If you can afford the steep price tag, an inflatable sleeping pad—like the Therm-a-Rest here—will reward you with the best night’s sleep in the backcountry. But closed-cell foam pads have their perks too: they’re lightweight, cheap, and impossible to pop or deflate.
As a broke college student in 2010 trying to assemble my own backpacking kit, I purchased as my first pad the well-reviewed closed-cell Therm-a-Rest Z Lite. Its simple design and budget price still make it one of the most popular pads on the market. Because Therm-a-Rest did such a good job, and because closed-cell foam is a difficult material to work with, no other company has tried to mimic the design in nearly two decades. Until now.
NEMO’s new Switchback pad, which is the brand’s first foray into closed-cell foam pads, looks awfully similar to the Z Lite. It, too, features an accordion folding design and a layer of metallic film on the bottom to reflect warmth back to the sleeper. But the difference is big.
The Switchback costs and weighs as much as the Z Lite but is 30 percent thicker. To achieve this, NEMO developed two new foams—one that’s high-density for durability and support, and a low-density one for plushness. Together, they create the ideal blend of support and comfort. But two pieces of flat foam merely glued together would be stiff and uncomfortable, so NEMO engineers researched different designs for the nodes, the small raised foam spikes that boost the sleeper off the ground. Drawing inspiration from the structure of packaging materials like cardboard, the team landed on hexagons with high ridges that prevent the nodes from being completely crushed flat.
All of this translates into the thickest, warmest, most comfortable closed cell-foam pad ever made. Don’t believe us? Find one at your local REI this fall and lie on it. You’ll feel the difference immediately. And $50 is a small price to pay.
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