Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad Review: Warmth Without The Weight!

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Ultralight, ultra-small, and ultra warm: The Nemo Tensor Insulated adds extra heat to an already impressive platform without adding weight!
Nemo Tensor Insulated - Introduction
The latest Nemo Tensor bumps its R-Value into four-season territory without gaining a single ounce. That’s a win-win for backpackers everywhere.



The Nemo Tensor Insulated

– Price: $200 – $230
– Weight: 15oz/ 0.4kg (regular), 1.2lbs/ 0.54kg (regular wide), 1.5lbs/ 0.68kg (long wide)
– R-Value: 4.2
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x 3”/ 183cm x 51cm x 8cm (regular), 72” x 25” x 3”/ 183cm x 64cm x 8cm (regular wide), 76” x 25” x 3”/ 193cm x 64cm x 8cm (long wide)
– Packed Size: 8” x 3”/ 20cm x 8cm (regular), 9.5” x 3”/ 24cm x 8cm (regular wide), 9.5” x 3”/ 24cm x 8cm (long wide)
– Pad Type: Air
– What we like: Light, compact, comfortable, versatile
– What we don’t: Durability, cost




The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict

Nemo Tensor Insulated - TWA Verdict
If low weight and compact dimensions are your top priorities, the Tensor deserves a hard look.

This is The Wise Adventurer’s review of the Nemo Tensor Insulated sleeping pad, used, snoozed, and thoroughly field tested for your reading pleasure. Purchased with our own money, we took it into the wild to see how it performs, just for you!

We can think of no better example of just how far sleeping pad technology has come than the Nemo Tensor Insulated. We spent the last two years sleeping on Nemo’s original insulated Tensor, and the fact that the new insulated version adds considerable warmth to the package without adding any weight or bulk should impress even the most elite gear snobs among us. 

As far as ultralight all-rounders go, the Tensor has always been a great option. Add to that the three to four-season capability of the newest Insulated ultralight model (depending on where you live), and we couldn’t resist picking one up ourselves for this year’s spring-fall field testing of the best sleeping pads and camping mattresses

Over the last few months we’ve been backpacking, boondocking, and moto-camping with the Tensor Insulated, taking every opportunity to log first-hand impressions of all the most important aspects you want in a lightweight pad. Long story short, we came away as big fans of the Tensor, but now let’s dig into the details of what our testers had to say for the full story. 

(Want to learn more about how we test our sleeping pads? Just check out our sleeping pads testing methodology)




Detailed Evaluation Of The Nemo Tensor Insulated Pad

All of the information that follows comes from first-hand field notes of testers who have hiked, slept, and lived with the Tensor Insulated over the last several months. We took every opportunity to get the Tensor out in the widest range of typical scenarios possible to evaluate all the important features of a good pad from comfort and warmth to packability and user-friendliness. 

Comfort

When it comes to ultralight backpacking pads like the Nemo Tensor, comfort tends to be subjective. On the one hand you have to acknowledge that today’s backpacking pad is utterly luxurious compared to the old foam or air pads of the previous decade, while on the other even the most premium options simply can’t compare to plus-sized camping pads like the Exped MegaMat or Nemo Roamer

With that being said, we found the Nemo Tensor Insulated to be one of the more comfortable backpacking pads we’ve tested. Its generous 3” thickness coupled with a solid R-value (more on that below) translates to a comfortable all-around sleeper for backpacking duty, especially considering just how little space it takes up in your pack. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Comfort
The Tensor’s above-average dimensions made the most of our two man tent without adding bulk to our pack.

Side and back sleepers alike will find a lovable companion in the Tensor, especially if they haven’t upgraded their sleeping pad in a few years. With that being said, we will note that there are a few more comfortable options out there with thicker dimensions, namely because they don’t have to be fully inflated to keep your hips and elbows from touching the ground throughout the night. 

