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NEMO Switchback Foam Sleeping Pad Review

The NEMO Switchback is a accordion-style closed-cell foam sleeping pad that can be used as an ultralight pad by itself or to augment the warmth of a second sleeping pad, when sleeping outdoors in colder weather. It’s quite similar to the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol sleeping pad, but made with modern materials and precisely molded. Like the Z Lite Sol, one side of the pad is coated with aluminum to reflect your body heat back at you and keep you warmer.

Specs at a Glance

  • Type: Closed-Cell Foam
  • R-Value: Not Available from manufacturer (estimated at 2)
  • Manufacturer Temperature Rating: 20 F / -7 C
  • Thickness: 0.9 in / 2.3 cm
  • Weight: 14.5 oz / 415 g
  • Length x width: 72 x 20 in / 183 cm x 51 cm
  • Packed Size: 5 x 5.5 x 20 in / 13 x 14 x 51 cm
  • Color: Pumpkin

If you’ve never owned an accordion-style foam pad, they’re a useful piece of backpack gear to have around because they can serve so many purposes. I’ve used them as virtual frames in frameless backpacks, extra insulation under an inflatable sleeping pad, sit pads to keep my bum warm and dry, hammock insulation, winter stove insulation, hot water bottle insulation, insulated seats for pack rafts, even as shims to keep air conditioners from falling out of windows. You just need a sharp pair of scissors and your imagination to figure out ways to use them.

The Switchback (right) folds up more compactly than a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite even though they both have 14 panels and are 72" long.
The Switchback (right) folds up more compactly than a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite (left) even though they both have 14 panels and are 72″ long.

What makes the Switchback Different?

The Switchback’s main competitor is the legendary Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad. That accordion-style foam sleeping pad has been around for as long as I can remember. The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is coated on one side with an aluminum film like the Switchback.

The Switchback takes everything that’s good about that pad and makes it better. Well, almost everything. The Switchback is a bit thicker, for instance, measuring 0.9 inches thick compared to the Z Lite Sol’s 0.75 inch thickness. It also weighs about a half ounce more at 14.5 oz, compared to the Z Lite Sol, which weighs 14 oz. Despite that, the Switchback folds up more compactly because the raised portions of the pad slot in better with the recessed areas. This makes it easier to strap to the side of your backpack or under a floating lid.

The Switchback is also a good deal more comfortable than a Z Lite Sol, perhaps enough to convince you to switch from an inflatable pad to a foam pad again. NEMO uses two types of foam in the Switchback, a softer foam that comes in contact with your body and a more durable foam that reduces pad compression over time, while Therm-a-Rest uses just one type of foam in the Z Lite Sol. Both pads are also comparable in price: a 72″ NEMO Switchback retails for $50, while the regular length Z Lite Sol costs $45, and is available in a variety of lengths.

The Switchback (bottom) has a very different pattern of peaks and valleys than the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol
The Switchback (bottom) has a very different pattern of peaks and valleys than the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol (top).

Temperature Ratings vs R-values

The biggest difference between the NEMO Switchback and the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol pads is in how they’re rated in term of insulation value. Therm-a-Rest rates their sleeping pads using R-values which are well understood by backpackers. For example, an R-value of 2-3 is good for 3 season use, while an R-value of 5-6 is good for sleeping on snow. Sleeping pad R-values are also additive, so you can stack two sleeping pads to create enough insulation to sleep on snow in winter.

While the method used to measure R-values varies somewhat between manufacturers and testing labs, a new outdoor industry standard is likely due out in 2020 (according to my well-informed sources) that will standardize the testing process and it make it possible for consumers to compare sleeping pad R-values across manufacturers. It will also force manufacturers to re-rate or redesign their products so they match their marketing claims, much like the process that occurred when standard sleeping bag temperature ratings were introduced.

Both the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol (top) and the Switchback (bottom) have an aluminum coating that reflect your body heat back at you.
Both the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol (top) and the Switchback (bottom) have an aluminum coating that reflect your body heat back at you.

