Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Review

  • Ultralight Backpacker

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Overview

Sleeping in the backcountry is one thing I look forward to most when chained to my desk (I do love my day job, so pardon the dramatics). Going to sleep at 8:30 p.m. and waking up with the sun clears my mind and revitalizes my body.

When I volunteered to review the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol I knew I would be taking a serious risk on my backcountry REM. For those who don’t immediately know what the Z Lite Sol is, you’ve probably seen it before. It’s a thin closed-cell foam sleeping pad that compresses like an accordion; it’s typically found hanging off the end of someone’s backpack. Widely used, but not known for comfort.

Yet I couldn’t fight the specs on this truly ultralight and ultra-affordable backpacking pad. We’ve named the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol our Budget Pick for the Ultralight Backpacker. It’s an industry and category cornerstone and, after a heap of testing, the pad earned it.

If you guard your wilderness sleep with your life or just need a hand picking the best sleeping pad for you, check out our Sleeping Pad Guide to get the skinny on your next mountain mattress. To read the full Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol review, just scroll down.

Z Lite Sol Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 14.4 oz. (410 g) Almost as light as it gets for a full-sized pad. There are lighter air pad options, but they are way more expensive.
Type Closed-Cell Foam Pad This pad is made of thin foam. No air, no popping, and no real compression. More on sleeping pad types in our Guide.
R-Value 2.6 This is how much warmth the pad provides. 2.6 is good for summer and the warmer parts of fall and spring, but consider this a 1.5-season rating. More on sleeping pad R-Values and temperature rating in our Guide.
Shape Rectangle No taper on this pad. More on sleeping pad shape in our Guide.
Sizes Regular, Small We tested the Regular size. It is the average size of most backpacking pads. There’s also a Small version, meant for children or those who want a torso pad.
Thickness .75 in. (2 cm) This is very thin. Closed-Cell foam pads are not thick, and therefore don’t provide much cushioning from the ground.
Length 72 in. (183 cm) Standard length for a Regular-sized pad. Will fit people up to 6′, and those who are bigger will probably be fine with this as well. (Your feet hang off, but you’re not very high off the ground.)
Width 20 in. (51 cm) Standard width for a Regular-sized pad. Not a ton of room to splay out, but will fit most bodies.
Packed Size 20 x 5 x 5.5 in. (51 x 13 x 14 cm) The Z Lite Sol doesn’t really pack down. It folds into itself to become a long brick of a pad, but will need to go outside of your pack. More on sleeping pad packed size in our to Guide.
Baffle Type Dimples No real baffles on this pad, but it does have dimples to help trap warmth. Other pad types have baffles, and they can be seen in our Guide.
Valve Type None Nothing to blow up on this pad. No valve means simpler deployment and less points of failure. More on sleeping pad valve types in our Guide.
Material Type Crosslinked Polyethylene, Molded closed cell foam Fancy terms for basic foam. It provides some warmth, is reasonably durable, and fairly light. More on other sleeping pad materials and Denier in our Guide.
Breaths to Inflate Zero No inflation necessary. You can certainly blow on it if you want though.
Manufacturer Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty Therm-a-Rest has a great warranty service for all their products. Manufacturing defects and workmanship issues will always be replaced for free, but this pad has no moving parts, and failure isn’t very likely. If you somehow rip the pad, that’s probably on you.
Retail Price $44.95 A very low price when compared to air and self-inflating pads. This is an excellent budget pick for those wanting to go light.
Price Check

Gear Review of the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol

Origins: Easing You In

As I write this review, it’s mid-July and already been a summer defined by a new adventure almost every weekend. My partner, my friends, and I have traveled all over the southern half of California, exploring our state’s natural beauty: fly fishing, river swimming, backpacking, day hiking, glissading in summer snow and soaking up sun and stoke.

I was given a grip of gear to test, and my editor suggested I test the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol as well. As an experienced backpacker and outdoor industry alum, I was well aware of the Sol’s reputation: ultralight, affordable, and paper-thin. Memories of countless ultralighters walking by with big smiles and a Z Lite Sol lashed to their packs had me hopeful, so with a heavy dose of apprehension I snagged the pad for a number of trips.

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The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol is a popular thin foam pad known for its inexpensive and ultra-durable use cases. Comfort? Not so much.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

For the first few weeks, I brought the Z Lite Sol along as one invites a weird cousin his aunt insists upon including in his outings. Honestly, I was scared to sleep on it for fear of waking with a permanently misaligned spine. I would sleep for a couple hours on the pad, then switch to the Exped Synmat Hyperlite (my favorite pad) that I brought along as a backup. As a side sleeper, it was hard to argue with my aching hips — the Z Lite Sol may not have been made for me.

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Spend a few nights on this bad boy and you may have aching hips, too. But it might be worth it.

The Sol always hung around when I needed a clean and soft place to sit on hot rocks, dirt, and quick dozes at camp. That may sound negative, but it’s not — I was stoked to have it for this purpose. When thru-hiking the 18-mile Gene Marshall Trail in Los Padres National Forest the light padding was a welcome rest after an 11-mile hike in the heat. When sitting, you can double or triple the pad for an extra bit of luxury.

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The best “lay around nap pad” one can have.

It took me a few trips to trust the Z Lite Sol for a full night’s sleep. When I bagged the peak of Mount San Jacinto (one of the peaks of Southern California’s Three Saints), I told myself: “Get over it! Commit to a full night on the Z Lite Sol!”

