Sleeping With Exped — First Look at their Mats

Post by blogger | August 18, 2009      

True story: When into a sort of extreme yoga trip in my 20s, I slept for a year on a piece of plywood with a blanket stapled over it. I never did graduate to the bed of nails, but the thought did cross my mind. My taste in sleep surfaces did improve soon after the experimental phase, but for years I never worried too much about how cush my bed was — probably due to numerous nights spent on ledges in Yosemite and that sort of stuff.

Recently, however, my wife opened my eyes to the great big world of backcountry bed options, as she’s not into plywood, or anything even close. Coincidentally, the folks at Exped just got in touch with me about blogging a few of their sleeping mats. Double coincidentally, I’m planning on doing more snow camping than normal next winter, and plywood doesn’t cut it for that, either.

Sleeping mats for camping and backcountry skiing.

Exped sleeping mats for camping and backcountry skiing. SynMat 9 at top, DownMat 7 at bottom of photo.

So, yesterday I unpacked two of the slickest, comfiest and warmest sleeping pads imaginable. For Lisa, the Exped SynMat 9 Pump easily rivals anything at home. This air mattress is dosed with lightweight synthetic insulation that cuts down on the convection heat loss that makes normal air mattresses feel like sleeping on an ice block if you’re bedding in the cold. Thickness is a full 9 centimeters — enough to absorb nearly any size rock or bump, and providing an insulation R-value of 6, which is major compared to most sleeping pads.

At 41 ounces, Lisa’s pad is a bit much for any self-carry backcountry use (other than a major arctic expedition where it might be an essential). Thus, for our other choice from Exped I got their Downmat 7 Pump. While still a bit hefty at 31 ounces, you get what you pay for in weight for this as it’s still got an R value of R 5.9 due to down filling and overall thickness. (As compensation, with a pad this warm you can carry a slightly lighter weight sleeping bag.)

Backcountry Skiing

The built-in pump in these mats is interesting. It's simply a block of foam with an interior one-way valve. Your hand over the intake valve becomes the input valve. You press down with your hand covering the valve and air goes into the pad, let up with your hand off and the block of foam gathers air for the next cycle. You can't blow these pads up with breath because they'd fill with condensation. Exped also sells some truly excellent pumping accessories such as a 'Pillow Pump

Fabric these pads are made of is said to be highly durable. Air valves are large, for quick-easy deflation. Sleeping surface is less slippery than some mats I’ve tried. In all, looking good!


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23 Responses to “Sleeping With Exped — First Look at their Mats”

  1. Tony August 18th, 2009 11:25 am

    Lou, is the Down Mat 7 Pump’s weight 31 ounces with its stuff sack? I have an older version with the pump built into the stuff sack, and wondering if I should upgrade.

    The Down Mat 7 is great – I used to take a Thermarest and closed cell foam pad to stay warm for winter camping. Now I just use my Downmat 7 which weighs less than the Thermarest and stuffs to the size of a Nalgene.

    Only problem I had was when a slow leak ruined two nights of sleeping. How do you suggest finding and fixing such leaks in the field? Back at home, I immersed it in a bath tub to find the leak and fixed it with the included patch kit, but that is impractical in the winter backcountry and the patch took 12 hours to dry.

  2. Brenda August 18th, 2009 12:02 pm

    I got myself a similar sleeping pad last year (synthetic fill), and I was disappointed – it was cold. I think it was cold because it’s not baffled construction, and the heat escapes in the seams (analogous to the sewn-through points on non-baffled down jackets). Does the Exped pad have any mechanisms that prevent these “channels of cold” from negating the warmth of the fill? Or did I just pay the ultimate price for getting a cheaper knock-off?

  3. Lou August 18th, 2009 1:17 pm

    Both mats are baffled, NOT sewn through, so no cold spots! Pump is built in, I never include stuff sacks in gear weights as they’re optional, but for what it’s worth, these stuff sacks weigh 6 tenths of an ounce for the smaller pad, .7 for the larger. Seems to me these mats are some of the best out there. Cool accessories as well.

    BTW, stuff sacks are small enough to make quick-easy packing difficult with cold fingers or when you’re in a hurry. Typical for just about anything sold with a stuff sack, it seem like. Easy fix.

