How the test was made
We carry out our tests ourselves and use all products as they are intended to be used in reality. A family of outdoor enthusiasts used the sleeping pad while hiking with medium-heavy packs in the wilderness, in varying weather and on different underlying surfaces. They inflated and deflated the sleeping pads several times, and removed and inserted them into their storage bags. After this they slept on the same sleeping pads outdoors. We also tested the tear strength and general durability of the sleeping pads by subjecting them to rough handling.
In our assessment we focused on the following areas:
Weight: How heavy is the sleeping pad?
Pack volume: How much space does it take up in a backpack?
Operation: Is it easy to inflate and deflate the sleeping pad? Is it easy to fold it up? How difficult is it to get into the storage bag?
Comfort: Is it comfortable to lie on? Does it rustle? Is it long and wide enough, or do you fall off it? Does the positioning of the air channels have an impact on comfort?
Warmth: Is it warm or does ground chill penetrate? What's the R-value of the sleeping pad? In other words, how well does it insulate against the cold?
Quality: Does the sleeping pad retain air throughout the night? Does it feel stable and substantial? Does it tolerate rough handling?
We gave each sleeping pad a score according to its value for money; in other words, how good it is in each area in relation to its price tag. We thus have higher expectations of an expensive product than a cheaper one, and vice versa.
Exped Synmat HL M is one of the market's best and lightest sleeping pads. It's also comfortable and quiet to lie on, with no annoying rustling, and the outer material is resistant to rough treatment. It's very light and takes up little room in your backpack. The longitudinal air channels are comfortable, the air stays in all night and the sleeping pad insulates you well from the ground.
The model is a mummy-shaped one - in other words it gets narrower towards the feet. This saves space in the tent but the pad was felt to be unnecessarily narrow by our testers. The Exped Synmat HL M has a practical pump bag that enormously facilitates inflation while also preventing moist air from entering the sleeping pad. An additional plus point is that the valve is located on the bottom of the sleeping pad, where there's no risk of knocking it and letting out the air at night.
It's also easy to fill the Exped Synmat HL M, but more difficult to remove the air. It takes a long time to deflate the mattress as there's only a one-way valve, which you have to hold open the whole time. It takes a long time and is relatively difficult to deflate the mattress as there's only a one-way valve, which you have to hold open the whole time. Another negative is the difficulty of getting the sleeping pad and the pump bag back into the very small storage bag after use.
Despite these criticisms, the Exped Synmat HL M is a good demonstration of "you get what you pay for". This is a very good, high quality sleeping pad, which was the test panel's favourite.
The Nemo Vector 20 R is a substantial sleeping pad with transverse air channels and a practical integrated foot pump. It's stable, quiet and comfortable to lie on, has a generous thickness and retains the air throughout the night. The rectangular shape makes the Nemo Vector 20 R sufficiently wide and comfortable even for slightly larger users. No ground chill penetrates, the fabric is tough and stable and the pad provides good sleeping comfort. The built-in pump in the Nemo Vector 20 R adds a couple of hundred extra grams, which is a negative point, but makes it easy to inflate the sleeping pad. In less than a minute you have a well-inflated sleeping pad without having to strain your lungs. However, the valve was very stubborn on our test example, making it impossible to open without some kind of tool.
It's easy to deflate and fold the sleeping pad, and to get it into the storage bag.
The Nemo Vector 20 R is a reliable, high quality sleeping pad for people who aren't counting every gram and who value sleeping comfort slightly more than overall weight.
The Nemo Tensor Insulated 20 R Mummy is a slightly thicker model for increased comfort. This is a good idea, particularly as Nemo have succeeded in making the sleeping pad, with its transverse air channels, well-insulated against ground chill without appreciably increasing the weight. On the plus side, it's also quiet, easy to inflate and just as easy to deflate and pack up. A practical strap further compresses the sleeping pad, economising on space in your backpack.
One minor uncertainty factor is that the valve on the top of the sleeping pad is relatively easy to knock in your sleep, which means that it can start to deflate. Otherwise, the Nemo Tensor Insulated 20 R Mummy retains the air well and stands up to various stresses. However, our test panel felt that the generous thickness of the sleeping pad made it a little bit unstable. The mummy shape and the fact that the sleeping pad is a few centimetres shorter than standard also makes it feel relatively small and narrow, at least for taller and wider hikers. For smaller people, teenagers and children, however, it's a good choice as it's light, quiet and warm.
Many of Therm-a-Rest's models have reflecting outsides which reflect body heat - what they call Therma-Capture technology. This makes their sleeping pads warm to sleep on, and that also applies to the NeoAir Trekker. The rectangular shape, with transverse air channels, also contributes to good sleeping comfort and the sleeping pad is stable both in terms of material and overall feel.
The NeoAir Trekker inflates manually without requiring great effort and retains the air throughout the night. The valve is robust and doesn't open very easily. The sleeping pad is easy to deflate, fold up and get into the storage bag. However, it takes up a good bit of space in a backpack, which is a disadvantage if you want to travel with baggage that's as compressed as possible. Another downside is the noise level. The sleeping pad rustles every time you change position, which can be irritating for light sleepers. In general, the NeoAir Trekker offers good levels of comfort and provides a solid overall impression.
The major advantage with the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite is its low weight - 340 g is impressively low for a comfortable sleeping pad. The X-lite is comfortable and warm to lie on and insulates well against ground chill, thanks to Therm-a-Rest's Therma-Capture technology, which utilises body heat and reflects it towards the surface material. However, the sleeping pad rustles loudly at the slightest movement, which can easily waken light sleepers. But we have nothing negative to say about the durability. The NeoAir X-lite tolerates being handled roughly and the air stays in all night.
The sleeping pad has transverse air channels that are easy to inflate manually and easy to deflate and fold up, but getting it into the storage bag after use requires a good deal of patience. It's also what's known as mummy-shaped, narrowing at the bottom, and we feel that it's unnecessarily narrow. However, if you value low weight and good insulation more than absolute silence, the NeoAir is a good buy.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture is Therm-a-Rest's appealing budget alternative for those who want to make their hiking trip a little more pleasant with a comfortable inflatable mattress but who don't want to or can't afford to spend a fortune on professional kit. For a relatively low price you get a perfectly good sleeping pad that doesn't rustle, is stable and substantial, retains the air throughout the night, insulates nicely via transverse air channels and is easy to inflate and deflate. The disadvantage is that it's very thin, and unnecessarily heavy given that there's no built-in pump. It's also pretty much impossible to get back into the bag after use. And finally, it takes up a lot of room in a backpack, so it's perhaps not suitable for the minimalist or someone counting the grams. But a night's sleep is guaranteed to be better on the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture than on an old-fashioned foam underlay, even though the price difference isn't enormous. A good buy for a weekend hiker with a limited budget.