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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper SV Mattress > Test Report by Richard Lyon

Test Series by Richard Lyon

Initial Report July 24, 2016
Field Report September 28, 2016
Long Term Report November 28, 2016


Male, 70 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 205 lb (91 kg)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA

I've been backpacking for nearly half a century, most often in the Rockies.  I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp.  Though always looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, I still tend to include my favorite camp conveniences.  I always sleep in a floored tent and like hot meals. Summer adventures are often on centered on flyfishing opportunities; winter on ski turns or ski touring.

INITIAL REPORT - July 24, 2016

Out of the Box

Cascade Designs, the maker of the many Therm-a-Rest air mattresses, describes the NeoAir Camper SV as a "deluxe basecamp mattress" and includes it among its Camp & Comfort line. The "SV" in its name stands for SpeedValve, a patent-pending technology intended to expedite inflation and deflation.

Product: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper SV
Includes: Sleeping pad, stuff sack, Instant Field Repair Kit, printed instructions for inflation
Option: Available in XL, which I am testing, or Large
Manufacturer: Cascade Designs, Inc.,
Listed dimensions, size XL: 30 x 77 in / 76 x 196 cm
Measured dimensions: 32.5 x 77 in / 83 x 196 cm [Measured length does not include the SpeedValve portion.]
Listed weight: 2 lb 13 oz (1.28 kg)
Measured weight: 2 lb 9 oz (1.22 kg) [Stuff sack and repair kit add 1.5 oz / 43 g]
Packed dimensions, listed: 12.3 x 6.0 in / 31 x 15 cm
Packed dimensions, measured: 12.0 x 5.75 in / 30 x 15 cm
Loft, listed and measured: 3.0 in (7.5 cm)
R-Value, listed: 2.2
Color: Mediterranean Blue
Warranty: Lifetime against defects in materials or workmanship
MSRP: $139.95 US

The stuff sack is also blue, closes with a toggle cord, and includes a fabric loop for attachment to a pack or, when the pad is in use, to a tent stake or pole.  The Instant Field Repair kit consists of two patches (Type A Tear-Aid), two  alcohol prep pads, each in  metallic packaging, and printed instructions, all enclosed in a  4 x 5 in (10 x 12 cm) plastic zip-top package.

SpeedValveOne end of the pad has a ten-inch (15 cm) square of fabric with a strap with a buckle on top, giving something of a bottleneck look. Inside is a seven-inch (10.5 cm) long cylinder made of heavy plastic (shown extended outside in the photo at right) that lies flat inside the neck when the pad is in use. This bottleneck apparatus is the SpeedValve.

First Impressions

It's big. Certainly it's the first sleeping pad I've used that's longer than my sleeping quilts. And in comparison to other pads in my gear closet it's relatively heavy.

But it's the SpeedValve technology that attracted my attention and prompted me to apply for this Test Series. As a longtime skeptic of manufacturers' claims of "self-inflating" sleeping pads, I wanted to see for myself if someone had found the better mousetrap of pad inflation. The SpeedValve relies upon the "laws of physics," in particular one such law named Bernoulli's principle after the Eighteenth Century Swiss physicist who first recorded it. (Bernoulli's principle, by the way, is also used to explain the lift on an airplane wing as the plane accelerates for takeoff.)

The directions are simple: lay the pad flat, close the small side valve, be sure the internal portion of the SpeedValve is flattened inside the outer tube and open, and then "blow into the opening using strong sustained breaths" from about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) from the opening.  A video on the manufacturer's website illustrates pausing slightly between breaths to allow the physics to draw additional air into the chamber.  By breathing into the valve the interior air pressure is lowered slightly, causing higher pressure air from outside to force its way in to even the pressure out. After full inflation in this manner the straps at the top of the SpeedValve are closed like a dry bag - pressed together firmly and rolled tightly until flush with the top of the pad, then buckled downward. Adjustments can be made after this using the small valve on the corner.

Well, Bernoulli works on the NeoAir to some extent, but I fear it's going to take some practice to achieve the inflation speed shown in Cascade Designs' videos, in which the pad is almost fully inflated with four or five breaths. When starting the process my Bernoulli inflation definitely added more air than I blew in and filled the chamber faster than huffing and puffing alone. But in half a dozen attempts I couldn't get the pad more than about sixty per cent inflated. To complete inflation I resorted to the old-fashioned way, blowing directly into the small valve. I did find that distance from the SpeedValve helps - six inches (15 cm) or more from the valve is better than four (10 cm), and that focused breaths - rather like blowing out a single candle - beat sheer lung power.

This result convinced me that I must be doing something incorrectly. Physics is physics and I'm sure Cascade Designs didn't jerry-rig the videos. Therefore I took the pad to a local Cascade Designs dealer for therapy. The rep at the dealer, who had attended a demonstration by the manufacturer before the SpeedValve pads hit the retail market, smiled when he saw me unfold the pad - he knew what was coming. For some reason I felt better when he couldn't beat my sixty per cent. The rep did say that inflation results improved over time, something he thought might be due to the inner plastic's becoming more pliable with regular usage. I assure you that this will be a focus of testing over the next four months.

The pad deflates similarly to other air mattresses, by opening the SpeedValve and applying pressure to the pad. (I rolled it up.) During this process the internal part of the valve will force its way out, or I can simply pull it out. Deflation is fast and easy, although after rolling and folding it's a bit of a struggle to get the pad back into the stuff sack. I found this worked best (i.e., with the least difficulty) if after deflation I first folded the pad lengthwise, then folded it up.

