Not long ago, a backpack was doomed to look like the Clampett mobile, with bulky gear hanging everywhere. Among the biggest offenders: the closed-cell sleeping pad. But when Cascade Designs came up with the inflatable Therm-a-Rest, the sleeping pad began to slowly shrink in size and worm its way inside the pack.
Enter the NeoAir UberLite, a pad so small it fits in your hand.
Believe me, I was skeptical at first and had some obvious questions.
But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the NeoAir UberLite provides ample elevation—it’s 2.5 inches high fully inflated— off the rumpled ground. The newest innovation is a valve with a feather-light touch that lets you make minor deflations and achieve your perfect sleep number—while you’re laying on it! The valve also has a small, sturdy base that makes it easy to grip during inflation and would appear to ward off stress leaks.
With an R-value of 2, the UberLite is mostly a summer pad. But it worked well when temps dropped to 50 degrees when I was camping in North Carolina.
I’ve heard one of the bigger complaints with the newer ultralight pads being that it sounds like you’re on top of a bag of potato chips. Not the case with the UberLite!
One drawback: the pad is just 20 inches wide, so if you’re a restless sleeper you may be challenged to keep your bag and pad working in tandem. On the plus side, it is six feet long.
Inflating the pad was probably my biggest gripe. It took about 30 breaths to inflate, about a third more than other inflatables I’ve used. Therm-a-Rest recommends partially inflating, sealing the valve, squishing the air to the bottom of the pad, then blowing in more air and repeating. I didn’t find this to be much help.
On the other hand, it deflates efficiently. A myth of early air mattresses was that they came in deceptively small packages, having been vacuum-sucked air-free at the factory. In reality, no matter how much squeezing you did, a fair amount of air remained inside and there was no way it was stuffing back in its sack. The NeoAir UberLite easily returns to its factory-delivered size.
My verdict: I’m still working on staying atop this narrow pad overnight, but I’ve got a plan involving grippy produce webbing and some ingenuity. Otherwise, I’m sold.
How well will the UberLite sell in stores?
The $139 price point on this pad is ideal. Most of the new backpackers I deal with figure on spending around $100 anyway. The extra $39 shouldn’t be a deal-breaker — and again, that’s just for the newcomers.
As for store presentation, the size of this pad is what will first catch the eye. Displaying it in its stuff sack alongside something familiar—a camp stove, perhaps—will make it really stand out. A JetBoil will dwarf it, but a Pocket Rocket will underscore how tiny the mattress really is. I would also emphasize all the different places this pad could go inside the pack. The NeoAir UberLite has taken the pad from a piece of gear that demands a given spot in (or outside) your pack to a piece of gear that can stuff anywhere at the last minute.
Our store always has an example of this air mattresses inflated and ready to test. Stress the valve adjustment; some customers might find the pad too firm, but when they realize how easy it is to vent, they’ll be sold. It’s usually a good idea to have them test the pad while in a sleeping bag.
For a new backpacker looking to enter the backpacking world without breaking their bank, this pad is the ideal price point. For an established backpacker looking to shrink their gear, this is a smart choice for a comfy pad that doesn’t take up much space and gets them that much closer to ultralight status.
This review is part of our new Retailer Review program, written by retailers, for retailers to help guide their buying decisions and provide brands honest feedback from those selling their products.