Monday, 27 April 2009

Thermarest NeoAir (short)

Here’s my few words about the new mat from Cascades Designs.

I had some reservation about the slightly crisp packet sound of the material but in use my sleeping bag deadened any noise.

The material is non slip and stickier than the non slip finishes of the older mats. Not having much of a choice of a pitch on Friday evening the tent ended up on a incline, which had I been using another mat I would have spent the night swimming up slope. Not so with the NeoAir.

On my postal scales the mat without stuff sack weighed in at 244g. It has a small pack size and as there’s no foam filler it’s easy to deflate and roll up to the size that it came out of the box. The stuff sack being oversized had me worrying that it’s wouldn’t deflate well but again my doubt about this was unfounded.

I’m not sure what the thinking was behind the colour but it isn’t as violently day glow as you might expect. And given that the colour of my existing array of tents is green it’s fetching complimentary. And cutting edge contemporary chic when matched with the Wasabi (Penny’s name for the Helion2).

And what every one wants to know; is it a more comfortable sleep? Yes!

All good then? Not quite, the material is lightweight and the manufacturer recommends keeping the mat in the stuff sack even when in the rucksack. And a close inspection of the ground for potential mat popping items where you’re pitching is advisable. But we all do that don’t we? Given this I can’t see why Cascades Designs don’t supply a small repair kit as a value add - the guys at Multimat do. And then there is the price; seventy five notes is a lot of money in these credit crunched times. That said I bought mine from The Outdoor Shop for a penny under sixty quid, which made the purchase (slightly) more palatable. (At the time of writing they appear to be out of stock.)

Two more observations. Clearly as the mat rolls up to a coffee mug sized package anyone with a rucksack like the Mariposa won’t have anything to form the back pad. This is also a bit of a bummer for me too, as I replace the supplied back panel of the Villain with a 3/4 length mat. Adding the panel back in defeats the weigh saving of using the NeoAir. Of course you can use the Villain without an insert but weight carried and packing the bag for a comfortable fit become an issue.

The other point is the thickness of the mat (a potential downside of all that comfort). Whilst most tent manufacturers insist that the maximum necessary internal height of their canvas creations is 95cm, a well inflated NeoAir is going to eat into that head space for the less vertically challenged.



Dave Hanlon said...

Nice to see a review of the Neo Air after use. Agree that TAR could have supplied a repair kit. Would have been a nice gesture these things are going to get punctures. So do other mats however. Also know where you're coming from on the rucksack issue. Appart from making tunnels for my daughter to crawl through its clearly a mat that has one function: it's for sleeping on. Appart from the bivvy bag dilema I'm pleased with it though. I use a granite gear vapour trail and so don't need extra padding. The 55litre capacity of the vapour trail is starting to look excessive with all this super small kit though. Amazing how these purchases seem to exert a knock on effect. New mat = new bivvy bag + new rucksack :o)

baz carter said...

Packing one of these will also change how I set up camp. When using a two skin tent I'll put the mat under the groundsheet. For one it keeps it in place. The other is that I'd rather have a puncture in the mat which is easily spotted and remedied than in the groundsheet that isnt. That is until it's too late and you find water seeping in :(

Using a mat this way also negates the need for a footprint.

Dave Hanlon said...

Interesting. Never thought of that. Could take the same approach and keep the mat outside of teh bivvy bag but would be concerned that my bag would pick up too much condensation. The MLD bag has a silnylon base and it condenses quite badly. The foot end of my bag gets wet if I don't put something between it and the silnylon. How will you get around this?

baz carter said...

There is always that problem with non breathable fabrics. Not sure how you'd get around that other than adding some thin closed cell mat (I dont think you can buy this any more unfortunately).

BadTux said...

Interesting seeing commentary on this thing from the other side of the pond. The thickness is what drove me to the medium length, which is long enough that only my feet hang off the end of the mat (I'm 5'11" in American measure, dunno what that is in metric). Regarding closed-cell matts, Gossamer Gear sells those via their web site but I would imagine that shipping to the UK would be big.

But one word of warning: These things are much more sensitive to air pressure and temperature differences than the old-style air mattresses. If they heat up during the day, they can delaminate internally and then of course they are useless since it is the internal lamination that gives them any insulating value at all. So let some air out if you are leaving it in your tent for the day while you base-camp hike. I forgot to do so, and so my NeoAir turned into rubbish :(.

I think I am going to wait a while before buying another one (the store refunded my money) to see what other durability reports come out on this thing. I must admit, however, that it slept like a dream for the two days that I owned it (sigh!).

baz carter said...

Interesting point about leaving it inflated in base camp situations.

I didnt fully inflate mine, in fact I let some air out to make it more comfortable. I guess if you leave it in in a tent in the UK during day in July or August fully blown up then it's going to cause trouble!