After full inflation the pad provides excellent support for this big guy, and the surface has enough "grip" so that my quilt doesn't slip and slide around. I'm actually looking forward to taking this pad into the field for a good night's sleep.

FIELD REPORT - September 28, 2016

Field Conditions.  Over the past two months I've slept on the NeoAir on six nights - three separate overnights at fishing or backcountry cabins near my home, and on a three-day, three-night trip to a fishing cabin near Big Sky, Montana, in the Gallatin Mountains. Nighttime temperatures ranged from 40-50 F (4-10 C). On each trip I used my Nunatak Back Country Blanket (separately reviewed on this site) atop the NeoAir. One overnight had the pad on a wood floor; all other nights it sat on a sagging set of metal springs.

Performance.  The NeoAir gives me as comfortable a night's sleep as any sleeping pad I've ever used. Its extra size and a pair of leakproof valves mean a firm mattress platform and consistent barrier from the ground (or springs) each night. I have also been impressed with how well my quilt stays on top of the NeoAir. I'm a tosser and turner at night and I've slid off many a pad, particularly an inflated (as opposed to foam) pad. I'm not quite sure of the reason for the NeoAir's performance in this respect. The NeoAir's fabric is somewhat heavier than other pads that I have used but I can't detect any gripping agent. Leaves and small bits of debris don't stick to it. Maybe it's the greater width? But whatever the reason, I'm grateful.

Durability has been outstanding; the pad looks as good as new despite direct contact with old and rusty metal springs on five nights. I've had no reason to clean the pad, though I do shake it before deflation to get rid of anything that's clinging, which as noted hasn't been much. One other thing that I like is that the stuff sack provided with the NeoAir is just the right size. In the past I've had issues with stuff sacks sized appropriately for an unused factory-folded pad but which proved a tight fit after field use. This may have something to do with the fact that it has been easy to expel all air from the NeoAir when rolling and folding it up, thanks in part to the large throat of the SpeedValve.

Two of my overnights required a moderate hike, 2 or 3 miles (3-5 km), from roadhead to the cabin with sleeping and cooking gear. Not exactly comparable to backpacking use, as the trail was a Forest Service or private unpaved road and not very steep, but I must say that I didn't notice the extra few ounces/grams in this pad, which I lashed to the bottom of my pack as easily as any other inflatable pad.

Inflation.  My only cause for concern has been a lack of improvement in the NeoAir's highly touted self-inflation system. Since filing my Initial Report I took this issue up with a Cascade Designs spokeswoman at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show. Her response was similar to the one I received from a local rep, noted in my Initial Report - have patience, you're doing it right, things will improve with repetition. One the four occasions I used the pad, results were similar to those reported earlier. Bernouli's principle inflated the pad to a bit over half of its capacity, requiring use of the small valve to finish the job. I acknowledge that this process is easier and faster (and much closer to "self-inflating," an adjective many manufacturers have misleadingly applied to many pads) than the traditional method of blowing up entirely by mouth, but I'm hoping for more. I may undertake some at-home practice, if only to kick up the iterations of use.

LONG TERM REPORT - November 28, 2016

NeoAirField Conditions. Two more nights in the backcountry. An overnight in mid-October in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, on a clear and unseasonably warm weekend, nighttime temperatures not much below freezing at about 6000 ft (1800 m). I slept in a solo tent. And this past weekend I hiked to a nearby Forest Service cabin. Another warm day, about 30 F (-1 C) at bedtime, but a snowstorm upon awakening at about 5.30 the next morning.

As discussed below I did some lab work at home on the pad's inflation system.

Performance. I don't have much to add to my earlier observations about how much I like sleeping on this pad. It's really worth every extra ounce/gram (and they're not too many) this pad adds to my kit. Extra size and the mysteriously (to be) good grip combine to provide warmth and comfort hitherto not encountered without extra insulation such as a down pad. The last two nights on the pad were on hard ground and a hard, cold cabin floor, and I didn't wake up cold on either occasion. I also didn't slide off the pad, a genuine rarity for this perpetually restless side sleeper.

Inflation. In the week immediately preceding my last overnight I roughly simulated daily inflation that the pad would encounter on a camping trip, inflating the pad each evening and deflating and folding it up the next morning. I counted the number of breaths it took to inflate the pad to the point where I could complete the job with a breath or two into a valve. That number dropped from twenty to seven over this period, giving considerable credence to Cascade Designs' contention that performance improves with use. At any rate this pad is closer to truly self-inflating than any other I have tried, and definitely easier to inflate. I hope that the week's worth of practice will carry over to my next field usage.

Bottom line. This may be the perfect sleeping pad for me. Advancing age and a frequent hiking companion who prefers cabins over tents has led to shorter trips and a bit more backcountry comfort. I have nothing but praise for the performance of the NeoAir Camper SV. My only suggestion to its manufacturer would be to add a sentence or two to its instructions that the apparently miraculous inflation shown on the website video may not occur out of the box.


My Test Report ends here. My thanks to Cascade Designs and for this testing opportunity.

Read more reviews of Cascade Designs gear
Read more gear reviews by Richard Lyon

Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper SV Mattress > Test Report by Richard Lyon

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