  4. Lou August 18th, 2009 1:24 pm

    Tony, I know of no way to detect leaks other than with water, either immersing, or rubbing with a wet rag, with a slow leak you’d have to get it pretty wet to see anything… punctures and leaks are indeed the weakness of this type of pad, that’s why I don’t use one for summer backpacking, even though I wish I could. I tried once and indeed got a leak, as I like to use my pad in the summer for a variety of things, such as just sitting on the rocks by a lake… That said, I might get so addicted to these high-end pads I end up taking something along that line if we go backpacking or horse packing.

  5. SB August 18th, 2009 2:17 pm

    I have the older Downmat 7. I like it a lot. I like to sleep on my side quite a bit and lesser pads make that uncomfortable.

    I’ve worried about leaks but so far have not had one. I only use it in the bottom of a tent or in my bivvy sack to protect it a little. Just in case, I carry a sit sized piece of foam for sitting on or as backup to the pad. Of course, my trips are 1-3 days. For longer trips, I’d worry more.

  6. Tuck August 18th, 2009 2:18 pm

    Lou, I thought you had graduated to huts (preferably with pastries)? 😉

  7. Sam Reese August 18th, 2009 4:24 pm

    soapy water!

    Get a mixture of soapy water, pretty soapy, and rub it by hand onto the surface in question, little bubbles will form at slow leak areas. They’ll often look like a white foam that grows instead of shrinking than actual bubbles, but it works.

    Once you find the leak, good luck. I’ve never successfully patched a leak, only slowed the leak further.

  8. Lou August 18th, 2009 6:04 pm

    Sam, good! Tuck, devolution is alive and well!

  9. randosteve August 18th, 2009 8:53 pm

    i’ve been using an exped 7 for the past 4 years now and love it. super warm and i can roll with a 0 degree bag most winter nights here in the tetons. carrying the extra weight is worth the 3″ of cush in the winter when sleeping on snow.

    i stopped using the pump-up stuff-sac on the first trip and just blow it up with my lungs. don’t know if it’s messed up the down because of it, but it still seems to work great!

  10. iceage56 August 18th, 2009 9:13 pm

    I am a big fan of the Pacific Outdoor Equipment line. To save weight in winter, I use an uninsulated pad with a Gossamer Gear lightweight pad. The combination is very comfortable and light. The bonus is that if you get the dreaded hissing sound you still have a lightweight closed cell foam pad to keep you warm. Pacific Outdoor also has some lightweight insulated pads.

  11. rod georgiu August 18th, 2009 9:17 pm

    I have used a POE mat (with Aspen aerogel) R value 18 for over two years, including a whole bunch of nights sleeping at 5,000 meters or higher on the snow. It really rocks. It’s under 24 OZs, never got cold. I thries the Exped, but I like the POS better. It’s a shame these guys don’t know how to promote their products, but I think you should give it a test, Lou. :wub: :sick: :blush:

  12. Jordan August 18th, 2009 11:11 pm

    I need one…I found out this weekend that my pad no longer holds air…love to find that out in the middle of the night.

  13. Randonnee August 18th, 2009 11:49 pm

    I have used an Exped DownMat 7 for going on 7 years. Very nice, no leaks in that time. I am very careful with it, of course. My Exped uses the bag as a pump- attach the fitting and squeeze in the air.

  14. Lou August 19th, 2009 6:55 am

    Randosteve, I’m sure inflation mats keep working to some degree even with condensation inside from filling with breath, but it has to compromise the warmth eventually, especially of the mats filled with down, which would then get all clumped up from the condensate, not to mention eventually mildewing and ultimately rotting. The built-in pumps on these Exped mats seem to work great, not quite as fast as breath fill, but mere minutes anyway and it gets you warm instead of just dizzy.

    Rod, we’ll revew/test more mats as the winter progresses. Meanwhile, the beauty of the blog format is you guys can chime in and make sure your favorites are mentioned.

  15. Mark W August 19th, 2009 8:15 am

    Built-in pump is a good concept, but pumps anemically. Small quibble, I know.

