Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Whether you’re a side sleeper or a cold sleeper, quality sleep when camping can make or break a trip. The thing is, sleeping mattresses of old, glorified yoga mats, certainly didn’t provide any cushioning over rocky terrain and neither did thin self-inflatable mattresses. Since we’ve invested in Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm mattresses for the whole family, it’s made a big difference for us. Comfy, warm, this mattress really cushions rough terrain bits and packs super light and small. That means more space in my backpack for my journal, my favorite activity in the tent after a long day out. Yes, to roughing it on my own terms.
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I’ll start with the obvious. There’s a valve on the top right side of the mattress. If you’re patient and have all the time in the world after you’ve reached your camping spot, you can twist the valve open and wait for it to self-inflate. I just want the job done yesterday, so I inflate the mattress by mouth. That takes roughly 5 minutes per mattress and good lungs, particularly at the end when it seems like I can hardly blow air in anymore but it’s worth trying. Getting the pressure just right is key to a good night’s sleep so if I feel it needs a little more air, I pause for 20 seconds to catch my breath and give it another blow. Too soft and my hips will suffer. I like mine hard enough that I can walk on it without feeling the ground. So does the rest of my family.
Once inflated right, the NeoAir XTherm mattress lifts me a full 2.5 in/6cm off the ground, which is way more than any other camping mattress I’ve ever had. To put things in perspective, I can sit on the inflated mattress with my feet on the ground and feel somewhat elevated. I can sit up right and neither sink nor wobble. At night, no more branch or sharp rock sticking out in my back because hey, I can’t feel it. I can side-sleep all I want if I want to:)
Staying warm at night is everything. I have vivid memories of a very cold night camping in the Shenandoah Valley 15 years ago and it was the longest night ever. Since I’ve started using the NeoAir XTherm, I certainly feel insulated from the ground and warm, though that part I usually take for granted and only realize how warm it’s been until I’m removing the mattress to pack it up the following morning.
I’ve mostly camped in fair weather conditions, in California (Sierras, Mojave) and in the UK (Brecon Beacons, Scotland, Cornwall, Dorset). However, I’ve also camped and slept on snow in Scotland with the NeoAir XTherm and felt warm (underneath). My only trouble, that snowy night, was that I slept again the tent wall and condensation helping, woke up to a rather wet sleeping bag wherever I’d touched the tent wall. As far as structure, the mattress is built with internal waffle-like layers that capture air pockets and trap the heat. (That was my best attempt at being scientific here but you can read Therm-a-rest’s explanations if you really want to know.)
Super light. No other mattress keeps you that comfy and that warm under 1kg. The NeoAir XTherm comes in two sizes regular and large. My girls and I use the regular, my husband uses the large.
Isn’t that super light?
There are two sizes to consider here. Fully inflated, the NeoAir Xtherm measures
If you’re over 6 ft tall, definitely go for the large one. At 5’6″, I’m very happy with the regular. The width of the mattresses seems narrow but that’s more than enough for camping and anyways, we don’t really have more floor space in the tent. Side to side, we fill the floor space of the tent with our four sleeping pads fully inflated.
Packed, the NeoAir Xtherm is so small that it’s hard to believe it can inflate so big. Here goes the packed measures
I have bigger water bottles than this. This mattress is seriously compact inside a backpack.
My husband finds that his NeoAir Xtherm mattress is noisy when he moves at night but that’s not something that I’ve noticed.
I asked my daughters their opinion about their mattress to have two children’s opinions. Both are regular worms at night and literally move around the tent. My oldest daughter thought that the sleeping pad was slippery as she regularly ends up half way between the pad and the tent floor. My youngest loves her mattress and even though she’s the lightest of us all, noticed a huge improvement from our old thin inflatable mattresses. She moves around at night too but doesn’t seem to blame the mattress for being slippery.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor issue if you don’t attempt a mini marathon in the tent at night. If you do, some sleeping bags come with pockets to slide the mattress and hold it steady right under your back, which solves the problem.
Don’t laugh but I remember the days when we used to pack folding camping chairs while backpacking in the Sierras in California. I love that you can turn your sleeping pad into a chair with this kit. I haven’t bought one yet but I’m seriously considering it as it would be great to have some back support inside or outside the tent at the end of a long day. Better yet – breakfast outside on a sunny summer day with views on the ocean or the mountain? It comes in two widths and fits most NeoAir mattresses.
Last year, I purchased this mini pump to make inflation of NeoAir XTherm mattresses easier and honestly, I do not recommend it. It was an extra 100g for very little air and after two tries, I decided to shove it at the bottom of my backpack. Some people have had better experiences. It’s possible that I used alkaline instead of lithium batteries and that makes all the difference.