Therm-a-Rest Sleep System Review


Therm-a-Rest sleep system.

Therm-a-Rest sleep systems include various combinations of insulation, pads, and pillows for different temperatures, climates, and activities. By combining different products, it's possible to tailor the (more or less) ideal sleep system for the activity of your choice. 

I tested a Therm-a-Rest sleep system that combined the following products:


The total sleep system is wonderfully flexible for different uses and is especially well suited to cooler weather. It's very comfortable, but I paid the price in weight and minor inconvenience.

At 3 pounds 6.3 ounces, the total system is heavier than my usual combination of a synthetic EMS Velocity 35 sleeping bag and a cut-in-half Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest closed-cell foam pad. Additionally, the NeoAir is a real challenge to inflate.

This sleep system is best for camping and weekend backpacking trips in hot weather, and longer backpacking trips in colder weather. As the weather cools, or your tolerance for sleeping on hard surfaces decreases, the increased insulating capacity and comfort this pad supplies outweigh the minor penalties in weight and challenging setup.

Pros

  • luxuriously comfortable

  • warm

  • compact

  • anti-slide straps work!

Cons

  • NeoAir All Season pad is difficult to inflate

  • system is a bit heavy

  • Fitted Sheet is heavy and doesn't add warmth

  • blanket snap system is clumsy

  • blanket system makes snuggling difficult

Best For:

This Therm-a-Rest sleep system is best for camping and weekend backpacking trips in hot weather, and longer backpacking trips in colder weather. As the weather cools, or your tolerance for sleeping on hard surfaces decreases, the increased insulating capacity and comfort this pad supplies outweigh the minor penalties in weight and challenging setup.

Setup

Setting up the Therm-a-Rest sleep system requires inflating the NeoAir All Season pad and affixing the Fitted Sheet and Alpine Down Blanket. I learned to shorten the setup by leaving the fitted sheet on the pad when storing it in my pack.

The NeoAir All Season pad is lung busting to inflate without a pump. I have massive lung capacity, but inflating the pad required 20 lung fulls, and often ended in me seeing stars and sitting down! If getting a little hypoxia bothers you, and you're willing to carry a few more ounces, I would recommend the forthcoming NeoAir Pump Sack. I'd probably still forgo the pump, to save weight;  that's just me though.

(For January 2012, Therm-a-Rest will offer a NeoAir Pump Sack, a stuff sack that lets you fill a NeoAir pad with two bags of air, and then converts into a camp seat, stuff sack, or pack liner. The new-for-fall 2011 NeoAir AirTap Pump Kit works similarly, using a plastic bag)

Affixing the sheet is a challenge, as the full length of the pad needs to be passed through a series of grippy, rubberized straps. A small, toughened port in the sheet allows the pad's inflation valve through, but isn't quite large enough.

Once the sheet is affixed, the down blanket attaches to small plastic snaps around the perimeter of the sheet. The snaps are small, and it was difficult to snap them securely with cold fingers. Further, vigorous movement can unsnap them easily.



Bottom view of system, showing anti-slide straps and snaps.

Comfort/Warmth

NeoAir All Season Pad

This system is incredibly comfortable once setup. In a month of testing, including three nights camping, four nights backpacking, and two weeks of home/backyard use, I always slept soundly. The NeoAir All Season pad is thick enough (approximately 2.5 inches) to permit sleeping on my side, back, or stomach.

This pad was warm! Despite nights that dipped down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, this system kept me warm. The pad itself, which has a 4.9 R-value, seemed to radiate heat. This may be an effect of the metallic foil of each of the pad's internal baffles reflecting my bodily heat back to me. (I'll update after I continue to test the NeoAir All Season this winter.)

The pad is approximately 79 inches long, which is a bit long for me (I'm 5' 8"). This didn't present serious problems, but in combination with the Down Blanket, it required me to position myself with my feet at the bottom of the pad, with approximately 11 inches of pad above my head. If this was a closed-cell foam pad, I would have rolled that excess to create a pillow, but when the NeoAir All Season is firmly inflated, it can't easily be doubled.



Alpine Down Blanket, bottom view.


