Wednesday, April 28, 2010

REVIEW: POE Ether Elite 6...Better Than the NeoAir?

After a trip about a month ago following some night hiking where I ended up sleeping in an AT shelter out of sheer exhaustion and my complete unwillingness to set up my shelter, I decided to revisit the topic of inflatable sleeping pads because my CCF simply wasn't as comfortable as I'd like on a hard surface like the plywood floor of an AT shelter.

As a weight conscious backpacker, I did quite a bit of research as 99.9% of the pads on the market weren't at a weight reasonable enough for me to carry. I was looking for a pad 20 oz or less with "less" being the important word. I figured if I could carry two CCF pads offering twice the cushioning, twice the R-value, at fraction of the price, and at a fraction of the weight, why carry an inflatable if it wasn't sized right or had other flaws I didn't like. Course, I'd like to avoid the principal problem with CCF pads - the bulk. Because I'm a large person (6'6"/280 pounds), I needed a long and I preferred something a little wider than normal. My CCF pad is torso size, but I decided to go with a long in an inflatable pad because my back has never been comfortable on anything inflatable that isn't long as my back bends too much due to the healthy loft of an inflatable.

I ended up comparing the new Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Elite 6 (long) ( against a Thermarest NeoAir (long) ( If you regularly read my blog, you'll remember an earlier post about the NeoAir and my feelings about it which ultimately caused me to return it. For the purposes of comparison, I again purchased another. Again, there are lighter versions available in the same pads, but I needed a long so the dimension and weights expressed here may be different in the same pad that would work for you.

The POE Ether Elite 6 (long) was 15 oz at 20"x78"x2.5" - mummy shaped. The NeoAir (long) was 19 oz at 25"x77"x2.5" - rectangular shaped. The differences in dimension are fairly obvious in my pictures above. The yellow is the NeoAir and the orange is the POE Either Elite 6.

The POE Either Elite 6 claims an R-value (a measure of insulative warmth) of 2 to 4. It varies because only the torso area has any kind of insulation, which for nearly everyone should be just fine. The NeoAir claims an R-value of 2.5 which it accomplishes though a reflective laminate on the interior which reflects the users body heat back to the user as long as it is properly inflated.

Comparing them, the POE Ether Elite 6 was essentially lighter and warm or warmer than the NeoAir (long), especially in the torso. It was also $100 cheaper at $69 versus $169 for the NeoAir. To most, these facts alone should motivate many to strongly consider the POE Ether Elite 6.

I prefer vertical baffles like those in the POE Ether Elite 6 as it helps prevent the user from falling off the sides. I have yet to understand why manufactures do anything different. The NeoAir has an internal truss system shaped of little triangles which helps support the user. I assume from an engineering standpoint, a shorter distance to distribute the weight is far more efficient than a long distance - hence the horizontal baffles.

Both pads are made well from reputable manufactures with solid and highly reliable valve systems and components. The NeoAir packs slightly smaller than the POE Ether Elite 6, but not by much. The POE Ether Elite 6 comes with a stuff sack and patch kit, the NeoAir doesn't come with either.

Comparing these two pads side-by-side is actually something that helps me appreciate the lightweight backpacking industry, the strides manufacturers are making to put forth a valiant effort, and the different body types they are forced to contend with. My body type is not the norm and this is worth noting because for my money and comfort, I think the POE Ether Elite 6 is a much better deal and designed a little better (speaking strictly of the vertical baffles) than the NeoAir. However, as a bigger person, I feel an inclination to lean towards the NeoAir principally because of the width differences which are significant. If the POE Ether Elite 6 was wider, I think I would put the NeoAir to bed for good. Unfortunately, POE doesn't manufacturer a wider product which isn't substantially heavier. Worth noting is that the POE Ether Elite 6 in width is about the same size as the standard versions of the NeoAir, so my gripe is only with the long versions.

In short, if you're looking for a new inflatable, especially if you have an average body type, are skinny, are a woman, etc., strongly consider the POE Ether Elite 6 if you want a good product at a good price.


Kevin Cartwright said...

Hey JGG,

By any chance, did you try out the Rectangular pads offered by Kookabay?

I learned about them through your blog and bought one of his pillows. It's fantastic, and I've been using it for all kinds of uses, on and off the trail.

I just received one of his pads in the mail, and once again I'm very pleased with his workmanship and service.

Would you consider comparing the Kookabay pad against the two you mention here?

-Kevin C.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Oddly enough, I have. He's made me a couple pillows too. Right now we're discussing possibly making me another pad (long, wide, and rectangular). We're debating whether to add insulation. He's been very responsive and makes good stuff.

Curt said...

Thanks for your comparisons - and for keeping the blog going! As a fellow big guy, I'm happy to see your reviews. Two quick questions:

1. When the POE pad is underinflated, does it widen a bit? I have the wide POE pad (heavy) and underinflated it's closer to 28" or so than the quoted 25". Wondering if underinflating the Elite 6 would be 23 or 24 or so?

2. Have you contacted POE about a wide version? I'd love a wide Elite 6 at 60" length and it should be quite light. They've responded to my notes before. Maybe if we all ask for it there's a better chance of a production version of the wide pad :)

Thanks again!


Jolly Green Giant said...

Hey Curt, thanks for stopping by.

When deflated, the POE doesn't widen to any appreciable amount. By sheer volume and gravity, if I let out air, it will widen a bit, but not enough to make it noteworthy.

I haven't contacted POE, but that's not a bad idea. I wouldn't mind seeing options either.

Anonymous said...

