Nemo Tensor Sleeping Pad: Non-Stretch Baffles Mean Comfort

Lightweight fabrics baffled together with low-stretch panels help NEMO’s new Tensor sleeping pads support a more stable night’s sleep.

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Spend enough nights out under the stars and you’ll quickly be able to poke holes in the marketing strategy behind any sleeping pad. Self-inflating, R-value, stabilization … the good and the bad, and ultimately the truth, will always reveal itself after an honest night’s sleep.

This summer we got our hands on NEMO’s Tensor 20R sleeping pad and ran it through a wringer of test scenarios. We hauled it along on family camping trips, carried it in our bike packing kit, threw it down on fire tower hardwood floors, and caught a few winks on a hotel floor between trade shows.

And just when we thought we were done, we unfurled it in the basement and unleashed a troop of neighborhood kids on it.

The Tensor is a tough little pad that delivers big on durability and comfort.

Tested: NEMO Tensor 20R Sleeping Pad

Who’s it for: Space- and weight-conscious outdoor enthusiasts who still prize a good night’s sleep in moderate temperatures.

Included: Pad, stuff sack, Velcro strap, repair kit.

Made in: China.

NEMO Tensor 20R

  • Weight: 13.5 oz.
  • Minimum temperature rating: 30-40˚F
  • Width: 20 in.
  • Length: 72 in.
  • Thickness: 3 in.
  • Insulation: Aluminized film
  • Packed size: 8 in. x 3 in.
  • Fabric: 20D Polyester
  • Price: $120
  • More info/company contact

No-Stretch Baffles?

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The Tensor series is the latest in NEMO’s already robust suite of inflatable pads. At its core, the Tensor uses a non-stretch baffle material (the vertical walls that tack the upper and lower surface), giving the pad a quilted mattress-like surface.

According to NEMO:

“The non-stretch coated fabric (used in the baffles) …provides a stable sleep surface that can’t be matched. Angled baffles, found in other pads, will straighten-out as the pad is loaded; stretch baffle will deform; both cause other pads to feel squishy. The Tensor has the best-in-class point-deflection-resistance, which means that your elbows and other joints can’t press through the pad. Also, when you roll toward the edge of the pad it better supports your weight”.

NEMO Tensor Inflation, Insulation

To inflate the pad, you untwist and pull the nozzle out, then blow into the nozzle. It takes about 30 seconds and 20 breaths to fill the 3-inch-thick pad. To shut the valve, push the nozzle back in and twist it shut.

On the inside, the 20D ripstop Polyester is lined with a mylar-like film. NEMO noted the metal-coated liner extends the comfort range down by 5˚F.

For cooler sleepers, or those throwing down camp in the shoulder seasons, NEMO also released a Primaloft insulated version that buys you an extra 15˚F of warmth. Using the pad in summer and fall, I experienced the uninsulated Tensor 20R was comfortable in the 40s.

Nemo Tensor Size, Weight

The “20” in Tensor 20R identifies the width of the pad in inches. NEMO offers the Tensor in both a 20- and 25-inch width. And the Tensor is available in three sizes: a half-length, mummy tapered full-length, and rectangular-shaped full length. We tested the Tensor 20R, uninsulated, mummy. I found the 20-in. to be fairly narrow; for those with broader shoulders or those who like a little wiggle room at night, I would recommend looking at the Tensor 25R.

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For those who look at the small details, perhaps the most salient feature is what it doesn’t have: weight.

The Tensor line is exceptionally light; the full-length mummy weighs a scant 13 oz. and packs down to 3″ x 8″, smaller than a 1-liter Nalgene. It virtually disappears in the pack, slipping between other packed items.

The pad folds up in thirds and rolls out nicely without getting too wonky. Because the nozzle isn’t at the absolute corner of the pad, a little air remains when rolling it up, requiring you unroll it a bit, open the valve, and squeeze out the remaining air.

Pros and Cons

Pros: At 3″ x 8″, the Tensor is super packable–perhaps the most compact full-length, 3-inch-thick pad we have tested. This puts it in direct competition with Cascade Design’s NeoAir X-Lite. The Tensor takes the edge, though, losing a svelte inch off both the packed height and width and still yielding an extra 1/2 loft over the NeoAir.

At $120, the Tensor is a competitively priced pad.

The low elasticity of the baffles allows you to dial in the pad’s firmness without compromising a good night’s sleep.

Cons: The Tensor 20 pad is fairly narrow and my arms occasionally fell off. If you have broad shoulders, or like a little extra room, consider the Tensor 25R. Though this is not exclusive to the Tensor or NEMO, as most brands’ pads have this standard size.

The pad lacks a quick air-release valve found on many of the latest pads on the market. This requires you “roll the air out” of the pad the old-fashioned way. The valve position gets in the way of rolling up the pad.

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Minor points: While the 20D fabric is quieter than most pad material, the metallic film found on the inside sounds a little crinkly.

NEMO Tensor 20: Review

NEMO’s claims hold true; The Tensor did a good job supporting the body in the middle of the night. I didn’t notice any underlying objects protruding into my back.

Should you ditch the old pad? For those who already have a good light pad, I don’t think it warrants plunking down $120 to change. But if you are in the market for a new pad, the Tensor line should certainly be considered, especially for the ultralight adventurer looking for a good night’s sleep.

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tagged: #review

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Contributing Editor (and Gear Junkie Idaho Bureau Chief) Steve Graepel is allegedly a crook and a thief, conning his friends to steal away time from their families in pursuit of premeditated leisure, which typically involves a bike, a pack-raft, skis, running shoes, climbing rack, or all of the above.
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