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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season pad > Owner Review by Ray Estrella


Dude, your own box...

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Cascade Designs Inc.
Web site: cascadedesigns.com
Product: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season pad
Year manufactured: 2011
MSRP: US $169.95
Size: Large (also available in Small, Medium and Regular)
Weight listed: 25 oz (710 g)
Actual weight: 28 oz (794 g)
Dimensions listed: 25 x 77 in (63 x 196 cm)
Actual dimensions inflated: 25 x 80 in long (63 x 203 cm)
Thickness listed: 2.5 in (6.3 cm) Verified accurate
Packed size listed (rolled up): 11 x 4.8 in (28 x 12 cm)
Actual packed size (rolled up): 9.5 x 4.75 in (24 x 12 cm)
R-Value: 4.9
Pump sack/stuff sack weight: 1.6 oz (45.4 g)

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

While my part of the world sees too low of temperatures to call this an All Season pad I can say that it is an Almost-All Season pad. Much more durable then my two original NeoAirs (Large & Regular, see review) this pad does not need to be babied in my experience. For many parts of the country I could easily see this being a one-pad solution to sleeping on the trail. Please read on for the details.

Product Description

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season mattress (hereafter referred to as All Season or the pad) is claimed by the manufacturer to be "the ultimate solution to year-round backcountry comfort." They may just have something there.

Building on the Triangular Core Matrix technology of their original, and wildly popular, NeoAir mattresses (of which I have two, see review) they seem to have bumped up the Reflective Barriers in the construction to radiate the users heat back (or at least keep it put) resulting in a pad with almost twice the R-value of the original. (An R-value indicates an insulation's resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.)

The outer shell is made of Columbia (green) 75D polyester on the top and Griffon (dark grey) 70D nylon on the bottom. The top is made with a honeycomb ripstop pattern that gives some texture to it.

At first glance the Large size All Season appears to be comprised of 46 air chambers running horizontally across the pad. But actually there are 186 triangular chambers. Each tube visible on the top and bottom is actually multiple triangular wedges that go to a layer of polyuerethane-coated nylon in the middle of the bag. The triangular shape gives the pad structure and keeps it from squishing out of shape under the weight of the user. Here is an illustration showing the construction details of the Triangular Core Matrix technology, courtesy of Cascade Designs.

Superman x-ray vision. Where the girls?


To further the warmth holding properties of the NeoAir, the center layer of nylon and the outer shell have been coated with a reflective surface, much like a Mylar space blanket.

The All Season inflates by way of the plastic twist valve found at the upper left corner. It is the standard righty-tighty, lefty-loosey threading. (Clockwise close, counter-clockwise open if you want it scientific…) The valve is covered with a soft rubber instead of the hard plastic of my other NeoAir pads. One reason for this is to make the valve stay in place better with the included pump/stuff sack.It's a pump, it's a storage sack.

While the manufacturer says that the pad can be inflated by mouth, the All Season comes with a pump sack (seen to the right) that will allow the pad to be inflated without the inclusion of moist air from my lungs. The sack, which in pump mode is a nylon tube that is 6.5 in (17 cm) in diameter and 26 in (66 cm) long, has a soft plastic adapter tube at the closed end of the sack. This slides over the valve on the pad. Then the sack is opened to allow air in and then pinched off at the open end and rolled down towards the valve forcing air into the pad.

To use as a stuff sack the top portion of the tube is tucked inside the sack at the point a draw cord with lock is positioned. The pad slides inside and then the draw cord is pulled closed. The valve adapter tucks under a carry strap on the bottom of the sack. Here is a shot of the All Season stuffed and just rolled up, the way I usually carry it.

Rolled or stuffed, it is small.


The All Season comes with a repair kit for patching small holes in the field. Well I suppose it works at home too. As I was critical of Cascade Designs' decision to make the repair kit an optional purchase with my original NeoAirs I am very happy to see it included now.

Field Locations

These are some of the backpacking and camping trips I have used the NeoAir All Season pad on over the course of the fall and beginning of winter.

First was an overnighter on the North Country Trail (NCT) where I camped on the south shore of Waboose Lake. The low temp on this rainy night was 36 F (2 C).

The following week saw me driving and day-hiking all over Chippewa National and Paul Bunyan State Forests as I pre-scouted locations for this winter's snow-packing trips. I stayed on Hungry Man Lake. The low was in the upper 20's F ( -2 C).

Back on the North Country Trail to Waboose Lake again, but coming from the opposite direction and staying at the official NCT site on the north side of the lake. The low was right at freezing, forcing my water filter to share the All Season and my bag. The picture below was taken at my site above the lake.

I used it on a three-day 34 mi (55 km) loop backpacking trip on the North Country Trail and Woodtick Trail south of Leech Lake in Chippewa National Forest. The first night saw sleet and a low of 19 F (-7 C) and the next was 24 F (-4 C).

