Luxury sleeping in cold camping conditions; or another camping product that over-promises and under-delivers? Read on cold campers!
Last March, we decided to film an episode of From The Wild and record The Food Afield Podcast while ice-fishing the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, in Kananaskis Country. Canadian winter camping on the side of a mountain in deep snow would be a good test for some new sleeping kit!
I bought this pad after some extensive research. I am a cold sleeper. Honestly, my sleep comfort determines my enthusiasm about a trip—such a wimp. So I was apprehensive about this particular shoot. For years I just toughed out my cold-weather camping, especially in my guiding and outfitting career. As I grew older and more thoughtful, that attitude has changed, and now I look for every edge to make sure I am comfortable in my tent at night. I've owned different sleeping pads over the years; they've leaked and have either been too thin or too slippery. So each morning, or more accurately, each middle of the night awakening, I've been greeted with sore hips and shoulders or laying on the bare tent floor beside my pad.
When I picked up the XTherm package, the first thing I noticed was the weight and size. I was used to the old foam-style Therma-Rest pads. They were always bulky. According to our kitchen scale, the total weight of the XTherm, though, including the repair kit and inflation sack, is 644 grams. Of course, the XTherm, when thoroughly and carefully compressed, is not much larger than a water bottle...but I have never been that careful when packing it up to get it as small as it was in the factory packaging.
How We Tested The Pad
Kevin Kossowan, Creator of From The Wild, was obviously with me on this trip, and it was interesting because he had also purchased a new sleeping pad ahead of the cold-weather trip. Kevin had purchased the cold-weather equivalent Nemo Tensor Alpine. Unfortunately, he experienced a very uncomfortable sleep that first night. He had even gone the extra mile of laying a reflective emergency blanket under his tent floor. Still, the cold came up through his pad, and he was not nearly as comfortable as I was. His bag was a little more heavy-duty than my old MEC mummy. That wasn't a problem, he said...it was the cold from underneath that gave him so much discomfort.
"The two extra R-values are a bigger deal than you would imagine!"
Looking at the specifications between the two pads, the Nemo weighs 555 grams in total and has an R-value of 4.8. That r-value is the difference, though. The Therm-A-Rest XTherm is a whopping 6.9. The two extra R-values are a bigger deal than you would imagine! I'll take the additional 100 grams for a comfortable night's rest, especially when I see experts recommending doubling-up on pads for cold-weather sleep systems. But, of course, weight means nothing if sleep escapes you due to cold.
Pros and Cons
The take-away for me with the Therm-A-Rest XTherm is simple. The choice of sleeping pads was relatively easy for me. I searched for the pad with the highest R-value and went from there. I happened to get lucky in this regard. I had no idea that the difference between 4.8 and 6.9 would mean the difference between misery and comfort.
The Nemo pad retails for about $320 Canadian at the time of this article. The Therm-A-Rest XTherm is $330 for the large version. Oh, I hadn't mentioned that either...I slept the entire night and every night since without slipping off the pad. It is somehow a little less slick than past sleeping pad offerings by Therm-A-Rest. The large size certainly helps in that regard also.
Noise: When reviewing various sleeping pads, most experts spend a little time comparing noise between them all. The XTherm usually loses in these comparisons to many other pads. I was a little nervous about that after I bought it. But honestly, in practical use, while camping, I don't notice it at all. Like, ever. It has a "crinkly" sound when you are unrolling or inflating it, but that seems to settle down when it is completely inflated. When moving about during the night, any sound from the pad appears to be completely acceptable, especially when a sleeping bag and pillow further muffle it.
Inflating: Being unaccustomed to these new styles of sleeping pads, I was wondering about the effort involved with figuring out how to inflate the XTherm once I had it in the tent. The extra-large stuff sack that doubles as an inflation device was utterly intuitive and worked very well. Just stick the nozzle into the valve on the pad, collect air in the bag with a few swishes and then roll it up and force the air into the pad. It was inflated to a comfortable pressure with just a few repetitions.
So there you have it. Finally, my frail, cold-sleeping self made it comfortably through the night after decades of discomfort with other sleeping pad arrangements.
There is not much camping gear that I've acquired that I would feel comfortable writing about or recommending to you. But, the Therm-A-Rest XTherm is one of those items. It needs a 5-star rating from me, but nothing is perfect. So, I'll give it a 4.9, with no actual suggestions on how it could be improved.
I would love to hear about your sleep system innovations or discoveries. Please leave any comments or questions below!
by John Schneider
Note from the author: I have no affiliation with any of the companies listed in this article. I have not been considered for any remuneration or endorsements. The item in this proceeding article was bought and paid for at full price from a licensed retailer.