Alpine Down Blanket

I tested the Alpine Down Blanket as part of the sleep system. The blanket and pad both kept me warm in temperatures right at the edge of the blanket's rated capacity of 35°F. (The NeoAir All Season pad has a 4.9 R-value.)

Despite the draft collars running the length of the down blanket, drafts still snuck in however. Snapping the blanket to the sheet seemed to make the problem worse. Additionally, when I rolled over, the snaps would often pop off.

After some trial and error, I left the bottom of the quilt snapped to the pad, and unsnapped the top several snaps. With the upper half of the quilt loose, I could wrap it around myself, increasing warmth and decreasing drafts.

I seldom use down insulation for most of my hikes in Maine, because frequent rain and high humidity make it prone to lose loft. However, this blanket, filled with 700-fill down, retained loft well, despite cold, rainy weather, and moderate humidity.

The shell of the quilt shed a few droplets of condensation that formed in my tent on several occasion, but absorbed water quickly when I accidentally dipped the foot box area in a small puddle that formed at the base of my tent. Because the shell isn't very water resistant, I wouldn't recommend this blanket for very humid, rainy environments.



Alpine Down Blanket, showing draft collar.

Fitted Sheet

The main function of the Fitted Sheet is to bind the Down Blanket to the NeoAir pad. The sheet added a degree of comfort, but wasn't so luxurious that I would bother bringing it, if not for the functional purpose it served. 

Weight conscious hikers will probably want to forgo this 6.4-ounce part of the system and instead opt for the Fast & Light Mattress Snap Kit that also serves this purpose, but weighs just 0.6 ounces (17 g). For car camping, sleepovers, or base camp use, the Fitted Sheet might be worth its weight (6.4 oz), but it's not worth the weight for backpacking for me. 

One positive feature was the anti-slide straps on the bottom of the sheet. These straps hold the sheet over the pad, but are rubberized, and prevent the whole system from sliding around on the slick floor of a tent. Since the floor of my shelter is siliconized nylon, this feature was a pleasure!


Sleep system, showing anti-slide pads.

Durability

NeoAir All Season Pad

Therm-a-Rest supplied me with an optional Universal Repair Kit (.6 oz / 16 g). Despite camping on rough surfaces (including gravel), the pad never punctured. I never used the repair kit, but it's similar to a bicycle tire repair kit, and I have no reason to think it wouldn't be effective.

Alpine Down Blanket

Despite frequent packing and unpacking, the Down Blanket proved durable. The seams still look tight, and the shell fabric didn't tear, and hasn't pilled at all after seven nights out, and 14 days of additional "bag time" around the house and yard.

The blanket lost several feathers along the seams, but no more than five to 10.

Fitted Sheet

The Fitted Sheet showed no signs of wear at all during the test.

Storage

The entire sleep system takes a bit longer to pack up then I like. After a cup of coffee, the system takes nearly three minutes to pack up.

Deflating the NeoAir All Season pad is a bit slow, and removing the Fitted Sheet is clumsy because of the rubberized straps on the bottom. To save time, I tried deflating the pad with the sheet on.  This is faster than removing it, but increases the bulk of the deflated system considerably. If you're short on time, try leaving the sheet on. If you're short on space, remove the sheet and pack it separately.

The NeoAir pad rolls up fairly small, and can even be fitted into a frame-less pack as a supplemental frame! The down blanket compacts easily, and lofts quickly after unpacking.

Summary

The combination of the NeoAir All Season Pad, Fitted Sheet, and Alpine Down Blanket makes for a versatile, warm, comfortable sleep system. As configured at 3 pounds 6.3 ounces, it's a bit heavy for my backpacking style, but for this small penalty in weight, you get a very flexible, comfortable system.

I'm going to continue to use this system together for my winter hikes and bike trips. Alone, the down blanket is slowly replacing my synthetic bag. I'm also going to be experimenting with using the down blanket as an "enhancer" in an attempt to create a deep winter sleep system in conjunction with a light synthetic bag.

