Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)

Exciting things are happening in sleeping pads this year at Cascade Designs (parent company of Therm-a-Rest) and Pacific Outdoor Equipment. Cascade Designs has an extensive new lineup of products that will surely interest lightweight hikers, including a revolutionary new pad technology that promises substantial performance improvements over existing designs. Meanwhile, Pacific Outdoor Equipment is moving towards more eco-friendly materials and is launching a very innovative product design program of which you can be a part.

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by Mike Martin | 2008-08-12 00:00:00-06

The Envelope Just Got Bigger

As a lightweight, technically minded backpacker, if you were looking to rate the overall performance of a sleeping pad, you might define a "performance envelope" consisting of parameters like warmth, weight, comfort, and packed size. A traditional backpacker might also include durability and ease-of-use, but I'd argue these are less important to lightweight hikers. Tradeoffs among these parameters are unavoidable in any pad technology. For example, closed-cell foam pads are generally lighter, but less comfortable and bulkier than self-inflators.

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 1
Ryan Gardner tries out the full-length version of the NeoAir

The new Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad expands the envelope by offering a 2.5 inch thickness for comfort, an extremely compact stored size, and a claimed R-value of R-2.5 for warmth. The NeoAir achieves the comfort and compact size by virtue of its non-self-inflating construction. This itself is not new in pad designs, as companies such as Big Agnes, Exped, and Pacific Outdoor Equipment have had this type of pad for some time. By eliminating or reducing the thickness of the internal insulation, a non-self-inflator can be blown up to a plush, comfortable thickness, and still be deflated to a compact size for packing. The drawback of this kind of construction is that it is difficult to achieve much thermal insulation. If the pad is constructed with large, empty air chambers like the Big Agnes Clearview Pad, convective air currents in the pad will decrease its insulation dramatically. One way around this is to add some down or synthetic high-loft insulation to the inside of the pad chambers, as is done in the Exped Downmats, Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Thermo pads, and Big Agnes Insulated Air Core series. By impeding convective currents, this construction adds substantial warmth. But, it adds weight and increases packed bulk. Plus, if down is used, a pump must be used for inflation to avoid trapping moisture from your breath inside the pad.

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 2
The NeoAir can be inflated up to 2.5 inches thick. As with other inflatable pads, maximum comfort is achieved at some point slightly less than maximum inflation.

The NeoAir promises to deliver the light weight, simplicity, and compactibility of an insulation-less non-self-inflator like the Clearview Air, with the warmth of an insulated pad. It achieves this with a five-layer honeycomb construction that disrupts convective currents and reflects radiant heat.

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 3
Cross section of the NeoAir pad. The honeycomb structure reduces air currents, while the reflective layer in the center reduces radiant heat loss.

Producing this honeycomb structure, dubbed "Core Matrix," required new manufacturing technology. A proprietary machine made in Tacoma, Washington welds the five fabric layers simultaneously. The process is time consuming, requiring up to ten minutes for the machine to complete the discrete welds. Current prototype pads are being made with a prototype welder, but the company has a larger capacity machine in development. Somewhat surprisingly in this day of Asian-produced goods, the production pads will be made in Seattle.

The technology has taken over five years of development. They were initially looking to build a lightweight pad using conventional high loft insulation. This evolved into attempts to achieve semi-self inflation by orienting the matrix vertically. Eventually a horizontal matrix was decided upon to reduce the number of welds needed and improve warmth by reducing the vertical size of the "chimneys" inside each cell.

Materials consist of a 30 denier high tenacity ripstop nylon shell, nylon non-woven inner layers, and a central aluminized, urethane-coated, reflective layer. The layer sandwich is claimed to offer an R-value of R-2.5 at 1.85 inches of inflation. (As with all inflatable pads, the R-value depends on the inflation thickness - more air equals more insulation.)