This was our main complaint during our stint with the Tensor: While Nemo designed the pad with a one-way release valve to fine-tune its firmness, you can’t let out much (if any) air while still being able to sleep comfortably on your side. Not a deal breaker by any stretch, but if you’re on the heavier side and/or prefer to sleep on your side, you’ll be stuck with a very firm sleeping surface. 

Weight And Packed Size

If there’s one area that the Nemo Roamer Insulated never failed to impress our testers, this is it. It’s hard to overstate just how blown away we are with how small this pad packs down considering its cold-weather-worthy insulation. 

Even in the largest long/wide size of our tester, the Tensor is consistently among the smallest and lightest pads we ever tested. There are slightly smaller and slightly lighter pads out there, but as an all-around package offering true three-plus season comfort and a plus-sized sleeping surface, packing the Tensor down into its stuff sack feels like performing a modern-day miracle. It’s also worth noting that we found the Nemo much easier to deflate and pack than most pads this large, and we love anything that makes breaking down camp more convenient.  

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Weight and Packed Size
The Tensor Insulated packs smaller and weighs less than all but the most hardcore three-season alternatives.

What’s even more impressive is that the long/wide Tensor’s 9.5” x 3.5” packed dimensions include both its pump sack and repair kit. That number is even more impressive if you don’t need the sleeping space, as the standard “regular” Tensor packs down to an outstanding 8” x 3” package. 

Insulation 

Our testers all agreed that Nemo’s approach to insulation is what makes the Tensor a true standout in the segment. What Nemo has done here in a nutshell is employ a super-thin layer of reflective film sandwiched right in the middle of the pad, eliminating the need for extra foam or synthetic fill (and therefore bulk) without losing any warmth in the process.

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Insulation
Nemo’s razor-thin reflective insulation is sandwiched between two air pockets for maximum warmth with minimal noise.

This layout also carries another important benefit: The Tensor is nearly silent. Because the typically “crinkly” reflective layer is tucked between two large chambers of air on either side, you’ll rarely hear it make its presence known regardless of how much you roll around in the night. 

As mentioned above, we also love that despite the Tensor’s “minimalist” approach to insulation, this pad sports a respectable 4.2 R value. That makes the Tensor plenty warm enough for three-season camping or backpacking duty, with enough muscle left over to handle the colder weather of the shoulder seasons as well. You could easily use the Tensor Insulated as a year-round pad, especially if you supplement it with a traditional foam pad when there’s snow on the ground, which adds appeal and value for us. 

Ease Of Use

Ease of use was another highlight of our time with the Nemo Tensor Insulated. This pad excels in pretty much every outdoor sleeping situation from car camping to ultralight backpacking, and we never dreaded having to set up or pack down the Tensor. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Ease of Use 1
The Tensor’s two-in-one valve and open baffle layout make deflating and packing it a simple one-step process.

Set-up-wise much of this can be attributed to Nemo’s outstanding “Vortex” pump sack system. The sack packs down super small, yet is made from a very durable material, so you don’t have to worry about how you pack it or how enthusiastically you use it to inflate the pad. 

The Vortex’s valve snaps on securely with an audible click, and never once came loose during testing. We also appreciate the bag’s tapered shape, which makes filling it extremely efficient, and cuts down inflation time significantly. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Ease of Use 2
The Vortex pump sack is currently our favorite on the market. It’s tough, and its tapered shape is incredibly easy to inflate.

As far as packing the Tensor Insulated goes, our testers agreed that this was either the easiest pad to pack of the group or at the very least tied for the top spot. A quick roll-up of the pad is all it takes to completely deflate it due to its ultra-thin insulation, and the Tensor’s ultralight fabrics are extremely easy to fold into place and roll into a tight package. 

Durability

If there’s one place we’d have to dock the Tensor Insulated, it’s going to be durability. On the one hand, the Tensor is essentially “par for the course” in terms of material quality and thickness, with a very light and thin top fabric mated to a thicker and more durable bottom material for abrasion resistance. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Durability
The face fabric on the Tensor keeps weight and packed size as low as possible, but was one of the thinner and less durable feeling materials in our testing.

