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

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Mattress

In packaging

Initial Report - March 26, 2009
Field Report - June 9, 2009
Long Term Report  - August 11, 2009


Tester Information:

Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  51
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  170 lb (77 kg)

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background: 

Pursuing a long-time interest, I started backpacking five years ago.  In addition to day-hiking and weekend backpacking trips I try to do one longer trip each year.  A couple of years ago I began a project to section hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 250 mi (400 km) so far.  My backpacking style always seems to be evolving somewhat, and I like trying different gear and techniques.  I can probably best be described as lightweight and minimalist; cutting as much pack weight as I can without sacrificing warmth, comfort, or safety

Initial Report - March 26, 2009


Product Information:

Manufacturer:  Therm-a-Rest
Year of manufacture:  2009
Model:  NeoAir
Color:  Lime green and silver/grey
Size:  Regular
 
 
Manufacturer specified weight:  14 oz/410 g
  Measured weight:  14.3 oz/406 g

Advertised dimensions:  20 x 72 x 2.5 in (51 x 183 x 6.3 cm)
Advertised rolled size: 9 x 4 in (23 x 10 cm)

Tester measured sizes:  Consistent with advertised

  Website: http://www.thermarest.com/
MSRP:  $149.95
Rolled up next to 1 L Nalgene

Product Description:

The NeoAir is a light weight inflatable air mattress that uses patent pending technology to provide warmth without added synthetic or down insulation.  The mattress uses both a reflective barrier and Therm-a-Rest's Triangular Core Matrix technology.  The system provides stability in addition to three times the warmth of any other uninsulated air mattress, according to Therm-A-Rest.

The mattress top is lime green in color and the fabric feels and looks like a coated rip-stop nylon.  The bottom of the mattress looks like the same fabric but in a silvery grey color.  A black plastic twistable air valve is located in the upper left corner of the mattress.  The Therm-a-Rest logo, website address, parent company name (Cascade Designs Inc) and location (Seattle, WA), the words "Patent Pending" and "Limited Lifetime Warranty" appear in white and brown ink on a clear label slightly below and to the right of the valve.

The NeoAir is available in four different sizes.  I am testing the regular size mattress, which is only 40 grams or 1 oz more than the medium size that is 6 in (15 cm) shorter, according to the specifications posted on the manufacturer website.

The mattress that I am testing has 43 horizontal baffles, each just under 2 in (5 cm) wide.  A flat bonded seam joins the mattress top and bottom on all four sides and protrudes 1/4 in (0.5 cm) beyond the air filled portion.  The rolled up mattress is truly the size of a 1 L water bottle, as shown in the photo above.

The NeoAir has an R-value of 2.5 according to Therm-a-Rest's website and packaging, which is slightly warmer than their ProLite or Z-Rest series which each claim an R-value of 2.2, but not quite as warm as the RidgeRest's R-value of 2.6 or the ProLite Plus R-value of 3.8.  This means the mattress should be warm enough for 'three-season' use, but likely not warm enough for camping on snow or in very cold weather.

Although the mattress is very light, by rubbing the fabric between my fingers when the mattress is either uninflated or partially inflated, I can feel the interior baffling system through the thin outer shell.

Trying it out:

The mattress seemed incredibly light and small when I pulled it out of its box; so much so that I double checked the packaging to see if I was actually sent the regular size.  Once I unrolled it, but before I inflated it I found it was about 6 in (15 cm) longer and 1 in (2.5 cm) wider than its inflated size.

I found I could blow it up to a comfortable, but not full, thickness with about 25 breaths but I felt a little dizzy afterward.  Using a slower pace and slightly shallower breaths it took about 35 puffs to fill the mattress completely.  As with most air mattresses, it seems to be a little more comfortable when not completely filled with air.  The NeoAir is noticeably more stable than other air mattresses I have used that have vertical baffles, even when it is fully filled.  I was able to roll from side to side and onto my stomach without feeling like the mattress wanted to throw me off to the side.

The mattress is easy to deflate by opening the valve and lying on top of it, which forces most of the air out.  Following the instructions I then folded it in thirds lengthwise, and began rolling it at the end away from the valve.  When it was about 2/3 of the way rolled up, I found I needed to press some of the remaining air out with my hands, and to continue doing this until the mattress was completely rolled up.  Then I simply twist the valve closed to keep air from seeping back in.

Preliminary Impressions:

The NeoAir is impressively light and small, as well as very comfortable to lay on in my preliminary indoor test.  If it proves to be as comfortable in the field as it is on the floor at home, and has reasonable durability and warmth, this mattress should prove to be a real winner in my book with a great weight to comfort ratio.

