An Introduction to Therm-a-Rest Sleep Systems

Talking about being comfortable sleeping outdoors used to illicit repeated eye-rolling from me.  I loved the idea of roughing it, and still do, even intentionally sacrificing comfort to pretend like I'm roughing it. Isn't comfort for people who like glamping? Over time, my sarcasm waned slightly and I've learned I'm all for suffering; it builds character and prepares you for unforeseen circumstances in which you might suffer. But why suffer when it can be avoided?

A good night's sleep outdoors can make such a difference for me. Tossing and turning when you've got miles to crank out on the trail the next day is just awful, and it happens more often than I'd like. With the perfect night's sleep on the trail as elusive as integrity in politics, I'm on a quest to find a way to sleep like a baby outdoors. Thanks to Cascade Designs and the innovative Therm-a-Rest Sleep Systems, I'm taking all the comforts of my bed at home into my tent. I'll have a mattress, fitted sheet and down blanket with me on one of the East Coast's most unforgiving trails this weekend. That's just the first test. If all goes as planned, I'll be as comfortable as I would in my own bed with a small pile of gear weighing less than three pounds. If that's not innovative, I don't know what is.

What's a Sleep System?

It's exactly what it sounds like - a bunch interdependent parts that form a whole. In this case, the "whole" is designed to provide the sleeping comfort of your bed at home in a lightweight portable package for campers and backpackers. By combining a mattress with a fitted sheet and an attachable insulation layer, the folks at Therm-a-Rest are working to solve a number of common outdoor sleeping complaints.

The NeoAir All Season and Alpine Down Blanket. (Courtesy of Cascade Designs.)
We've all struggled to get sleeping bags unzipped in the middle of the night, and I'd guess most of us have dealt with sliding entirely off of our sleeping pads. As a side sleeper, I spend what seems like hours wiggling around in traditional sleeping bags trying to get comfortable. I can't wait to see if the system I chose solves all of my sleeping woes.

The Components of My Sleep System

There are several sleep system options available, but one seemed to have been designed just for tossing and turning side sleepers. Therm-a-Rest mattresses have been around for nearly 40 years and as the designs have evolved, they've gotten better and better. I chose the newly released NeoAir All-Season Mattress with the intent of being able to use it for summer adventures, winter adventures, and all adventures in between. The size, weight, and R-value* appealed to me the most. I'm hoping it'll be warm, comfortable, and easy to inflate in a pinch.

The second component, insulation, was an easier choice. As a side sleeper, the promise of not having to wriggle around in a sleeping bag made the Alpine 35ºF Down Blanket very appealing. Knowing I generally sleep cold, I chose the warmest blanket option available. It'll be my first experience on a backpacking trip without a mummy bag, and I'm curious to see if the blanket will keep me warm. It's also highly compressible and weighs half as much as my 3-season bag!

The fitted sheet in action.  (Courtesy of Cascade Designs).
Along with the mattress and blanket, I got a fitted sheet to attach the blanket to the mattress. Cascade Designs also has a snap kit available if you'd prefer to go without the sheet. By attaching the mattress and blanket, I'll be able to keep out drafts on cooler nights and retain as much heat as possible. The fitted sheet is compatible with self-inflating mattresses like the Trail Pro as well.

Last, but certainly not least, there's the Compressible Pillow. If I want to guarantee an aching neck in the morning, I'll try sleeping without a pillow or on a compression sack filled with the few clothes I'm not sleeping in. I can't wait to see how this pillow stacks up against others I've used, like the Cocoon Air-Core.

So, Does the Sleep System Work?
Over the next five months, we'll find out! After being chosen as a gear tester for Therm-a-Rest's sleep systems, I'll put my chosen gear through its paces on trips of all sorts from now through October. I'll report back with likes, dislikes, suggested adjustments and all sorts of other fun here, on the Therm-a-Rest facebook page, and the Adventure-Inspired facebook page. The first test will be on this weekend's backpacking trip. I'm headed up to tackle the eastern portion of Devil's Path in the Catskills, a trail that has more than earned its name thanks to the thousands of feet of elevation gain and consistently wet weather. Stay tuned to find out if the system passes the first test!

Huge thanks to Cascade Designs for sending me a complimentary sleep system to test! As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.

*The R-value refers to the warmth of the mattress. The higher the R-value, the warmer the mattress! An R-value of 4.9 is higher than the Big Agnes Air Core (4.1), which was my previous go-to mattress choice.


Nina Martin said…
Looks good, Katie!
Art said…
Thanks for this review - very detailed and well written. I read the second part as well. I ended up choosing the Neo Air All Season to use year round. I was wondering if it would be too hot in the summer - Texas summers, at that. I guess I'll find out this summer!
Katie L said…
glad it was helpful, Art! I found the Neo Air All Season was great year round, though I definitely didn't need a thick sleeping bag in the summer here on the East Coast. it's a great investment. keep me updated with how it performs in Texas summers!