In this article, I’m going to be comparing two of the most popular ultralight sleeping pads: the Nemo Tensor Insulated and the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT. I’ll dive into their baffling, weight, inflation systems, and overall pros and cons. Welcome to the Thunderdome!
Testing Locations: Throughout the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest and in Marquette, Michigan.
Testing Circumstances: With both pads, I’ve used both sleeping bags and quilts, depending on the temp and the trip! Quilt straps work equally well with both pads. I tend to sleep on my stomach when I’m in my bed, but when I’m camping I sleep on my back.
Baffling is a fundamental difference between the Nemo Tensor Insulated and the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT. The Thermarest sleeping pad has horizontal baffles, while the Nemo has a ‘quilted’ baffling system.
The Nemo Tensor Insulated is astoundingly comfortable for an ultralight sleeping pad, and this is primarily because the design of the baffling system reduces pressure points. My dad, who hasn’t been backpacking in decades, tried out both sleeping pads and was quick to note the comfort of the Nemo Tensor.
R-value measures how much insulation the pad has to protect you from the ground. An R-value of 4 is generally considered all season, with the ability to protect you from most weather conditions aside from sleeping on snow.
The R-values between the Nemo Tensor Insulated and the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT are comparable, with the Thermarest sleeping pad having an R-value of 4.5 and the Tensor having a R-value of 4.2.
Thermarest uses their patented Triangular Core Matrix to keep the warmth your body generates from going into the ground. Nemo uses their proprietary Thermafilm, which is similar to a mylar blanket. (I even got a picture of Nemo’s insulation without destroying my sleeping pad!)
Here is where the Thermarest comes into its own. The Thermarest sleeping pad is lighter than the Nemo Tensor by 1.5 ounces. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, ounces can add up quickly, especially when you consider that the Thermarest also has an R-value that is higher than the Tensor. The Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT weighs 13 ounces and the Nemo Tensor Insulated weighs 14.5 ounces.
Inflation and Deflation
The valves on both ultralight sleeping pads are very well made. Thermarest uses a twist valve for both inflation and deflation. The twist valve allows for easy fine tuning to achieve that perfect comfort level. It also makes deflation a lot easier. However, it still takes a little bit of work to dump all the air out of the Thermarest pad.
Nemo has a two-step valve where one step is designed for inflation and letting out a little air at a time, and the other step allows for complete deflation in a rapid manner.
I have not used an inflation sack for the Thermarest. The Nemo inflation bag works really well. However, with both pads, I now opt to use a Flextail pump. At the end of a long day, it’s great to hook the pump up and walk away. Additionally, our breath contains water vapors that can reduce R-value.
Materials and Noise
The Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT is made of Nylon and polyurethane. The Nemo Tensor Insulated is made of recycled polyester. Nemo has a reputation for making gear out of recycled materials.
Even with the NXT upgrade, I still find the Thermarest Neoair XLite to be noisy — another reason I sleep better on the Nemo pad.
Which UL Sleeping Pad is Best for You?
I see two different people for each pad. For the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT, I see someone who is pushing hard into the night, is exhausted when they get to camp, and moving fast. Weight would be more of a concern for this individual.
For the Nemo Tensor Insulated, I see someone who prioritizes smiles over miles and sleep over weight. They might not be so exhausted at camp and therefore care more about a few creature comforts.
Sleeping well in the backcountry is hard. These sleeping pads make it much easier. Personally, having used both, I don’t think you can go wrong with either way. The Nemo Tensor Insulated feels more comfortable to sleep on, while the Thermarest Neoair XLite NXT boasts a lighter weight and higher R-value.
My name is Ryan Steger and I’ve worked in the bike industry for 8ish years, and I’ve rode pretty much every type of bike out there. I graduated with my degree in Kinesiology from UW Madison in 2020 and I’m looking forward to sharing my love of bikes and all things outdoors! I’m pursuing a nursing degree, which is my journey currently.