Field Report - June 9, 2009

Field Conditions and Use:

In mid-April, I took the NeoAir on a short (3 mi/5km) overnight backpacking trip in southern West Virginia, on a trip where a friend and I were teaching beginner backpacking.  My shelter was a Double Rainbow Tarptent, shared with my friend for the early part of the night.   Around 11 pm one of our participants became ill and my friend ended up hiking her out, so I ended up spending most of the night solo in the 2-person Tarptent.  Temperatures were around 40 F (about 4 C), clear, with only a small breeze every now and then.  I also brought a 1/8 in (0.3 cm) Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad since I wasn't sure how warm I would find the NeoAir.  I did not have to resort to using the extra pad, and slept fairly well, but felt slightly cool several times during the night on the NeoAir.

NeoAir inside my hammockI next used the NeoAir on a 6-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in North Carolina, from Winding Stair Gap to Fontana Dam.  I used it two nights in the typical 3-sided shelters found along the AT, and two nights in my hammock.  To the right is a photo of the NeoAir in my hammock on this trip.  I did not use the NeoAir at all one night of this trip, as I stayed in a bunkhouse complete with a thick mattress at the Nantahala Outdoor Center about mid-way through my section hike.  Sleeping temperatures ranged from about 35 F (2 C) to around 55 F (13 C).  The first day and early night were rainy and windy, and after that weather conditions were dry with only light breezes. 

I again brought the 1/8 in (0.3 cm) Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad.  I was happy to have it, as I used it on top of the NeoAir in a shelter on the coldest night, and to one side of the NeoAir in my hammock on two of the more moderate nights.  Due to the way a hammock wraps up around a sleeper, the 20 in (51 cm) width of the NeoAir was inadequate to keep me fully insulated from convective heat loss through the thin sides of the hammock, so I used the NeoAir on my left side to provide extra insulation for my shoulder, hip, and knee.  I did not have a good chance to test this out before my trip, but I was glad to find it worked very well.  Even though the 2.5 in (6.3 cm) thick NeoAir is much higher than the 1/8 in (0.3 cm) ThinLight, it worked out to be surprisingly comfortable in the flexible hammock to have the main part of my body on the NeoAir with the overhanging shoulder, hip, and knee on the ThinLight.  I do not imagine this would work well at all for ground sleeping, but it certainly proved to be a viable option in the hammock.

Experiences and Conclusions:

On each trip I packed the NeoAir inside a small (5 in/12.5 cm x 10.5 in/26.5 cm) stuff sack intended to hold a lightweight jacket.  The small stuff sack was amply sized to hold the NeoAir plus a small piece of thin plastic that I packed along to keep dust and dirt off the bottom of the NeoAir when I used it in the shelters.  The NeoAir packs down so small that it took up very little space in my pack.  I packed it vertically in the mid-section of my Osprey Exos, on top of my sleeping bag and hammock, nestled next to a JetBoil PCS stove and my clothing bag, and under my food and ditty bags.  The size and shape made it convenient to pack this way, and it was easily accessible once I arrived at the shelter or camp area.

The one downside I found to the NeoAir is that it takes a lot of breath to inflate it.  When I was tired at the end of a long day of hiking (most days were about 12 mi/19 km of hiking with 3000 ft/900 m or so of elevation change), I generally used about 30 moderate breaths to fill the mattress about 3/4 of the way full.  I am a side and stomach sleeper, and I found this was more comfortable than fully inflating it - the slightly under filled mattress better cradled my body and I slept better that way.  The one night that I completely filled it and slept on it during the early part of the night, I did not rest well on the firm surface, tossing and turning until I partially deflated it. 

When filled just right, the mattress was very comfortable, giving me a great night's rest.  I like the horizontal baffles, which really do seem more comfortable and stable when I turn over when compared to vertical baffles.  One particularly nice thing about the NeoAir is that the regular length (72 in/183 cm) is long enough that I can rest my head on my crossed arms at the top of the mattress when stomach sleeping and still have plenty of room at the bottom to keep my feet completely on the mattress even when my toes are pointed down.  So even if I am wearing every bit of clothing I brought, I still have a warm surface under both my head and my feet even when I am stretched out full length.

Being used to sleeping on a heated waterbed at home, I find that I enjoy warm sleeping conditions on the trail, but I like to keep things as light as possible.  For all trips with the NeoAir so far, in addition to taking the Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad, I have used the same sleeping insulation system - a 12.7 oz (360 g) Nunatak Ghost quilt customized with a bit less down for warm weather use with a MontBell U.L. Down Inner Parka and synthetic insulated pants (Cocoon UL 60) added as needed.

So far the NeoAir seems to work pretty well for me as a single sleeping pad into the low 40 F range (around 6 C).  Once the temperature drops below that, I like adding the ThinLight closed cell foam pad to the top of the NeoAir for extra warmth.  This has actually worked out pretty well, as it gives me a durable sit pad for use during the day as well, for only a little extra weight and bulk, and is still lighter than an insulated air mattress I have used previously.

Overall so far I consider the NeoAir to be performing well.  I haven't experienced any leakage, and it has been simple to deflate, fold, and roll.  I usually help the deflation process along by opening the valve while I am still lying on the mattress, then kneel on it to press out extra air before trying to fold and roll it.  I've found it easier to pack if I leave the valve open and roll it up the first time primarily to get rid of extra air without trying to make it into a perfect cylinder.  I then close the valve when all the air is out, unroll it, re-fold more neatly, and roll it more precisely for a neater bundle that fits better inside the stuff sack. 

