Explorer Pat had the honour of taking the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad out to Vic’s alpine region. Was it the best night sleep he’s ever had?
I sleep better outdoors. I don’t know if it’s the wind in the trees, the lack of phones, or the fact that I’ve probably just punished my body, but without a doubt, I sleep better in the wild.
I’ve historically been a bit of a bougie bitch when it comes to my camping mat choice. Until recently I’ve opted for the incredible Thermarest NeoAir XTherm. However, recently I’ve been looking to simplify my camping setup and save the XTherm for backcountry and alpine climbing trips.
I wanted something rugged, quick and simple to set up, along with being lightweight, warm enough for three-season use and comfortable. Luckily, that coincided with the opportunity to try out the NEMO Switchback. It’s an ultralight, closed-cell foam (CCF) mat that’s durable, versatile and quick to set up.
It’s not the perfect mat by any means, but no mat is and this one has a lot going for it.
Foam mats can be a bit contentious when it comes to comfort. For most people, a foam mat is never going to match up to an air mattress, but it really comes down to personal preference.
I didn’t have any troubles with the NEMO Switchback. My first night or two I had to adjust my sleeping a bit, but after that, it was night night sleep tight. I did find that you need to take a bit more care on where you set up, as it isn’t as forgiving on rocks and tree roots as inflatable mats, but as long as you clear the ground under your tent, you should be right.
A new standard for sleeping mat ratings has recently come in and it’s great. Before, all manufactures had a different way of working out the R-values (how well the mat insulates, eg. warmth of the mat) and so it was hard to compare one to the next. Now, all manufacturers test their mat in the same conditions, making it easier for us adventure junkies to compare apples to apples.
The NEMO Switchback has an R-value of 2.0. That puts it pretty firmly in the three-season range, or a great supplementary mat for winter camping. On a hike up in the alpine region with lows of about 2˚C, I found it plenty warm enough, but that’ll also depend on how hot you run and the warmth of the rest of your sleeping kit.
For truly rigorous testing on the comfort and warmth, my girlfriend volunteered to sleep on it for one night when we were out on our last hike. Never having slept on a foam mat before, I thought she might be in for a rough night. She found it slightly colder than her Sea to Summit Ether XT but didn’t have any complaints comfort-wise. She even managed to sleep on her side rather than back (some side sleepers find foam mats uncomfortable.)
Weight and Size
Foam mats are a funny one for weight and size. They are commonly seen as an ultralight option and at 411g they are pretty light. But these days, in terms of warm to weight ratio, they certainly aren’t the best. In terms of size, they are bulkier than inflatable mats, but they can easily be strapped to the top of your pack or used as support or padding on a frameless pack.
If you want a smaller or lighter option, they also come in a short model, or you can buy the full-length model and trim it down to size.
Ease of Inflation
It’s a foam mat you numbnuts. Just whip it out and you’re ready to go.
CCF mats are built to last. In fact, you’ll probably be passing it down to your grandkids. I took it for a pretty rough hike up in Vic’s alpine region on overgrown tracks with it strapped to the outside of my pack, and it still barely has a mark on it. And because it’s so hardy, you can whip it out at lunch or whenever you’re taking a break, chuck it down on rocks, sticks and other spikies without worrying about puncturing it.
If you’re looking into an ultralight foam mat, the main competitor is the Thermarest Z-Lite Sol, which I’ve also had the pleasure of using. Without diving into it too much, for anyone tossing up between these two, it’d really come down to a matter of preference. The weights are almost identical (only 14g between them) and the NEMO packs down slightly smaller (barely noticeable).
CCF mats aren’t for everyone. A while back they were the default for camping, but these days there are generally lighter, warmer and more comfortable options out there (quite a few made by NEMO). That being said, they’re pretty much the most durable option you can go for. They’re also super quick to set up and for most of the year in Australia, plenty warm enough. In terms of bang for buck, you’d be lucky to find a cheaper mat.
These days they fit more of a niche in the market, but if they fit your needs then the NEMO Switchback is one hell of an option. Personally, it’s become my go-to since getting it and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.