200 Mile Reviews: Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT Mat

Emily Woodhouse Gear

This Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT camping mat was given to me to take on my John Muir Trail hike in June – July 2023. I wasn’t expecting to try it out. I’ve been very happy with my Exped Synmat (which bizarrely I haven’t reviewed on here yet) that I’ve settled on since my Spanish 3000s hike. Unlike other mats I’ve tried, it has seen me through the thick and thin, summer and winter. However, we are not talking about that mat! This is a review of the Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT mat based on my 200 miles across the High Sierra, along the John Muir Trail in summer months but winter conditions after a record snow year.

What You Get

First up. a quick translation lesson. NeoAir is a range of sleeping mats that Thermarest produce and refers to the particular pad construction. XLite means it is part of Thermarest’s ultralight range. NXT stands for “next”: this is a revamped and improved version of the classic NeoAir XLite. (More about exactly how it’s different here.) Now we’ve got that sorted, the content of the box is very simple. You get:

  • the roll mat itself
  • a draw string carry bag
  • another bag with a valve, for pumping up the mat
  • a tiny repair kit of adhesive patches for emergencies

Very simple, really. Of course, if you want to dive into the tech specs then I shall humbly direct you to the Thermarest Neo Air XLite NXT official page.

As for features, it comes in sizes regular short, regular, regular wide and large (size chart on the official page). Compared to the previous model, the NXT is thicker but just as light. It’s got an R-value of 4.5 so you can compare it to your loft insulation too… For people who prefer a square cornered mat, have a look at the MAX versions.

How it Works

Again, it’s pretty straightforward to set up and use this roll mat. Unroll it, make sure the wing valve is in-line with the surface of the mat (if you haven’t used it yet, it will be) then unscrew the black valve. Take the inflation bag… I’m sure this has a fancy name but I don’t know it… and attach the valve in this to the top of the valve on the mat. This can take a minute to get them to attach. You can just inflate using your mouth, but it’s not really recommended for sleeping pads with down inside because moisture in your breath will get onto the down. Yes hydrophobic down etc etc but if it’s no emergency why not add to the longevity of your kit a little and use the bag?

Anyway, once you’ve got the two valves attached, wave the open end of the bag about to catch some air and squeeze it into the mat. This will take several bag-fulls. I grab the open end with my fist to close it, then squeeze the air into the mat with my forearms and elbows. Finally remove the bag and screw down the black valve to close.

To deflate, undo the black valve again, but this time move the yellow wing valve to the right as shown in the picture. It may be quite stiff, but you’re aiming to get the wings to be 90 degrees to the surface of the mat. Once you’ve done it the air will come out in a jiffy. Then simply fold into three, roll it up from the toe end and put the wings back in line to fit it all into the carry sack. Job done.

How it Went: a month of sleeping

Normally I split these down by 50 mile increments, but it was really unchanged from start to finish. This mat is sold as a do-it-all multi season work horse, that can give you a comfortable night’s sleep year round wherever you happen to be. It’s lightweight specs make it very handy for people on multiday treks too. It’s a classic amongst PCT hikers, so I certainly wasn’t the only one carrying this mat across the Sierras. And, honestly, I can see why it’s got such a reputation.

My first attempt at inflating the mat – at 3000m in a tent in the snow, obviously – was simple and easy. What took me a second was working out how to deflate the thing in the morning. I’d never used the wing-valve system before and had visions of having to carry my own personal lilo across the Sierras… Luckily the valve was just a bit stiff and I solved it fairly quickly.

As for ease of use, it is always nice to find a roll mat that actually rolls up into its carry sleeve without a fight. It’s not so snug you need to take your gloves off or get the perfect air-less roll every morning. I found the wing valve a bit fiddly and the attachment between that valve and the bag to inflate (see picture below) a bit stiff. This stiffness didn’t go away with use, which I guess speaks to sturdy manufacturing. But, all in all, it’s easy to inflate and deflate.

