NEMO challenges the gold standard in ultralight sleeping pads with the Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad. Is the Switchback better than the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol?
NEMO is known for innovative, out-of-the-box designs aimed at making adventures better. From the Stargaze Recliner — a camping chair that rocks and leans back for stargazing — to ultralight tents that make ounce-counters happier, the brand has pushed the design envelope since it first started.
And while NEMO’s latest Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad may not look exciting, it brought a long-overdue product category into the modern era. It stands in direct (and much-needed) competition with the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol foam sleeping pad.
We tested the Switchback on ultralight missions and adventure races for this review.
NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad Details
The Switchback pad is an accordion-style, closed-cell foam pad for backpacking. In addition, we also used it as a butt pad or second pad when it was cold.
Though it looks similar to its competition at first glance, NEMO took a ground-up design approach with the Switchback. The brand created a highly efficient hexagonal node pattern that provides taller and wider nodes than the Z Lite Sol. These nodes function for improved comfort and better insulation.
The pattern also eliminates dead space and packs down smaller than the Z Lite Sol.
NEMO Switchback Sleep Pad Specs
Sleep Pads: Switchback Ultralight vs. Therm-a-Rest Z Lite
When comparing the Switchback to the Z Lite, the obvious question is: What makes it so different?
My race team, Team BendRacing/YogaSlackers, and I have been using the Z Lite for years in adventure racing. And, frankly, we were a little hesitant to change it up. So I found it pretty impressive (not to mention ballsy) that NEMO sought to improve the folding foam sleeping pad, which already has a huge niche following and a great design.
But after we tried it, we were pleased and excited about the changes. The Switchback pad is 0.15 inches thicker than the Z Lite and weighs 0.5 ounces more — with the Z Lite Sol coming in at 14 ounces and the Switchback pad at 14.5 ounces.
Despite the extra weight, the Switchback packs down at least 1 inch smaller than the Z Lite pad because of its design. As for price, the Z Lite costs around $5 cheaper depending on size (the Z Lite Sol does come in more sizes whereas the Switchback comes in only two).
When tested side by side for comfort, the Switchback won my vote. Its softer and more durable foam provided longer-lasting cushion than the Z Lite Sol. After just two races, the Z Lite’s foam shrunk, making it more pliable and easier to pack up but less comfortable.
Meanwhile, the Switchback has endured the same wear and has kept its thickness so far.
NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad Review
I used the Switchback pad during a weeklong expedition race in Patagonia and multiple 24- to 26-hour mountain missions where the pack weight was crucial to cover as much ground as possible.
The Switchback caught my eye because NEMO touted it as more comfortable and warmer than my (dearly loved) Z Lite Sol. After testing it out in the middle of the Patagonian tundra in varying temperatures and terrain, I now consider myself a convert.
It packed down enough that I could fit it either on top or inside my pack. And it doubled as a nice butt pad for our quick foot care and food stops. I’m a sucker for gear that can multitask.
So, who should consider the Switchback Ultralight? I recommend it for old-school adventurers who love foam sleeping pads, thru-hikers, ultrarunners, and minimalist campers who want to save on weight.
However, this pad is not for the adventurer who needs a super-comfortable night’s sleep. For that, look into blowup pads. Also, as stated above, the pad comes in only two sizes. I’m 5’1″, so I had to work around this by trimming the pad, as I wanted it to be even shorter and lighter.
Lastly, NEMO does not use R-values for its temperature ratings. This can make it hard to compare the Switchback to other sleeping pads or decide what temperatures to use it in. Instead, the brand simply claims the Switchback Ultralight is rated down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
All in all, whether you’re looking to get another foam pad or try something different, the NEMO Switchback Ultralight Sleeping Pad is a noteworthy, updated take on the classic foam sleeping pad.