Therm-a-rest Sleep System

When I was a tenderfoot in the Boy Scouts of America, one of my first luxuries was a self-inflating Therm-a-rest sleeping pad. It kept your back warm far better than a foam pad, and you didn’t have to get light-headed from emptying the contents of your lungs. At the time, it was inconceivable that camping could get better than that.

Fast forward to last summer, when I was outfitting for the hardest trek of my life: 150 miles over 12,000-foot mountain passes along the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevadas. (More on this journey, with a complete gear list, in a future post.)

I still had that ancient sleeping pad, but it only covered about three quarters of my body, leaving my feet and legs cold during nights spent at high elevation. It was time to go shopping.

I’m a compulsive comparison shopper, and I lined up dozens of pads and sleeping bags online to evaluate. Some were warm but too heavy, others were light but too expensive. In the Venn diagram of warmth, price, and weight, it seemed that buyers could only pick two.

Then I returned to Therm-a-rest, the company that blew my mind when I was first getting into camping. Their NeoAir XLite pad ($160) checks in at an R-3.2 insulation rating and a feather-light 12 oz. A higher-rated version, the NeoAir XTherm, is warmer and only slightly heavier at 1.25 lbs.

Then, a plot twist. What I once knew exclusively as an air-pad supplier has released a bag to complete the system. The Antares HD sleeping bag ($499) is designed to pair with the Neo-Air—and it saves weight by leaving the back uninsulated (that job is handled nicely by the pad, which fits in two loops on the bag so it doesn’t slide around.)

Rated to 15 degrees, the Antares kept me toasty during frigid Sierra nights at 10,000 feet. Factor in the 750-fill hydrophobic down and the efficiently designed baffles that capture warm air, and you've got a winner. That’s not to say there were zero critiques: the mattress material is crinkly (but if, like me, you can sleep anywhere, this doesn't pose a problem.) And the drawstring on the bag can be hard to manuever, making it slightly awkward on the face. Not a bad trade-off for a light, warm bag filled with hydrophobic down.

All told, both bag plus pad only added just over 2.5 lbs to my pack. That’s a system I’ll happily celebrate with every step. —Seth Putnam