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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Pad > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Sleeping Mat

Test Series by Jamie Lawrence

Initial Report - 8th April 2009

Field Report - 14th June 2009

Long-Term Report – 3rd August 2009

Tester Information

Name:

Jamie Lawrence

Email:

jlawrence@publictrustee.tas.gov.au

Age:

27

Location:

Hobart, Tasmania AUSTRALIA

Gender:

Male

Height:

1.70 m (5' 7")

Weight:

70 kg (154 lbs)

 

I was introduced to backpacking/tramping/hiking as a young child in Boy Scouts and through my school physical/adventure education. After leaving school, I mainly did short daywalks until recently when I started to re-walk some of Tasmania's key routes and try others I was yet to attempt. I mainly walk in the winter months, in Tasmania's central highlands area. I prefer light gear, extended walks (3-5 days) in a group of 3 or shorter walks (1-3 days) walking solo. I would generally carry a base weight pack of around 8 kg - 10 kg (17 lbs - 22 lbs).


Initial Report

8th April 2009

Product Information & Specification

Manufacturer:

Therm-a-Rest

Year of Manufacture:

2009

Manufacturer's Website:

http://www.thermarest.com

MSRP:

US$149.95

Listed Weight:

410 g (14 oz)

Measured Weight:

420 g (14.8 oz)

Dimensions:

51 x 183 x 6.3 cm (20 x 72x 2.5 in) in use
23 x 10 cm (9 x 4 in) packed

IR1

Image courtesy Therm-a-Rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

The NeoAir sleeping mat is the most recent addition to the Fast & Light Series of mats by Therm-a-Rest. It is not a foam based mat, rather an air mattress. As a result this mat is not self inflating nor does it have any insulation.

 

The key design features of this mat are the reflective barrier which returns warmth and reduces heat loss along with the Triangular Core Matrix technology which provides more stability when sleeping. The other major feature of this mat is its reduced size when deflated. Therm-a-Rest claim this mat is the same size as a 1 litre water bottle when rolled.

Construction appears to be from a rip-stop style nylon which is glued. I can see no stitched seams on the entire mat. The material feels very thin but quite strong.

The NeoAir is available in sizes Small, Medium, Regular and Large. I am testing the Regular size.

Trying out the NeoAir

The first thing I noticed about the NeoAir is that it is seriously light and small! I have always used foam based self inflating mattresses in the past. When comparing the NeoAir to my favourite self-inflating mat, the NeoAir is tiny, and nearly half the weight. I am sure this is one benefit I will enjoy the most. Strangely enough, I was surprised when I received the NeoAir that I had to actually inflate the mattress. I am so conditioned to simply throwing my mat out and then a few quick puffs to inflate to a nice firm feel. Not with the NeoAir. I found that I needed at least 30 to 40 puffs of air to inflate the mattress to a comfortable firmness. When inflating, I felt a bit light headed at some points so had to stop and rest. In total it took me around 3 minutes to inflate the NeoAir on my first attempt. I doubt I can improve on this as I simply can't blow air any faster without feeling horrible as a result.

The limited experience I've had with air mattresses in the past lead me to believe they are always made with vertical baffles and that they are really unstable. In both respects this is simply not the case with the NeoAir. Firstly the NeoAir has horizontal or sideways baffles, around 40 of them, each around 5 cm (2 in) wide. When inflated the NeoAir is actually very stable, nothing like any air mattresses I've tried in the past. Whilst I could feel my knee hit the floor of my lounge room when I first knelled onto the NeoAir, the mat was easily able to cope with my weight when I was laying and I enjoyed the full 6.3 cm (2.5 in) thickness which resulted in no pressure spots, even on my hips when laying sideways.

A stuff sack for the NeoAir is available separately. This is listed for sale on the Therm-a-Rest website for an additional US$14.95. I purchased a stuff sack from my local retailer, but it is not the Therm-a-Rest stuff sack. I purchased a 2 litre sack which is a surprising tight fit. I doubt I can pack the NeoAir any smaller.

Summary

Based on my first impressions, I was surprised by the comfort and just how small the NeoAir is. I hope to enjoy the benefits of its lightweight and small size when out in the wilds. I guess if I wake up in the morning and notice nothing, then the NeoAir has done its job!

