Top Gear #4 Thermarest Neo Air
Those bright yellow Karrimat sleeping mats revolutionised camping. They were light, offered good insulating properties and some protection from the ground but they were pretty bulky to strap onto the side of a rucksack and hardly made for a luxury sleeping surface. Later, the rising popularity of inflatable foam filled Thermarest mats changed the game. Suddenly they were more compact and more comfortable yet still offered good insulation. It was now also possible to store your mat inside your rucksack although they'd still take up a big chunk of space.
Then, a few years ago, Thermarest introduced another game changer called the Neo Air. Now, even the full length (regular) model rolled up to the size of a can of beans whilst offering more comfort and yet equal warmth to their normal 3 season models.
The key to these user friendly features was a range of new innovations by the Thermarest boffins. Firstly, the Neo Air has heat reflective waffles inside each air channel instead of foam. This allows the mat to offer unparalleled compactness because there's no longer the bulk of the foam inside and yet it still allows it to offer a REN value a little higher than an ordinary 3 season Thermarest. It also features a very lightweight fabric to further reduce bulk and weight. Lastly, Thermarest played around with the sizing and so, although plenty big enough, the Neo Air isn't as wide as many other mats.
I've used a Neo Air for about the last 3 years and it has been simply brilliant. I had some doubts about likely performance and durability at first but they actually do all the things Thermarest claim. Most importantly, they are very easy to use and warm enough for use in a broad range of conditions. Infact, as well as using mine for more relaxed travel and fine weather camping I've also used it up to 6500 metres in the Himalayas and snow holing in Scotland. It's range is very impressive.
I have heard reports of problems with them easily puncturing due to the very light fabric but that hasn't been my experience. I've only had one small easily patched puncture despite years of regular use (although I do take care when using it and always store a few puncture patches inside the stuff sack just in case). This is also despite it being used on all types of sleeping surface including very rocky ground and among the fallen twigs of a forest floor.
The one I have isn't the latest model and I understand even more has been shaved off the weight and the shaping has been improved. In time I'll probably get one to replace mine but it doesn't look like being for a while. There is, as the saying goes, plenty of life in the old dog yet!
Posted by Paul