And did I get a good night’s sleep? Absolutely. I do sleep well in tents in general, but the width and flatness of this Thermarest really did help. It is so thick that you could basically be on a mattress. Never mind the down fill, which all added up to a warm night’s sleep in a summer tent even pitched on snow.

The other point to mention is just how tough the fabric is. It’s easy to cut corners with ultralight sleeping mats, to reduce weight by using thinner materials – which then puncture easily. This was absolutely not the case for the Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT. I was never concerned for its safety, regardless of what I was pitching on – not that I deliberately sought out pinecones and cacti… You can really see why the PCTers love them. Especially when cowboy camping on sheets of Tyvek!

So all in all, over 200 miles and more, the only difference in this mat is that it’s looking a little dirtier than new!

What Went Well

Here’s a few notes about how the Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT performed really well.

Just Did the Job

I love a piece of kit that simply does the job. No fuss. No annoyance. Reliable and does what it says it will. There is so much else to think about on a long distance hike without having to worry whether you’ll be sleeping directly on the floor tonight. So that’s a 5 out of 5 from me for the simple piece of mind. And I would agree with the marketing claims: an all-season do-it-all ultralight air pad it definitely is.

Comfortable

I’ve got so used to the tube system of inflatable mat, that’s lilo-esque tubes running head to toe, that I was pretty sceptical of a flat mat (8yrs and 3 sleeping mats is a long habit). I like the way the tubes force you back into the middle of the mat and essentially make sure you don’t fall off. But, turns out that this was really comfy too and I didn’t fall off. So either I’m a better sleeper now, a quilt means I don’t roll or something else entirely. Either way, don’t be put off by the horizontal baffles. It works great.

Warm

This is a really warm mat, even warmer than my Exped Synmat. I don’t think I really appreciated just how warm it was until I camped with it back at home on Dartmoor in winter. Not only did I have a perfect night’s sleep, but camping with a down quilt and my Exped mat I was constantly cold from below. So this is a key takeaway: if you’re pairing an ultralight mat with a down quilt it is absolutely worth it. To be warm even on snow with nothing between you and the floor but a mat is some claim.

Potential Pitfalls

And here’s my only note on how the mat could be improved, for me at least.

Valve Faff

I’m sure some die-hard Thermarest fans will correct me, but the wing-valve felt quite unnecessary. Apparently it’s designed like that to be glove friendly, but you’ve still got to untwist the top bit so…? Also the bag for inflating the mat left me occasionally infuriated.

The open valve pictured above is made of stiff plastic, as is the valve on the end of the mat. Trying to match them together was occasionally very trying. If only there was a little more flex in both of them – but then I’m talking from years of using the rubberised Exped valves that fit together incredibly easily.

In a similar way, the inflation bag is made from pretty thick fabric, with a draw string closure at the top. It works fine but a big, very thin drybag (from you guessed it) works so much quicker. The NeoAir XLite NXT bag was noticeably slower to fill the mat, harder to trap air without a roll top and a bit leaky at the seams. Is this a game breaker? Absolutely not. We’re talking about seconds saved here. But if I could have the valve and bag system from the Exped Synmat and put it onto the Thermarest it would be absolutely perfect.

Overall Verdict

The Thermarest NeoAir XLite NXT is a solid, reliable sleeping mat for year round camping on pretty much any ground or snow. It is rugged, lightweight and reliable – the perfect partner for an ultralight quilt on a multi-day trek.


If you’re new here… Hello! I’m Emily. I like long walks and sleeping on the floor. Never mind spend faaar too long talking about gear.  You might want to start here first (I’m a female adventurer based in the UK). Or while you’re here, have a read of some of my other mountain adventures in walkingmountaineering and winter. (No, we want GEAR – MORE GEAR!) Fed up of my sporadic use of social media? Then you need to be in the Adventure Squad! More like a chat with a cuppa and as far from doomscrolling as possible.