Thermarest Z Lite vs Nemo Switchback

Thermarest Z Lite vs Nemo Switchback: The Full Guide

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Thermarest was a passion project that was started in 1971 by a bunch of engineers who were searching for a job, scientists who found inspiration in a garden pad, and mountain climbers who wanted better equipment.

They all came together with big dreams. And since then, Thermarest has been one of the leading manufacturers of outdoor equipment.

As for its peer, Nemo Equipment, it was literally conceived ‘on a dark and stormy night’. That was when the founder, Cam Brensinger, spent a dreadful sleepless night while camping at Mount Washington.

In 2005, Nemo won the ISPO Brand New award and became the TIME and Popular Science nominees 100 for best inventions of the year. The name ‘NEMO’ stands for New England Mountain Equipment. This harkens to their New England origins, as well as Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo.

From their histories alone, one would expect the face-off between Thermarest Z Lite vs. Nemo Switchback to be quite interesting!

Thermarest Z Lite vs Nemo Switchback Overview

Camping mattresses usually have some differentiating features that set them apart. However, the Thermarest Z Lite and the Nemo Switchback are almost identical in their attributes. There are tiny differences in size, weight, and tech. Thus, whether you’d want to buy or the other you wouldn’t be amiss. We lean towards the Nemo though.

Image Product Details   Price
Nemo Switchback Foam Sleeping Pad Nemo Switchback Best Overall Check Price
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Thermarest Z Lite Runner-Up Check Price

Comparison

There are some basic criteria to bear in mind while choosing a sleeping bag. And once you’ve come up with a shortlist of contenders, you might want to see how their features compare and contrast.  

This is a fair and square performance review of Thermarest Z Lite vs. Nemo Switchback. Read all the way to the end to see which one has the best profile.

1.   Size and Weight

The Nemo Switchback comes in sizes that accommodate almost all types of body types. Including the petite, the heavyset, and the extra tall. The standard pad is 51 x 20 x 0.9 inches, which fits the average person nicely.

As for the Z Lite, the standard pad is 72 x 20 x 0.75 inches, which gives it a comfortable length, but it’s not quite as thick as the Switchback.  

Now for the weights. We already know that these pads weigh practically nothing, and that’s why campers settle for their minimalist concept. Still, let’s take a look at the numbers. The Z Lite weighs 14 oz, while the Switchback packs only 10.5 oz.

This is barely a deal maker or breaker. Frankly, the size or weight wouldn’t make much of a difference, and it can’t be a differentiator here.  

2.   Packed Size

This matters a lot to hikers, who constantly have a shortage of storage space. Any extra object needs to be as compact and as light as possible.

These trendy sleeping pads offer a nice solution by folding on themselves like an accordion. Another perk is that they spread just as easily, and become ready to use in seconds.

The Z Lite’s packed dimensions are 20 x 5 x 5.5 inches. As for the Switchback, it’s 20.0 x 5.0 x 4.0 inches.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the smallest packed size in the market, or even in the product lineup of either brand. Its lightness, insulation, and practicality get this pad extra points though.

There’s a one-and-a-half inches difference here, but I guess we can call it a tie! 

Related:
Thermarest RidgeRest & Z Lite Compared
Thermarest Sol vs Z Lite Full Comparison
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3.   Filling Material 

The Z Lite is made from proprietary closed-cell foam, which is a high-strength material that supports weights, traps heat, and folds into a compact mass. It’s distributed so that the upper layer is less densely packed to feel soft while packing up the foam in the lower layer for extra durability.

The tech used in the Switchback is definitely more advanced when it comes to materials. This pad is made from patented Premium dual-density Axiotomic foam, which gives the camper maximum comfort, in addition to another sturdy layer for extra support.

Besides the foam filler, there’s another layer of Metalized thermal reflective film, which provides effective heat insulation and keeps body heat from dissipation.

When it comes to comfort, durability, and heat insulation, the Switchback seems to win the bonus points.

4.   Insulation

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Original Ultralight Foam Camping Pad, Model Number: 040818023020

Many commercial pads are notorious for letting the coldness of the ground leak into the sleeper’s body. This is annoying on a warm day but seriously dangerous in the chilly season.

That’s why we consider the R-value, or the degree of the pad’s heat insulation an ultra-important feature. Higher values indicate that the material used in the pad provides effective heat insulation. This helps in maintaining body temperature and contributes to a good night’s sleep.

The Z Lite has an R-value of 1.7, which is good over the summer and spring, but might be a bit lacking in the fall and winter seasons. It could work fine as a three-season pad in warmer locations though.     

The Switchback has a bit of an advantage here with an R-value of 2. The metalized thermal reflective film it has in one of its layers is the reason behind this effective insulation. This figure makes it a legit three-season pad.

5.   Price

Sleeping pads are often budget-friendly solutions for spending a relatively comfortable night out in nature. Thus, we’re not expecting outrageous numbers here. 

The Original Z Lite Sleeping Pad is incidentally very close to the Switchback price.

The warranty policies of both brands are pretty close too. However, the Z Lite comes with a limited lifetime warranty, while the Switchback has a full-fledged lifetime warranty with no strings attached.

This is clearly the case of two manufacturers staying toe to toe, especially when it comes to the factor everybody cares about; cash! 

Conclusion

This camping mattress is quite popular among the folks who go on impromptu hiking trips for a day, as well as the expedition-type campers who spend weeks outdoors. It’s also a great companion for canoeing trips, where storage space and weight capacity are both limited.

In this comparison between Thermarest Z Lite vs. Nemo Switchback, we were quite amused to find that both products often came out as Siamese twins! So whichever brand you choose to go with, you wouldn’t be missing much.