I would recommend Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir All Season Pad, Alpine Down Blanket, and Fitted Sheet highly as a general purpose sleeping system for shorter trips. Together with a closed-cell pad, an all-season adventurer would need no additional pad. For ultra-light trips, a closed-cell foam pad would suffice. For more comfort, the NeoAir would be ideal. For deep winter trips, both pads could be combined for ultimate warmth.


Seth atop Maine's Deasey Mountain on the International Appalachian Trail, with hiking buddy Steve.

Testing Circumstances

I tested the NeoAir All Season pad for approximately 60 days in spring and summer. During this period, I tested the pad:

  • While camping for three nights in northern Maine. The elevation was only slightly above sea level. Temperatures ranged from a low of approximately 36°F overnight, to a high of approximately 43°F overnight.
  • While on a four-day backpacking trip north of Maine's Baxter State Park. I traveled approximately 12 miles per day, bushwhacking and often fording rivers. Weather was cool, humid and rainy, with the last day warmer and sunnier. Nighttime temperatures went as low as approximately 46°F. Day time temperatures were between 56° and 70°F.
  • As my primary sleeping pad for 14 days in my home, on a hardwood floor.



Seth's pack on the International Appalachian Trail in Maine.

 

NeoAir All Season Pad
Claimed Weight: 14 oz / 410 g
Tested Weight: 1 lb 3.2 oz / 544 g
Note: I tested a 2011 prototype, with a slightly non-standard weight and size.

Alpine Down Blanket
Claimed Weight: 1 lb 5 oz / 624 g
Tested Weight: 1 lb 7.3 oz / 662 g

Fitted Sheet
Claimed Weight: 6.5 oz / 181 g
Tested Weight: 7.8 oz / 220 g

Filed under: Gear Reviews

Related Content

Cascade Designs  |  Therm-a-Rest

Comments

Patman
REVIEW CORPS
770 reviewer rep
1,275 forum posts
September 12, 2011 at 12:56 p.m. (EDT)

Seth,

Thanks for the review; very interesting. The timing is notable to me as I just had a bad night in the Smokies with a Therm-a-rest Synthetic tech blanket and standard Neo-Air pad. The temperature got down to 38 degrees Fahrenheit last Friday in an AT shelter and I could not get warm. The Synthetic blanket was rated to 35 (although I didn’t anticipate the low temps….my bad). I use that blanket for summer trips, but it’s done until next summer as far as I’m concerned…

Any movement led to exposure with that narrow blanket. In warmer temps it doesn’t matter but I was acutely aware of what body part was uncovered, lol.

Family Guy
2 reviewer rep
692 forum posts
September 12, 2011 at 11:00 p.m. (EDT)

I had a regular NeoAir and although rated to 32F, I found it chilly at 40F.  I have moved to a Synmat UL7 and although only rated to 3.1, the insulation has allowed me to push it to 25F without any cold spots (I think it will go lower while still staying very warm).

Although this All Season version is rated to 4.9F, the tester only had it to 36F.  I would have liked to have seen a real test of the pad in cooler temps.  Not sure how the pad can get a 4 star rating without doing this.

Patman
REVIEW CORPS
770 reviewer rep
1,275 forum posts
September 13, 2011 at 8:22 a.m. (EDT)

CWF said:

  I would have liked to have seen a real test of the pad in cooler temps.  

 

 I second that.

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
September 13, 2011 at 7:20 p.m. (EDT)

Patman - Thanks for sharing your experience.  There are a lot of variables with pad and bag testing, so sharing your experience is going to help lots of folks figure out what is likely to work with them. 

Patman and CWF - I am planning some long-distance winter bike trips and will consider testing this pad during those. Your point is a good one - how can one rate an "All Season" pad accurately without testing it in all seasons?  Publishing timely reviews sometimes means cramming more testing into shorter periods of time.  I'll take your comment as a suggestion to revisit this review this winter, after a few cold-weather tests.

Robert Rowe
0 reviewer rep
1,238 forum posts
September 13, 2011 at 8:14 p.m. (EDT)

Unless I missed it, I did not see dimensions of the Alpine Down Blanket.

Please provide.

                                                      ~r2~

MoZee
60 reviewer rep
115 forum posts
September 13, 2011 at 9:27 p.m. (EDT)

It says regular is 76" long x 48" girth shoulder and hip x 25" girth footbox. Fits to 5'10" tall.

