Last Christmas, after having the opportunity to observe first hand how uncomfortable I occasionally was on the PCT with a pretty cheap and old inflatable camping mat, my brother kindly bought me what is generally considered the gold standard of inflatable mats; the warmest and most comfortable option on the market for its size and weight.
And, well, it’s kind of a revelation. I’ve spent so much of my life sleeping on shitty foam roll-mats, cheap inflatable mats, or just directly on the ground that I’ve come to assume that spending the night squirming around to try and stop my hip and shoulders digging uncomfortably into the ground (and feeling the warmth sucked from my body into the cold dirt) is pretty much an inevitable part of camping. Turns out, it’s not.
The XTherm takes a bit of time to inflate by hand (or rather by mouth…) though it does come with a sort of simplistic pump system which I haven’t tried and realistically probably never will. However, once inflated it’s well worth the effort – a decent few centimeters thick but firm and steady enough that you don’t feel as if you’re perched on top of a pile of jelly. I’ve now spent a good couple of dozen nights on it in environments including frozen dirt, on a concrete floor, on a camp cot (these might sound comfortable but, rather like a hammock, they leach the warmth from your body like you wouldn’t believe) and in a pine-cone-strewn forest. Temperatures have varied from cool English nights to well below freezing. In all of those conditions, practically the only element of my sleeping system that has consistently been comfortable and warm has been the mat. That’s pretty life-changing.
As far as practicality goes, the XTherm rolls up remarkably small, to a size not much larger than a nalgene bottle or, I dunno, a particularly delicious and large burrito. Depending on whether you have the regular or long, it weighs only around 500g – perhaps still on the heavy side for the ultra-light thru-hiker who has got used to sleeping on a cut-down hip-pad but, for the rest of us, so extraordinarily small and light that you can chuck it in your backpack and barely notice the difference.
The more I do serious hiking and wild-camping, the more I appreciate the benefits of not ‘making-do’ with kit that is just about ok. Top-end pieces of equipment like this don’t come cheap, but the grams they save make a huge difference when you’re lugging your pack up the third ascent of the afternoon, and the comfort they offer at night is completely invaluable when you’re spending night after night in the wilderness, and morale starts to be really impacted by the quality of your rest.