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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Pad > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

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NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 48
LOCATION: Orange County, California, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my wife Jenn or brother-in-law Dave.

The Product

Manufacturer: Cascade Designs Inc.
Web site:
Product: NeoAir pad
Year manufactured: 2009
Size: Regular (also available in Small, Medium and Large)
Weight listed: 14 oz (410 g)
Actual weight: 14.5 oz (411 g)
Dimensions listed: 20 x 72 in (51 x 183 cm)
Actual dimensions: 19.5 x 71 in long (50 x 180 cm)
Thickness listed: 2.5 in (6.3 cm) Verified accurate
Packed size listed (rolled up): 9 x 4 in (23 x 10 cm) Verified accurate
R-Value: 2.5

I am Neo the inflated One

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The ridiculously expensive NeoAir is a marvel of warmth and comfort in the smallest package I have ever carried. While not the best in most categories the sum of all its parts dictates that it will stay near the top of my sleeping pad quiver. Please read on for all the details.

Product Description

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress (hereafter referred to as NeoAir or the pad) is claimed by the manufacturer to be the lightest air mattress available, and up to three times warmer and far more stable than any other uninsulated air mattress available. (More on this later.)

Line up pads, who's the little guy?

Even at the actual weight of 14.5 oz (411 g) it is lighter than any other backpacking air mattress I know of and much lower than all the pads that I own. It also packs smaller than all of them here are a couple of pictures showing just how small the NeoAir when seen next to a couple of my smallest pads.

Hit the deck

The outer shell is made of nylon with the top being a bright yellow color and the bottom being a silver-ish gray. At first glance the NeoAir appears to me comprised of 43 air chambers running horizontally across the pad. But actually there are 170 chambers.

This is because of the patent-pending Triangular Core Matrix technology that creates "an internal truss system" which Therm-a-Rest attributes their exceptional stability to. Each chamber visible on the top and bottom is actually a triangular wedge that goes to a layer of PU coated nylon in the middle of the bag. That means that for every chamber that is visible there is another inside the pad on each side of the internal coated nylon layer. The triangular shape gives the pad structure and keeps the it from squishing out of shape under the weight of the user.

While the many small chambers give some insulation by creating dead-air space, the many surfaces inside also slow down and block the flow of warmth from the user's warm body to the cold ground.

To further the warmth holding properties of the NeoAir the center layer of nylon has been coated with a reflective surface, much like a Mylar space blanket. This is said to reflect heat back towards the user.

The pad is inflated by mouth with the plastic twist valve found at the upper corner. It is the standard righty-tighty, lefty-loosey threading. (Clockwise tighten, counter-clockwise loosen for the tech minded…)

That's a small drink of water

Another claim to fame that is bandied about is that the NeoAir packs down to the size of a 1 L bottle. Well as may be seen this claim is quite true. I have never seen a pad get this small

The NeoAir does not come with a storage sack, but it is offered as an optional purchase. A repair kit is available as an optional purchase also. At the price charged for the NeoAir in the first place I find this to be a bit abusive by Therm-a-Rest. In the interest of good relations I would suggest that at least the repair kit be included with the pad.

Field Locations

What muted colors

I used it on a 30 mi (48 km) three-day backpacking trip to San Jacinto State Park and San Jacinto National Wilderness that saw 8800 ft (2682 m) of elevation gain. It was extremely cold for a late April trip with temps from 44 down to 24 F (7 to -4 C) and winds to 20 mph (32 km/h). I was camped both nights at Strawberry Junction at 8040 ft (2451 m) elevation on granite somewhat covered by sand.

Next it went on an over-nighter in the San Gorgonio Wilderness by way of the Momyer Creek Trail. Forecast was rain turning to snow. I set up camp at Saxton at 8400 ft (2560 m) elevation. Starting pack weight including a bear canister and winter gear was 33 lb (15 kg). Temps ranged from 39 F to 55 F (4 to 13 C). The picture above was taken here.

Then I used it on a four-day trip to the Hetch Hetchy region of Yosemite National Park. The coldest it got was 35 F (2 C) and the elevations ranged from 3800 to 8400 ft (1160 to 2560 m).

The following weekend Dave and I went to San Gorgonio Wilderness. We went to Washington Monument and climbed San Bernardino Peak and East San Bernardino Peak, plus spent some time looking for the junction of a long defunct trail. (We never did find it.) We stayed at Limber Pine Bench. The weather was foul the first day with snow and later rain. The next day was nice but cool. It got down to 36 F (2 C) at night. I carried a 25 lb (11.3 kg) pack.

The next weekend I went back to San Gorgonio Wilderness to do some bushwhacking to find the old trail. (Found it.) I spent the night at Limber Pine Bench again. It was much warmer this time. The temps were between 42 F and 67 F (6 to 19 C).

