Nemo Switchback Review: The Cutting Edge Of Old School?

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An innovative take on a timeless classic: This is our take on the Nemo Switchback, an old-school foam backpacking pad with a host of new-school updates for the modern world!
Nemo Switchback Review - Introduction
The Nemo Switchback’s unique construction and added thickness promise elevated comfort, but can this foam pad deliver?



The Nemo Switchback

– Price: $45-$55
– Weight: 14.5oz/411g (regular), 10.5oz/298g (short)
– R-Value:
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 1”/183cm x 51cm x 2.5cm (regular), 51” x 20” x 1” 130cm x 51cm x 2.5cm (short)
– Packed Size: 20” x 5.5” x 5”/ 51cm x 14cm x 13cm (regular), 20” x 5.5” x 4” / 51cm x 14cm x 10cm(short)
– Pad Type: Closed-cell foam
– What we like: Dirt cheap, indestructible, insanely versatile
– What we don’t: Lacks comfort and insulation, noisier than the competition




The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict

Nemo Switchback Review - TWA Verdict
The folding foam pad is a tried-and-true design, but Nemo aims to prove there’s always room for improvement.

This is The Wise Adventurer’s field test and review of the Nemo Switchback, a modernized take on the classic folding foam sleeping pad. We’ve long been fans of foam pads for their low weight, high durability, and downright affordable prices, so when we got a chance to take the Switchback on a few backpacking trips this year, we jumped at the opportunity. 

While most of us are likely familiar with foam sleeping pads, most campers tend to avoid them due to their extra bulk and reduced comfort compared to air pads. Nemo claims their Switchback solves the classic foam conundrum with both a thicker sleeping surface and a more compact design, so on paper, the Switchback should be a win-win for campers everywhere.

After subjecting the Switchback to our standard test procedure, we believe Nemo has substantially improved upon the folding foam pad, but that doesn’t mean everyone will want to go trade in their trusty Therm-A-Rest ZLite either. As is often the case with outdoor gear, there are some tradeoffs you’ll need to know if you’re considering a Switchback yourself, so keep reading to see how it compares to the competition.

Load up your packs and strap on your boots, it’s time for the Wise Adventurer’s field test of the Nemo Switchback sleeping pad!




Detailed Evaluation Of The Nemo Switchback

Our aim in testing the Nemo Switchback was to see how it compared to the competition (both air and foam) on all the most important metrics campers care about including everything from comfort and warmth to weight and packability. As part of our yearly field test of the best sleeping pads and best camping mattresses, our testers spent several months toting the Switchback along to see how it handled life around camp and out on the trail, and here’s what we found.  

Comfort

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: No matter what the marketing hype says, a closed-cell foam backpacking pad simply cannot compete with the comfort of a modern air pad. They’re much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, but they fall short of pretty much everything else on the market in this regard. 

Comfort simply isn’t the strong suit of these pads, regardless of who makes them or how. With that being said, we have to congratulate the folks at Nemo for finding a way to meaningfully upgrade a classic. The difference isn’t dramatic, but compared to its foam-filled competitors, the Switchback takes the cake for overall comfort. 

Nemo Switchback Review - Comfort
The tall hexagonal nodes in the Switchback make it slightly thicker than the competition, giving it a leg up on traditional foam pads in terms of cushion and comfort.

Our testers chalked this improvement up to the Switchback’s slightly increased thickness, as well as its effective use of dual-density foam, which creates a soft surface up top for comfort and a firmer bottom layer for durability and support. We’ll also point out that Nemo uses a unique “hexagonal” shape for their foam nodes, which they claim helps to reduce compression of your sleeping bag’s insulating fill. 

The one place we felt the Nemo fell short of Therm-a-rest’s “industry standard” ZLite Sol was noise. The Switchback isn’t a loud pad by any stretch, but it “creaks” a bit when you move around, whereas the ZLite and other foam pads we’ve tested are effectively silent. 

Weight And Packed Size

Closed-cell foam pads like the Nemo Switchback are revered by minimalist backpackers for their impressively low weight. Our “regular” sized tester tipped the Wise Adventurer scales at a mere 14.5 ounces, outclassing all but the most hardcore air pads on the market. 