The technology and design of the pad appear impressive, but as with any potentially revolutionary product, we'll have to wait and see if production versions live up to the initial promise. A full review of the NeoAir is in the works at BackpackingLight.com. The pad will be available April 2009 in four sizes.

Features of the Small Version:

  • Dimensions: 20 x 47 in (51 x 119 cm)
  • Claimed Weight: 9 oz (260 g)
  • MSRP: US$119.95

What About Conventional Therm-a-Rests?

If the price or new technology of the NeoAir frightens you off, Cascade Designs has completely revamped the rest of the Therm-a-Rest pad line. The existing Prolite 4 series of pads has been updated to increase warmth by a claimed 20% with no additional weight penalty by utilizing a "cross die-cut" foam configuration. Most self-inflating pads punch vertical holes through the foam to reduce weight and stuff size. These holes can create miniature chimneys for convective air currents.

The slanted die-cut foam technology in the new "Prolite Plus" pad is claimed to act as a barrier, slowing down the convective transfer of heat within the cell to the sleeping surface. The claimed weight remains unchanged at one and a half pounds for a regular seventy-two-inch mattress. Prolite Plus pads will be available in three unisex sizes with a claimed R-value of R-3.8, as well as one women's version rated at R-4.5. MSRP's range from US$79.95 to US$199.95 for the various sizes. Lengths range from forty-seven to seventy-seven inches. Available March 2009. If the field performance matches the claimed R-values, these pads should all be amply warm as sole pads for winter use.

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) - 4
The three-season small size Prolite Pad with a claimed weight of eleven ounces. Note the aggressively rounded edges and tapered shape. An even lighter extra-small size will also be available.

For thee-season use, Therm-a-Rest has streamlined the shape of their existing Prolite 3 pads and renamed them, simply, "Prolite." The new pads are tapered slightly more aggressively and feature rounder tops and bottoms. These changes reduce the amount of material used for a given sized pad and result in weight reduction - always a plus for lightweight hikers. The new Prolite pads will be offered in three unisex sizes, plus a women's size. The smallest and lightest pad in this series is the torso-sized extra-small version, measuring twenty by thirty-six inches, and claiming an eight ounce weight. This makes it one of the lightest self-inflating pads commercially available. MSRP's range from US$59.95 to US$119.95, depending on size. Available January 2009.

No Oyl Shortage Here

Pacific Outdoor Equipment is going green(er?) this year with the introduction of their Peak Oyl family of pads. The new pads incorporate foam made from palm oil and shells made from recycled PET fabric. The new foam is a polyurethane blend made from 40% palm oil rather than petroleum-based oil. The shell is at least partially made from recycled beverage containers. The first pads in this series are the Peak Oyl Lite and Peak Oyl Aero Mountain, replacing their current AO Lite and AO Aero Mountain pads. Their strategy is to introduce the Peak Oyl materials into these higher end products this year and have it trickle into the rest of their product line in the future. According to company vice president Greg Garrigues, migrating to the new, allegedly more eco-friendly materials required no compromise in weight or performance. The Peak Oyl Lite will be available in five standard and women's sizes ranging from forty-eight to seventy-eight inches long and thirteen to twenty-one ounces (claimed). MSRP's from US$70 to US$95. The Peak Oyl Aero Mountain will come in similar sizes with claimed weights from 18 to 29.5 ounces. MSRPs from US$114 to US$139.

Want To Design Your Own Sleeping Pad?

Pacific Outdoor Equipment is starting a new program next year called Über Concepts. They plan to release up to ten design iterations of a new pad throughout the year based on customer feedback. The idea is to produce small batches of pads each month and repeatedly revise the design with a very fast development cycle. Customers will make suggestions for improvements with each version, and the product will evolve throughout the year. Want a four-ounce twenty-four by twelve inch "shoulder blade" pad or extra cushioning for the small of your back? Join the program and become a pad designer.


