Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Made in the USA" Gear Review: 2012 Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite SOL Pad

I carried a Therm-a-Rest "Ridge Rest" pad on my pack for years, but I never thought to look at it to see where it was made. I just assumed it was made in China like most everything else these days. Maybe it's me, but when I think of plastic and rubber constructed outdoor gear products, I tend to think "outsourced!"

During research for our "Buy American" outdoor gear project, I was pleasantly surprised to found out that Therm-a-Rest is indeed still making their pads in good ol' Seattle, Washington!

The Pad

The Zi-Lite SOL is part of Therm-a-Rest's "Fast and Light" series and features their trademark "accordion" design, making the pad easier to pack and unpack than traditional foam pads.

The 2012 SOL version adds an aluminized surface on one side to increase insulation and warmth over the standard Z-Lite. This surface is similar to many space blankets, and adding it to a foam pad is actually a pretty clever idea.

Therm-a-Rest claims this new surface increases warmth 20% over the standard model, bumping the R-Value to 2.6 over the older version's 2.2. A nice touch was to leave one side without the reflective material, so the pad can be flipped over for use on warmer nights.

Field Test

I tried the Z-Lite SOL pad under many different conditions over the last two months, ranging from day hikes to weekend backpacking trips. 

Besides using it under my sleeping bag during those outings, I also used it as a seat and a kneeling pad to cushion me from the cold, rocky ground while taking field photos for our winter and early spring gear reviews. It worked great, and I really enjoyed using the Z-Lite's accordion-like design, which makes it easier to use as well as to pack and unpack. 

My biggest concern going into the review was durability. With hard use, I was scared that I might rip the Z-Lite along the thinner areas where it folds,  but even after two months of treating it roughly, it didn't bat an eyelash.

Criticisms? Yes- I wish they made the Z-Lite in a wider size. The unit I tested was a size "Regular" (the largest available) and it was just a little bit width-challenged for me. I like to have a little more cushioned real estate under me when I sleep, so in this respect, the Z-Lite wasn't optimal for my tastes. Even with this criticism, I still plan to take the Z-Lite with me on future trips because of its versatility.

Getting ready to head up Longs Peak Trail with the Z-Lite SOL strapped to a US-made Gregory Denali Pack.

(click to enlarge)


The 2012 Z-Lite SOL combines the utility and versatility of the classic Z-Lite pad with a new, R-Value-raising aluminized surface borrowed from Therm-a-Rest's Ridge Rest line. It's definitely a great update to a classic and respected design, and I highly recommended it.

4 out of 5 Stars

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)

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