Large is 80 x 52 x 25. Fits 6'4".

Family Guy
2 reviewer rep
692 forum posts
September 14, 2011 at 12:40 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks Seth - looking forward to the results....

Bill S
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,329 reviewer rep
5,298 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 9:57 a.m. (EDT)

I used the NeoAir all season during the Winter Camping course for Boy Scout adult leaders I teach.  I used it sleeping on the snow on several nights in Feb and Mar when the temperatures were near 0F. It was plenty warm. I concur with Seth that blowing it up "manually" takes a while, though not as bad as he portrays it (maybe I have big lungs from all the high altitude expeditions and from 20 years as a university professor teaching classes of 200-300 students ;D). I had the standard stuff sack, and indeed that is much faster in inflating the pad. But I didn't find the deflation took any longer than a standard Thermarest. YMMV. I had a long discussion with the developer of the NeoAir this summer about using the pad during serious winter and high altitude trips. His strong advice was to use the usual pad setup for really cold trips, namely pair your inflatable with a closed cell full length pad. The reasoning is that if you do puncture the NeoAir, the closed cell backup provides some insulation from the snow and ice you are sleeping on. Having had the experience of trying to find the hole in a Thermarest of a tentmate at 14,000 ft on Denali, I thoroughly agree (it took 3 of us a couple hours to identify the slow-leaking hole - you can't dunk the pad in water when it is that cold, and even using a small amount of water to spot the bubbling just produces a patch of ice). It is surprising how many weary climbers returning from the summit just pile into the tent with their crampons on.

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 11:15 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks Bill!  I didn't include in the review an interesting tid-bit that might have some bearing on the use of the pad in deep winter.  I agree with you that a closed-cell foam accompaniment for an inflatable pad is the best choice for cold weather.  The designer I spoke to suggested that because the NeoAir's baffles are lined with aluminized material, the pad has a notable R-value, even when deflated.  In other words, the NeoAir might be a better insulator deflated, than the Therm-a-Rest.

And, jeez, I hope my lung capacity is as good as yours when I'm your age!

Patman
REVIEW CORPS
770 reviewer rep
1,275 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 12:50 p.m. (EDT)

I like the idea of adding the closed cell pad. I'm trying to decide whether to go that route or possibly purchase the All Season model when available.

Bill S
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,329 reviewer rep
5,298 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. (EDT)

The aluminized coating is used by Cascade Designs (Thermarest, MSR, etc) on a version of their Zrest and/or Ridgerest as well (don't remember which). That is supposed to boost the R-rating. Personally, I haven't found the aluminized coatings to do much. I have tried wrapping one of the thin mylar "space blankets" around me at subzero temperatures with/without wind to see how many, if any, layers I could shed. The idea is that it takes care of radiated heat and convection/wind chill. It didn't really help noticeably more than just having a windproof layer. I was given a hat that has some kind of aluminized dots that is supposed to be warmer. Same thing - a regular fleece hat seems to work just as well. So, let's just say I am skeptical of claims for the heat reflector idea. Good in theory, but doesn't seem to be all that good in practice.

But I will note that when we installed the window coverings (current term - no such thing anymore as curtains, blinds, shades, etc), we put the Hunter Douglas "honeycomb" version that looks in cross-section exactly like the NeoAir All Season, including the aluminized multi-baffle. They work extremely well on those days when the midday and afternoon California sun is blasting directly on those windows. But note that the baffles hang expanded, so there is effectively a multi-layer air pocket as well as the reflection barrier. That dead air space is an important component in the insulation.

Callahan
245 reviewer rep
1,469 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 1:55 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the review Seth.  It is good to see that your review is constructively critical and discerning of needs.

