NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad Review

NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad Review

The NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad is an inflatable air mattress with an R-value of 4.2. It is available in a wide range of sizes and shapes including mummy and rectangular shapes and long and regular lengths. While it is a luxurious 3 inches thick, it rolls up incredibly small and thin, making it easy to pack in a lower volume backpack.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: Regular (15 oz), Regular Wide (19 0z), Long Wide (21 oz)
  • R-value: 4.2
  • Type: Air Mattress
  • Insulated: Yes
  • Inflation sack: Yes (additional 1.9 oz)

Sleeping on a backpacking air mattress is an easy luxury to justify, especially if it’s as comfortable as the NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad. I tested a long and wide version (77″ x 25″) and I can see why people like the added space to stretch out and roll over at night, especially in colder weather when the nights are long. With an R-Value of 4.2, the Tensor UL Insulated is a solid 3+ season backpacking air mattress that is 3 oz heavier than NeoAir XLite sleeping pad (in a regular mummy size) but quieter, thicker, and more comfortable by a long shot. You might even think about upgrading if you own an XLite.

The Tensor UL Insulated Sleeping Pad has a dimpled surface that is moderately firm but has some give.
The Tensor UL Insulated Sleeping Pad has a dimpled surface that is moderately firm but has some give.

Internally, the Tensor UL Insulated is insulated with a reflective film and baffled air chambers. While the construction is also similar to the Thermarest NeoAir XLite, NEMO made it virtually noiseless, so you won’t keep your tent partner or shelter mates awake at night when you toss and turn. That style of construction is also very compressible, which is one of the nice things about this pad. It rolls up very thin, which is great for such a warm pad.

The surface of the Tensor UL Insulated is dimpled so it has a little give when you lie back on it. It’s covered with  20d polyester which has a nice soft skin feel and provides added durability against puncture.

The NEMO Tensor UL Insulated Sleeping Pad rolls up very thin and is easy to pack.
The NEMO Tensor UL Insulated Sleeping Pad rolls up very thin and is easy to pack.

Relationship between R-Value and Air Temperature

Air Temperature (F):50433629221580-7-14-21-30
Minimum R-Value11.522.533.544.555.566.5
Air Temperature (C):1062-2-6-9-13-18-22-26-30-34
Minimum R-Value11.522.533.544.555.566.5

The Tensor comes with a Vortex pump sack which can be used to inflate the pad. It has a narrow neck, so it’s a single-use item and can’t be used as a stuff sack. In terms of weight, the Vertex pump sack is not included in the Tensor UL Insulated weight spec but adds another 1.9 oz to your load. While you can discard the Vortex pump sack and inflate the pad by blowing into it, the Tensor valve is also compatible with the Exped Schnozzel Pack Liner/Pump Sack if you’d rather carry a multi-use item instead.

The NEMO UL Insulated Sleeping Pad has a flat value with a fine adjustment capability.
The NEMO UL Insulated Sleeping Pad has a flat value with a fine adjustment capability.

The Tensor UL Insulated has a three-way lay-flat valve, which can be used to inflate the pad, micro-adjust the pad’s firmness by releasing small quantities of air, and instant (really) deflation. Flat values like this are much more durable than stick valves and are far less intrusive.

Comparable Thick, High-R-Value Pads

Sleeping PadTypeThicknessWeightR-Value
Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT ExtremeAir4.0"25.6 ozR=6.2
Exped Ultra 5RAir3.0"20.3 ozR=4.8
NEMO Tensor Alpine AirAir3.0"17 ozR=4.8
NEMO Tensor UL InsulatedAir3.0"15 ozR=4.2
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLiteAir2.5"12 ozR=4.2
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Women'sAir2.5"12 ozR=5.4
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XThermAir2.5"15 ozR=6.9
Mountain Equip Aerostat DownAir2.8"20.4 ozR=5

Recommendation

The NEMO Tensor UL Insulated Sleeping Pad has an R-value of 4.2 which makes it an excellent 3+ season sleeping pad for backpacking. A full 3″ thick, it’s one of a handful of backpacking air mattresses that is luxurious to sleep on but still lightweight enough to carry. There’s nothing like a thick air mattress to help you sleep well on a backpacking trip. It took me way too long to figure that one out!