This concludes my Initial Report of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping mat. My thanks to Therm-a-Rest and backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


 

Field Report

14th June 2009

Field Conditions & Locations

My initial field testing of the NeoAir took place on a recent walk into the southern ranges of the South-West National Park. This 3 day walk started at around 175 m (574 ft) and featured a steady climb to an exposed alpine plateau at around 900 m (2,953 ft) above sea level. Camp was at a rough muddy site not intended as a camp site but due to poor weather we chose to stop for the night. Constant rain fell but I am unsure of the amount or the temperatures as readings were not possible. I would estimate that the low temp was around freezing due to the ice on my tent and the ground in the morning. We aborted the walk and descended back to sea level the following day and camped by the coast on a flat sandy campsite.

Performance in the field

The first major difference between the NeoAir and my other mats is that this mat is not self inflating. This has not really caused me any issues except for the first night of field testing. As it was really wet and cold, and the tent was not pitched on flat level ground, getting in and out of my tent was a real hassle. I would normally undo the air valve on my self-inflating mat and throw it in my tent to start to inflate. When I was ready to sleep I would add a few puffs of air and then be ready to sleep. This was not possible with the NeoAir. As a result I was forced to lean into my tent and inflate the mat. As I was very cold and wet, this took quite some effort and I had to stop quite frequently as I was feeling light headed. I did not measure the amount of time required to do this, but it would easily have been about 3-5 minutes, a long time to be standing in the wet and cold! Whilst this is no design fault with the NeoAir, it certainly was a bit of a hassle. Having said this, once the mat was inflated, it stayed firm and comfortable for the rest of the night, which was around 13 hours.

As described above, the first night of my field testing was a real challenge for the NeoAir. I was particularly keen to see just how effective the internal reflective barrier is at keeping me warm. I am pleased to report that on this very wet and cold night I was in fact very warm. Given the ground temp was close to freezing, I was very pleased to discover that the NeoAir is actually very warm. I expected that there would be a delay until I felt warm as the air inside the mat would need to be heated by my body. This didn't appear to be an issue as I felt warm quite quickly. Whilst I am sure that the air does need to be heated, the reflective barrier certainly appears to reflect heat which minimises the delays until I feel warm.

FR1

Rough Camp in the Southern Rangers


With the ground being very uneven and rough (lots of sharp sticks and stones) I was concerned that not only would I punch a hole in the bottom of my tent, but also the NeoAir. This didn't happen. I actually found the NeoAir skin to be quite tough. On the last night of this trip we camped at a coastal location. As we had spent a rough 24 hours in rain and wind, we took the opportunity to spend some time in the sun. I inflated the NeoAir and laid on it directly on the grassy ground to read in the sun. At the time I was sure this would be ok, but when I moved the mat I found lots of sharp stones under the mat! There was hardly a mark on the bottom of the NeoAir but I wouldn't think it would stand up to anything more than this as the mat is clearly not designed to be used directly on the ground.

In general terms I have found that the NeoAir is a comfortable lightweight alternative to my usual self inflating mattress. I found that on the flat coastal campsite I used for the second night of my trip that it was very comfortable if slightly under inflated. As I usually sleep on my side or stomach, I was very happy to awake without sore hips or ribs. Packing the NeoAir into the small stuff sack I purchased is quite easy, and roughly follows the same process I use for my self inflating mat. This is to fold the mat lengthways then in half (to make the mat 1/4 size) then squeezing all the air out with the valve open. I then close the valve and begin to roll up the mat. When I am around 90% of the way through rolling I open the valve and squeeze out the remaining air. I store the mat in the stuff sack with the valve closed. Given the very small size of the NeoAir when stuffed in the sack, it takes up very little room in my pack which means I don't need to be as selective when packing.

Summary

Overall I have been happy with the performance of the NeoAir during my field testing. I certainly enjoy the benefits of the compact size and low weight with the bonus of extra thickness. I don't enjoy having to inflate the mattress but there is no way around this.

This concludes my Field Report of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping mat. Again I thank Therm-a-Rest and backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


Long-Term Report

3rd August 2009

Field Conditions & Locations

My testing continued over the 6 night walk of the Overland Track, a 80 km (50 mi) walk through the Tasmanian central highlands. This walk features a full range of environments from sub-alpine lakes and grasslands to exposed ridgelines high above the snowline. During the walk our group experienced the full range of weather from sunshine and warm temps ranging from 10-12 C (50 - 54 F) to wind rain and snow with night time lows well below freezing We recorded a low of -7 C (19 F). The lowest point of the track is around 700 m (2,297 ft) with the highest point of 1,016 m (3,333 ft) excluding any summit trips.

