ProLite (top), NeoAir (middle), Deluxe LE (bottom).
This mini-review is part of Part 2 of our survey of airmats. We have a number of Therm-a-Rest mats here: the ProLite series, the NeoAir series, and just for reference an older model no longer available called the Deluxe LE (Limited Edition). The Deluxe mats have supported Roger and Sue Caffin for many years in the snow, and serve as a sort of benchmark for comfort and warmth. (You might note that we frequently abbreviate the company name to TaR. They are a major player, after all.)
It should be noted that the mats shown on the Cascade Designs Therm-a-Rest web site are apparently updated versions for 2011, and the names may have changed slightly. We doubt the properties have changed much though.
By and large the Therm-a-Rest mats do not include a repair kit: a kit is sold separately. Summarising from an email from Cascade Designs: 'it is called the Therm-a-Rest Fast & Light Repair kit, and is suitable for repairing any of the mattresses in the Fast & Light line. It includes Seamgrip adhesive, applicator and Fast & Light color patches. The retail price is US$9.95.' Perhaps their statistics suggests that few people ever need a repair kit? I have never needed one myself, and there are good general purpose patches available as well.
It may be worth mentioning here that while I have heard of customers returning their Therm-a-Rest mats to Cascade Designs seeking assistance with leaks, the general experience has been that the company has no hesitation in replacing a mat if they think it will help the customer. With support like this, one has to feel fairly confident (and they get very good PR out of it as well).
ProLite Mats: XS and S
Once again we will compress all the ProLite mats into one table, as they are basically all the same except for the length.
|Length||91 cm / 35.8 in||120 cm / 47.2 in|
|Width||50 cm / 19.7 in|
|Thickness||2.8 cm / 1.1 in|
|Weight||227 g / 8 oz||299 g / 10.5 oz|
|R-Value||1.4 - 2.6|
|Drag Force||16/12 N *|
|Larger Side Tubes||No|
* See under Slipperiness about the drag forces.
The graph above is taken from our Review of the mat. Once again, it shows how the R-value decreases in the expected fashion as the mat gets thinner. However, it must be said that it does not decrease very fast, even down to the ridiculously low value of 10 mm thickness. That is of course due to the foam fill: even squashed almost flat the air does not get a chance to circulate. We (Roger and Sue) have to add that we have used these mats down to quite low temperatures and been comfortable. I doubt we would let them get down to 10 mm in normal field use.
This is one of those mats which can go flying in the night. The fabric on these mats is covered with little 'anti-slip' dots, according to the Therm-a-Rest marketing. Well, they seem to act more as enhanced bearings. We did ask Cascade Designs (Therm-a-Rest) about how slippery the ProLite mats are, and got a rather unsatisfactory answer from the relevant manager. Basically, he suggested that we should either add silicone stripes or change our groundsheet material. Roger felt that suggesting he change his groundsheet material was not a helpful reply. However, since the company has used a far, far better material on the NeoAir mats it would seem the designers may be aware of the problem.
The latest blurb on their web site says 'Bottom grips and textured top surface hold the mattress in place while you sleep.' We have not tested this latest fabric as the mats were received before they came out.
You may note that the drag force found for the silicone-treated surface of the POE Ether Elite mat (28 N) is far higher than the drag force found for the silicone-treated surface of the ProLite mat (16 N). We ascribe the difference to several factors. First, the silicone stripes on the Ether Elite were down the middle of the tubes, while on the ProLite they are just on the underside. That means the forces are much more focused on the silicone stripes on the Ether Elite mat, and this obviously increase the drag. Also, the surface of the Ether Elite mat was smooth, while the ProLite mat had 'dots' all over the surface, and it is possible that these dots were poking through the silicone a bit, reducing the actual contact. I did smear the silicone fairly thinly on the ProLite mat, perhaps too thinly. Finally, the silicone stripes on the ProLite mat are by now fairly old and worn, while the ones on the Ether Elites are fairly new. What all this goes to show is that you might need to redo the stripes after a few years of use.
ProLites in Europe.
Comments by Will Rietveld
Janet and I slept on the ProLite in sizes Small (47 x 20 x 1 in) and Extra Small (36 x 20 x 1 in) on one multi-day backpacking trip. Janet found the pads to be comfortable because she has more padding on her hips. I found the ProLite to be just barely comfortable. The pads are not quite self-inflating and require some blowing to top them off. They did not readily slide on a Cuben fiber tent floor.
