Disclosure: In 2012 Therm-a-Rest sent me a free review unit of their then-new ultralight camping mattresses, the NeoAir XLite, in exchange for long-term testing and feedback. I wrote this review in 2013 after a year of use and then gifted the mat to a rider in greater need. I’ve kept the review current regarding specifications, prices and suppliers, last updating it in June 2020.
At first glance, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite is an astonishingly advanced piece of ultralight kit.
When packed, this camping mat can squeeze into the side pocket of my trousers. It weighs the same as an average cycling water bottle – of which half has already been drank. Inflated, it provides almost as much loft as the Exped Downmat 7. Never until its launch in 2012 was this combination of packability and comfort available in a sleeping pad. On paper, at least.
There are, of course, many other detailed considerations to take into account when choosing a sleeping pad like this for a long-haul ride. Here, then, is my detailed review of what Therm-a-Rest promised would be the last ultralight camping mattress I’d ever need…
What kind of cycle tour or bikepacking trip is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite best for?
This mattress was conceived for those who want to ultra-lighten their loads, still be able to sleep comfortably, and retain the assurance of quality associated with the Therm-a-Rest brand. It’s ridiculously small when packed.
One reviewer called it “the lightest comfortable sleeping pad in existence”, and that’s really the only way to describe it. The Klymit Inertia X Frame, for example, is significantly lighter than the NeoAir XLite, but if you’re not 5 foot 10 tall and you don’t sleep on your back, you wouldn’t describe it as comfortable.
(Update: lighter ‘comfortable’ mats have since been released – most notably the UberLite, also from Therm-a-Rest – but there are diminishing returns as weight ratings drop ever closer to zero.)
The NeoAir XLite is available in four size options. The one I’ll be reviewing here is the ‘regular’ version, full-length but slightly narrower than an average mattress and tapered towards the feet. It weighs in at 340g (12 oz), packs down to 23×10×10cm (9×4×4in), and can be squashed even smaller when stowed with the valve open. There’s also a three-quarter-length ‘small’ version for ultra-minimalists, a long model, a wide model, and a womens’ version with more insulation.
If you’re running a standard long-distance touring luggage setup with four panniers and a bar-bag, the extra bulk of a more traditional mattress is unlikely to be an issue, and so the benefits of the NeoAir XLite’s packability might not be obvious.
But what if you could pack everything for the long-haul into two panniers alone?
This is what I tried for a two-month trip down the U.S. West Coast last year. Along with a 1‑man tent and other kit minimalisations, I found the two-pannier setup liberating (particularly after that time I hauled a trailer across Mongolia), and would have happily extended those two months indefinitely with no major changes of kit.
I also took the XLite trekking in Iran in the spring of 2013, when size and weight had a much more immediate impact on my pack. Its comfort was already assured; I was interested in putting its longevity and flexibility to the test.
So if you’re leaning towards the ‘less is more’ camp, the NeoAir XLite might be a good match. This speaks particularly to bikepackers, folding tourers, and short-term road riders planning to camp but also to pare luggage down to a minimum.
The only meaningful measure of any sleeping pad, of course, is whether or not you can actually get a decent night’s sleep on it.
Having used a variety of camping mats over the years, from the closed cell foam Multimat I began with to the utterly luxuriant Downmat that kept me warm at 30 below in the Arctic, I’m happy (and surprised) to report that the XLite — despite its packed size — really does deliver on this front.
Inflated, it’s 6.3cm thick. It’s important to note that the thickness of a mattress affects more than just comfort and insulation; it also factors into your choice of campsite, as a thicker mat can absorb rougher ground whilst still providing a comfortable sleeping surface. It’s possible to deflate the mat slighty to suit your preferred level of cushioning, though this will make it noisier (one of the mat’s few negatives; see below).
For someone of average build, the 20 inches of width are more than sufficient. There’s a wider version if you need it. I chose the ‘regular’ width so I’d have a little space for belongings when I paired it with the MSR Hubba 1P tent.
Build Quality & Durability
With all ultralight gear, it’s important to regulate your expectations of longevity, as the materials used are intrinsically less durable.
I owned this mat for a year before writing this review, using it not only on a daily basis for two 2‑month trips (cycling and trekking) but also on every shorter trip in between, and experienced no problems. In the same amount of time, however, I did find a few reports of durability issues online. These seemed to be related to issues with early versions of the mat; particularly with condensation build-up as a result of oral inflation.
Therm-a-Rest have updated the design based on early feedback, including adding an optional inflation sack to help remedy moisture-related issues. Judging from more recent reviews, it now looks like the NeoAir XLite really is built to last.
The biggest issue (more of a niggle) with the NeoAir XLite is how noisy it can be. The nylon used in the construction sounds like a paper bag being screwed up whenever you turn over or – god forbid – attempt to kneel on the thing. This is exaggerated all the more if you let some air out to adjust the level of cushioning.
While this is hardly a deal-breaker, it’s worth being aware of, particularly if you’ve pitched up in a campground close to a tent full of extremely sensitive and angry people.
As mentioned briefly earlier on, the only other issue I encountered was that condensation seems to accumulate inside the mat under certain circumstances (inflating it with warm moist breath in cold weather). I know of at least one user whose mat began to grow mould after being stored long-term in this state.
The easiest solution is to air the mattress for a couple of days before storing it, hanging it up in a warm, dry place with the valve open and at the top (this is probably good advice for all orally-inflated mattresses). Another solution would be to use the optional inflation bag rather than inflating it by mouth.
I chose the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite so that I could tour really lightweight, picking other camping gear to match. Thanks to its ridiculously small packed size, my sleeping bag and mattress together occupied nothing more than the bottom of a single pannier, making its durability all the more impressive. Highly recommended – as long as you can live with the noise!
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in the UK from Amazon, Go Outdoors, OutdoorGear UK, Alpine Trek, Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock or Ellis Brigham.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in Canada from MEC.