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  • Backcountry Essentials

The Evolution of Sleeping Pads

Since 1972, Thermarest has ruled the sleeping pad industry. In the early 90’s, my dad handed me down his burnt orange 48” Thermarest with a metal nozzle and I patched that pad several times before I retired it around 2010. The ¾” insulation kept the cold at bay even while winter camping, but left the comfort lacking year round.


In the early part of this millennia, Big Agnes came out with their sleeping pads based off the design of a pool toy with different materials and eventually better insulation. The comfort, weight, pack ability, and price of the Big Agnes’ Insulated Air Core pads took a huge chunk of the market share away from Thermarest, who responded with the Neo Air series.


The Neo Air Xlite is lighter, packs smaller, and has a crinkly sound because of the space age materials it uses that reflect your body heat back up to you while keeping the conductive heat sink of the ground away at the same time. This is the pad of choice for those who prefer lighter adventures in the milder months of the Northwest. For those looking for all year warmth from the Neo Air family, I’d suggest taking a look at the Neo Air All Season or Neo Air XTherm. Just like with insulation in houses, pads use an R-rating that I roughly equate as ratings below 4 are a three season pad, and 4 and higher are getting more winter worthy as the number goes up.

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