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.
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 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.
Disclosure: Sea-to-Summit provided the author with a pad for review earlier this year.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.