NEMO doesn’t use R-values to rate their sleeping pads, including the Switchback. Instead, they assign the Switchback a 20 degree temperature rating, which makes it quite difficult to compare it with other sleeping pads that are rated using R-values. It also raises a number of questions about how the temperature rating should be interpreted.

For example:

  • Is the 20 degree temperature rating a measure of air temperature or ground temperature? There’s a big difference.
  • Is the 20 degree rating the same for men and women, who are known to sleep colder than men?
  • Are sleeping pad temperature ratings additive, like R-values? For example, will two sleeping pads rated for 20 degree temperatures provide sufficient insulation to sleep in minus 20 below zero (F) weather?
  • What kind of guidance does a temperature rating provide you if you want to combine the Switchback with an inflatable sleeping pad for cold weather use that has an R-value, but not a temperature rating?
  • How is the 20 degree rating calculated? Is it based on a automated testing procedure or by human observation in a cold room, where individual differences in sex or physique could skew the results.

In the absence of an R-value for the Switchback, it’s difficult to assess NEMO’s claim that it is the warmest closed-cell foam sleeping pad made. If you do buy the Switchback, my conservative guess is that it has an R-value in the range of 2-2.5, which is pretty standard for closed-cell foam pads.

The Switchback is only available in a pumpkin-like color. Too bad. It would have been even more useful in blaze orange.
The Switchback is only available in a pumpkin-like color. Too bad. It would have been even more useful in blaze orange.

Recommendation

The NEMO Switchback is actually a well-engineered and very comfortable closed-cell foam sleeping pad, despite its lack of an R-value rating. While it’s not as comfortable as an inflatable sleeping pad, it is definitely a step up from a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol in terms of design, manufacturing, and materials. It’s really about time that someone went head-to-head with Therm-a-Rest when it comes to closed-cell foam sleeping pads. While the NEMO Switchback is in many respects a knock-off of the Z Lite Sol, it is a better knock-off, which is a pretty impressive feat, if you think about the engineering and design that goes into making high quality foam products on an industrial scale.

Disclosure: NEMO provided the author with a sleeping pad for this review.

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Last updated: 2018-10-11 11:45:35

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Paria ReCharge UL Sleeping Pad Review

Comfort

Ease of Inflation

Warmth

Weight

Durability

Packed Size

Budget Insulated Sleeping Pad

The Paria ReCharge UL is a low price insulated inflatable sleeping pad suitable for camping and backpacking that’s comparable to Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir pads, but far less expensive.

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The Paria Recharge UL Sleeping Pad is an inflatable insulated sleeping pad suitable for backpacking and camping. Weighing 20 ounces, it’s on the heavy side compared to popular three-season sleeping pads, but it is inexpensive, making it a good option for cost-minded backpackers.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 20 oz (actual 19 oz, weighed)
  • Insulated: Laminated 90g/m2 synthetic microfiber
  • R-Value: Untested (estimated at 3.5)
  • Dimensions: 72 x 20″ (wide at the head end) and 14″ (wide at the foot end)
  • Thickness: 2.5″ (3″ by my measurement)
  • Number of breaths to inflate: 24
  • Cover: 40 Denier TPU diamond rip-stop nylon

Inflation

The ReCharge UL Sleeping Pad has a flat valve, like those found on Klymit, Exped, and Sea-to-Summit Sleeping Pads. These are more reliable than most stick valves because they’re flush with the surface of the pad and have no moving parts.

Inflation by mouth is more cumbersome though, because you have to press your mouth flat over the valve. It has an inner flap however, which prevents air from escaping when you remove your mouth to take another breath. Blowing up the pad by mouth takes 24 SectionHiker breaths. Paria sells a pump bag separately ($15) which can double as a dry sack and is worth consideration.

Deflation is a little trickier than you’d expect through. Most flat valve caps have an extra long tab that you can use to prop open the inner flap during deflation so air can escape when you roll the pad up. However, the tab on the cap isn’t quite long enough to stay securely in the opening and prop the inner flap open. I discovered a more reliable workaround however. If you reach under the pad behind the valve, you can push the inner flap up inside the valve so that remains open during the entire deflation process.

The ReCharge UL has a single flat value for inflation and deflation
The ReCharge UL has a single flat value for inflation and deflation

Comfort

When fully inflated the ReCharge UL is quite a firm pad to sleep on, much like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite or XTherm which share the same horizontal baffles. It is a quiet pad however, that doesn’t make any crinkly sounds when you move around at night, because it is not insulated with reflective material. If you prefer a softer mattress, the air sprung cells in the Big Agnes AXL Insulated Air Sleeping Pad and Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad are far more comfortable.

The ReCharge UL pad has a mummy shape and is 20″ wide at the head end, tapering gradually to 14″ wide at the foot end. It is spec-ed at 2.5″ (I measure 3″), but your knee will hit the hard ground when you kneel on the pad, even if the pad is fully inflated. The surface of the pad is a lightly textured and durable 40 Denier TPU diamond rip-stop nylon which is not slippery, so you won’t slide off the pad at night.

The pad is pre-scored lengthwise to make it easy to fold into thirds, lengthwise, and rolls up to the size of a 1L Nalgene bottle for each store. A stuff sack is included.

You can accelerate deflation by pushing the inner flap up from the back so air can escape faster.
You can accelerate deflation by pushing the inner flap up from the back so air can escape faster.

Assessment

The Paria ReCharge UL Sleeping Pad is an inflatable insulated sleeping pad that’s comparable to much more expensive sleeping pads, but available at about half of the price ($70). It’s a perfectly good sleeping pad to use, but is probably better for camping rather than backpacking, since it weighs close to a half-pound more than comparable, but more expensive sleeping pads like the market leading Thermarest NeoAir XLite.

If gear weight and cost are important to you, I’d encourage you to take a close look at two other insulated sleeping pads, the MassDrop Klymit Ultralight V Sleeping Pad which retails for about $60, has an R-vale of 4.4, and weighs 17.7 oz or the REI Flash Air Insulated Sleeping Pad which retails for $100, has an R-value of 3.7, and weighs 15 oz. Both of these pads have dual flat valves, which makes the deflation process much smoother. They also have air sprung cells which I find more comfortable to sleep on than horizontal baffles.

While not reviewed here, the ReCharge UL is also available in a short (48″ x 22″) and double width size (76″ x 48″), with higher R-Values and the same reduced pricing model. The value of those models is actually more interesting and worthy of consideration if you’re shopping for a lower cost, non-standard size insulated sleeping pad.

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Disclosure: The author received a sleeping pad from Paria Outdoors for this review.

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Backpacking Sleeping Clothes – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

I carry a separate set of clothes to sleep in on backpacking trips because it feels nice to put something on that’s clean after perspiring in my regular daytime hiking clothes. They also serve double duty as an extra baselayer in cold weather or if I need to change into something dry after my regular clothes get wet, like when I have to hike in rain.

Wool or synthetic, it doesn’t really matter what kind of fabric they’re made of, although you probably want to avoid cotton unless you’re backpacking through a hot and dry climate like the desert where they can dry quickly if they get wet. I use a long sleeve synthetic jersey and long underwear (Lightweight Patagonia Capilene) because they won’t shrink in a dryer and they basically last forever. They also pack up small and are very lightweight. I also send them out for Insect Shield Treatment because they’re my baselayer when I sleep in a hammock, usually deep in the woods, in tick territory.

I also change into a relatively clean and dry pair of hiking socks each night and wear a fleece beanie cap, since I usually sleep in a hoodless sleeping bag if I’m on the ground or with a quilt, in a hammock.

Psychological benefits

While wearing sleeping clothes will help you keep your sleeping bag/quilt and sleeping pad cleaner, there’s more to wearing sleeping clothes than meets the eye. When I take off my daytime clothes and switch to my sleeping clothes, I relax. It triggers a psychological response and helps me kick back in preparation for sleep. I sleep really well outdoors and feeling “cleaner” has a lot to do with it. My daytime hiking clothes get crusty with salt, sweat, and dirt, and they’d be nasty to sleep in. While I wear a thin shirt and pants that I rinse and will usually dry (mostly) overnight, they’re wet when I go to sleep.

Health benefits

There are also health benefits to sleeping in cleaner and drier clothes at night, because they give your nether regions and feet a chance to gently reabsorb body fluids and heal. If you sleep in your salt-encrusted daytime hiking clothes at night, even if it’s just your boxers, the salt will continue to draw moisture from your skin. Wearing clean clothes and socks will reduce any ongoing irritation and help your skin recover its natural resiliency. Plump, resilient skin is much more durable, blister, and chafe-resistant than dry irritated skin.

Sleeping naked

What about sleeping naked on backpacking trips? Whatever floats your boat. I’d still recommend bringing along an extra baselayer shirt and long underwear that you can layer with if you get cold or wet, or you can use to augment your sleeping bags/quilts warmth on cold nights. I don’t bring any extra daytime shirts, pants, or underwear on my backpacking trips, so my sleeping clothes are my only fall backs.

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Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Torso-Length Sleeping Pad Review

If you want to save gear weight, but you’re not willing to give up the luxury and comfort of using an inflatable sleeping pad, try a torso-length one like the 47″ size “Short” Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. Weighing 8 oz*, it weighs 4 oz less than the 12 oz, 72″ size “Regular” XLite. (Note: the weight of the short XLite can vary. I have one that weighs just 6.9 oz.) Both pads are otherwise identical with a 20″ width, they’re 2.5″ thick, and have an R-value of 3.2, making them suitable for three season use.

Specs at a Glance

  • Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
  • Size: Short
  • Dimensions: 20″ x 47″ x 2.5 (width x length x height)
  • *Weight: 8 oz (6.9 oz actual) – weight varies, shop around and bring a scale
  • Fabric: 30D High Tenacity ripstop nylon
  • Number of breaths to inflate: 15
  • Valve: Stick-valve
  • Repair kit: included

A 47″ inch pad is almost 4 feet long, making it long enough to provide padding under your hips and torso. Your legs don’t need as much insulation as your core does and you’ll stay warm if you rest your feet and calves on top of your backpack and spare clothes. This is a common trick used by ultralight backpackers to reduce their gear weight. Hammockers do the same thing when they sleep with a half-length or three-quarters length underquilt in warmer weather because they don’t need extra insulation for their lower legs and feet, beyond the warmth provided by their top quilt or sleeping bag.

In addition to reduced weight, the 47″ torso-length XLite packs up significantly smaller that the 72″ long model, which is important if you’ve switched to a low volume 30L or 40L backpack for ultralight backpacking. When deflated, a short XLite packs virtually flat, making it easy to roll up and pack in a backpack.

Comparable Short Sleeping Pads

A torso-length Therm-a-Rest XLite is almost identical to the longer 72″ XLite, by far the most popular backpacking sleeping pad today.  It has a durable stick valve and it’s covered with a 30 denier high-tenacity ripstop nylon, which is thicker than most mainstream tent floors today.

The inside of the XLite has a honey-comb structure that traps your body heat, with a reflective coating inside to prevent heat loss to the ground.It’s also treated with an anti-fungal agent to prevent mold growth, which can result if you inflate an air mattress by blowing into it.

This latest, current version of the XLite (all models) is not as noisy as earlier models, which made a crinkly sound when you shifted your weight or rolled on the pad in your sleep. This was caused by the reflective film used inside the interior. I’ve never been bothered by that sound in all the years I’ve been using an XLite sleeping pad (since 2009) but when my head hits the hay on a backpacking trip, nothing can wake me up except the morning sun.

Sleeping on a inflatable pad like the short Therm-Rest XLite is not for everyone, but if a lightweight gear list is a priority, it’s a popular sleeping pad among thru-hikers, section hikers, and ultralight backpackers for that purpose.

Highly Recommended!

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Last updated: 2018-08-06 23:19:09

The author received a sleeping pad for this review.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.