With that being said, we did manage to pop our first Tensor pad after attempting to share it with one of our four-legged friends, so if you like to camp with the pups, you’ll need to either keep them clear of the Tensor or throw an extra blanket over it for protection. 

To be fair, we only have ourselves to blame for the “malfunction” as no manufacturer in their right mind would recommend an ultralight pad for the family pet. Still, we’ve shared our tent with plenty of pups and plenty of pads in the past without issue, which makes us wonder how well the Tensor would hold up to common sharp items like car keys or pocket knives left sitting around the tent. 

Value

Pound for pound our testers found the Nemo Tensor Insulated to be one of the best values currently going. It’s not the cheapest pad out there, but it’s also more or less in line with other lightweight three-season pads, and can often be found on sale at a significant discount. 

Regardless of the price you pay, even at full MSRP we feel the Tensor is an outstanding value. It’s warm, quiet, and spacious, yet still manages to pack down to a pack-friendly package without any undue weight penalty. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - Value
The Nemo Tensor edges out the competition in terms of weight and packability while still offering three inches of cushion and outstanding warmth.

Long-term durability is our only real concern here, although if you stick to the typical best practices, we have no reason to believe the Tensor Insulated should be any shorter-lived than its similarly priced and specced competition. We’ll also note that the Tensor is backed by Nemo’s outstanding “lifetime of the product” warranty, which won’t help you if you pop it in the backcountry, but adds peace of mind to a sizeable investment just the same. 

What We Like

Our tester’s most glowing point on the Nemo Tensor Insulated was just how well-rounded it is as a backpacking pad. This combination of comfort, warmth, packability, and ease-of-use is damn near impossible to beat, making the Tensor an attractive value for just about anyone. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - What We Like
Usually pads this large and comfortable are a bit of a chore to pack up, but that’s simply not the case with the Tensor.

The fact that the Tensor manages to pack a full 3-inches of thickness into its design without losing its pack-friendliness is also a major plus for us. We might prefer super-plush pads like the Exped MegaMat or Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe for car camping duty, but we wouldn’t be upset about spending a night on the Tensor in a car camping situation either. 

What We Don’t Like

While we have no major complaints with the Tensor, our testers all agreed they’d be willing to add a little extra weight and/or bulk to the overall package in exchange for a slightly thicker and more durable face fabric. Again, we don’t feel that the Tensor is in any way “underequipped” for long-distance backpacking duty and the rigors of outdoor use, but it’s not the most confidence-inspiring air pad we’ve used either. 

Nemo Tensor Insulated - What We Dont Like
The Tensor Insulated delivers outstanding performance, but the design isn’t our favorite for fine-tuning firmness.

Our only other real gripe is that the pad needs to be fully inflated to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep for anyone sleeping on their side, especially for larger or heavier campers. We feel some folks would likely prefer the extra thickness of something like the Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated we tested it alongside, even if it meant making room for a slightly bulkier pad in their packs.  

Alternatives: 

The Bottom Line

By the end of our time in the field with the Nemo Tensor Insulated, the feeling was unanimous that Nemo had absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one. The Tensor is warm, comfortable, and shockingly compact, making for an incredibly versatile part of any good sleeping system. 

We also can’t overstress just how quiet this pad is considering its spec sheet. Just two or three years ago a pad with this level of packability and performance would have sounded like sleeping on a bed of tin foil, but Nemo’s ingenious insulation solution truly delivers on a quiet and restful night’s sleep three to four seasons of the year. 

Some sleepers may prefer a slightly thicker pad and the slight bump in weight/packed size that inevitably comes with it, but we feel the Tensor Insulated is an outstanding choice for a good 90% of backpackers out there. A little extra thickness in the face fabric would be a welcome upgrade for us, but if you’re looking to keep it as “ultralight” as possible, the Tensor Insulated delivers comfort without compromise. 

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