Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review: Our Detailed Field Test

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The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol is arguably the most iconic sleeping pad in the world, but is this closed-cell foam classic actually comfortable to spend the night on?
Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Introduction
Light, versatile, and affordable: That’s what the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol is all about.



The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol

– Price: $48 – $58
– Weight: 14 oz/ 397g (regular), 10 oz/ 285g (small)
– R-Value: 2.0
– Dimensions: 72” x 20” x .75”/ 183cm x 51cm x 2cm(regular), 51” x 20” x .75”/130cm x 51cm x 2cm (small)
– 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(small)
– Pad Type: Closed-cell foam pad
– What we like: Lightweight, versatile, affordable
– What we don’t: Not particularly warm or comfortable




The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - TWA Verdict
If you like to keep it light and simple, the Z-Lite is a proven performer for backpacking duty.

We purchased, tested and reviewed the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol, one of the longest-running and most recognizable sleeping pads on the market today. When you buy a Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite, there’s no question about what you’re getting: These pads are indestructible, versatile, waterproof, and lightweight. 

Of course they’ve got some well-documented drawbacks as well, most notably that they’re nowhere near as comfortable, compact, or warm as most air-filled pads. We say to each their own, but make no mistake: There’s a reason thru hikers continue to carry the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol on their backcountry adventures all over the world. 

We split our time testing the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol between backpacking the mountains of north Georgia and car camping in Nantahala National Forest. Ultimately, we just can’t help but love this little pad despite its inherent shortcomings. 

The Z-Lite was tested under the same standards and procedures as all the latest ultralight air pads in our recent field test of the best sleeping pads and camping mattresses. Foam pads will always fall short of their plush air-filled cousins in some regards, but we found there’s just something special about such a simple yet effective piece of equipment. 

Want to know if the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol is a good fit for your next trek? Here are our detailed notes from the field.




Detailed Evaluation Of The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol

During our testing of the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol, we sought to put this sleeping pad through all the same rigors your average camper or backpacker will encounter out in the woods. Our goal here is to evaluate all the most important characteristics of the pad that campers want, from the simple stuff like comfort and packability to the more nuanced characteristics like value for the money and overall ease of use. 

Comfort

While sleeping on a foam pad is a dramatic improvement over sleeping directly on the hard ground, comfort simply isn’t a strong suit of any folding foam design. We found the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol was no different in this regard: with less than an inch of thickness between us and the ground, we woke up quite a few times during the night to pressure points, especially when sleeping on our sides. 

Therm-A-Rest specs the Z-Lite Sol as having a .75” thickness, but when measuring the pad ourselves using a set of digital calipers, we found the actual thickness of the pad to be about .5”, or roughly 13mm. We’re not sure an extra quarter inch of thickness would make a huge impact, but for what it’s worth, we did feel that the slightly thicker Nemo Switchback we tested alongside was also slightly more comfortable.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Comfort
Therm-A-Rest isn’t winning any awards for comfort with the Z-Lite, but the closed-cell foam is enough to take the sting out of sleeping on the ground.

Specs aside, we felt the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol still “got the job done” when it came to sleeping “comfortably enough” out in the woods. The Z-Lite’s foam strikes a good balance between firm and supportive, and for the back sleepers in our group, it delivered enough cushion for a decent night’s rest. 

Weight And Packed Size

Weight has always been a highlight of Z-Lite pads, and Therm-A-Rest’s closed-cell foam weighs in at a paltry 14 ounces while still providing a full-sized rectangular sleeping surface. This puts the Z-Lite Sol well in the realm of ultralight at under a pound, and that weight can be reduced even further with some creative trimming of the foam into a more “mummy-like” shape.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Weight and Packed Size
The Z-Lite weighs next to nothing, but don’t expect it to fit inside your pack.

As for packed size, there’s just no denying foam pads like the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol are big and bulky. We found the pad’s broad 20” width was a non-issue for car camping duty, but when it came to backpacking, there’s simply no good way to get the pad inside your pack. 

That means backpackers will always be resigned to lashing the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol somewhere outside their packs, which will also put the relatively soft foam in harm’s way when hiking through dense brush or scrambling over rocks. We typically ended up either lashing it to the underside of the pack or tucking it up under the top, with the latter delivering a slightly more manageable overall profile on tighter trails. 

Insulation 

The “Sol” in the Z-Lite’s name refers to the pad’s additional insulation over the original Z-Lite, which in this case comes courtesy of a reflective coating applied to the top side of the pad. With an R-value of 2.0, we found the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol well-suited for late spring to early fall use, but as nightly lows dropped below 50 degrees, the insulation began showing its limitations.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Insulation
The Z-Lite’s egg carton dimples help trap warm air, while its metallic coating reflects body heat back to the sleeper.

Some backpackers swear they’re comfortable on a Z-Lite well into the 30s, especially when paired with a warmer sleeping bag. Personally we wouldn’t want to rely on a Z-Lite alone in anything below 45 or so, and recommend “easing in” to the Zlite going into fall depending on your personal tolerance for cold. 