  16. OMR August 19th, 2009 4:58 pm

    Just some thougths . . . Two Z-pads combined = 32 oz., equal or lighter than each of the pads mentioned above. One Z is fine for summer use, two plenty for winter camping – and you aren’t screwed if they spring a leak, which the Z-pad won’t do becasue it’s not inflatable. I don’t know th R-value of the Z, but I’ve never been cold on two, including -20’s in the Sawtooths. For me the huge weight is a huge issue. 41 ounces?? Wish I were 20 again. That said, winter camping often allows for a sled, which allows for the kitchen sink. As for comfort, a little nesting effort goes a long way to smooth the bumps.

    Nice review though, pads are geeting better.

  17. Neil August 19th, 2009 7:31 pm

    Another vote for the Downmat 7. Have been using it for 3 years now without a problem. The extra warmth is worth the weight (which is minimal) and it is far smaller to pack than a closed cell foam mat. Mind you, a small square of closed cell mat makes an excellent seat pad for sitting around the snowy kitchen.

  18. Fredrik Ericsson August 22nd, 2009 5:50 am

    I’ve been using the Downmat 9 and Downmat 7 Short for the last couple of years. I agree that the 9 is a bit too heavy to carry around but if you’re staying in the same camp for a long time it’s definitely worth bringing. It’s the king of sleeping mats.
    Works really good as a spare bed at home as well.
    If you want to save weight you should try the Downmat 7 Short. It is obviously lighter and packs smaller than the normal 7. Since it’s only 120 cm long I put my backpack or rope at the foot end. The downmat 7 short weights about the same as my old Therm-a-rest and it’s much warmer and more comfortable.
    I have the old model with the pump in the stuff sack. How is the new built-in pump work?

  19. Mark August 22nd, 2009 7:03 am

    I work at an outdoor gear store, and I’m definitely going to push for more Exped mats as they sound superior in many ways.

  20. NWMike August 24th, 2009 2:49 pm

    I’ve used thermarests for years (short rectangular, long rectangular, prolite-4), with and without closed cell foam (ridgerest, et. al.). Love my Exped downmat. I let my wife borrow it for one trip, and when we came home, we needed to order her a new mat (synmat — she won’t sleep on snow).

    When sleeping on snow, you have to inflate, let it chill and shrink for a few minutes, and then reinflate or else you bottom out at 2am.

    The improved sleep is worth the extra 8 oz over the prolite-4. I’ll shave weight somewhere else.

  21. Lou August 25th, 2009 6:21 am

    Yeah NW, my theory is a slightly lighter bag with the bomber mat, for net of same weight as before. We’ll see how that theory works. Should be no problem at least to some extent.

  22. Richard August 30th, 2009 7:48 pm

    I’ll second the favorable comments about the EXPED mats. I’ve had mine for three seasons and its given great service everyplace from winter in Wyoming to the floor of the Toronto airport waiting for a connection. Don’t see the need of the built in pump— the stuff sac inflation system is faster than mouth to mouth unless you are really the the oral type.

    A bit of history for you gearheads. The down filled air mattress was invented by Jack Stevenson about 40 years ago. In his bags DAMS fit into a built-in pocket in the bottom of the bag. The early ones like I had were leak prone and mine ended in the trash bin. My bag is still going strong, having served everywhere from Hawaii to -10 in the Wyoming back country. I don’t think anything has equaled it for versatility since. Another bit of trivia– I happened to be sailing in the Bahamas last spring and discovered that the skipper used to sew sleeping bags and sleep with the owners daughter back in the day when I bought mine. He agreed that that the Stevenson DAMS were a quality control disaster back in his time—.

  23. Graeme October 12th, 2009 4:29 pm

    The score for downmats (7 long, various pump types) for my friends and I:

    Myself – I got mine first, 4 years ago. I just love the comfort and warmth, well worth any minor extra weight – BUT – slow leak for over half that time, not getting worse, small leaks ( at crimp seam – not an injury) identified initially and “sealed”. I need to pump it fairly tight then it lasts me thorught the night – a little more pumping each night ( I use the pillow pump).

    Friend 1 – 1 year – similar problems to mine but a bit worse.

    Freind 2 – 1 year – disastrous flattening in spite of not being able to find a leak.

    Friend 3 – 2 years – no problems at all.

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