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
September 15, 2011 at 8:42 p.m. (EDT)

Bill - I share your skepticism.  I'll put it to the test this winter.  I buy that metals reduce heat loss by radiation, but I've considered the possibility that they could INCREASE heat loss by conduction.  It's getting colder by the minute here in Maine, and this test might happen sooner than I'm ready!

upzmtn
22 reviewer rep
6 forum posts
September 21, 2011 at 11:42 p.m. (EDT)

CWF- just to clarify, the pad is rated with a 4.9 R-value- not temp rating. And to conduct heat, I believe the substrate would, I believe, require mass, off which a thin aluminized coating has precious little. Have fun with the winter testing! I look forward to the results. I like your idea of combining bags to boost warmth. Alpinists have essentially been doing this for a while, dressing in everything at bivies and then throwing on an ultralight bag for a little boost to get through the night. I bet your combo works great.

Tord
0 reviewer rep
19 forum posts
September 22, 2011 at 6:10 a.m. (EDT)

As 'upzmtn' notes, the conduction of heat via the aluminum foil is very insignificant, while its reflection of body heat would give a slight boost, but not much! We normally use two Chinese copies of Thermarest, on top of each other, and a normal sleeping bag (down bags, most of the time), per person. Works great in this climate (haven't tested it in really cold circumstances, yet), and is great for our old bodies!

The only problem is actually the sheer volume of two pads per person! We will experiment with a thick Chinese inflatable mattress next time :-), as it is more compact deflated than four pads!

When its warm we prefer a Hennessy's Hammock, with a single pad and a light sleeping bag (per person)!

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
September 28, 2011 at 4:09 p.m. (EDT)

The nice folks at Cascade Designs have informed me that their new fitted sheets attach via buckles, rather than rubberized straps.  This might address the difficulty I had fitting the pad into the sheet.  Also, in January 2012, Therm-a-Rest will introduce some lighter fitted sheets.  My personal opinion is that if you plan on using the NeoAir for basecamps and backyards as well as backpacking, these sheets are worth considering.

greenninja5150
34 reviewer rep
6 forum posts
October 7, 2011 at 6:23 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the review Seth! Can I ask, what do you use to measure air temp with? Thank you, Ron

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
October 8, 2011 at 7:39 a.m. (EDT)

Hi ron. I use a cheap alchohol thermomiter. Nothing fancy!

Pete Staehling
2 reviewer rep
9 forum posts
October 13, 2011 at 11:43 a.m. (EDT)

I don't get the difficulty in inflating the NeoAir size regular pad.  It takes 15 breaths and under a minute for a relative geezer like me even at moderately high elevations (8000' is about as high as I have used it).

BTW, for deflating, it helps to open the valve when you are still lying on the pad in the morning.  It will be mostly deflated by the time you are ready to roll it.

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
October 13, 2011 at 1:14 p.m. (EDT)

Pete - perhaps my fondness for unfiltered cigarettes in college was greater than I remember?  I'm thinking that the prototype I got was a bit larger and had a different valve than the production model.  I'm certain that someone will correct my physics if I'm wrong, but a mat might be paradoxically easier to blow up at altitude?  I'm thinking that, while the percentage of O2 in air is lower at altitude, which would make you dizzy faster, the density of the air is lower - so you could move more gas with less effort up high.  I'm thinking that the difficulty in inflating the mat isn't just 02 deprivation, but the actual mechanical effort your diaphragm goes through?

Bill S
TOP 10 REVIEWER REVIEW CORPS
2,329 reviewer rep
5,298 forum posts
October 13, 2011 at 1:58 p.m. (EDT)

Seth and Pete -

I think Pete is referring to the regular NeoAir pad and Seth tested the 4-season. The 4-season is a bit harder to blow up because of the multiple chamber setup, at least for the regular NeoAir retail version vs NeoAir 4-season prototype I tried out. Still, I didn't find the 4-season all that hard (as I commented above). But 15 puffs? You must have large capacity lungs, Pete!! OTOH, Seth, the lower air density, which gives lower partial pressure of O2 as well, does result in many people getting a bit light-headed at high altitudes when blowing up even a foam-filled Thermarest.

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
410 reviewer rep
1,062 forum posts
November 3, 2011 at 11:28 a.m. (EDT)

Folks - it's just come to my attention that MSR is offering their entire line of NeoAir mats as complete systems, including insulation and accessories.  It's an interesting concept that's worth checking out: http://cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/sleep-systems/complete-systems/category

This post has been locked and is not accepting new comments