Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite Review

Thermarest trail lite stuff sack
Credit: Cascade Designs website

Size: regular
Cost£70 (July 2016)
Weight: 800g
Duration used: 115 days

The Good

Good insulation

Good pack size and weight

Not as expensive as top-end mats

The Bad

Tapered shape makes for poor coupling of two mats

Slow self-inflation

Requires extra breaths to be comfortable

Why Therm-a-Rest?

We didn’t begin our adventure with these mats. Our first mat was a huge double we purchased from eBay at a quarter of the price of two Trail Lite mats (~£35). The mat weighed 4kg, took two people to roll up adequately and quickly let us down with a faulty valve. We returned it for a full refund within two months and started searching for a mat which would be lighter and more durable.

We inevitably ended up checking out some of the products by Therm-a-Rest, a brand known in the industry for high quality and excellent customer service. Therm-a-Rest’s range of mats boast high insulation values – minimising heat loss from underneath – and limited lifetime warranties. It is reassuring to know the company has faith enough in their products to offer a guarantee like this.

Thermarest trail lite
Katie unpacking our Thermarest for the first time

However, with hindsight, we probably picked the wrong products for our adventures. The Trail Lite is somewhere in the middle of the range: a self-inflating, lightweight mat which ought to guarantee a good night’s sleep without being as expensive as their top of the range mats, the Pro Lite for instance.

While the Trail Lite does do a fantastic job of insulating your body against the cold ground, the gaps produced by pairing two mats, with their tapered shape, do make for some cold regions at the foot end. For the best coupling, we really should have gone with the Neo Air, a non self-inflating mat with a rectangular profile and impressively small pack size and weight.

Thermarest trail lite poor feet coupling
Coupling isn’t bad at the top, but at the bottom it is pretty poor

That brings us on to a hotly debated topic:

Self-inflating vs inflatable

Before we decided on the Trail Lite, I was adamant that for the kind of money we were spending, we should have a self-inflating mat. After all, what could be worse than biking 6 hours and then having to breathe twenty deep breaths into your mat before being able to lie down on it (or having to carry a battery powered pump to inflate your mat)?

Again, I feel like we made a mistake here. Self-inflating sounds great, but here are the facts for the Trail Lite, at least in our experience:

  • Self-inflation is not a quick procedure, allow 10-15 minutes for “full” inflation.
  • The mat will still need some extra breaths at the end to be properly comfortable.
  • Self-inflating also means that the pack size and weight will be greater than its non self-inflating counterpart.

When making camp at the end of the day, we rarely wait the full 10-15 minutes for self inflation and end up puffing away until the mats are properly inflated anyway. I often wonder whether the self-inflation performance is better in the Pro Lite mat which has a third less of the quoted thickness (2.5cm) of the Trail Lite (3.8cm). Perhaps somebody could confirm this?

Inflation of a mat doesn’t always have to be a breathtaking (forgive me) experience either; take Exped’s range of mats, which can be inflated with the strangely named Schnozzler bag, a nifty device which makes inflating mats dead simple. We’re going to be trying this mat and its inflation bag out after Christmas and are excited to see how it stands up to our rigorous lifestyle and how it compares to the Trail Lite mats.

Our Verdict

The Trail Lite is an excellent mat: light and small enough for any trip to the back country or for carrying on your bike, warm enough for sub-zero temperatures, and the price makes it more tempting than its top of the range alternatives.

However, it is better suited for the solo traveller; the mat’s shape will not suit travelling couples unless they prefer sleeping apart. We weren’t blown away by the self-inflation of the mat either and feel that this is one of the big downsides, given that Therm-a-Rest offer another product at a similar price with a smaller weight and pack size without self-inflation, the Neo Air.

If self-inflation really is important to you and the Pro Lite is out of your budget, the Trail Lite makes a great alternative. We would also be very interested to see Therm-a-Rest have a go at a double version of the Pro Lite mat, if only to increase the number of products aimed at travelling couples!

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