Disclosure: NEMO donated this pad for review.

31 comments

  1. I purchased one a few weeks ago. I have the womens S2S Ether Light which is luxuriously comfortable, but I was tired of being cold. It seems the pad loses its warmth when I toss and turn. So I tried a Neo Air and it wasn’t comfortable. I had a lower back ache each time I used it, no matter how firm or soft I had it inflated to. I then bought the Nemo Tensor. I find it very comfortable and I finally sleep warm at night. When laying on it, the support feels similar, not exactly, but similar to the S2S, while the warmth feels like the Neo Air.

    My concern is, the valve has such a tight fit when closing it. I have to press extra hard on the top of the valve and bottom of the pad to snap it closed. I’m afraid I am going to puncture the pad. Have you ever experienced this?

    • I haven’t experienced that no. It has an internal piece – a spacer – and you just need to make sure that that’s folded off to the side inside the pad.

    • Don’t push down on it pick it up with your thumb on top of the cab and your other fingers on the bottom side and squeeze it until it snaps into place. It does take a lot of pressure but that’s how it’s made. You can always just take a little bit of your lip balm and lubricate the lip so that it slides in and out easier

      • Did the R value actually increase tor was there a change to how value is measured because that’s the story I heard. And was told by a rep in a store that the actual warmth was the same but something about an adjustment in the grading (if that makes sense) I have 2020 version and was told same actual insulation as newest one. Just wondering.

        • The test procedure changed before the last version was updated. They really did increase the R-value on this new pad. I have it directly from the manufacturer.

  2. Did the r-value go up on this version? I bought one in late 2019 and it says 3.5. Long and wide I’ll never go back to a 20 inch wide pad Very comfortable but I did not have it below freezing.

    • Yes – the R-value went up.

    • I can confirm the r-value increase. I had the “old” version, and at 30 degrees I could just feel the loss of heat to the ground (ground was cold, not frozen) – others might say they could feel the cold seeping in. I bought the “new” version and recently had it out in the same conditions (30 degrees, little to no wind, same campsite), and felt no loss of heat whatsoever. Definitely a warmer pad, and I think a bit more comfortable, too (highly subjective evaluation.) The lack of crinkle is just gravy.

      • Did the R value actually increase tor was there a change to how value is measured because that’s the story I heard. And was told by a rep in a store that the actual warmth was the same but something about an adjustment in the grading (if that makes sense) I have 2020 version and was told same actual insulation as newest one. Just wondering.

        • Since you are wondering…they added diagonal “tpu” (ie thin plastic) baffles to the new model compared to the previous one according to their publicity video on YouTube “NEMO Tensor™?Ultralight Sleeping Pad” from Mar 1, 2022 at about 1min15s. Oddly it is not linked on the Tensor product page which still has a video showing the old construction without the diagonals. They claim to have updated the thermal film also but the old insulated pad used two horizontal thermal film baffles so it is unclear what that change is. Thermarest use diagonal baffles in most of their Neo Air pads like the X-lite and use the same rotating circular arrows to “explain” how they work to minimize convection currents so obviously they must. As a result of copying the idea the new Tensor UL Insulated matches the X-lite for R value.

  3. This or Exped Ultra R5?

    • Flip a coin in terms of comfort and R-Value. That said, the major advantage of the Ultra is that it comes with a schnozzel (pack liner) and every size costs the exact same amount.

  4. How would you compare this to the ether light xt – durability/longevity of the pads; surface feel of the material on your skin; and comfort for a side sleeper? Also, for a side sleeper is it worth getting a 25″ wide pad or would a 20″ (21.5″ on the ether lite) work?

    • I prefer the Etherlite slightly in terms of side sleeper comfort (the dimples are nice), but it has a lower R value and packs up bigger. Width – I’ve been using 20″ for years, just fine as a side sleeper for 3 seasons, though it’s nice to go wider in winter and for trips where the agenda is lounging rather than miles. It really comes down to gear weight for me. All of these pads have nice covers – it really comes down to personal preference. My skin never touches a pad though, since I wear sleeping clothes.

      • Thanks for your quick response!

        What about the durability/projected longevity between these two pads? I’ve heard the ether light is quite durable while the prior model of the tensor had issues.

