The Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus is an absolute classic when it comes to self-inflating sleeping pads. But how does it fare after 7 years of abuse across more than a dozen countries? And is it still a good buy compared to the thicker camping mattresses that hit the market in recent years?
I purchased my Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus mat at the end of 2013, combined with a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite foam for winter camping in Canada. I first used it in a quinzhee, a Canadian snow shelter, with temperatures dropping as low as -36 F / -38 C at night.
Since then, I have been using it heavily in all sorts of conditions. That usually equals more than a 100 days a year. This mat has traveled with me everywhere.
I’ve used it to sleep while camping, over at friends or squatting in the occasional kitchen in Lebanon, France, Germany, Ireland, Egypt and the US. But I mostly used it when camping for several weeks at a time in my car in Canada, and in my tent in the Jordanian desert, as well as a Spanish parking lot and Turkish campsites.
I also took it on several longer hikes, including a trek along the Lycian coast in Turkey in spring, the Kyrgyz and Uzbek Tien Shan, and the Tajik Fann mountains. It is safe to say that this mat has been tested in all kinds of conditions!
If I don’t need a warmer foam, I usually slide a cheap yoga mat underneath to avoid poking a hole in it. I’ve made several exceptions to this rule and I regularly fold my mat in three to use it has a stool outside the tent.
When I can, I like to store it with the valve open to chase away the humidity brought in by my breath. Most of the time, however, it is packed in my bag or laid on the floor of a tent. During the day, I open the valve to avoid any excessive pressure built-up, at least when I can remember to do so!
Therm-a-Rest has since updated the Prolite Plus, but the design and materials remain almost unchanged.
The Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus is not the most comfortable sleeping pad out there. It is thinner (1.5 in / 3.8 cm) than some of the pricier, new generation models. It is also a bit hard when fully inflated, so that’s something to consider especially if you often camp in cold conditions.
I find that I only need a couple of days for my body to get used to sleeping on a harder ground. So that’s not a deal breaker for me. I have to admit that I can’t sleep on my side comfortably through the night on my Prolite Plus. I typically have to get used to sleeping on my back again when I go out camping.
With an R value of 3.2 when fully inflated, the Prolite Plus offers a pretty good deal of warmth for the price. Warmer, lighter mats often cost double the price of the Prolite Plus, without the durability. Combined with a decent foam sleeping pad you can get a very versatile 4 season setup without breaking the bank.
I like having the choice to leave my bulky Prolite Plus mat behind and only take a foam pad when I want something rugged and light. Nevertheless, the Prolite Plus on its own is good enough for 3 season use, as long as the temperatures don’t drop below -5 °C / °23 F.
If, like me and most women, you get cold easily at night, there is now also a women’s version. It’s shorter and warmer for the same weight, with an R rating of 3.9. But for real winter condition, simply combining it with a foam pad does the trick.
Bulk & Weight 2/5
Weight. The Prolite’s bulk and weight are its greatest drawback. I personally use a small size, so my pad adds 450 g / 15.8 oz to my load. The large version is almost twice that weight and the regular size weighs close to 650 g / 23 oz.
Lightweight products can easily cut that weight down by half while adding some extra warmth in some cases. But, the open-cell foam technology used for the Prolite Plus mat has its advantages. Besides adding warmth, the foam expands on its own when you open the valve (more so in warmer conditions) and inflates evenly.
Bulk. The open-cell foam comes at a price called ‘bulk’. My mat takes as much room in my backpack as my quilt and weighs about the same. It’s the last item in my sleeping system that I haven’t switched to lightweight, but I can’t seem to manage to destroy it! It’s simply too durable, and wasting such a good piece of gear is out of the question for me.
Where the Prolite Plus excels is in the durability department. I have not always been taking great care of it. I’ve slept directly on the floor, I forgot to clean twigs and rocks when packing it, I’ve been throwing it around. And that’s only a small part of what I am willing to share on the Internet.
Materials. My sleeping pad has yet to suffer a single puncture hole, so I can’t tell if the 50-denier polyester ripstop top really helps keeping rips under control. It certainly is resistant! The extra coating on the bottom is said to increase its durability and I believe it does.
On the downside, the top fabric stains easily when wet. The bottom is water-resistant, so it doesn’t soak up liquids like the top does. It’s no big deal, but it’s good to know before leaving your favorite drink next to your mat…
Click on each image for more details.
Inflation Valve. The valve system is simple, nothing fancy. The newer model got an upgrade with the WingLock valve, but the old one works perfectly fine. The mat stays inflated all night long. I have never experienced any unwanted deflation since I got it in 2013. This pad is overall well designed to resist a vast array of conditions and I love that I can rely on this piece of equipment without any doubt.
Ease Of Use 4/5
Inflation. As mentioned quickly before, this mat is said to be self-inflating, but it doesn’t work very well in colder conditions. It’s not that long to inflate in either case.
Packing. The foam keeps the air in, so you’ll need a strategy to pack it efficiently, especially if you want it to fit into the provided stuff sack. My trick is to squeeze out most of the air by folding it and closing the valve before rolling it up properly. I open the valve towards the end to let the last bits of air out. This way, it takes me about a minute or two to pack it up neatly.
When in a rush or playing Tetris with my gear, I sometimes pack it without the stuff sack. You can fold it and close the valve so that it keeps the shape you want. That gives way to creative packing solutions, which might come in handy with a bulky mat like this one. You can pack it in different fashions to fit the space you have. It doesn’t beat an ultra-small, bottle-size mat, but it’s something!
The regular-sized Prolite Plus is priced roughly at 100$, which makes it a pretty decent low-cost option. Especially knowing how durable it can be. And it’s regularly on sale.
It also comes with the lifetime Therm-a-Rest guarantee, which is based on the idea that “gear belongs in your pack and on the trail, not in a landfill”. The company is very helpful when it comes to repairing and exchanging faulty gear.
You can easily buy field repair kits to use yourself, including spare valves. Or send it for fixing it in their US or European customer service centers, regardless of where you first bought it. If your mat has a defect, they will send you a new one in no time to almost anywhere. Even after a decade of use.
So far, this is one of the best guarantee services I have come across. That’s not something you get with cheaper brands.
Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus:
The Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus is a great all-rounder. But if you are after trimming your load down to the minimum, this sleeping pad will disappoint you. However, if you are looking for a reliable, polyvalent and ridiculously durable solution, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Prolite Plus.
Whatever your needs might be, it’s always convenient to have a trustworthy sleeping pad for almost any condition. But if like me you are traveling all year-round, finding the right piece of equipment becomes crucial, because it’s probably the only one that you will have access to.
This is why, although I find it bulky and heavy, I can’t bring myself to replace my Prolite Plus. I know that I can count on it to keep me warm and well off the ground, wherever my journey takes me.