Thermarest Old School vs New School

Thermarest Old School vs New School

Thermarest Old School vs New School was a difficult decision for me. I spend a good deal of time lusting after new equipment online. When I saw that Cascade Designs, maker of Thermarest sleeping pads, modified their Neo Air line, trimming the corners, to fit into a mummy shaped bivy, I penciled it in as a goto piece of gear for my next trip; however, I’m not so sure anymore.

I have spent 1000’s of nights asleep atop a Thermarest mattress. Outside camping, hiking, bicycle touring, fishing trips, asleep in a car, in the living room when guests are over or after a fight with a girlfriend. Thermarest is my number one choice in a lightweight sleeping pad…period.

I acknowledge that Nemo, Big Agnes, Exped, etc. all make some great sleeping pads. I’m really not budgeted to buy and test all of these pads and frankly I am swimming in equipment research and decisions. I need to start making decisions on equipment so that I can tailor it to a bikepacking set up. Thermarest has always worked well for me so that is the deciding factor. I will not consider another sleeping pad manufacturer. My decision is between Thermarest Old School vs New School

Thanks for the quality so far Thermarest!

I have owned six different Thermarest sleeping pads. I had the 3/4 length BackPacker, The 72″ Trail Scout, The 72″ Ridge Rest, the 72″ Trail Lite, 72″ Pro Lite, and most recently the Neo Air Xlite. My nephew just moved and part of what he dumped on me to store was an Original Z Lite eggcrate that I tested on my living room floor just last week. They all work well. I should mention that Thermarest has recently brought back a ‘vintage’ line and that the Pro Lite isn’t the pure definition of old school. The Neo is heralded on forums left and right as if the older open cell, self-inflating sleeping pads are not the number one choice. I couldn’t wait to get my Neo and have nothing bad to report about it. So what went wrong?

My sleeping pad needs are outlined by five qualities:

  1. Lightweight – Shooting for ±1 pound.
  2. Packs small – I need something that packs down smaller than the traditional Thermarest 22 inches X 4 inches.
  3. Warm when I need it – The ground is colder than the tent air ±1.5 Z-Value.
  4. Comfortable to sleep on – Needs to take the bumps out of the bumpy ground.
  5. Brightly colored – Everything else I have is green so I can stealth. Nice to have one bright item to signal with.
  6. Easy to inflate – I pack down each morning and I do not want to carry an inflator.

Let’s see how the Pro Lite stacks up against the Neo Air Xlite in these qualities:

Thermarest Old School vs New School

Pro Lite Line vs Neo Air Line

Thermarest Old School vs New School
Pro Lite
Thermarest Old School vs New School
Neo Air
Lightweight 16 oz. / 0.46 kilogram 12 ounces / 0.35 kilogram
Packs small 4.1 x 11 inches 4 x 9 inches
Warm / Z-Value Open-cell foam / R-Value of 2.2 Synthetic / R-Value of 3.2
Comfortable Yes Yes; more comfortable
Brightly colored Orange Yellow
Easy to inflate Yep, Self Inflate :) Nope, Huff-n-puff :(

I ordered the Neo Air Xlite and spent the night on it in my apartment. It was very comfortable, 4 oz. lighter, and shaved off a good ±30 cubic inches of pack space. I would certainly opt for this mattress if I were setting up a camp and staying put for two to three days at a time. I break camp every morning on tour and don’t take too many days off. I can’t imagine huffing and puffing this thing up every night after leaving it all out on the road. It wasn’t that bad but if you look at the cumulative time and effort on a year-long trip it begins to seem ridiculous. I prefer the older Thermarest self-inflating mattresses.

As any gear head would do I took to the internet to see what others were doing to solve this issue:

Thermarest Old School vs New School

Thermarest has two products to help in the inflation. One is a stuff sack ‘inflation’ device that doesn’t add much weight and a battery operated pump that 100% confirms that inflating this mattress everyday would get annoying. There is no way I am going to saddle myslef with another electronic gizmo to power while on tour so the battery pump is out. The video below shows the inflation process of the stuff sack. It’s in Thai, Sawadee Krap!

Thermarest Old School vs New School – Old school +1

Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad or the Thermarest Neo-Air Xtherm Sleeping Pad

On CrazyGuyOnABike a member posted a nice idea that converts an old road bicycle tube into an inflator. Not too much weight gain but the energy expenditure is not warranted. On a bicycle tour I want to use my bicycle pump as little as possible. Call me superstitious but I don’t want the pump getting the idea that he/she should be used more often.

Thermarest Old School vs New School – Old school +2

When you compare any of the three above inflation methods with the Pro Lite: open valve, unroll, wait 30 seconds and top off with three breaths it’s clear to me what choice to make.

Conclusion: Thermarest Old School vs New School – Old school WINS!!!

I am willing to sacrifice 4 oz of weight, R-Value of 1.0, and ±30 cubic inches of pack space for the ease of use of the Prolite over the Neo Air Thermarest Sleeping Pad. I just don’t want the extra bother of having to inflate the Neo after +7 hours in the saddle. It only takes about 4 minutes and 30-40 breaths but it is an output of energy I don’t have room for. In addition if it pops it would be useless compared to the Pro Lite which would still have an R-Value and some cushion because of the layer of open cell foam.

I am just trying to tailor my equipment choices to my experiences while on a bicycle tour. I am in no way saying anything negative about the Neo. The Neo is more comfortable, lighter, warmer, and packs smaller. If I were in camp for more than one day at a time I might reconsider but for this bicycle tourist I am going to stick with the Pro Lite.

Thermarest has a ne line of sleeping bags out check out –