  5. I don’t really pay any attention to random gossip about gear longevity because most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. I’ve only had good experiences with these two brands. When in doubt..buy it at REI so you can return it within a year and choose the company with the best gear guarantee. In that regard S2S is very good about replacing gear outright even from normal wear and tear. I’d go with them if you still have doubts. The reality of our consumer culture is that most people discard/replace their gear within 2 years anyway.

    • Some of the manufacturers of these pads have warranties that will cover leaks that can’t be fixed even if you’ve owned the pad for years. I’ve received a couple brand new (and updated) pads when I contacted the manufacturer about slow leaks that I couldn’t find.

    • I’ve used self-inflating and inflatable mattresses for a long time. My first was a Thermarest self-inflater from the mid-1980s (when I could finally afford such a luxury.) Since then, I’ve used a series of Thermarest (self-inflating and NeoAir), Big Agnes, Sea to Summit, one Exped, and the NEMO Tensor. I’ve never had any problems with any of them. The longest I probably used a pad was 5 years (earlier), then a series of 2-year pads in the late 1990s to 2015, and 3 years on my previous Tensor (I got the current-year Tensor when it came out this spring, and no problems 3 trips in.) My usage has probably averaged 9 long-weekend trips and one or two week-long trips per year.

      The pads I discarded after 2 or 5 years were given to others (I have a bad case of “Oooohh-shiny!”), and know that the recipients used them for at least 3-5 years (and were still using them when we lost touch with each other.) They used them perhaps 6 weekends and a weeklong trip each year.

      None of us babied our gear, but we did take reasonably good care of it. We didn’t use the pads on bare ground – there was either a tent floor, ground cloth, or chair kit used with them – and we were reasonably careful about selecting a campsite (but always took the chance to camp on sandstone overlooks when we had the chance.)

      I agree that durability is a very minor factor in choosing a pad.

  6. I have this pad but the pre 2019 model. I love it. It made sleeping in a tent comfortable again. Used it on a 600-mile bikepacking trip over dirt roads in Idaho national forests with no problems. I wish I had the more insulated version but not enough to buy a new one.

  7. My second pad purchase coming from a S2S self inflating pad. And given it’s so light, took the advice to not count ounces over sleep comfort and got the regular wide.

    Hecking. Love. It.

    So packable, warm and comfy. No shoulders/arms on the ground. Sleep so much better now and still a much easier carry.

    Only minor gripe is on a slight grade it’ll inch its way down my tent overnight. The old S2S had a few small rubberized films on it to combat that. I know people have suggested dabs of seam sealer, but I’ve been afraid of causing a leak of my Precious.

    Can anyone recommend an article or simple instructions if they’ve done this for a pad? Like… A specific seam sealer? Apply/dry while inflated, or…?

  8. I wish some company would make a short/wide inflateable pad, say a 25 by 50.

  9. I just tried to use a Schnozzle to inflate my Tensor. Kept popping out—aggravating. Seems to be slightly smaller diameter fitting than the Nemo. Luckily I tried it out in a store and never bought it.

  10. Phil, you must have referenced a Sea to Summit Large Rectangular mattress at 26 oz.. the StS Regular mummy insulated mattress at 3.2 R is just over 15 oz.

  11. Which would you say is better in terms of comfort,Tensor V2,or the Ultra 5R? I would honestly go for the ultra but i have a big problem with it’s pack size compared to the Tensor. I was looking at 3R,but i don’t want to risk being cold,i would use it mostly for 3 season use. Down to 20f. I wouldn’t mind getting a warmer pad for temperatures below that,but i don’t want to push the limits of my pad at that point, it’s not woth being cold. An the 3R is right at that limit…

    • I can’t weigh in on the V2 v 5R but can tell you if I was worried about the R value of the lighter pad and using it in the occasional shoulder season down to 20 degrees I would go with the lighter pad and on those occasions I needed more insulation I’d carry a z-foam pad (+R2) to add under the inflatable. Sure, it’s something else to buy and pack but depending on your ratio of cold night to warm summer night could well be the solution for you.

    • I think it’s a complete tossup in terms of which is more comfortable. Both are great. If you like the small size of the tensor, get that. You just want to avoid getting too low of an R-value.

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