On one cold frosty night down to -4 C (25 F), after a rainy evening, I found the ProLite to be warm underneath me. Its die-cut foam core provides good insulation for occasional nights below freezing.
Comments by Roger Caffin
We have had these mats for a while now, and we have carted them around the world. The photo here shows them early in the morning on a small high alp below the summit of Matte, a mountain in Switzerland on the Alpine Passes route. We spent two months walking around the mountains on this trip with these mats. They proved to be comfortable and warm enough (with quilts), very reliable, and largely self-inflating. I would not discount either the reliability or self-inflating factors.
I have used the ProLite mat as a reference point in some comparisons in this series. They are light, foam-cored so require only a few puffs to be fully inflated, they seem warm enough for three-season use, and they have been fairly robust - no patches yet after several years. You could do worse.
Three different models of the NeoAir mat were provided, differing only in length as far as we could see. So the data for all three (Regular, Medium and Short) has been condensed into this one table.
|Length||182 cm /
|164 cm /
|113 cm /
|Width||50 cm / 19.7 in|
|Thickness||6.9 cm / 2.7 in|
|Weight||396 g /
|366 g /
|255 g /
|R-Value||1.6 - 6.1|
|Drag Force||27/25 N|
|Insulation||Air + Radiant Baffle|
|Larger Side Tubes||No *|
* This mat has the tubes running across the mat, not along the length. This gave the reviewers a lot of trouble in the initial review, as the prototype supplied was significantly narrower than these ones. They didn't tell us they were sending undersized prototypes before hand, so we didn't know, and consequently were a bit critical in the review.
Cascade Designs claims an R-value of 2.5. The figures we measured obviously span that. So we will quote what they have to say about the internals of this mat:
Our patent-pending reflective barrier returns warmth to your body and reduces heat loss to the ground, keeping you three times warmer than any other uninsulated air mattress.
Well, 'three times' is a bold claim, and suggests the mat they are comparing the NeoAir to has an extremely low R-value of just over 0.8, but they do not actually say what physical mat they are comparing it to. A bit of marketing spin perhaps, but we can forgive them because the mat does measure up fairly well. It is warmer than, say, the Big Agnes Clearview, so there is some truth to the claim. But do note that there is little chance of exploiting the top end of the thickness scale shown above: you will compress the mat well below that when you lie on it, especially if you 'soften' it a bit. And that means the upper end of the measured R-value scale is similarly well out of reach. It just isn't going to happen.
It may be appropriate here to comment on this wide range of R-values (1.6 to 6.1) in relation to the claimed R-value of 2.5 and the claimed thickness of 6.9 cm. There is no way you will ever manage to get the thickness quoted when you are sleeping on the mat, but the claimed R-value of 2.5 corresponds roughly to a thickness of 3.5 cm (see graph above). This is quite a low thickness, so clearly Cascade Designs is being quite conservative with their warmth claim here. This is consistent with our observations at the start about the degree of customer support the company gives in handling any return mats. The company can be relied upon.
Fortunately, the mat is not very slippery at all. Being rectangular also helps if you use tie loops around two of them.
NeoAir with foam.
Comments by Will and Janet Rietveld
We tested the Small and Regular size NeoAir pads on four camping trips. They take a little longer to blow up compared to other pads. Both of us found them to be very comfortable, especially when partially inflated so they were softer. By soft, we mean that we are a little short of bottoming out at the hip and shoulder. Some people have complained of the NeoAir pads being crinkly and the noise interfering with their sleep; we did not have that problem. The full-length size Regular NeoAir provides a huge amount of comfort at 14 ounces.
Since the NeoAir has width-wise chambers rather than length-wise chambers, it felt narrower than other pads, and I had to make more effort to stay centered on the pad when turning over at night.
We slept on the NeoAir by itself down to -2 C (28 F) without feeling chilled on the bottomside. I experimented with a Gossamer Gear Thinlight foam pad (3 mm or 1/8" thick and 48 g or 1.7 oz) on top of the NeoAir Regular (as shown in the photo here), and stayed warm down to -7 C and -8 C (19 F and 17 F) on two nights in a tent. The ThinLight foam really extended the warmth of the NeoAir, stayed in place very well, and conformed to the shape of the NeoAir pad.
