Update: Therm-a-Rest has killed off the SV valve concept and this product because consumers could not operate it correctly or reliably. Don’t buy it.
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite MAX SV inflatable sleeping pad is a lightweight inflatable three-season sleeping pad that is super easy to inflate and deflate. The “SV” stands for a SpeedValve which lets you inflate and deflate it faster than other inflatable pads that have stick valves (including the regular NeoAir Xlite pad) or flat valves that are designed to be inflated with an external pump or pump sack, like many pads from Sea-to-Summit, Exped, and Klymit.
The Max SV Pad
The NeoAir Max SV is an inflatable pad that uses the standard honeycomb reflective insulation that Therm-a-Rest has been using across their NeoAir product line, which has been shipping for about 5 years now (See: How does a NeoAir Work?). It’s still noisy and crinkly like a bag of potato chips when deflated, but less so than the original NeoAir pads in its inflated state.
Other than the SpeedValve, the Max SV differs from a regular NeoAir Xlite only slightly, having a rectangular shape instead of a mummy shape, making is a bit more comfortable for people who have a larger torso or like a bigger pad. I tested a regular size Max SV which is 20″ x 72″ x 2.5″ and weighs 16 ounces. A large size Max SV is also available that is 25″ x 77″ x 2.5″ and weighs 21 ounces. Both sized pads have an R-value of 3.2 which is suitable for non-winter use (See Sleeping Pad R-Values). They’re covered with a 30d nylon fabric which is quite puncture-resistant. In fact, it’s thicker than most backpacking tent floors.
Feature-wise the NeoAir Max SV is fairly vanilla in terms of comfort and features compared to competitive pads. It’s thick enough for back and side sleepers, but the top surface is flat, without any side “rails” to keep you from rolling off the pad at night. The Max SV, like all NeoAir pads, has a side stick valve that can be used to inflate or adjust the level of inflation you prefer. While stick valves can jam up and break if abused, they’re fairly reliable these days.
The SpeedValve is a roll-top style opening at the head end of the Max SV pad. The interior of the roll-top opening is lined with a black plastic sleeve. To inflate, you open the roll-top buckle, unroll it, and make sure the black plastic sleeve is pushed inside. When you blow into the roll-top opening, the surrounding air gets pulled in to inflate the bag faster. That’s the claim at least, although the results will vary depending on mattress size, construction, and lung capacity. I found that it decreased the number of breaths I need to inflate the Max SV using the stick valve alone by one-third, not the two-thirds that are advertised. Hardly worth an upgrade.
To close the SpeedValve, roll it closed seven times (the black plastic sleeve should still be inside). Close the buckle, so it’s on the underside of the pad. Use the provided stick valve to top off the pad or release air for comfort.
Unrolling the SpeedValve opens a huge hole at the head end of the pad and all the air inside comes rushing out faster than if you used the stick valve alone, not that that takes that much time to begin with. I just wish the pad would fold and pack itself up too. That’d be an even bigger time saver.
Poor Usability and Documentation
While the SpeedValve technology is cool, people have experienced a lot of problems in the field with accidental deflation, where the air leaks out of the NeoAir Max SV overnight. I’ve experienced it myself. This pad almost always leaks air post inflation. That’s unacceptable for me. It has to be 100% reliable for backpacking.
The problem has to do with the user-friendliness of the SpeedValve construction and the black plastic sleeve. Unless you roll the SpeedValve closed “just so”, air leaks out overnight and you wake up in the cold ground.
Therm-a-Rest explained that the problem is with the black plastic sleeve. It can’t have any wrinkles or folds in it when you roll it up. Only you can’t tell if it does have wrinkles or folds because they’re hidden away inside the pad’s roll top.
Therm-a-Rest attributes the reliability issues that people are having with the NeoAir SpeedValve to a documentation and training issue since the SpeedValve is a new system that people aren’t familiar with.
To their credit, they’re working on creating better training videos and literature that explain how to close the SpeedValve so it won’t leak. They’re also looking into modifying the SpeedValve to make it work more reliably for everyone.
The author would like to thank Therm-a-Rest Marketing and Customer Service for being so forthcoming about the product issues that customers are experiencing with the new SpeedValve technology.
Disclosure: Therm-a-Rest provided Philip Werner with a sample NeoAir Max SV sleeping pad for this review.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed on SectionHiker.com, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!