Shit that works week: the Thermarest Prolite

The gift guides this time of year become too much very quickly. While your loved ones no doubt deserve plenty, and there is little more fun than a good gift given, most of the talk here too baldly feeds consumerism and is often just an amalgamation of press releases in disguise. To honor this bullshit, I’m spending the next week reaching for the oldest, most steadfast, and least dusty items in my closet and basement; those pieces of outdoor gear which have best stood the test of time. They’re not dusty because dependable stuff saturated with pieces of memory is what get used most often. For the most part this stuff isn’t sexy, none of it is new and exciting, and some of it is only available in revised models, but all seven items will make good gifts, because they’ll all be around a decade hence.


I finally had to patch a tiny hole in my Theramrest Prolite XS this July, which was the last step for this little air mat to pass into the canon of shit that works. You never really know your gear until you break it, which with something as well built as the Prolite makes for a long courtship. Now I know what it takes to put a hole in one (sleeping without a groundsheet on a spiky flood plane), and how easy it is to find and patch a hole (very). I also know what won’t put a hole in one: many nights sleeping without a groundsheet on sites just a little less spiky, as well as use as a packraft seat for my Scout. In short, the Prolite will go a fair bit beyond spec for years on end without ill effects. For something which I consider rather expensive (MSRP of $79), this ought to be the norm.

Side sleepers, folks with curvier hips, and those who don’t sleep outside much will all find the Prolite a little hard compared to the bouncy-castle mats which dominate the market. On the other hand, for me the Prolite was a concession that a Ridgerest no longer quite did the job on the compacted dirt sites of Glacier and the sandstone slabs of the Colorado Plateau. It may not work for everyone, at least not without a bit of training, but the Prolite remains in my book the best sleeping pad currently available, balancing longevity, comfort, warmth and cost in a very sustainable fashion (in winter, use it atop a full length foam mat). It may not have the wow factor of an XLite, but it’s also not like giving someone a 180 dollar potato chip bag.

The Thermarest Prolite XS; shit that works.

11 responses to “Shit that works week: the Thermarest Prolite”

  1. The Prolite is tough and warm and provides plenty of cushion for the weight, but the stellar quality is the compactness. I wanted minimal volume as well as light weight, and this pad packs down to water bottle size. With this one I have no monster roll of CCF dangling outside my pack.

  2. Amen indeed. And when I wan’t exceptional comfort (compared to the normal standard) I can take a Prolite Plus S instead of the Prolite S. (By the way, I’d have a Prolite XS for sale, slightly used and in good condition, no holes, etc. Comes with stuff sack. Make the world a better place and buy second hand. ;)

  3. Does the 36″ of the XS allow your butt to be on the mat?

    Any benefit to the longer pad and keeping your sleeping bag cleaner?

    I’d like to invest in a Prolite, but I’m having a hard time not wanting a full length mat…is it still worth it considering the weight (18oz) over a Neoair (12oz)?

    1. Shoulders and butt go on mat, no problem. As a side sleeper, I need something else (usually a pack, sometimes a small foam mat) under my feet but nothing under my knees unless it is cold.

      Main advantage of traditional mats like the Prolite over the Neoair et al is cost and significantly increased puncture resistance. The Neo is fine if you’re careful, the Prolite can take abuse. The Evolite splits the difference.

      1. Thank you Dave. I really appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  4. […] a staple event.  I wear my Suunto Observer every day.  I still use a flat tarp often.  My Prolite XS died this spring, in circumstances that were not really its fault.  Brightly colored socks, […]

  5. Help me decide – prolite XS vs S. Thanks!!

    1. Does Thermarest even make the XS anymore? I don’t see it on their site.

      I don’t think the S size does much that the XS does not. If you have shoulder and hip padding a slightly longer pad doesn’t do so much.

      1. still has them. I picked one up and looking forward to trying.
        Do you still use yours. Or after 5 years have you switched to something else?
        The plan is to use my zseat and pack on my feet/knees. Maybe throw my Torrid jacket down there too if cold.
        At what temp would you use another thin pad underneath this? (Thinking possibly the GG thin lite)

        1. Mine died when I left it out in the sun using it as a seat in my packraft (all the foam welds blew out, now it’s a great pool toy). I have 2x old BPL Torsolites Sam H sent me, which serve the same purpose, but haven’t been nearly as durable. I also have an old Wide Torso Neoair Trekker (25″ wide by 44″ long), which is pretty damn luxurious on harder sites (eg Isle Royale wooden shelter floor).

          When things got much below 20F I pair a torso inflatable with a full length ridgerest.

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