Expert Review: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL Sleeping Pad
This review is my honest opinion of the sleeping pad, which I purchased with my own money in February of 2019.
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the sleeping pad, which I purchased with my own money in February of 2019.
The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite SOL Sleeping Pad is a lightweight, affordable option for anyone looking for a solid night’s sleep, whether that’s car camping or backpacking in the backcountry.
About the sleeping pad I own
- Model: 2019 Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite SOL
- Size: Small
- When I bought it: February 2019
- Days tested: 30
- Total pack weight: 14 oz regular, 10 oz small
- Used for: Car camping, backpacking, section hiking
- Where I’ve used it: John Muir Trail, CA; Appalachian Trail, NY; and various camping locations in CT and MA
- Seasons I’ve used it in: All four seasons
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 160lbs
- Experience: 10 years of backpacking
How it performs
What I was looking for
I was preparing for my upcoming section hike of the John Muir Trail, and due to an abnormally high snow year there would be a lot of camping on snow and frozen ground in low temperatures. I was looking to buy a lightweight foam sleeping pad that would provide a barrier between the snow and my main sleeping pad; the Z-Lite SOL was the perfect option.
Why I chose this gear
I chose the Z-Lite SOL because it struck the perfect balance between weight and packability for a foam sleeping pad. Even though I already owned an insulated inflatable sleeping pad, I needed a foam pad in order to minimize the amount of heat lost through contact with my inflatable pad and the ground, especially in the snow. The Z-Lite packs down relatively small for a foam pad and weighs less than a pound, which makes it a very versatile option, especially when section hiking. I didn’t really consider any other options because this pad is considered the gold standard for foam sleeping pads.
What I love about it
- Durability: This is one of the most durable foam sleeping pads on the market. The closed cell foam is resistant to tears and rips, and the denser bottom foam (yellow colored foam) keeps the softer top foam protected during transport.
- Weight: One of the lightest closed-cell foam sleeping pads on the market. The bumpy nature of the top foam shaves some weight, as there is space in between each of the foam bumps.
- Packability: The Z-Lite SOL folds up in sections, giving it a 72 x 20in packed size. It can be strapped on the outside of a pack with no issue and the foam can be compressed to further increase packability.
- Insulation and R-Value: With an R value of two, this pad was perfect for my warm weather spring backpacking adventures and a great insulating layer between the cold ground and my inflatable sleeping pad on cold winter nights.
- Shape: The rectangular nature of the pad means that it is perfect for sleeping on as it provides enough of a platform to sleep, whether it is on my front, side, or back.
- Noise: Because of the closed cell foam, there is not noise while moving around on the pad.
- Ease of use: Because it is a closed cell foam pad that folds, it’s super easy just to unfurl and put down when I reach camp.
- Backpacking: This is an ideal sleeping pad for backpackers looking for a lightweight summer pad or an insulating piece under their main pad. It packs up relatively small for it being a closed cell foam pad and provides enough comfort and protection from the ground for a good night's sleep.
- Car Camping: This sleeping pad would be adequate for car camping, as it serves as a comfortable sleeping pad. Due to the nature of car camping and the ability to bring larger and more comfortable items in one’s car, it might not be the first choice for a thicker inflatable pad or even a cot. However, as an insulating ground layer, this is perfect.
- Mountaineering: It’s an ideal sleeping pad to act as an insulating layer for colder temperatures or as a protective barrier between the sharp, rocky terrain and my main inflatable pad.
- Thru-Hiking: A great sleeping pad for thru-hiking if one is looking for a super lightweight setup or if one needs another layer between their main pad and the ground. When one’s counting ounces, this is one of the lightest pads on the market, coming in under a pound for the regular length.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Comfort: As a standalone pad, there were some nights where I wished for something a little bit thicker, but given the balance between size, weight, and comfort, I think when I was buying this pad I knew what I was getting. Though the raised foam dimples on the softer sleeping side offered a slight cushion from the ground.
Favorite moment with this gear
My favorite moment with this gear has to be when section hiking the John Muir Trail and using the pad both as a cushion from the ground on a lakeside lunch spot, and as an extra layer between the ground and my inflatable pad at a snowy, high-alpine campsite. This is the perfect example of how the Z-Lite SOL is the swiss-army knife of sleeping pads. Transitioning from using it as a seat cushion in the afternoon to a traditional sleeping pad in the evening, there is nothing this sleeping pad can’t do while serving as a barrier between me and the ground.
Value for the money vs. other options
There are a couple of different options on the market, such as the Nemo Switchback or the Exped FlexMat. Compared to the Nemo Switchback, the Z-Lite SOL is a bit cheaper while providing the same R-value and similar packed size. It also comes in at 0.5 oz lighter in all sizes. The Nemo is .15 inches thicker, so that is something to consider when looking at the two. Compared to the Exped, the Z-Lite SOL has a higher R-value rating and comes in at .05 inches thicker, although the Exped Flexmat is a few ounces lighter. The Exped Flexmat is cheaper but packs down in a slightly larger package. In general, the Z-Lite SOL finds the best middle ground between cost, pack weight, size, comfort, and warmth compared to the other two main options.
The Z-Lite SOL allows any avid hiker, camper, or backpacker to get outside without having to worry about how they’re getting a good night’s sleep. The Z-Lite SOL can handle it all, whether used as a ground cushion during midday stops or as a standalone/insulating layer between the ground and one’s body/main sleeping pad.