Sleeping on trip is important (hold on, I’ll give you a second to write that groundbreaking idea down). Assuming you’re travelling any distance at all on your canoe trip, you’re likely using more energy each day than you would normally. And the best way to recover that energy is to sleep (and eat copious amounts of chocolate). So having a good sleeping pad is important. Over the years, I’ve slept on everything from the ground to blue foam to sleeping pads from MEC, Therm-a-rest and other brand names. Some have been better than others, but no matter what I was never quite satisfied. I always felt like I was missing a certain combination of comfort, warmth, weight and packability. And then I found the Therm-a-rest Neoair Uberlite Sleeping Pad and it seemed like all my dreams had been answered.
But were they? Let’s find out.
My top priorities over the years with my sleeping pad is comfort and size. I want the thing to be comfortable, and I don’t want it to take up much room in my pack. The Neoair seemed to check both those boxes quite handily. Packed up, the Neoair is slightly taller than a 1L Nalgene, but with a smaller diameter. This means you can fit this thing pretty much anywhere you want to in your pack. From a pack weight perspective, the pad weighs in at 8.8 oz, which is basically nothing (that’s less than an adult hamster, or five cinnamon pop tarts, if you prefer to compare your camping weights to small animals or breakfast pastries). The good news is that those small dimensions don’t hide a small sleeping pad. The regular version of the pad, which is about 72 inches long and 20 inches wide, was more than enough room for me. I’m 5’10 and weigh about 165 lbs. and I fit on the pad quite well, with room to spare.
On the comfort side of the ledger, the Neoair does also does very well (until it doesn’t, but we’ll get there in a minute). This is an air filled mattress, comprised of multiple horizontal baffles running the length of the pad so that it kind of looks like one of those hot dog roller machines they used to have (maybe still have?) at 7-Eleven. Fully inflated, the pad is surprisingly thick, giving you at least a couple of inches of clearance off the ground. This makes for a very comfortable pad. One of my biggest complaints about sleeping pads over the years was that, once I had it inflated, it still felt like I was sleeping on the ground (or, more accurately, sleeping on the rocks poking out of the ground that I decided to set my tent up on for some reason). Not so with the Neoair. At no point have I ever felt any bumps or lumps beneath me while I was sleeping on it. Basically, if they’d given this sleeping pad to the princess from the Princess and The Pea, the Prince would probably still be single (and once again I’ve gone back and looked up a fairy tale that I vaguely remember from when I was a kid and realized that it’s a really weird story to be telling children). One thing to note, while this is a comfortable pad to sleep on, it’s not the best pad to be sleeping beside. I don’t know why, but the pad crinkles like aluminum foil whenever I turn over. That’s not a problem when I’m solo, it’s more of a problem when I’m with someone who wants to get to sleep without background noises that sound like a jiffy pop about to explode.
From a warmth perspective, the Neoair has an R-Value of 2.3. For those of you who don’t sleep next to an R-Value chart, that’s on the low end of the spectrum. R-Value is the measure of any given material’s resistance to heat loss. The higher the R-Value, the better the material is at retaining heat. In the Neoair’s case, designing sleeping pads for ultralight tripping means sacrificing a degree of insulation in exchange for getting the size and weight down. I’m fine with that tradeoff. You can always find insulation in a slightly warmer sleeping bag, or by wearing an extra layer to bed. On top of that, I found the pad did a decent job of keeping me warm, despite its low R-Value. While I’ve shivered through some cold Algonquin nights in the past, that’s usually been the fault of having the wrong sleeping bag with me, not the pad.
Ok, so far the pad packs up nicely, doesn’t weigh anything, is comfortable and keeps you decently warm. Sounds pretty good, right?
In case you’re wondering, that large, pillow shaped bump about 3/4 of the way up the pad is not supposed to be there. Therm-a-rest hasn’t pioneered some kind of built in mid-back pillow technology that takes your outdoor sleeping game to a whole new level. No, that’s what you get when the internal walls separating the pad’s baffles start to pop. Want to know what’s uncomfortable? Sleeping on a pad that has a mid-back pillow that you did not want or need. My sleeping game wasn’t taken to a whole new level, it was effectively cancelled.
And herein is my problem with this pad.
I’d only had the Neoair for a three seasons when the baffles started to pop. That’s somewhere between 30 and 40 nights of use, before the thing became basically unusable. After my May trip, I reached out to Therm-a-rest through their website as I’ve heard that they have a good warranty, but am still waiting on a response. Regardless, I don’t know that I’d want a replacement one at this point. My concern is that in making the pad as small and light as they did, Therm-a-rest didn’t just sacrifice insulation. I expect an ultralight pad to be on the more delicate side, but I also expect it to hold up as long as you take care of it (and I’ve taken care of mine). That didn’t happen here, and I wonder if some of the materials are on the more fragile side, meaning I may run into a similar issue in a couple of years.
So, bottom line, I loved this pad at first, but I’m now in the market for a new one and I won’t be buying the same model twice. If anyone out there has any recommendations for a lightweight, comfortable, non-lumpy sleeping pad, I’m all ears!
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