Gear Review

Thermarest Z-Lite

Thermarest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

Unlike typical closed-cell foam pads, which are rolled, Themarest's Z-Lite pad is made of corrugated sections which fold/stack together.

The ability to fold rather than roll your Z-Lite makes it noticeably more compact than other pads in its class (like Thermarest's Ridge Rest). This helps mitigate what is inarguably the biggest nuisance with bulky foam pads—trying to find creative ways to fit them in or on your backpack. This year's Z-Lite features a new hybrid foam that is softer up top for comfort and denser below for better durability.

Thermarest Z-Lite Folded

You also get your pick of two new colors. In terms of pure performance, the Ridge Rest remains the better pad, but the Z-Lite is not without its advantages.

As mentioned it is more comfortable, thanks to its more-squishy egg shell design.

It's also easier to cut and/or customize the Z-Lite, since it is already divided into sections. So, with a pair of scissors, you can chop the pad into any size you like, from a two-section seat to a shorty pad to any combination you can imagine.

What else makes the Z-Lite interesting? Hmm. Like all traditional foam pads, the Z-Lite kind of lost its mojo when everyone started shifting to inflatable pads. Today's Z-Lite, like the Ridge Rest, is inarguably a throwback perhaps best reserved for old schoolers and winter mountaineers. That said, both pads still have their uses.

As I say, the sectional quality of the Z-Lite makes it a tempting choice if you want to customize the size of your pad. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of adding two sections of Z-Lite beneath your torso for extra warmth and security when sleeping on snow with an inflatable pad. And here's another arcane use of the Z-Lite: there exists a set of frameless backpacks floating around that actually use the Z-Lite as the basis of their suspension (again: Old School).

Ultimately, if you're like most people you'll probably choose an inflatable pad if you're looking for a full-length sleeping solution. And head-to-head, the Ridge Rest's extra warmth makes it arguably the better foam pad. Still, you might find it useful to have a Z-Lite sitting in your closet as an extra option. Just keep those scissors handy...

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.