Next was two nights in Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada range just south of Mount Langley. The temps ranged from lows of 30 F to highs of 80 F (-1 to 27 C). The high point was 11200 ft (3400 m). This trip saw 59 miles (95 km) with 7340 ft (2240 m) of gain go into the hiking log. My starting pack weight was 23 lb (10.4 kg).

In July my kids came to California for a couple weeks and we did an over-night backpacking trip to San Jacinto State Park where we stayed at Round Valley. The temperatures were warm, only making it to 54 F at night and 82 F (12 to 28 C) in the daytime. I carried a well loaded Aether 85 with about 40 lb (18.1 kg) in it, much of it water weight as I had a soft cooler with frozen Gatorade to keep things cool. (Yes, this was a luxury trip.)

Then Jenn and I spent three days backpacking in Yosemite National Park. Temps ranged from 43 to 80 F (6 to 27 C) and we weathered a violent thunder/snow/hail storm our first afternoon. The shot below was taken here. Check out the deer behind my TT Scarp 2.

Lastly I went on a solo overnighter to climb Sugarloaf Mountain. The trails started as decomposed granite and turned to thumb sized gravel, then sharp shale. The return loop was mostly on dirt fire control roads. 24 miles (39 km) and 4700 ft (1433 m) of gain carrying a 35 lb (15.9 kg) pack as I had two gallons (7.6 L) of water starting out and some luxury items.

Oh deer, look at that


I have been a long time user of another brand of inflatable pads, and while still very happy with them felt that I had to try the NeoAir to see if the promised weight, warmth and small packed size were what the marketing information claimed. To my surprise it was mostly right on the mark. The NeoAir is the most expensive pad I have ever purchased. Because it is so crazy expensive I waited to use my REI dividend check and a 20% off coupon to get it.

I was amazed when I first got the NeoAir at how small it was. It packs down approximately 1/3 smaller than my most compact pad while weighing 40% less. This really helps with the further movement towards an even lighter hiking style for me. And it does so without sacrificing comfort.

I have other pads that weigh the same and even less than the NeoAir. But they are all thin and do not give the support that my side-sleeping style requires. My hips and shoulders push through them into the hard ground below my tent. The NeoAir, with its 2.5 in (7 cm) of height keeps me away from the ground and cushions wonderfully.

I was quite skeptical of the 2.5 R-value rating as there is no insulation inside the pad, just the reflective layer on the center piece of nylon. But it really seems to work. To date I have had it as low as 30 F (-1 C) with no discomfort. And as I was using a quilt I was laying directly on the NeoAir without the benefit of a sleeping bags bottom insulation. In fact on that trip I was cold from the too-thin quilt while the part of me that was on the pad was fine.

I was a bit concerned also with how thin the nylon feels and was worried about puncturing it as I stay in some areas with very sharp pine needles, plus desert locations with lots of stickers hiding in the sand. I have a short ¼ in (0.6 cm) closed-cell foam pad that I have taken along twice to use as a protective under-layer. But most trips have been the NeoAir alone and it has held up well to date.

I really like how fast the NeoAir inflates. I can completely inflate it with 15 big breaths. I have found that my optimum level of inflation is just shy of full. My first night I used it as tight as it gets and found it to be too stiff.

What is weird is how long it takes to deflate. I thought that if I just opened the valve it should deflate on its own quickly but that is not the case. The air takes a long time to dribble out of the triangular chambers. I must lay on it to get the air out. Even then it does not all exit. While rolling it up I stop a couple times to push more air out.

I was happy to find that the crinkly noise of the pad does not manifest itself once the pressure of my body weight is on it. As a light sleeper I wondered if I would wake myself up at night as I moved around on the pad. The noise though is negligible. Neither Jenn nor my children mention any noise from it either.

I have to disagree with Therm-a-Rest's claim that it is the most stable pad. I found that the horizontal chambers are much less stable than the vertically running chambers of my other pads. The difference is most noticeable right at the edge where the NeoAir has a tendency to collapse. I have found I need to stay a few inches from the edge. (I sleep in a semi-fetal position with my shoulders and knees to one side of the pad and my butt on the other side.) This is making me think that the Large size with it greater width may be a better fit for me. I may watch for one to go on sale and try it out next year.

NeoAir with Ultra 20ish

I have a lot of bag-nights sleeping directly on the pad because of switching to a quilt instead of a sleeping bag. (Hmm, I guess I have a lot of quilt-nights. Nah, that just doesn't sound right.) The nylon surface of the NeoAir is just OK to sleep on with bare skin. It is a little "stickier" than my other heavier air pads, but not as plastic-feeling as others. It is more noticeable the warmer the temps of course. The NeoAir does seem to keep from sliding across my tent floors better than most. And as a couple of my tents have very slick sil-nylon floors that is something.

All told I have come to really like the NeoAir and find myself grabbing it first. I am going to take it into the northern Sierra this fall to see if it can handle lower temps. I will update this review with an addendum replacing this paragraph in November 2009 to share my results.

Sierra Rainbow Neo

This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Pad > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

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