Bikepacking, like backpacking, is an exercise in compromises. Do you go fast and light, sacrificing durability and comfort? Or do you take a bring-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach? Most of us blend the two approaches to suit our own particular needs/idiosyncrasies. One area where I’m not willing to compromise while bikepacking is in the sleep department. I have a hard time sleeping when camping, period. So when I’m out on a big trip, I want to be as comfortable as possible to give myself the best odds for a decent night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, a sleep setup — shelter, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad — takes up a large portion of your carrying capacity. And generally, the more comfortable the item, the more room it takes up and the heavier it is. The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite looks like it solves the space and weight constraints, but how comfortable can an ultralight sleeping pad be? I took the NeoAir Xlite on a handful of bikepacking trips this year to find out.
At 6′ tall, I find myself at the upper length limits of regular sleeping pads, so I opted for the long version of the NeoAir. It measures 77″ long, 25″ wide, and is 2.5″ thick when inflated. The NeoAir comes in a small size (47″ long) for the uber gram-conscious and a regular size (72″ long). One thing to note: both of the smaller sizes are only 20″ wide, which could be a limiting factor if you have broad shoulders, regardless of height.
Therm-A-Rest builds the NeoAir Xlite in the United States from 30D nylon, which is extremely light. My sample weighed 493g with the stuff sack and patch kit, and 468g for the pad alone. It packed down to around the circumference of a Nalgene bottle and about 50% taller. The NeoAir doesn’t use synthetic or down insulation, but it does use their ThermaCapture technology, which reflects your radiant body heat back to you. The NeoAir only has an R-value of 3.2, making it good for three-season use.
The mattress sells for between $130 and $200 depending on the size you choose.
On the Trail
I used the NeoAir Xlite on a couple bikepacking and camping trips over the summer and fall with mostly great results. The NeoAir’s low weight and small size freed up a good chunk of space in my bags. Depending on my particular needs for the trip, I packed the NeoAir differently. Sometimes I would roll it up and put it into its own stuff sack and jam that into my seat bag. For the Cohutta Cat in November, I rolled it up with my tent and placed the entire setup in my handlebar bag. I really liked packing it that way because it simplified setting up camp. At the end of a long day I just popped off my handlebar roll, set up the tent, blew up the pad, and grabbed my sleeping bag from my seat bag.
The NeoAir inflates the old-fashioned way — through lung power. At 2.5″ thick, it takes a lot of breaths to fill it up. When I was really blasted — like after riding for 16 hours straight during the Cohutta Cat — I needed to take breaks during the inflation process. Even when I used it for car camping, inflating the NeoAir takes longer than most air mattresses I’ve owned. On a good day, it took me about 2.5 minutes to inflate.
Thankfully, the NeoAir rewards you for your hard work with an extremely comfortable sleeping surface. I prefer to sleep on my side and I was able to do so without issue with the NeoAir. The pad has a matte finish on the top and bottom which prevented me from sliding off in the middle of the night. It was also fairly quiet as technical gear goes. There was some swishing and a little crinkling, but nothing too annoying.
As I mentioned above, the NeoAir is a three-season pad, which is mainly how I used it. On one trip the overnight low dipped into the upper 30s, but I remained cozy. That probably has more to do with my sleeping bag than the pad, though.
The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite is a great way to cut some weight and bulk from your bikepacking setup. It’s a chore to inflate, but the end result makes it worthwhile. I didn’t have any issues as far as durability goes, but my NeoAir only saw limited use this year, so keep that in mind. I’m also very careful with my gear and take pains to minimize the risk of punctures or chafing. This isn’t the pad I take with me if my dog is coming camping, for instance. But for moving fast, light, and comfortably, the NeoAir is an impressive package.
Thanks to Therm-A-Rest for sending the NeoAir Xlite for review.
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