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SectionHiker.com’s Gear of the Year 2019

The Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad is SectionHiker.com’s 2019 Gear of the Year. This is an annual award I give to the outdoor product that has had the biggest positive impact on my hiking and backpacking experience each year. While I normally issue this award at year-end, the Ether Light XT Insulated Pad is such a home run that there’s no need to wait.

The Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad is a 15 oz inflatable sleeping map that’s four inches thick and has an R-value of 3.8. I use the regular-sized pad which is 72″ x 21.5″, but a larger 78″ x 25″ size is also available. The Ether Light XT Insulated is different from other popular sleeping pads like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite because it has dimpled “air-sprung” cells that make it much more comfortable to sleep on. A lighter weight, 12.3 oz non-insulated model, the Sea-to-Summit Ether Light Air, is also available.

The Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad is 4” thick with an R-value of 3.8

While the Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad is 3 ounces heavier than a regular-sized Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, the extra gear weight is totally worth it. I’ve slept on a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite for close to 10 years and that pad can feel like a board, even if you deflate it a bit to soften it up. The XLite has horizontal air channels that stretch across the pad widthwise, a design that is necessitated by the structure of the NeoAir insulation system and its horizontal channels, which are coated with crinkly heat-reflective layers. While it’s lightweight and thermally efficient, the emphasis isn’t particularly on user comfort.

Sea-to-Summit’s “Air-Sprung Cells” are much more focused on the sleeping experience. They are small interconnected chambers that resemble springs on a bed and conform to your body’s contours. The pad also includes synthetic internal insulation and a platinum reflective coating, but it’s absolutely silent (quiet) to sleep on. The difference in sleep quality is profound. I’ve always liked sleeping outdoors but sleeping better on my Ether Light than on the luxurious mattress we have at home.

The Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Mat comes with an optional pillow lock attachment system and a flat valve for rapid deflation.

The Ether Light also comes with a stuff sack that can be used to inflate the sleeping pad, which is itself a revelation, compared to having to blow one up with your mouth. Sea-to-Summit also has a more durable flat valve that can be opened wide for very rapid deflation, something that virtually impossible with any of Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pads. Finally, the Ether Light comes with an optional pillow attachment system, which keeps the pillow on the pad all night and is a huge win for a side sleeper like me.

That, in a nutshell, is why I love using the Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Sleeping Pad more than any other backpacking sleeping pad. You need to sleep well if you want to hike all day, for days at a time. The Ether Light XT makes it possible for me to sleep well night after night and has become an irreplaceable part of my backpacking sleep system.

High recommended!

Disclosure: Sea-to-Summit provided the author with a pad for review earlier this year.

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42 comments

  1. I had one and sold it second hand right after trying it out two seperate weekends in spring. While I like Sea To Summit’s thinner airsprung mats like the ‘comfort light’ for their stable sleeping comfort, this thicker mat wasn’t comfortable for me at all. The other problem with all airsprung cells mats are that they don’t isolate well and are only suitable for summer. And they are quite heavy too, compared to the competition.

    • It has an R value of 3.8 and I find it to be luxuriosly warm. Sorry it didn’t work for you.

    • I’ve used this pad several times now and even take it to hotels where I am unsure whether the bed will be comfortable. This is comfortable whether I sleep on my side or my back. It’s super easy to adjust the firmess, I used it for multiple nights in various temps and not once did I have to add more air to it. All of my other pads now hang out in my garage full time. This pad is a little heavier, but absolutely worth the gooe good night’s sleep I get. Seems durable so far, although I am extra careful due to how wxpensive it is. I backpacked on a rocky coast line and did my best to camp where the ground wasn’t too bad, thankfully no holes in tent floor or sleeping pad.

  2. I just purchased the non-insulated Ether Light XT mat, and I have to say, it’s an eye-opener! After years of sleeping on closed cell foam mats, I needed more comfort – the Ether Light XT gives me that in spades! It also looks like it will be pretty durable too, as the materials seem quite substantial compared to other mats I looked at – but time will tell! Why the non-insulated version? Well I figured I wanted to keep the weight as low as possible, and I have a closed cell mat to use in conjunction when weather gets cold.

  3. The smaller women’s versions will work for many and they have a higher R 4.2 rating.

  4. Well, dang, it’s a little out of my price range at the moment but I shall file this away for when I decide to spend $200 on a sleeping pad. Nice to know there’s a super comfy lightweight one out there. How does the pillow attachment work?

  5. Any idea how this compares to the new model of the Nemo Tensor? Does the Exped Pump sack work with the Sea to Summit Ether Light?

    • I reviewed a Tensor a while back, I think. :-) It was ok, but I primarily liked the fact that it was available in a very short size. I’m pretty sure it has horizontal baffles like the thermarest pads.