Overall, the NeoAir pads are at the top of the list of my favorite sleeping pads. Their reflective layer gives them a bit more insulation than the Kooka Bay pads, but they take longer to inflate and are more expensive.
Comments by Roger Caffin
In the initial review of the NeoAir mat I mentioned that my wife complained strongly about the amount of noise I made with the surface of the (pre-production) mat. It's hard to tell, as I don't have that mat any more, but these mats did not seem quite as noisy.
Given the light weight of even the 'full length' versions of this mat, it is not hard to see why some people will accept the extra weight over a Short version: 366 g vs 255 g (12.9 oz vs 9.0 oz). That doesn't solve the width problem though. Yes, the width seems to be the same 50 cm (19.7 in) as many other mats have, but the way the ends of the tubes fall off at the sides does seem to make the mat seem a bit narrower. That said, when you strap two of them together sideways with tape loops, the width problem seems to disappear a bit. Actually, with tight loops, you can really get two of them to feel like one very wide mat, which has some advantages. It is likely that strapping one of these next to another rectangular mat of similar thickness would also work quite well.
As Will mentioned, a significant problem with the longer versions of the NeoAir is blowing two of them up in the evening. It does take a while and a lot of puff - especially as they are so thick. But they do seem a bit more comfortable when not fully inflated, so maybe you just have to compromise. But note: all that blowing does mean you have blown a lot of moisture into the mat. Fortunately the internals are not susceptible to moisture, and you can hang the mat up in the sun with the valve open when you get home.
Perhaps the biggest problem with these NeoAir mats will be the cost. They are on a par with the down airmats in cost - but lighter.
Deluxe LE mats
This mat has not been available for many many years. It has been included as a sort of reference point, and to show that not so much has really improved over the years. OK, it is a bit heavier.
|Length||119 cm / 46.9 in|
|Width||51 cm / 20.1 in|
|Thickness||5.0 cm / 2.0 in|
|Weight||750 g / 26.5 oz|
|R-Value||4.4 - 8.7|
|Drag Force||18/18 N|
|Larger Side Tubes||NA|
This mat is nicely warm. We have used it in the snow down to temperatures of -17 C (1 F) or lower, and we were warm. Well, we were until we got out of the tent, anyhow! (I am not sure just how cold it got during the night shown in the photos here, but it was cold outside. But the morning sun was nice.) In addition, the surface of the mat is a knit fabric which is comfortable in itself.
In fact, I sometimes think that we were warmer on this mat in the snow than on hard ground. The reason is probably because what heat leakage there was did preferentially melt the snow under our hips, allowing the thickness of the mat to even out there. We often found 'hip holes' left on the tent site when we packed the tent away in the morning.
A drag force of only 18 N does not seem very much, but I have to say we had little trouble with these mats. I think part of the reason has to be that we always tie the two of them together with our tape loops, but I think there may be a little more to it than just that. The mats are very 'square', both in shape and at the edges as well, so they rest together very nicely. Well, that just goes to show that 'drag force' has its limitations as a measurement of slipperiness.
Comments by Roger and Sue Caffin
We included this mat in this survey as a reference point, to show just what was possible more than 20 years ago. The mat may be fairly heavy, at the top end of our allowed weight range, but it does still qualify. Not only does it qualify, but it ranks well for warmth and comfort too. So many other mats were heavier - why, we do not know. Note that while our two Deluxe LE mats are over 20 years old, they have a grand total of one tiny leak in them, and that was fixed many years ago with a dot of polyurethane sealant rubbed in (Shoe Goo, actually). So any claims by companies that they have to make their mats heavier to get them robust enough are ... debatable, to say the least. But you know what tourists are like, so perhaps it is understandable.
In addition, we didn't find a single mat in the survey which had a surface quite as nice as these ones. A soft knit fabric which is quite nice to sleep on: a far cry from some of the plastic-y surfaces we encountered in the rest. This mat set a fairly high bar many years ago, and still serves as a reference point for winter use.
This is a mini-review in the 2011 Lightweight Airmats State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.
- Part 1 covers the basics, testing methods, and lists all the mats in the survey.
- Part 2 examines the actual mats, and the performance of each mat tested.
Disclosure: The manufacturers provided these products to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and they are owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review these products under the terms of this agreement.