Citation

"Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)," by Mike Martin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/orsm08_plush_pads.html, 2008-08-12 00:00:00-06.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)
Display Avatars
Sort By:
Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/12/2008 19:38:09 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008)

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/12/2008 20:48:16 MDT Print View

I question how "green" is the use of palm oil. Personally I prefer virgin forests and orangutans to certain "green products"
Franco

Randy Brissey
(rbrissey) - M

Locale: Redondo Beach, CA
Packed Size for the NeoAir Small on 08/13/2008 00:06:00 MDT Print View

I like the weight of the small NeoAir but what is the packed size?

Randy

Dan Healy
(electricpanda)

Locale: Queensland
Re: Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/13/2008 04:36:03 MDT Print View

Yes. While Cascade Designs is taking a good step in using recycled product, marketing palm oil as 'green' is not doing their reputation as an honest, up front, caring sharing company any favours...

Roman Ackl
(roman) - MLife
Re: Packed Size for the NeoAir Small on 08/13/2008 05:17:46 MDT Print View

Check the NeoAir pack size out here:
http://lighthiker.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/outdoor-2008-sleeping-pads/

Roman Ackl
(roman) - MLife
Re: Re: Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/13/2008 05:22:53 MDT Print View

POE says in their catalog for 2009 re. the palm oyl usage:
"The palm is not a food replacement crop, nor GMO, but it is not without it's issues, which we are actively working to resolve. Even with it's issues, it is a step in the right direction, because it helps to bring about a market transformation - weaning us off the petroleum that is so prevalent in all products we use today."

Lanny G. Rhodes
(lgrhgr) - F
Thermarest sizes on 08/13/2008 07:56:35 MDT Print View

I have asked Thermarest for 4 years to make a 25" x 72" pad. To get 25"w you have to get 77" L, which adds weight twice. It should be a no-brainer and will make nights on the trail more enjoyable for those of us who move around during sleep.

Sleepless in Savannah

Thanks for all your good reports!

Lanny

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Plush Pads on 08/13/2008 08:01:54 MDT Print View

NeoAir vs. Big Agnes Insulated AirCore:

Comparison for 20 x 72 x 2.5 inch rectangular pads


Price: Big Agnes $70; NeoAir $150 = advantage Big Agnes

Weight: Big Agnes 24 oz; NeoAir 14 oz -=advantage NeoAir

Bulk (rolled); about equal = tie (Big Agnes 5x9 inches; NeoAir not listed, only photo)

R value: Big Agnes 4.1 (15°F); NeoAir 2.5 = advantage Big Agnes. I'm surprised at the difference in R values. I had expected the NeoAir to be much higher.

Ease of use - to be determined. Big Agnes inflates and deflates quickly and easily. I still want to see how all that internal structuring affects this with the NeoAir.


Would I pay $80 more to save 10 ounces? Yes, if the R values were comperable. As it stands right now, that's not the case, and I'll keep my Big Agnes Insulated Air core pads.

Wandering Bob

Edited by wandering_bob on 08/13/2008 08:06:08 MDT.

Bryant Burton
(moabrocks) - F
Wide and Short on 08/13/2008 13:10:32 MDT Print View

I wonder why they don't make a 25" wide in a 3/4 length. What all us wider guys like to pack longer pads? or I guess they think because we are wider we don't mind packing the extra weight? ... :)

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Durability matters on 08/13/2008 17:30:48 MDT Print View

"A traditional backpacker might also include durability and ease-of-use, but I'd argue these are less important to lightweight hikers."

As part of my sleep system, durability is an essential element of design that I look for in a sleeping pad. Perhaps more so in the lightweight world than in traditional backpacking. I recently switched from the torso lite pad for this very reason. Perhaps on a short (>=3 day) trip it doesn't matter if your pad become a self deflater, and in that case maybe one could go without a pad at all to save even more weight, but on an extended trip, with multiple high mileage days in a row, a good nights sleep can be part of risk management. Additionally, without the added insulation of a sleeping pad, many lightweight sleep systems can be easily pushed beyond their useful threshold. In January of this year my self deflating torso lite dropped the effectiveness of my prototype (and admittedly under filled) GoLite quilt from barely comfortable (about perfect, because I had to wear all my cloths) to down right frigid and miserable.