We will note that one of the joys of the Z-Lite and similar pads like the Nemo Switchback is that they make excellent “companion pads” when added under air pads in colder weather. Doubling up pads in this manner essentially “stacks” the R-values of the two mattresses, which we found to be an excellent solution for pushing a three-season air pad well into the shoulder seasons. 

Ease Of Use

If there’s one place that foam pads like the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol remain undefeated, it’s ease of use. Simply unfold the pad, toss it down on the floor of your tent, and you’re ready to get snoozing. No unrolling, no inflating, and no concern about your pad being torn or punctured by the ground below. 

That same folding design also means you’ve got one less chore to do when packing up camp. No need to deflate, fold, and carefully roll the Z-Lite into as tight a package as possible: This pad may be big and bulky, but nothing packs down with less fuss than a Z-Lite.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Ease of Use
Nothing rolls out easier or packs up faster than a folding foam pad.

We also found ourselves using the Z-Lite for a million other things around camp, which added serious versatility to such a simple mattress. Whether we were laying on it around the fire, using it as an impromptu chair around camp, or throwing it into our tent to help keep our dogs warm and comfortable (and off the tent floor), we found the Z-Lite was just plain easy any way we chose to use it.

Durability

The other major advantage of choosing foam over air is durability. Because the Z-Lite is impervious to punctures, tears, or leaks, we were able to throw it on the ground pretty much anywhere without a second thought. 

We found this to be a major highlight of our time testing the Z-Lite, and it’s no wonder these pads are still so popular for long-distance backpackers. With zero chance of failure in the backcountry, you know you’ve always got a pad to sleep on, even if it isn’t the most comfortable option on the market.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Durability
Small punctures like this would render an air pad useless, but we don’t even notice them on the Z-Lite Sol.

As mentioned above, this also meant we were comfortable having pets around the Z-Lite, which is always a dicey proposition in an expensive camping tent or on a large mattress, even when covered with a blanket. Long story short, pets need insulation too when it’s cold out, and pads like the Z-Lite Sol or Nemo Switchback are ideal for this purpose, especially considering you can cut them in half if needed to split between two parties. 

Value

The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol retails for under $60, making it one of the least expensive ultralight options on the market. We feel that despite its middling comfort and considerable bulk, this makes the Z-Lite one of the best values money can buy for cost-conscious backpackers. 

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - Value
The Z-Lite weighs less than most ultralight air pads and retails for a fraction of the price.

If pads like the Z-Lite were any more expensive, we’d likely be singing a different tune, but the bottom line here is that this is a dirt cheap and incredibly useful piece of gear to add to your collection, regardless of how big or small. We’re particularly fond of the Z-Lite as an addition to an existing air pad, which both allows you to increase the warmth of a three-season pad into four-season territory and helps to keep the vulnerable underside of an ultralight air pad protected from abrasion, punctures, and moisture. 

What We Like

Our favorite part about the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol is its bang for your buck factor. This pad is dirt cheap, yet weighs in well under a pound and is uniquely suited to the rigors of serious backcountry use. The fact that its potential uses stretch far beyond that of a simple minimalist sleeping pad also adds a ton of value for us.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - What We Like
Much more than just a sleeping pad: The Zlite doubles as a soft place to sit around camp.

As noted above, the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol doubles as a chair, fireside lounger, tent floor liner, or dog bed, and there are dozens of other ways to put one to work with a little creativity. Many hardcore minimalist hikers have even been known to use them for added cushion or structure in their ultralight packs, while wilderness first responders recommend them as makeshift splints for broken bones. The sky is the limit here, and your ticket to entry is less than $60.

What We Don’t Like

Our biggest complaint with the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol (and every foam pad like it) is comfort. There’s just no ignoring that the limitations of such a thin sleeping surface, especially for side sleepers who should expect to wake up multiple times throughout the night with a few sore spots.

Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol Sleeping Pad Review - What We Dont Like
The Zlite’s limited padding isn’t the best fit for side sleepers.

We’ll also note that the pad’s considerable bulk won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some of us didn’t mind having the chunky Z-Lite lashed outside our backpacks, while others found it particularly inconvenient, especially when hiking down overgrown trails where elbow room is at a premium. 

It’s also worth mentioning that the Z-Lite Sol’s 2.0 R-value isn’t ideal for use beyond mid-fall, especially for those with a lower tolerance for cold weather. If you tend to run cold at night, you’ll likely need to bolster the Z-Lite’s warmth in the shoulder seasons either through a second pad, extra layers, an extra warm sleeping bag, or a combination of the three.

Alternatives: 

Our Final Thoughts About The Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol

Simple yet effective: That’s what the Therm-A-Rest says the Z-Lite Sol is all about, and we’re inclined to agree. After spending a few months living with this minimalist foam pad, we completely understand why they’re still so popular with hikers everywhere, and found the Z-Lite to be one of the most versatile sleeping pads we’ve ever used. 

We feel that the Nemo Switchback makes a strong argument as an alternative, both for its slightly thicker sleeping surface and slightly more compact dimensions, but the Z-Lite sleeps a bit quieter while delivering the same warmth and versatility. All things considered, we feel if you know what to expect getting into the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite Sol you won’t be disappointed, but if you have a hard time sleeping on the ground to begin with, you’ll likely want to opt for an air-filled alternative. 

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