking about it; the older stocks will vanish soon.
Oh, and if you have a regular trip partner, buy one for them, too. Trust me. 🙂
Overall? Though pricey, we find the NeoAir XTherm MAX a practical piece of our cold-weather backpacking kit that we should have for years to come. We’ve used ours for over a year, and XTherms are a favorite for both of us. And if you look at the price-per-night ratio, the cost goes down even more. Useful cold-weather gear means more nights in the backcountry in all seasons!
Disclosure: We purchased the XTherm MAX with our funds but at a discount rate.