Gear Review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Max SV Air Mattress

A lightweight, 3-season pad capable of being inflated in mere seconds

Pioneered by three bored engineers/mountaineers living in Seattle in 1972, Therm-a-rest’s game changing inflatable pads have been at the cutting edge of backcountry comfort for as long as they’ve existed. Though much innovation has taken place in the decades since—most notably the introduction of NeoAir, a patented design involving a matrix of air chambers that boosts eat retention by 50%. I recently had the opportunity to put the new SpeedValve equipped NeoAir XLite MAX SV mattress to the test over several trips in the Sierras.

The SpeedValve uses the Bernoulli Principle to achieve much more efficient inflation, promising two to three times faster inflation than non-SpeedValve version for a mere 5oz increase (the long version I tested weighed in at 1lb 5oz). In short, you blow into the opening at the top from about six to eight inches away, and the pressure differential pulls in the surrounding air to inflate the mattress with significantly fewer breaths.

Once the mattress is mostly inflated, make sure the valve’s inner material is laying flat, then seal the drybag-style closure shut and roll it down seven times before clipping it facing the ground. Dial in your optimum inflation level via the traditional valve, and you’re good to go. When you’re packing up in the morning, the SpeedValve allows the mattress to deflate instantly.

To see the new design in action I headed to Yosemite’s Camp 4 in early November with the NeoLite XLite MAX SV in hand. Night one of testing happened to coincide with the Saturday of my birthday weekend, and I made the questionable call to wait until all the whiskey had been consumed to blow it up. The setup was hassle-free and I quickly drifted off cushioned by a cloud of classic Therm-a-rest magic, but awoke to a deflated pad in the morning. I chocked the issue up to user error by way of a few too many celebratory whiskies prior to set up, though, and continued testing in the area around Mammoth Lakes on a few subsequent nights that dipped below freezing. After proper deployment I can confidently report that the SpeedValve tech worked as advertised, while the rest of Therm-a-rest’s heat and comfort-increasing innovations provided comfortable nights sleep on each occasion.

With the same R-Value of 3.2, 2.5” of cushion, and all the USA-built goodness of the original, the NeoLite XLite MAX SV is a solid 3-season backpacking mattress worthy of consideration if you enjoy easy setup and aren’t a gram weenie. Just be sure to watch the instructional video beforehand—and maybe save the whiskey for after setup.

$180 from Therm-a-Rest

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