The surface of the mattress has been comfortable to sleep on by itself under a quilt, using a thin base layer, or with my insulated jacket and pants.  It did slide some in a gradual manner on the uneven ground when I used it in my Double Rainbow, and a bit in my hammock as I was settling in, both of which I consider normal.  Once I had settled in my hammock I did not notice it sliding further during the night.

Summary: 

So far I've found the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir nearly the ideal backpacking mattress for me.  It's thick and cushy when inflated, relatively warm for its weight, and very compact when packed.  It has turned out to be very versatile when combined with a thin (1/8 in/0.3 cm) closed cell pad for extra warmth on colder nights or to add insulation for my shoulder, hip, and knee while hammocking.

Long Term Report - August 11, 2009

Field Conditions and Use:

In mid-June I used the NeoAir in our large family tent on an overnight car camping trip in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  Temperatures were pleasant - in the upper 70 F range (around 20C) during the warmest part of the day, and around 60 F (around 15 C) during the night.   I used an inexpensive rectangular synthetic sleeping bag with the pad.  I don't recall the temperature rating of the bag, but it has been suitable for comfortable use down to about 50 F (10 C) for me.  As I've become used to, I inflated the NeoAir about 3/4 of the way full for optimum comfort.

In late June I used the NeoAir in a smaller family tent on an overnight car camping trip in southeastern Ohio.  Temperatures were around 80 F (27 C) during the day, and 65 F (18 C) at night.  I also used it on an overnight in my backyard in the larger family tent with my grandsons, in temperatures that were very similar.  In both cases, I used the same rectangular sleeping bag and the same level of inflation for the NeoAir.

Experiences and Conclusions:

The NeoAir has continued to perform well over the test period.  While it takes a little more air to blow it up than I would like, this is a minor annoyance compared to the cushy comfort I've experienced.  I've used several different styles of mattresses in the past, including closed cell foam, insulated air mattresses, and a hybrid mattress with a self inflating portion inserted into a closed cell mattress, and find the NeoAir the most comfortable that I've tried.  The main key to comfort for me has been to fill the mattress only part way with air.  This has been a bit of trial and error to get the exact level of air I like best, but it was most easily accomplished by filling the mattress almost full, twisting the valve closed, lying down on it, and then letting a little air out until I reach the proper level of cushiness.  In order to avoid feeling light headed after blowing it up, I've found it best to take my time and use about 30-35 short breaths to fill the pad rather than trying to fill it more quickly with 20-25 long breaths.

Since this portion of the test period was during the warmer summer months I did not get a chance to more finely dial in the comfort range as far as the lowest temperature that the pad kept me comfortable, but based upon my use during the Field Report, the pad seems that it will work well alone during the warmer months, and with a thin closed cell foam mattress on top to extend its use into the cooler shoulder seasons.  In the warmer temperatures I used it in, I did not notice any real change in the fill level of the mattress from the time I filled it to the time I awoke in the morning.

The pad stayed put very well on the floors of our family tents, which are a woven tarp-type material.  It likely also helped that the ground in the established campsites and in our backyard was fairly level.  Although a bit of crinkling noise is noticeable when blowing the pad up and when first settling in on it, the noise isn't very noticeable when shifting around slightly on the pad or even when simply turning over.  One thing that I really like about the NeoAir is that its light weight makes it easy to carry a full size mattress, and I don't have to have my feet dangling over the edge or thick cushioning materials under my head for insulation and comfort.   I can easily get by with a rolled up jacket or similar clothing for a comfortable pillow since the mattress is long enough to place the jacket on top of the mattress instead of at the end.

So far the easiest way I've found to roll the pad up into the smallest configuration is to open the valve, and start rolling it loosely from the opposite end.  Once I've squeezed most of the air out that way, I close the valve, unroll the pad, and fold it in thirds lengthwise.  I then start rolling it again, opening the valve as I near the end to purge the final bit of air, then finally close the valve again and the NeoAir is truly about the size of a 1 L water bottle, and very easy to pack into a tiny spot in my pack or car camping tote.

Summary:

The Therm-A-Rest NeoAir is the closest thing to a 'perfect' backpacking mattress that I've found.  It packs tiny, and is light weight enough that I don't feel I have to sacrifice and use a short mattress to shave a few ounces/grams over the weight of a full length one.  I also found I liked it for car camping as it saved space and made it easier to pack my Jeep for those trips.

It does take a bit of effort to inflate the mattress, but the small amount of work this involves is definitely a good trade off for the comfort of a great night's sleep.

Likes:

Compact for packing
Cushy for sleeping
Lightweight to carry

Dislikes:

Slightly noisy
Takes a lot of breath to inflate

Thanks to Therm-a-Rest and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the nifty NeoAir mattress.


Read more reviews of Therm-A-Rest gear
Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

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



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