LTR1

Pelion Plateau - Overland Track

Performance in the field

I have continued to use the NeoAir as my main sleeping mat. During the 6 nights of the Overland Track walk, we utilised the various huts along the track as our nightly accommodation, which gave me a much different experience using the NeoAir compared to tent camping. Firstly all the huts feature large bunks which are usually shared. Secondly, although they are heated, it gets much colder during the night inside the huts compared to a tent as the heaters do not run all night.  I found this was a very good test of the NeoAir's ability to retain heat.

Over the course of the Overland trip, I remained impressed by the comfort of the NeoAir. As my pack weight was well over 20 kgs (44 lbs), by the end of the days (each day was around 6-7 hours walking time) I was certainly ready for a decent sleep!! It was at this point I really noticed the extra thickness and increased comfort. At no point did I ever notice any pressure on my hips or shoulders due to the extra thickness. I continued to use the NeoAir with a little under full inflation to give a 'softer' feel. I found that if I fully inflated the NeoAir it was quite hard and somewhat unstable and I tended to roll off.

LTR2

Inside Waterfall Valley Hut - Overland Track

I have not got any faster at inflating the NeoAir throughout the testing period. However I now use smaller breathes more frequently rather than several deep breathes of air to inflate the mattress to avoid feeling light headed. This does take a little longer, especially compared to my self inflating mattress, but I think it is worth the hassle. I have continued to find that my folding method of deflating and then rolling the mat is still the quickest way of packing the NeoAir ready for my pack.

When packed, the NeoAir is very small, this I really like. So much so that I would go so far as to say that the small size of the NeoAir when packed is the single biggest feature I have enjoyed the most during the testing. As the NeoAir is so small, I can stash it nearly anywhere in my pack. Given that it is one of the first things I am going to want to access when I camp at the end of the day, I have found that because it is so small I can simply stash it in the top of my pack and therefore pull it out quickly and have it set up before my walking partners have been able to unpack their mats and set them up.

Throughout the testing period the NeoAir has performed without fault. I have had to perform no field maintenance or repairs. In fact the NeoAir looks basically brand new still with no visible signs of wear or dirt from use in the field. This suggests to me that the nylon construction is of a very high quality and is durable. I therefore assume that the NeoAir would continue to perform without fault for many years with no regular maintenance.

Final Summary

I stated in my Initial Report that if I woke up in the morning and noticed nothing, then the NeoAir would have done its job. I now take this back. I spent one night sleeping on my self inflating mat during the testing period and woke up feeling a bit sore on my shoulder where I had been sleeping. After sleeping on the NeoAir, I did notice something, I noticed just how much more comfortable and warmer it was compared to my self inflating mat!!!

Overall, I really like the NeoAir. It certainly does meet the manufacturer's claim of being about the same size as a 1L water bottle when packed. At 420 g (14.8 oz), it is also light, very light. This combination of size and weight is a winner in my books. I have found that the Triangular Core Matrix is stable, comfortable and the reflective barriers appear to increase heat retention. Having said this, when the weather was really cold, I was sleeping on a wooden bunk indoors so I am not able to comment just how warm the NeoAir would be as a true 4 season mat. I suspect 3+ seasons is a better classification for the NeoAir.

There is not much I don't like about the NeoAir. I have found it a little annoying to have to inflate the NeoAir and wondered if a small pump was an option. Having said this, I am happy to make the inflation trade off for the other size and weight benefits. The addition of a pump would obviously increase weight.

Credit to Therm-a-Rest for launching the NeoAir. During testing many people went 'wow, what kind of mat is that!' and all looked somewhat jealous when they saw how thick the NeoAir is when inflated. Therm-a-Rest have converted me from a self inflating mat boy to a NeoAir boy.... no doubt! I love this mat and look forward to many comfy nights sleep for years to come!

This concludes my testing of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping mat. My final thanks to Therm-a-Rest and backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this product.




Read more reviews of Therm-A-Rest gear
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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Pad > Test Report by Jamie Lawrence



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