Expert Review: Nemo Switchback Insulated Sleeping Pad

This review is my honest opinion of the pad which I purchased with my own money in May of 2021.

A backpacker looks out out at a valley with his backpack and a sleeping pad strapped to the pack.

All photos courtesy of Brett K.

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About the Review: This review is my honest opinion of the pad which I purchased with my own money in May of 2021.

My Take

The Nemo Switchback is excellent for backpackers who prioritize weight and cost-effectiveness over comfort. It’s not uncomfortable in every situation, and it does have the added bonus of an ultrafast setup and tear-down time.

A man with backpakcing gear squats in front of a marker for mile 100 on the Colorado Trail.

Mile 100 on the Colorado Trail.

About the gear

  • Model: 2021 Nemo Switchback
  • Size: Regular

Test conditions

  • When I bought it: May 2021
  • Days tested: 75 days
  • Pack: 2021 Nemo Switchback
  • Total pack weight: 14.5oz
  • Used for: Backpacking/Thru-hiking
  • Where I’ve used it: Vermont Long Trail, Colorado Trail
  • Seasons I’ve used it in: Summer and Fall

About me

  • Height: 5’7’’
  • Weight: 130 lbs
  • Experience: 10 years

How it Performs

Comfort
3/5
Durability
5/5
Packability
2/5
Versatility
5/5
Weight
2/5

What I was looking for

I was looking for a pad that was lighter than what I was currently using and could double as a stretching/yoga mat.

I wanted to shed weight and decrease my camp setup and tear-down time. I was also tired of huffing and puffing into an air mattress every night and squeezing the air out every morning.

Why I chose this gear

I liked the simplicity of a closed-cell foam pad, and this was the one with the best R-value to weight ratio. The fact that it’s infinitely customizable appealed to me as well. It can easily be cut down to any shape or size I want, which is ideal for ultralight backpackers.

I considered a fully inflatable pad for a minute. This was so much cheaper than other air mattresses and hybrid pads that it was easy to just buy on a whim.

The Nemo Switchback Insulated Sleeping Pad is laid out on the ground in the dirt with some snacks and gear nearby.

Dirt nap!

What I love about it

  • Durability: This is one of the features that drove me towards a closed-cell foam pad. I tried an inflatable mattress for one night and woke up on a sad, deflated piece of plastic. It is impossible for that to happen with this pad. I can toss it out for every overlook and dirt nap and it will hold up.
  • Weight: It’s a great piece of ultralight gear. It’s one of the lightest options on the market, which is a huge selling point for long-distance hikers.
  • Comfort: Although it’s not the most comfortable pad by far, I have to put this in the love section simply because it is much more comfortable than I expected. I can also easily use it in the midst of a long day of hiking to stretch or take a quick nap, which contributes to the comfort factor for me. Side sleepers might have trouble with this pad, but the key is to find a soft piece of ground to pitch your tent on or pad the ground with leaves or pine needles.
  • Shape: I love the big rectangular shape. I always used to wake up in the middle of the night with my legs hanging off my pad when I used mummy-shaped pads. Since I can cut it down to any shape I want, I’m not locked into the shape like I would be with an inflatable pad.
  • Noise: This pad makes zero noise to speak of. Inflatable pads are made with a very thin foil-like material to increase its R-value and cut down on weight, but it makes quite a racket when I roll around on it. The Switchback is simply a piece of foam without any of those loud materials.
  • Features: The Switchback has zero “features” and is the ultimate in simplicity which I really enjoy.
  • Ease of use: This is another aspect of its simplicity. It takes no time to spread it out or fold it up.
  • Backpacking: It is absolutely ideal for backpacking in that it is lightweight, simple and quick to use, and bulletproof.
  • Thru-Hiking: This pad is excellent for thru-hiking for the same reasons as it is great for backpacking - durable, lightweight, and simple. It may start to lose some comfort towards the end of a long hike as the foam compresses, but it is cheap enough to justify buying another one.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Packability: Unfortunately, this is where the Switchback absolutely tanks. I’m basically forced to strap it to the outside of my pack which is bulky and awkward. It will get wet and it will snag on rocks and branches.
  • Insulation and R-Value: It’s not the warmest pad by any means, but if I’m using it for warm weather camping that doesn’t really matter. I found it to be sufficient for the mountains of Vermont and Colorado in June-August with temps into the 30s.
  • Car Camping: It can be used for car camping but is not ideal as there are much more comfortable options out there.
  • Mountaineering: This pad is not warm enough for mountaineering and would probably get in the way too much with it strapped to the outside of my pack.
A backpacker with a backpacking setup jumps on the trail. There are mountains in the background.

This pad gives you wings.

Favorite moment with this gear

During my thru-hike of the Long Trail, I had horrible IT band issues and had to stop to stretch multiple times a day to stave off the pain and inflammation. This mat was an absolute life-saver. It was always right there on the outside of my pack, ready to be whipped out to stretch on at a moment's notice.

Value for the money vs. other options

It is one of the cheapest options out there. When I was doing my research, I found that it had the best reviews of any pads of its kind (compared to the Thermarest Z-Lite, Exped FlexMat) and for $45, it’s an easily justifiable purchase.

Final verdict

If you’re an ultralight backpacker who doesn’t have trouble sleeping and you are looking for something that is versatile, will stand up to constant abuse, and is customizable, then I would definitely consider the Nemo Switchback.

Selling Nemo on Curated.com
Nemo Switchback Insulated Sleeping Pad
$49.95
$54.95
9% off
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Written By
The wilderness is my home, my vacation spot, and my church. It's where I feel the most in tune and the most like myself. If I can help even a handful of people get out into nature and experience the blissful oneness that I've experienced out there, I'll feel fulfilled as a hiking and camping expert....

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