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Thermarest Mats: Comparing the Prolite and the Z-Lite


fl_prolite3_regular_l.jpgA good bike tour means getting a good night’s sleep so if you’re going to be camping, it’s important to choose a good mat.

We’re big fans of Thermarest mats. They’re comfortable, the company backs its product with a lifetime guarantee and, having tested that guarantee on the road, we can vouch for the great customer service behind the warranty.

Two mats that we have personal experience with are the self-inflating Thermarest Prolite Plus mat and the solid foam Thermarest Z Lite mat. Here’s how they compare:

Thermarest Prolite PlusThermarest Z Lite
Weight: 24 ounces or 680 grams
Dimensions: 72 x 20 x 1.5 inches or 183 x 51 x 4 cm
Packed Size: 4.8 x 11 inches
R-Value: 3.8
Price: $129.95 from REI
Material: Open-cell foam.
Comfort: Very comfortable.
Durability: After about 6 months of constant use, this pad is prone to delaminating. It can also be punctured or damaged if you leave it inflated in a hot tent.
Weight: 14 ounces or 400 grams
Dimensions: 72 x 20 inches or 183 x 51 x 2cm
Packed Size: 20 x 5.5 x 5 inches
R-Value: 2.2
Price: $44.95 from REI
Material: Solid foam
Comfort: Eggshell design is surprisingly soft but the mat is still noticeably firmer than the Prolite.
Durability: Indestructible. Never punctures or delaminates. Foam can compact over time but ours are still good after 2 years of constant use.

Relaxing afternoonOur recommendation: Based on our experience with both mats, we recommend the Prolite Plus mats for shorter tours. It’s more portable and it will be easy to send away for repair or replacement from home if it does delaminate. If the average cycle tourist gets out for two weeks of biking and camping a year, then we got a good decade’s use out of our Prolite mats before they gave way. If you’re going on a longer trip, however, where receiving a replacement mat may be a hassle and leave you waiting in one spot for a few days, then a Z-Lite mat is probably the better choice.

For the details on our experience with both mats, keep on reading…

Prolite Experience
We originally bought Thermarest Prolite mats because of their light weight, warmth rating and small size when packed away. Having never slept on a camping mat before, it took a few days to adjust to our new beds but we were soon sleeping like babies. We used the mats a few times when temperatures dropped just below freezing and with a few layers of clothing and a good sleeping bag we were always warm.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the Prolite mats aren’t ideal for longer trips because after 6 months ours started to delaminate. This means that separators that create the pockets of air inside the mat began to break down and instead of a flat mat we had one with a huge bubble in the middle of it. This was impossible to sleep on comfortably and no longer provided insulation from the cold ground.

We contacted Thermarest and were immediately sent a replacement. This was fine until the second mat died a few months later. This time we located a nearby Thermarest dealer and decided that instead of swapping our old mat for a new one, which would likely deteriorate in another few months, we would try a closed cell mat.

Switch to the Z Lite
After examining various closed cell mats, we settled on a Z-Lite. We liked the feel of its egg carton surface (finding it more comfortable than a flat mat) and we were pleased that it weighed a bit less than the Prolite. The only downside was its size – because the Z-Lite folds like an accordion, it’s bulky even when packed. We had to rearrange our gear and placed the new mat in a heavy duty bag on the back of Friedel’s bicycle, on top of the rear panniers.

fl_zlite_l.jpg

As with the Prolite mats, there was an adjustment period with the Z Lite but after a few nights we grew used to it. An unexpected bonus was that we were no longer worried about puncturing the mat when we used it outside. When our remaining Prolite mat gave way in Syria in December 2007, we asked Thermarest to replace it with a Z Lite and they quickly couriered out one to us, no questions asked. Once again we were impressed with their customer service!

Since then we’ve been using our Z Lite mats without complaint. Given our experience with inflatable mats, we would opt for a Z Lite over a Prolite for a long tour. Even with great service from Thermarest, you still have to find a place to receive a replacement mat and it’s better not to have this hassle in the first place. The Z Lite is also less than half the price of the Prolite mats.

Other options: It’s worth noting that we are fairly easy sleepers but some people find the Thermarest Prolite inflatable mats uncomfortable, especially if you sleep on your side or you’re a larger person. If this is the case, you may want to research thicker mats, which will be heavier and bulkier but make for sweeter dreams.

Some mats used by other bike tourists include the:

What Next?
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3 Responses to “Thermarest Mats: Comparing the Prolite and the Z-Lite”

  1. I’m a massive fan of Thermarests but also *love* Alpkit who make a similar*. I haven’t tried it but if it’s anything like the rest of their kit it’ll be as good and cheaper. Totally brilliant company who make really wonderful stuff.

    * http://www.alpkit.com/airic/

    • Pawel says:

      We’ve been using our Alpkit Airic mats for the last 3 years for all our holidays and weekend trips. High quality, lightweight, come packed with everything you’d need (compression straps, bag and puncture repair kit), very competitive price and excellent customer service – one of our mats delaminated after 2 years of use, we got a replacement within days, no questions asked.

  2. Having tried a cheap self-inflating mat in the first year and seeing it delaminate after a week, we turned to Therm-a-rest Prolites and are proverbial happy campers ever since. They have at least 150 nights on them each, and I am a very heavy person. So according to your experience they are approaching their end-of-life. We’ll keep you posted on the development.

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