Aloha I just thought I would add to this a little. From the vantage point of a Hammock Camper the Neo Air is far superior for one reason. Yes it reflects heat back when the wind is riping under you but they both help maintain heat loss. the True reasont its better is the direction of the air tubes!
in a hammock the long direction does not contour and even pinches, where as the Neo Air cratles you purfectly with the Hammock. Have a Great Day!

Jolly Green Giant said...

Good point. Hadn't thought of the hammock angle. I know a couple hammockers who use a very thin CCF pad with an emergency blanket as an underquilt and they claim it works great. If that's true, I think saving the money would be worth a shot.

Greg Garrigues said...


I am one of the people at POE, and one of my colleagues read your blog and passed it on to me. Wanted to just jump in and offer a couple insights, and confirm that we hear your desires for a wider “long” size.

Also wanted to see if I could answer some of the questions that have been posted. For starters to address the sensation of width, we have moved to larger diameter outer tubes, to create the impression of a wider pad. As you roll against it, it gives you some feedback, which results in you re-centering on the pad, which further contributes to the feeling of width. Use feedback that we have received tells us that it makes a narrow pad feel substantially wider. This was originally developed in our Self Inflating mats with their inflatable berms, and has some solid history with feedback. As one of the reviewers mentioned, airing down the mat does make it feel wider, and enhances the effect of the larger outer tubes.

Regarding making a wider pad in the long, it comes down to the competing demand for width versus weight. We can go wider, but if we did unfortunately the cost of the pad would not be a smooth linear increase -- it would jump up exponentially. The reason being that that the fabric bolt is roughly a usable 59”width and it we can’t split it in half for each pair of pads, and then we have to find an unrelated product to use the material on. It would be great if we could sell a seat cushion or pillow with every pad, but so far this has not been the case. If you’ve got an idea for an item that we could see in a 1:1 ratio with a Long/Wide Ether we are all ears. Maybe we could include a flock of matching flamingos with every Long/Wide pad?

Thanks again for your comments, and hope it’s OK for me to jump in with a quick response. Please don't ever hesitate to get in touch with us with comments or ideas. We are a product driven company and truly appreaciate insights.

Have fun and best regards!
-Greg Garrigues
Pacific Outdoor Equipment.

Jolly Green Giant said...

Hey Greg - Great to have an "official response". Every now and then the manufacturers of the gear I comment on stop by and I find myself plenty grateful as it's always nice to better understand the vision that went into a product.

Knowing the limitations of the bolt size is something I've heard quite a bit in my travels because it always seems to impact someone my size.

I think the one thing that manufacturers underestimate however, is the willingness for people to have a product that works for them regardless of the cost. As a big person, I want to be just as comfortable as everyone else. Hearing that gear that would work for me would be too expensive to make is par for the's money me and people like me would willingly spend if it existed as we otherwise have no alternative. My point - if you build it - they will come as comfort and fit is worth a premium price. So you can keep the flock of flamingos, pillows, etc. and instead just focus on building products that will be purchased one way or another as long as they are made for people who can benefit from them. As far as I know, there is more to the world that just "medium" people - albeit they are in the majority, but there are others too who have money in their pocket and a desire for adventure.

Unknown said...

It is really good that gear manufacturers take note of blogs like this and respond to them. People who enjoy hillwalking and hiking sufficiently to create bogs like this one, which takes time and effort, are not only the people buying your products, but others are using the reviews on these blogs to make purchasing decisions. It not only makes commercial sense but allows us outdoors types to feel connected to the industry we love.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to test one of the POE pads, however with all the great things I have heard about them I will eventually. However within the last few months I have got an Exped SynMat and a NeoAir. I love them both, but I have got to say that for me the NeoAir takes the cake when comfort is solely considered. The vertical baffles in the Exped is not as comfy as the horizontal baffles, IMO. I like that the horizontal chambers make the pad feel more like a flat pad rather than laying on large air filled tubes. This is just my opinion, but for me, the horizontal design is superior to the vertical design in terms of comfort. Now if the vertical chambers were somehow connected nearer the top of the chambers so that the pad felt flatter...

Rev said...

I ran across an Ether Elite on clearance at a local outfitter's (Midwest Mountaineering), a steal at $36. I just bought a second-hand NeoAir, something I'd avoided doing since its release, mostly because of durability concerns vs the more traditional Thermarests I've used.

Looking at the price, the weight, and the size I was struck by how much cheaper it was than the NeoAir while retaining a very similar spec sheet. The fabric looked more durable to boot. I wish I would have picked it up- I'm back home now, and the store is a few hours drive away. Wish I would've picked it up- bah!

Frank - Our Hiking Blog said...

Very useful post, thanks very much for the insight.

have not tried either of these but they will be near the top of my list when I need a new one!

Great site thanks! Ever thought of adding a "subscribe by email" option?


Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Frank - Thanks for stopping by. What you see on my blog is 100% templated from So if there is an option worth having, it's probably one I don't know how to add (or it isn't available). I know there is a part where you can follow on google reader, but beyond that my technical knowledge is limited. Sorry I can't make it a more useful site. Hopefully there will be some more options in the future.

Josh said...

I have the POE Ether Elite long and have used it on three trips now, I feel its to narrow and I slide around on it alot, I intially decided not to go with the NEO air because of price but am now going to look into purchasing one after seeing it in person, the NEO air is wider and the surface seems to be a little bit more grippy, the two things I noticed about the POE pad that I didnt like.

Josh said...

I have the POE Ether Elite long and have used it on three trips now, I feel its to narrow and I slide around on it alot, I intially decided not to go with the NEO air because of price but am now going to look into purchasing one after seeing it in person, the NEO air is wider and the surface seems to be a little bit more grippy, the two things I noticed about the POE pad that I didnt like.