We’ll note that the Nemo’s main competitor, the Therm-a-rest Z Lite, weighs about a half-ounce less. That may concern some ultralight gram-counters out there, but the difference will be utterly inconsequential for anyone else. The Switchback feels feather-lite regardless of where you stash it, which is important considering how bulky it is compared to your typical air pad.

Nemo Switchback Review - Weight and Packed Size
While both pads share identical packed dimensions according to the spec sheets, the Nemo (on the right) clearly packs down tighter than the Therm-a-rest it competes with.

Speaking of bulk, while the Nemo Switchback’s foam construction makes it considerably larger/bulkier than its air-filled competitors, it’s impressively compact for a folding foam pad. We found that although the Switchback and Z Lite Sol share identical dimensions according to the manufacturer’s specs, the Switchback’s hexagonal molding fits together much tighter, shaving a good half-inch off the thickness of the pad when folded. 

That’s particularly impressive considering that the Switchback also provides a thicker sleeping surface than the ZLite when unpacked. Both pads will still need to be lashed somewhere outside your pack, of course, but there’s no denying the Nemo is the more compact of the two in person. 

Insulation 

The Nemo Switchback carries an R-value of 2.0, which is identical to Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol and generally considered standard for the segment. Our testers reported the Switchback worked well in temperatures 40°F or higher, and made for a comfortable place to sleep from late spring through early fall. 

Insulation comes courtesy of a two-part system combining a reflective metallic coating and the unique shape of the Switchback’s sleeping surface. In a nutshell, the metallic coating reflects the sleeper’s body heat, while the deep divots in the pad’s surface help trap warm air, making the most of the insulation on the underside of your sleeping bag.

Nemo Switchback Review - Insulation
Deep air pockets and a reflective backing material give the Switchback a respectable R-value of 2.0.

While the overall effect is limited, it’s also important to remember that the Switchback is an excellent winter pad as well. Used in tandem with a three-season pad, the Switchback essentially “boosted” the overall R-value of our sleep system well into four-season territory. Using this two-pad setup, our testers were able to sleep comfortably in conditions neither pad had any business going on its own, which adds value to the Switchback’s already attractive price point. 

Ease Of Use 

Ease of use is a major highlight of any foam pad, and it doesn’t get much easier than the Nemo Switchback. Simply unfold the pad, throw it in the tent, and you’re ready to hit the hay. 

After a long day on the trail, we loved having the Switchback handy, as there’s nothing to unpack or inflate standing between you and lights out. The same goes for packing up camp in the morning: Just fold the Switchback up and lash it on your pack. The entire process takes all of five seconds, making this pad quicker and easier to deploy than any air pad on the market. 

Nemo Switchback Review - Ease of Use
Whether we were packing it up or rolling it out, the Switchback’s simple folding design takes all of five seconds to deploy.

The only place that the Nemo Switchback can be a bit of a bear is during transportation. Due to the pad’s considerable bulk, it needs to be either lashed to the outside of your pack or stuffed into a stretchy side pocket. Our testers found this wasn’t particularly difficult, but it did make ducking between low limbs or hiking through overgrown trails a little more complicated. 

Durability 

When it comes to durability, nothing beats a foam pad. Because the Nemo Switchback relies on foam rather than air for both cushion and insulation, punctures, tears, and scrapes have zero impact on the pad’s performance. 

That means there’s no need to worry about accidentally sleeping on your car keys, forgetting to take that knife out of your pocket, or laying the Switchback directly on rough ground for a little cowboy camping. It also means you can share the Switchback with your pets (we often bring one along specifically for our dog) without risking any meaningful damage to your pad. 

Nemo Switchback Review - Durability
Say what you will about foam pads, but there’s no denying the inherent durability of the Switchback and its ilk.

Our testers also shared that because the Switchback is essentially unbreakable, it doubles as a comfortable place to sit around camp when a proper chair isn’t available. It’s a dry place to plop down while you pull on your boots, relief for your knees when you’re kneeling over a pile of tinder, and a little extra support in your favorite hammock all rolled into one. 