      The Exped pump sack does work with the Ether Light and that’s what I use to inflate it.
      https://sectionhiker.com/exped-schnozzel-ul-pumpbag-review/

      • I’ll just add. I wouldn’t invest in any sleeping pad without an R-value. Nemo and Big Agnes will be publishing theirs in the future, but I’d wait until you see what they are before investing a lot of money in a pad without one. Their “suggested temperature ratings” are ill-defined, at best, and depend on your body’s ability to generate warmth (if you’re a cold sleeper, you’ll be screwed). R-values, in contrast, don’t rely on user physiology. They’re factual and the same for everyone.

      • My wife & I just bought last year’s Nemo Tensor insulated pads from REI Outlet and took them for 2 weeks onto the northern end of the JMT. They replaced NeoAir pads for this trip, and we both found them significantly more comfortable than the NeoAir. They do have a dimpled feel, not just horizontal chambers like NeoAir pads.

        I’m ready to either sell my NeoAir or donate it to my local backpacking club, which owns gear it loans out to paid members for free.

  6. This is a fun time to be buying outdoor equipment. Every year brings real and substantial improvements to products. Not like the old days when you had to shop at an Army surplus store.

  7. Ok, thanks for the review, taking this to upcoming trip to NZ, replacing wide Neoair, just hit 59 and will primarily be doing single night hikes, so this should be a blessing, thx again

  8. I bought my wife a women’s large and liked it so much, I bought one for me. I’m a short guy, so the size works for me, and I like the extra width and warmth.

  9. I have suffered thru uncomfortable pads in the name of saving weight for 100s of nights now. Yeah, you kinda get used to them, especially on a long trip. Yeah you can basically function after a night of waking up every hour because of numb leg and hips. But Phillip, you have lead me to the light! I will cut weight elsewhere and sleep soundly going forward! Hurrah! BTW, if anyone is interested in buying a neoair small, an Extherm regular, or a Gossamer Gear 1/8″ closed cell, hit me up. I probably need to sell all 3 to afford this S2S.?

  10. Just bought one and did the free pillow coupon code (got the down one for $70 savings). The pad is definitely thicker than any other I’ve used before, doesn’t crinkle, has the flat valve, and the pillow attachment is pretty cool. I’ll see, this weekend on my way up Gannett, if it cures my “1st night – no sleep blues” that I experience on every outing.

  11. Is a pad to pillow attachment just helpful when using a quilt or do most people put their pillow under their bag? I’ve always put my pillow in my bags hood… Honestly never even crossed my mind to put it under. Am I doing it wrong?

  12. I’m in the market for a new pad, and your review has me thinking this might be the one. One question, though, on width. Have you ever considered the wider versions of the pads? In warm weather it’s not an issue, but I find that my arms never fail to fall off of narrow pads and freeze in colder temps. Any suggestions (other than buying a wider version)? Thanks!

  13. For me, at 63″ tall, a 72″ long pad is ridiculous. Also, for me, I need a pad closer to an R value of 5 to keep me warm on frosty (low 20s) nights. I do like the 4″ thick, though! I’ll stick with my Exped Downmat Light as long as it holds up, and then see what S to S is offering at that time.

  14. Really happy that there default width is not the standard 20. I’m debating replacing my xlite w/ the large version (cut it down) or this for the extra width.

  15. I ordered the women’s large version after your recommendation. I just used it on a 5 night backpack and it is sooo much more comfortable than the Neoair extherm I had been using (and quieter). It makes such a difference when you are comfortable at night. I will take the few ounce weight penalty. Thanks for recommending.

  16. If only the R were higher! I can’t fault the XTherm its drawbacks because I have never, ever been cold on it. This sure looks luxorious, though.

  17. I will almost certainly have ttry one and if it too decadent I suppose my wife can use it :-) I have no complaints about the neoair products except that they do not have an xtherm for women. 66″ id plenty for me as I almost never stretch out to my full 6’+ . Sounds like I could get a pad that is pretty much as light, almost as warm, and possibly more comfortable. For the record, I have zero issues deflating my TR pads…..I open the valve when I am laying on them and they rapidly deflate every time

  18. This type of 3 season insulated air mattress is “evolving”. I have an REI 3 season FLASH insulated air mattress that is also 15 oz. and fairly comfortable and decently insulated.

    As well I have the FLASH All Season winter air mattress. It has the exact same tufting as the 3 season matttres.
    My preference with any inflatable mattress is to cover the top with a clean T shirt if I want to sleep on my stomached lay my face on the mattress. Not only is this T shirt cover more comfortable but it also keeps body oils from messing with the mattress surface and causing problems a few years later.

  19. Anyone have a trick for not slipping off of the neoair? That was pretty expensive and I can’t justify buying a new one.

  20. I just ordered the long wide version of this pad Philip, I’m counting on you, lol…

  21. For those counting grams, my Sea-to-Summit Ether Light XT Insulated is 527g (about 16.75oz). The pump bag (either S2S or Exped Schnozzel) will add 55g (2oz) more.

  22. A correction to the above: the mattress alone is 472g. Combined weight is 527g.

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