Propagating the stereotype that lightweight gear is or has to be delicate is not helping the lightweight movement gain any momentum in the industry. Certainly there is a balance and trade offs that must be made, but dismissing durability as less important seems to support a consumeristic and disposable culture that I find conflicts with any notion of being greener. It goes REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE for a reason.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Durability matters on 08/13/2008 18:37:16 MDT Print View

Hi Ryan-

I certainly wasn't advocating disposable products, nor was I saying that durability is completely unimportant...merely less important than the other criteria I listed for lightweight use.

Lightweight gear generally requires careful handling to make it work -- be it cuben tarps, silnylon backpacks, propore rainger...the list is long.

I agree completely that there must be a balance -- gear cannot be so light that it is too fragile to perform its intended function without crossing the line into disposable, non-functional, or dangerous. And, I think the NeoAir will pass this test (though, as I mentioned in the article, I'll reserve judgment until we do some field testing.)

As to the lightweight movement gaining momentum in the industry, I recommend Ryan Gardner's "the wait for lightweight" article -- good reading.

Cheers,

-Mike

Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
Palm oil on 08/14/2008 12:44:06 MDT Print View

Not to distract too much from the subject of gear, but Franco's right - there's nothing green about palm oil at this point. Regarding, their assertion that it's a 'step in the right direction', I don't agree. I'm all for CSR, but companies need to do better homework. Palm oil is not a renewable resource.

Aside from habitat destruction in SE Asia and resultant loss of biodiversity, clearing rainforests and burning out peat bogs to convert land for palm oil plantations has made tiny Indonesia the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter. Add to this widespread corruption and land grabbing by powerful logging and palm interests and the effect on poor and indigenous peoples becomes apparent as well.

Josh S.
(Stumphges) - F
Palm oil on 08/14/2008 12:44:52 MDT Print View

Franco's right - there's nothing green about palm oil at this point. Regarding, their assertion that it's a 'step in the right direction', I don't agree. I'm all for CSR, but companies need to do better homework. Palm oil is not a renewable resource.

Aside from habitat destruction in SE Asia and resultant loss of biodiversity, clearing rainforests and burning out peat bogs to convert land for palm oil plantations has made tiny Indonesia the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter. Add to this widespread corruption and land grabbing by powerful logging and palm interests and the effect on poor and indigenous peoples becomes apparent as well.

Barry P
(BarryP) - F

Locale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
Re: Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/15/2008 11:21:55 MDT Print View

“The smallest and lightest pad in this series is the torso-sized extra-small version, measuring twenty by thirty-six inches, and claiming an eight ounce weight.”

This is neat. What is its thickness and roll size?

-Barry

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Plush Pads (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008) on 08/15/2008 12:23:22 MDT Print View

Hi Barry-

Sorry, no info on the rolled size. But the specs from Thermarest show 1" thickness and an R-Value of R-2.2.

Cheers,

-Mike

Johan Engberg
(luffarjohan) - M

Locale: Wrong place at the right rime
tiny Indonesia (OT) on 09/02/2008 10:14:11 MDT Print View

"... has made tiny Indonesia the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter."

I don't really want to remark but "tiny" Indonesia happens to have 222 million inhabitants and is the 16th biggest country in terms of land area in the world.

I agree in what you say though.

/J

Richard Sullivan
(richard.s) - MLife

Locale: Supernatural BC
Re: Plush Pads on 03/14/2009 12:00:47 MDT Print View

I have the BA IAC and it's not 24 oz as spec'd, but 28 oz. It's also not as warm as my Thermarest with R2.2. I would estimate it at not more than R1.8. Bob, where did you get the R4.1 value since BA doesn't publish R values??

Edited by richard.s on 03/14/2009 12:03:58 MDT.