The only drawback we found here with the Nemo Switchback is longevity. Over time, the Switchback’s closed-cell foam construction compresses with use, gradually becoming thinner until it’s essentially rendered useless in terms of comfort (it’ll still reflect body heat). It’s important to note that this is a common weakness between all closed-cell foam pads, and after a dozen or so nights of use, our Switchback has yet to lose any apparent thickness or comfort.

Value

Value has always been a selling point of the humble foam pad, and the Nemo Switchback is a better value than most. We picked up our test model for around $50 brand new, which is pretty remarkable considering the pad’s ultralight weight and respectable R-value. 

Compared to your typical ultralight air pad, the Switchback delivers the same weight at a fraction of the price. Our testers also pointed out that the Switchback sells for a few dollars less than the Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol it competes with, which is worth noting considering it’s also thicker and more compact when folded. 

Nemo Switchback Review - Value
The Nemo Switchback’s indestructible design is well suited for a number of creative uses, including a dry place to sit on wet ground.

We also feel that as is the case with all closed-cell foam pads, the incredible versatility of the Nemo Switchback makes it an outstanding value for the money. We won’t dig into all the ways you can work a Switchback into your routine, but here are a few well known ones to consider:

Use it as a two/three season standalone pad
Stack it under your air pad for added insulation for winter camping
Fold it inside an ultralight pack for cushion and structure
Use it as a seat around camp
Backcountry dog bed
Splint for wilderness first-aid

Our testers also noted that the closed-cell construction of the Switchback (and all foam pads) means it can be cut/reshaped with scissors without impacting its performance. That means you can shave it down into a mummy-style shape to shed a few extra ounces, or even cut it into a ¾ pad for a dedicated minimalist solution.

What We Like

The Nemo Switchback takes everything we love about a traditional closed-cell foam pad and makes it better. With its thicker sleep surface, thinner packed size, and added insulation, there’s really no denying that the Switchback is an improvement over the current lineup of foam pads including the current benchmark Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol. 

Nemo Switchback Review - What We Like
While foam pads will never be the most comfortable option, the Switchback is a notable improvement in this regard over the current alternatives.

We all agreed the Switchback was arguably the most comfortable foam pad we’ve used to date, and without a doubt the most comfortable for its size/weight. We also love that despite its added refinement, the Nemo Switchback still manages to undercut the Z Lite Sol in price, even if only by a few bucks. 

What We Don’t Like

Our testers’ only serious complaint with the Nemo Switchback is that it makes a bit more noise than other foam pads we’ve tested. Whether that’s due to a difference in foam, the reflective coating material, or both we can’t say, but when trading off between the Switchback and the Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol, the Switchback is definitely a bit “creakier” as you roll around. 

Nemo Switchback Review - What We Dont Like
When it comes to comfort, the Switchback beats sleeping on the ground, and every air pad in our field test beats the Switchback.

Apart from that the only other thing we could find to nitpick here is the Switchback’s 14.5-ounce weight (size regular), which is a half ounce heavier than a Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol and about 2 ounces more than the Exped FlexMat. Personally, we can’t see sacrificing the Switchback’s added comfort in exchange for a lighter pad in this scenario (especially considering it already weighs in under a pound), but to each their own.

Alternatives 

  • Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol: A slightly lighter foam alternative for a few dollars more. Offers the same R-value and a quieter sleeping surface, but isn’t quite as comfortable as the Switchback.
  • Exped FlexMat: Another closed-cell foam alternative that is both lighter and less expensive, but also less insulated and thinner than the Nemo. 
  • Klymit Insulated Static V: If cost is your main concern, this air-filled alternative delivers elevated comfort and warmth and often goes on sale for well under $100. 

Our Final Thoughts On The Nemo Switchback

While splitting hairs over foam pads feels a little ridiculous, our testers found that the Nemo Switchback is arguably the foam pad to beat right now. Foam pads will never be as comfortable or compact as their air-filled cousins, but for what it’s worth, the Switchback offers the best combination of comfort and packability currently available in a closed-cell format. 

We believe some campers will still lean toward the Thermarest Z Lite Sol due to its quieter sleeping surface and long-standing reputation, but if you’re not hypersensitive to sound, we found the added comfort of the Switchback to be well worth the occasional squeak and creak. At the end of the day, both pads bring a ton of versatility to the table for pennies on the dollar, so you really can’t go wrong with either. 

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