Choosing a women’s sleeping mat: Thermarest NeoAir XLite vs Sea to Summit Ether Light XT vs Thermarest ProLite

I didn’t take any shortcuts when it came to choosing a new sleeping mat before my Arctic Circle Trail hike in Greenland. This could’ve been a full-time job, the number of hours of research and testing that went into it. 

I’ll start by saying that I’m a fussy sleeper. But adventures are uncomfortable in so many other ways that you need to get a good sleep.

My evaluation process was personal, of course: I can’t tell you what’s going to be best for you. But I can weigh up what swayed my decision.

So here goes, on to the first test…

Thermarest NeoAir XLite – universally loved, but not for my body

First off, I tried what the internet generally seemed to adore: the women’s Thermarest NeoAir XLite sleeping pad. The only complaint that kept coming up was the rustling noise of the mat whenever you moved on it. I could put up with that, but I couldn’t put up with a bad back… which is what I got.

Yes, my back pain may well be specific to me and influenced by other factors. You might have no problem with the NeoAir Lite. My Mum even chose it and had no problems during the Arctic Circle Trail other than the mat deflating somewhat during the night.

Like I also did with my final choice, she preferred not to inflate it all the way as it felt too firm. You can inflate it fully then press the valve so it burps out air until you’re happy. That might’ve been behind the lost overnight air, or there might be a hole somewhere that needs locating.

Thermarest NeoAir XLite

But my experience with the NeoAir XLite – after one night in my garden with this and my MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 tent (which I adore) and Rab sleeping bag, I woke up with a sore lower back and it stayed that way for the next week. Even when we were sitting with a beer at Copenhagen airport waiting for our flight to Kangerlussuaq, I felt it.

In general, I didn’t feel comfy sleeping on the NeoAir XLite. It felt a bit like I was at sea. So with not long left until I needed to set off, it was on to testing the next mat…

Next up was the Thermarest ProLite – sorry, but too minimalist

Thermarest ProLite

I found the Thermarest Women’s ProLite more comfortable than the NeoAir Lite. I do prefer foam mats over those that make you feel like you’re bouncing around (as I did with the NeoAir), but it was very thin at only 1 inch thick. It also wasn’t very easy to pack away in its bag.

It’s lightweight, sure. But nope, this wasn’t going to cut it for comfort. On to mat 3…

And my final winner: the Sea to Summit Women’s Ether Light XT

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Women tend to sleep a few degrees colder than men, which is why our women’s specific sleeping mats and sleeping bags come with extra insulation in place of unnecessary length (though they do come in Regular and Long).⁠ .⁠ These mats and sleeping bags are also narrower in the shoulders and wider from the hip-to-knee. So your knees won’t be hanging off your mat and your sleeping bag will offer more freedom of movement.⁠ .⁠ Women’s specific Etherlight XT Insulated:⁠ ⁠ ➕ 10cm/4in thick⁠ ➕ R-value: 4.2⁠ ➕ eXtra Thick Air Sprung Cells⁠ ➕ Thicker THERMOLITE layer for warmth⁠ ➕ Lightweight, quiet and grippy 30/40D Nylon fabric⁠ ➕ Exkin Platinum ⁠ ➕ Ultra-Fresh anti-microbial treatment to prevent internal mould growth⁠ ➕ Multi-function valve⁠ ➕ Includes PillowLock patches, which will lock your Sea to Summit pillow into place for a slip-free sleep⁠ ➕ Airstream Pumpsack integrated into the stuff sack for easy, fast and hygienic inflation⁠ .⁠ Women’s specific Altitude Series sleeping bags:⁠ ⁠ Available in two EN ratings:⁠ 🌡️Altitude I: Comfort level of -4C/25F⁠ 🌡️Altitude II: Comfort level of -10C/15F⁠ ⁠ ➕ Extra overall down and THERMOLITE panels under the foot area for addition warmth⁠ ➕ Super-light 20D Nylon shell and lining⁠ ➕ RDS-certified 750+ Loft ULTRA-DRY Down⁠ ➕ Vertical chest baffles to keep down in place⁠ ➕ Free-flow zip system and zip coupling⁠ ➕ Draft tubes along the neck and zipper⁠ ➕ Generously sized hood⁠ ➕ Large internal security pocket⁠ ➕ Ultra-Sil Compression Bag for storage⁠ .⁠ 📷 Credit: @marc_daviet⁠ .⁠ #seatosummit #sleepingpad #sleepingmat #womensgear⁠ #womenwhoclimb #womenwhohike #sleepingbag #womensgear⁠ ⁠

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With three days before my flight to Greenland, I did some last-minute research and saw reviews with Sea to Summit’s new Etherlight XT Insulated sleeping mat ranked higher for comfort than the NeoAir XLite pad.

The Ether Light is a fairly new arrival on the block from Sea to Summit, and hasn’t yet got as much attention as the Thermarest NeoAir. But I think it’s going to get there soon.

I found a Women’s Ether Light XT on Amazon with Prime delivery, so ordered it up and tested it the next night (on my bedroom floor this time, I was satisfied with my tent).

It’s got a pillowed sprung cells texture, so really looks like a mattress. It feels great too. It’s not too bouncy, so you don’t feel like you’re bobbing up and down on a water bed. It’s easy enough to blow up and the sack can help you out (you can attach it to the inflate valve, blow in the bag, and roll it up to fill the mat). I tended to use the bag for a bit, then finish just blowing.

Sea to Summit Ether Lite

As a bonus, it also has the PillowLock technology that’s compatible with my Sea to Summit Aeros inflatable pillow. This means you can use the velcro provided with the pillow to create an attachment point on the mat. I found this pillow too bouncy to sleep on (I used the Thermarest compressible pillow, which I love), but it worked well for reading in bed and to support my knees as I slept.

I’m a convert, though. I have only good things to say about the Sea to Summit Women’s Ether Light. At the end of a long day out hiking, looking forward to a sleeping mat you love using is worth the cost and testing.

Read more about the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland and what I packed: