What do you think of when you hear of Idaho? Potatoes… maybe a few mountains… maybe the fact that it has more white water than any other state… or that it has more hot springs than any other state? Well all of those are true. Idaho also has one little town of 63 people that on average has 290 mornings of frost… Stanley, ID.
This little town sits at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains just 63 miles north of Sun Valley. Last month two friends and I decided we would take on a portion of the Idaho Hot Springs Springs Loop in late August. When we told people we were going to be riding our bikes for 250 miles in August they all scoffed at how hot we would be. Little did they know that we would wake up to frozen water in the morning. As the trip began to get closer the weather forecast began to look sunnier and sunnier so we decided that we’d leave the tent at home and each sleep in hammocks.
Sleeping in hammocks comes with it’s own set of challenges. One of those challenges is insulation. That brings me to what this whole piece is about… the Thermarest NeoAir Trekker SV and Thermarest NeoAir XLite SV. Insulation is key when sleeping anywhere outdoors but when you’re in a hammock a sleeping bag alone will do very little. The down or synthetic down of your bag flattens on the underside of the bag and therefore provides zero to no insulation. The Thermarest pad solves that problem.
Use of product
Thermarest has always done a great job of helping you get a good night rest under the stars. From their original “self-inflating” mattresses to their z-rest pads that are affordable and comfortable, they do a great job. This year however they introduced new technology called the speed valve (hence the SV). The speed valve is a “dry-bag “ like closure system on the top of each pad. This allows you to open it up and blow into the large opening rather than just a small little valve on the corner. They’ve made it so you can blow “5 large breaths” of air 6 inches from the speed valve and have your pad nearly inflated. Finishing the inflation process is easiest through the small valve but this new iteration saves a ton of time and less chance of hyperventilation due to how hard you’ve been working at blowing up what you’re about to sleep on. The intention seems to be that they want you to be able to save as much energy as possible in the backcountry as they also send a little battery powered inflator along… I left that part at home but for some it might be useful.
Trial and error
The first night we spent in our hammocks was by far the coldest. Like I said we woke up to frozen water that morning and every morning after wasn’t much warmer. That first night before getting on the road we slept horribly. Not only because of nerves and anxiety to get on the road but also due to “user error” and the fact that two of us woke up to partially deflated pads (to be fair they tell you on their site that you need to roll the closure 7 times tightly… but I am a man and I don’t read directions). Seems like a minor issue, but when its all that’s keeping your entire backside warm… sleeping became very tough. It didn’t help that I hadn’t set my hammock up as well as I’d hoped and between the two problems my butt was actually on the ground at one point during the night. Like an ashamed little kid I hopped out of bed in my skivvies and reset as quickly as possible. All I can chalk it up to is that I hadn’t rolled my speed valve down enough. It almost looks like it could act as a little pillow extension if you don’t roll it all the way down but I would suggest rolling it as tight as possible. (The suggested 7 times, again don’t follow in my footsteps of not reading.) Needless to say we didn’t make the same mistake twice, from that night on our pads were as full in the morning as they were when we went to sleep.
Why they excel in a bikepacking setting
Thermarest has always had a great reputation in the backpacking and even car camping world. They’ve got a ton of heritage to their brand and they’ve always made great lasting product. But why did we choose them for bikepacking? Well for one, they’re very compact. It has a diameter of 5 inches and measures 12 inches in length when it’s stored in its own little “stuff sack” of sorts. It’s not too heavy either, it weighs in at just over 1.5 lbs. or 740 grams. Mounting it on the bike was also very easy. I used one G3 backcountry ski strap around my bars and it worked great the whole trip. These pads also use their Neoair technology for insulation. Basically they use 100 cells of evenly distributed air that are also covered in reflective coating to capture and retain your body’s radiant heat. For how small they get and easy they are to set up there sure is a lot of technology that goes into these pads.
Overall, this pad was definitely one of my favorite pieces of gear we brought on the trip. Sleeping without one wasn’t an option. I know that there are probably a lot of people out there just like me that thought you could only sleep in hammocks when you knew the forecast was calling for a warm evening, but this opened up the possibility of spending nights swinging between two trees in more than just the middle of summer. They’re a bit of an investment at $149.95 for the Trekker and $179.95 for the XLite but definitely worth the price. They may have tacked on more time to our mornings because without them it would have been easier to get out of our cold beds each morning but I’d rather be well rested and warm. I would definitely recommend one of these for any sleep set-up you decide to take on the trail with you. Here’s to more restful nights so we can get out for more type two fun than the day before.
To read more about Grafton’s trip on the Idaho Hot Springs Loop, make sure to read his recent report – My Ass Hurt From My Saddle my Cheeks Hurt From My Smile