The next two times were camping trips as I don't hike during deer hunting season. I stayed at Buffalo River State park twice. The coldest was 10 F (-12 C) and the other was a balmy 24 F (-4 C). Another camping trip on the Red River north of Moorhead saw temps down to 15 F (-9 C). All of these temperatures are quite warm for this time of year (late November).

Last was a backpacking trip in the Chippewa National Forest where I stayed at Hovde Lake just south of the NCT. This trip saw -1 F (-18 C) and some minor snow flurries.

Oh, there's my tent.

Observations

As mentioned before, I was one of the early adopters of the original NeoAir, absolutely loving how light it was and how little room it took up in my pack. Over the past couple of years they spoiled me and made me resent having to go back to my bulky pads once the temps dropped enough to make their use uncomfortable, if not unsafe. So I was excited to read of the new claimed capabilities of the All Season and looked forward to trying it out. I have been pretty impressed.

The new material is much more robust than my original NeoAirs and what I really like is the way it feels. It is not as cold and plastic-feeling as the others. The All Season is much nicer to lie directly against as when I am using my quilts. The construction itself seems much more secure, not as squishy. It may be a change in the shape or amount/placement of the triangular chambers that account for this, but whatever it is, it is a lot more comfortable.

One thing that should be noted about my pad is its length. When I first get new gear I measure and weigh it for future reviews down the road. I was surprised by the length of my All Season the first time I stretched it out in my living room. Before inflating it was a whopping 83.5 in (212 cm) long! After filling with air it was an even 80 in (203 cm). After checking the web site to see that they list it as 77 in (196 cm) in length, I dug the box back out of the trash to look at the specs printed on it in case there was a change at some point. Nope, it said the same thing. I then emailed Cascade Design to check with them as to any changes and was told it they commonly give a little more length to them so that they end up at the right length when inflated but that mine must have got away from them. I told them that as tall as I am I was quite happy with the extra length. (Can you say "collector's item…";-)

The included pump sack works when the pad is deflated but loses air through the sack also. The more the pad inflates the faster the sack bleeds air. At almost-full the sack lost air as fast as I could try putting it in. To test this I sealed the end by rolling it ¼ of the way and blew into the adapter. I could blow as fast as I wanted without over-pressurizing the sack, it just bled out.

I could just top off the All Season by mouth once it got to the point of diminishing returns. One thing about the All Season not using fluffy insulation as the means to its heat retention (whether down or synthetic like my other higher R-value pads), it is not as adversely affected if moisture is introduced and frozen inside. But then I am faced with drying it back out at home, a process that is a bit of a pain. So I chose to use other options for filling it in the field. (Watch for future reviews.) Here is a shot of the All Season being inflated at Moccasin Lake.

No huffing and puffing here.


The claimed R-value of 4.9 seems to be very accurate in my how-it-feels-only means of verifying. I have an insulated 3-season pad rated at R-4.1 that the All Season is much warmer than, and a winter pad rated at 5.0 that is a bit warmer than the All Season. What is amazing is that the All Season packs smaller and weighs much less than either while being a much bigger pad.

I have been fine during all nights except the night at -1 F (-18 C). I was using a quilt so the pad (and my base layer) was my total underside insulation. Around 2:00 AM I got up to, uh, look at the stars and when I went back noticed I was chilled. As the forecast had called for the drop in temps I had brought an even warmer pad too, and had it already inflated next to me. I decided to move my pack and clothes off the other pad and use it the rest of the night.

Other than that I have never been cold on the All Season. Even on the trips I had a sleeping bag it was a variable fill down bag that had its thin 25 F (-4 C) rated side down so it did not add much to the pad's R-value. Two times I even started out the night just sleeping in the MontBell TEC down pants I am testing along with my matching jacket.

All use has been in tents with the exception of one night that I set it up on a picnic table, just south of Itasca State Park. That night was probably the most comfortable I have slept until the temps weirdly jumped up and it started raining. I quickly dragged the pad and my bag inside the tent I had set up just in case. Here is a picture of my site on that trip. (Sorry, I had to blur the bag as it is a proto-type that is still in the design process.)

Why not sleep where I eat?


The durability has been excellent so far. I always worried about my original NeoAirs with their very lightweight and fragile-feeling (not to say that it actually is fragile) nylon and would bring a thin closed-cell foam Gossamer Gear Thinlight pad to use under it as protection. I have not done this with the All Season. The nylon on the bottom feels very strong and has proven to be so with somewhere around a dozen nights' use. As I mentioned earlier I really like the feel of the top portion of the All Season as it is much more comfortable to be directly against as I am when using a backpacking quilt.

I think that Cascade Designs has another winner with this pad. I know that the way it worked for me this year is enough to make me get rid of two of my other pads (one is already gone) to be replaced by the All Season. As soon as my spring hiking next year sees the temps get back around 0 F (-18 C) I expect to pull it back off the gear shelf. I leave with a picture from the coldest trip on the shore of frozen Hovde Lake.

On the frozen tundra

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

Read more reviews of Cascade Designs gear
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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season pad > Owner Review by Ray Estrella



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