I was pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know if it was the 15-mile day, the fact that I stuffed myself with food, or my mental fortitude, but I slept pretty darn well on the Z Lite Sol. It wasn’t like sleeping at the Four Seasons or even the Leaky Roof Inn, but I woke up with only a mild stiffness, ready to take on the day at 5:15 a.m.! This was the moment I knew that the Z Lite Sol was much more than a glorified sit pad.

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Only mild stiffness after a night on this thin pad!

Digging Deeper

Don’t let the Z Lite Sol’s simplicity fool you. Therm-a-Rest has engineered it for precise functionality.

The closed-cell foam carries an R-value of 2.6, ideal for warmer weather or as a supplement to a second pad in colder temperatures. The dimples don’t only disperse weight and cushion the sleeper, they trap air and help to insulate from the cold ground. Metalized ThermaCapture technology reflects your body heat back to you, offering greater thermal efficiency when dipping into lower temps.

Therm-a-Rest-Z-Lite-Sol-review-dimples
A close up of the dimples. Like tiny egg crates.

The Z Lite Sol weighs in at a delightful 14 ounces. There are several inflatable sleeping pads on the market that fall into this weight category, but you pay top dollar for it. It’s also hard to beat the dependability of foam when long-distance hiking — it doesn’t pop. Sleeping on a deflated strip of nylon because of a blowout or puncture is low on my backcountry to-do list.

Wrangling my inflatable sleeping pads back into their stuff sacks has never been my forte nor my favorite breakdown activity around camp. The Sol does away with this thanks to its super-simple accordion fold design. These folds also make it customizable for shorter users. You can make multiple sit pads out of one Z Lite Sol, or if you only want a fractional pad, cut away. (Slicing down to one-half or three-quarters is common for backpackers cutting every gratuitous ounce and gram).

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The Z Lite Sol folds up into rectangles. It never gets small, but you can secure it to the outside of your pack. You can also cut off these squares to create sit pads or a lighter, smaller pad.

Comfort

So, comfort. About that. Coming from the world of $100-plus air pads, the Z Lite Sol is not comfortable. But that’s not why you buy it. I was able to get good sleep at altitude with, what I consider, a normal amount of tossing and turning. Even when backpacking with the most plush mattress I own, I still move around quite a bit on the first night or two. I’m only 5’8, so the 72-inch length was perfect and even allowed me to fold over the first panel at the head to create a thin pillow when napping.

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Here’s a close-up on the Z Lite Sol’s .75-inch thickness. If you want to be well off the ground, this isn’t for you.

Durability

The Z Lite Sol is durable. That’s one of the best characteristics of closed-cell foam: no risk of a slow leak ruining your sleep. The pad showed some signs of wear from normal use and a couple nicks from hiking through the woods with it strapped to the outside of my pack, but performance was not impacted.

Deflation and Inflation

Don’t attempt to inflate the Z Lite Sol. You will most likely pass out, especially above 7,000 feet.

Packability

The Z Lite Sol doesn’t pack tiny, but folds up in two seconds flat. I used the two straps at the bottom of my backpack to carry the Sol, and it only stuck out from the sides a bit. The 14 ounce weight didn’t impact pack stability at all.

Grievances

Going into testing the Z Lite Sol, I knew what I was getting into: a minimalist pad meant minimum weight and minimum comfort. I knew it wouldn’t compare to the three- and four-inch inflatable pads I typically haul, so I can’t dock it for comfort. But, I do have two grievances.

It’s bulky. With closed-cell foam, you can’t do much about packability. I don’t love having stuff lashed to the outside of my pack, so the Z Lite Sol (and all closed-cell foam mats) lost points here.

Therm-a-Rest-Z-Lite-Sol-review-folded-up-size-comparison
When some pads pack to the size of the water bottle in this photo, the Z Lite Sol remains a large, bulky object. It only really fits on the outside of your pack, too.

Second, I want a wider option. Therm-a-Rest’s other ultralight, closed-cell mat, the RidgeRest SOLite, comes in a 77- by 25-inch option, and I would like to see the Z Lite Sol in a similar iteration. Because I used it as a sit pad and day-time lounger, the extra width would be excellent, and I would cut off the excess length to use as a stand-alone sit pad or cooking surface for snow.

Final Word

The Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol’s weight, price, and functionality make it the only accordion I want to see in the backcountry. Although, I wouldn’t mind the instrument in grizzly territory…

Where to Buy Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol

We tested the Regular sized, Limon/Silver version of the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. It’s what’s pictured in this article and what we recommend. There is also a Z Lite Sol in Limon/Silver offered in a Small iteration, which is 4.25 feet long long rather than 6 feet long. It costs less, and you might see that price quoted below, as you have to pick size at checkout.

The Z Lite Sol is also offered in Coyote in Regular size. Coyote is a bit cheaper, but not as reflective, meaning it doesn’t have as high an R-Value. We prefer the Limon/Silver version. You can find all of them below.

Price Check
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Sebastian Cancino

Sebastian is a contributing reviewer for Backpackers.com. When he’s not hiking, backpacking, and snowshoeing in the southern California mountains, he's running his online vintage outdoor apparel and gear shop, Vintage Outdoor. Sebastian works for Patagonia, but don’t worry: he’s here to provide objective views on the industry’s best gear from all brands. Check out his Instagram to see where his adventures are taking him.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.