It’s not often that I get to test a new product that genuinely changes my life. But that's the case with Therm-A-Rest’s new UberLite sleeping pad. Weighing just 8.8 ounces in its six-foot long, regular-length configuration, this pad offers just as much comfort as the rest of the brand's NeoAir line in a package that compresses down to the size of a beer can.
Let me explain how significant all that is.
I tested a long UberLite ($210), which stretches out to 78 inches. Like the 3/4-length and regular sizes, it’s 20 inches wide. It’s what you see pictured in this article, which I’m mentioning right up front, because it’s the largest, heaviest (12 ounces), and least packable version of this new pad. And it will still roll up and fit in the pocket of my jeans. If you’re shorter than 6 feet, you’ll be able to carry something even smaller. If you’re the kind of masochist who is prepared to put your pack under your legs and feet when you sleep, you can get away with something that’s just six ounces.
The pad pairs with Therm-A-Rest's new 900-fill Vesper quilt to create a complete sleep system that’s unprecedentedly small and light. That 32-degree quilt (also pictured in long) packs down to the size of a cantaloupe, and weighs just 15 ounces for a size regular and 17 for the long.
When am I going to get away from the numbers and tell you why all this is life changing? Well, the system is so small and so light that it just disappears into a pack. You will be able to carry a smaller pack, saving even more weight, or simply be able to carry the system with you on the off chance you might want or need to spend a night on the ground. And you will be able to do that with a system that is totally comfortable.
How small of a pack you ask? Well here it is inside the 21-liter Aether x Mystery Ranch Backpack. Together, the long pad and quilt only fill about a quarter of its volume. I could easily carry the rest of the gear necessary for a multi-day backpacking trip in the remaining space, even with food and a couple liters of water. I don’t know if you’re as big of a backpacking nerd as I am, but allow me to repeat that in case you missed it: Thanks to this system, I could go backpacking with a 21-liter daypack. And I wouldn’t have to sacrifice nighttime comfort.
Don’t believe me? Here’s that same pack with the addition of the MSR Carbon Reflex one-person tent (23 ounces). There is ample room remaining for base layers, a puffy jacket, water filter, water bottle, several packs of dehydrated food, and all the other odds and ends. And I didn’t even strap the poles to the outside, which would take up even less space. Imagine hitting the trail with a base weight of just five pounds (everything but food and water). This system makes that possible.
Think about applying this to your outdoor activities, beyond just backpacking. Going on a long mountain bike ride? You could add a total sleep system to a hydration pack, as the pad weighs about as much as a spare 29-inch tube. Hunting elk in the backcountry? Add the system to your daypack for the smallest possible weight penalty, on the event that you get farther back there than you planned on. Traveling carry-on-only? You can skip the uncomfortable couch you planned to surf for a more comfortable sleeping surface that would work on a beach, too. Going on a motorcycle trip? You could fit this whole thing in the pockets of your Aerostich Roadcrafter or, more practically, in a 10-liter tailpack, with room to spare. All this is not just about carrying less—it’s about giving you the option of carrying a sleep system just in case you might want it.
And all that is doubly significant, because despite its unprecedented lightness and packed size, the UberLite-Vesper system is both extremely comfortable and plenty warm.
A few years ago, I put together a giant comparison test of pretty much every sleeping pad on the market. I found the horizontal baffles of Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir line to provide the most comfortable and supportive sleep surface, but noted that some of my less experienced friends were annoyed by the crinkling sound made by the foil-like heat reflective insulation panels inside those pads. The 2.5-inch thick UberLite is built similarly to the other NeoAirs, making it just as comfortable a surface to lay on. But it does without the crinkly insulation, making it far less noisy. It does that while retaining an R-Value of 2.0, which should be plenty warm down to temps just below freezing.
The Vesper quilt is built to that same temperature rating, and weighs just 17 ounces for the long. How? It employs a higher fill-power down than is typical for the ultralight-quilt segment. The higher the fill power of down, the loftier it is. So, at the Vesper's 900-fill, one ounce of the chosen down will loft into 900 cubic inches of space. At a given weight, that higher fill power will prove warmer than a lesser one. Compare the new Vesper to the cheaper Therm-A-Rest Corus HD, and you can see that advantage in action. The Corus uses 650-fill, and has the same 32-degree comfort rating, yet weighs seven ounces more and, packed down, is about 50 percent larger.
The Vesper has a couple other tricks that justify its $350 price (size long). First, the squared-off footbox keeps your feet contained in insulation as you sleep, and saves size and weight with a design that sits that foot portion on top of, rather than wrapping it around the sleeping pad. It comes with two elastic retention straps that help secure it to that pad, farther up your body. Then, at the top, there’s both a snap and a drawstring that enable you to draw it tightly around your neck on a cold night. Unlike the cheaper Corus, the baffles on the Vesper are also boxed, rather than sewn through. This is a more time-consuming construction process, but it means that there's insulation across the seams, helping the quilt better insulate you. The down is hydrophobic, meaning that it will still loft and provide insulation should it get wet.
It’s impossible to talk about something so small and light without discussing its fragility. The UberLite is made from a new fabric that feels much thinner than even that of the NeoAir X-Lite. How well will it hold up to long-term use and sharp objects? I’ve only managed to spend a single night on the pad, but was able to enjoy a pretty serious wrestling match with our 1-year old husky-German shepherd during that. Our dogs have destroyed other sleeping pads, but so far, the UberLite is holding up without issue. If you’re as careful with the UberLite as you would be with any other ultralight inflatable pad, I can’t see anything that indicates it won’t resist puncture similarly well. It ships with a patch kit and has the same lifetime guarantee of the other Therm-a-Rest pads.
Is there a downside here? Yes. You’re excited about this setup, but it’s not going to be available to the public until early next year. If you see me on the trail before then, expect to be jealous of my pack size and base weight.