Thermarest Mats: Comparing the Prolite and the Z-Lite
A 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.
|Thermarest Prolite Plus||Thermarest 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
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
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.
Our 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…
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.
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:
- Exped Down Mat – Expensive and heavy but apparently the ultimate in comfort and very warm ($229 from REI). Since writing this review, we had a chance to test the Exped mats. Read our review.
- Big Agnes Insulated Pad – Reasonably priced, light and warm but punctures easily and takes some time to inflate. ($59.93 from REI)