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Cascade Designs ThermaRest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad Review

Cascade Designs ThermaRest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad Review


by Alan Dixon | 2004-07-09 03:00:00-06

Cascade Designs ThermaRest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad Review


Cascade Designs has whacked more than a quarter pound off their lightest sleeping pad.

Say hello to the new 2004 ultralight Therm-a-Rest: the 13-ounce “ProLite 3 Short.” This inflatable sleeping pad is designed for people who are watching their pack weight but refuse to sacrifice comfort when sleeping on hard ground.

In their ProLite series (which includes two thicknesses and two lengths of pads), Cascade Designs reduces weight in almost every area of the mattress. The plastic valve mount is curved and trimmed to reduce weight, the top and bottom fabrics are lighter, and the foam interior is lighter and aggressively cored. Finally, although overall pad dimensions remain about the same as last year’s UltraLite 3/4, the pad is very subtly tapered to remove excess material in the corners without sacrificing useable sleeping area. The new bottom fabric has a textured surface that is designed to minimize slippage on tent floors. The only part unchanged from last year is the valve stem.


  • Weight: 13.0 oz, 369 g (13.1 oz, 372 g as measured)
  • Dimensions: 20 x 47 in (20 x 46 in as measured)
    Note: the pad tapers at the ends to approximately 19 x 45 in
  • Thickness: 1.0 in (1.1 in as measured)
  • Rolled Size: 11 x 3.5 in (validated)
  • R-Value: 2.3
  • MSRP: $69.99

Field Performance

Our field testing indicates that these weight reductions come with some loss in performance.

We found the new ProLite 3 pad to be less comfortable and less warm than the UltraLite 3/4 Therm-a-Rest it replaces. The ProLite 3 will provide some added luxury for those used to sleeping on thin foam pads, but the backpacker accustomed to older Therm-a-Rest models may be disappointed.

2004 vs. 2003 Therm-a-Rest Comparison (Data Provided By Manufacturer)

Parameter2004 ProLite 3 - Short2003 UltraLite 3/4
Weight13 oz (370g)18oz (510g)
ShapeSlight taperRectangular
Top FabricDiamond rip-stop textured polyester, (15% lighter than '03 model)Plain weave textured polyester
Bottom FabricTextured "grip-dots" on nylon taffeta, (20% lighter than '03 model)Plain oxford nylon
Core MaterialStar punched PU Foam, (25% lighter than '03 model)Expanded PU foam
Thickness1in (2.5cm)1in (2.5cm)


We tested the new ProLite 3 pad on several early spring trips this year.

First and foremost - we appreciated the weight reduction! Who wouldn“t want to save 5 ounces - or 30% off their pad weight - for a similar mattress?

Even though there is a subtle one-inch taper in shape (footprint) at both ends of the mattress, we didn“t discern any difference in useable area between the new ProLite 3 and older Therm-a-Rest UltraLite pads. Our measurements indicate that the ProLite 3 may be slightly smaller in overall dimensions as well, but again, this was not noticeable when sleeping on the new mattress.

The new gripper dots that provide texture to the bottom fabric attempt to solve a long-outstanding problem with self-inflating sleep pads sliding around on slippery surfaces. On silicone-impregnated nylon floors, the differences are not dramatic when compared to other brands like those from Western Mountaineering, Big Agnes, and Insulmat. Still, the differences are noticeable, and even on an incline, the ProLite 3 stayed in place better than any self-inflating mattress we“ve used.

As for comfort, the ProLite 3 is certainly luxurious relative to most closed cell foam pads we“ve tried, but…


After a few dozen nights on the mattress in the field, we couldn“t help feeling that the new ProLite 3 doesn“t provide quite as much comfort as the Therm-a-Rest UltraLite 3/4 it replaces.

Our 5“8” 150 pound reviewer’s hips and shoulders were bumping into the ground a bit more often on the ProLite 3. And so, driven by a curious passion to understand if the discomfort was due to the reviewer’s aging bone structure or if it could really be attributed to changes in the pad design, we rummaged around in the closet and pulled out an UltraLite 3/4 and performed some direct comparisons.

The old mattress certainly felt cushier on hard ground. A quick measurement showed that the UltraLite 3/4 mattress was 1/4 inch (~25%) thicker than the new ProLite 3 (1.35 inch average thickness vs. 1.10 inch, when fully inflated).

The older model also used a more dense foam interior with a less aggressive coring pattern. When a bowling ball was placed on the mattress (simulating the concentrated pressure of the hip or shoulder), the resulting deflection (compression of thickness) of the ProLite 3 was about 25% greater than for the UltraLite 3/4.

The ProLite 3 does not self-inflate as readily as previous models due to less dense foam (which requires more air to enter the foam interstices) and more aggressive coring. We found that after self-inflation, we had to puff pretty hard on the valve to get the pad to its fully inflated thickness.

The less dense foam and more aggressive coring of the ProLite 3 pad reduce the insulating value of the mattress over previous models (2.3 vs. 2.6 R-value as per manufacturer claims). It’s hard to detect subtle R-value differences in the field, and we don“t expect this R-value difference to be significant. However, because the ProLite 3 is less supportive than the UltraLite 3/4, the user’s body weight compresses the mattress more and this loss of thickness will reduce insulating ability.

Notable Usage Guidelines

Since the ProLite 3’s foam is less dense and more aggressively cored, it does not self-inflate as readily as older models. Make sure that you blow hard into the mattress and fully inflate the pad before closing off the valve. We had best success in keeping our mouth over the valve and blowing hard while rotating the valve stem until it was fully closed. Maximum comfort - and warmth - for this mattress will occur when it is fully inflated.


The 2004 ProLite 3 alleviates one of the major complaints the ultralight backpacking community has about self-inflating mattresses: “They are too heavy.”

For flatter ground surfaces with few bumps, roots and rocks, and moderate temperatures, you“ll save 5 ounces over last year’s Therm-a-Rest UltraLite 3/4 and continue to enjoy Therm-a-Rest comfort. However, the weight savings is not without its drawbacks. The mattress is not as comfortable - or as warm - as previous models, and former Therm-a-Rest UltraLite users may be somewhat disappointed.

However, the light weight of the ProLite 3 will certainly seduce some closed cell foam diehards into “moving up” on the cushioning scale, and reaping the benefits of a cushier night’s sleep.

Sweet dreams!


"Cascade Designs ThermaRest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad Review," by Alan Dixon. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2004-07-09 03:00:00-06.