Exped Variety Pack – the Ultimate Pad Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 15, 2016      
Waking up in a cave in the North Cascades, the ExPED Synmat Hyperlite and the Synmat 7 keeping things comfortable.

Waking up in a cave in the North Cascades, the Exped Synmat Hyperlite and the Synmat 7 keeping things comfortable. The wolverine who lived there was impressed.

With different adventure agendas come different sleeping systems. Are you looking for a lightweight minimalist bivy pad that is used in combination with other parts of your kit? Or are you hitting the road for a several week ski touring trip and looking to live the life of luxury in your camper or van?

Whatever the case, your sleeping pad is one of the most critical pieces of your sleeping system — perhaps THE most critical.

I have been a fan of lightweight inflatable pads for a long time, as they provide the best ratio between weight, space, and insulation. This comes with a cost of course. If you receive an irreparable puncture to your pad, you quickly go from a night of comfort and bliss to sleeping on a thin piece of plastic that will be nothing short of useless — or downright dangerous. (I’d imagine many of you reading this have experienced that incredible sinking feeling…)

With careful handling (what I refer to as popped-pad-paranoia) and a good pad, you can enjoy many sleep-full nights.

The Synmat Hyperlite (orange) and the Downmat Winterlite (grey)

The Synmat Hyperlite (orange) and the Downmat Winterlite (grey).

For the last four years I have been using pads from Exped (Expedition Equipment). The company began as a distributor, but have been making their own gear since 1997. Initially, I only knew about their pads, but I have since seen more and more of their gear on the market; everything from pads, to backpacks, tents, and even hammocks. In fact they have over 80 styles and sizes of sleeping pads to choose from. In general, I have seen quality products come out of Exped, and despite a case of baffle delamination, their customer service has provided an easy and speedy replacement.

We tested their <a href='https://www.wildsnow.com/14979/exped-mega-mat-review/' target='_blank'>Megamats,</a> a purely car camping, sleeping-at-your friend's-house-for-weeks or even used as an everyday mattress, type of pad.

We tested Exped Megamats, a purely car camping, sleeping-at-your friend’s-house-for-weeks or even used as an everyday mattress, type of pad.

For expedition purposes, I have used three of their insulated lightweight mats (as compared to other bulkier options). I’ll highlight them here.

The line up

The line up right to left: Synmat UL 9, Downmat Winterlite, Synmat Hyperlite.

Synmat Hyperlite Pad

The orange Synmat Hyperlite nestles nicely next to the Downmat Winterlite

The orange Synmat Hyperlite nestles nicely next to the Downmat Winterlite

Uses: summer backpacking and climbing trips as well as winter ski trips with more moderate temperatures.

Specs:
R-Value: 3.3
Length: 72 inches (for the medium version)
Width: 20.5 inches
Tapered shape towards the legs and feet
Weight: 12.3 oz

This pad has been my most common go to for its size, warmth, and weight. It has synthetic insulation and one easy to use one-way valve. If you had to go for the one-mat-fits-all for winter, summer trips, I would cast my vote here (but I am typically a warm sleeper).

Pros

  • Weight
  • Packability
  • Shape
  • Warmth
  • Cons

  • Insulation level might not be enough for cold sleepers or certain conditions
  • Ultralight material does require added care
  • Downmat Winterlite Pad

    The Downmat Winterlite (grey) clearly has added loft and insulation.

    The Downmat Winterlite (grey) clearly has added loft and insulation.

    Uses: Winter ski expeditions with colder temperatures.

    Specs:
    R-value: 7
    Length: 72 inches (for the medium version)
    Width: 20.5 inches
    Same tapered shape as the Synmat Hyperlite
    Weight: 16.8 oz

    Downmat Winterlite is perfect for longer ski expeditions where warmth is more critical, like storm watching in Glacier Bay National Park. The additional weight from the added insulation has deterred me from taking it out, if I am looking for places to cut weight. It also doesn’t pack up quite as small as the Synmat Hyperlite. The same single one-way valve works well.

    Pros

  • Warmth
  • Size/shape
  • Weight – warmth ratio
  • Cons

  • Added size
  • Needs to be pretty cold for me to grab this pad.
  • The Synmat and Downmat Lite pads both have a single 1-way valve. This is one of the best valves I've used on an inflatable pad. When it is open, it still provides a fully sealed airway.

    The Synmat and Downmat Lite pads both have a single 1-way valve. This is one of the best valves I’ve used on an inflatable pad. When it is open, it still provides a fully sealed airway.

    To deflate with the one-way valve, you have to insert the tab to break the seal. This has proven to be highly effective at dumping air from the pad when it's time to pack up.

    To deflate with the one-way valve, you have to insert the tab to break the seal. This has proven to be highly effective at dumping air from the pad when it’s time to pack up.

    Synmat UL 9

    The Synmat UL is a straight-sided pad that is good for longer trips where you can afford to carry a slightly larger pad and a bit more weight. This pad features 2 one-way valves. One to inflate, and one to deflate.

    The Synmat UL is a straight-sided pad that is good for longer trips where you can afford to carry a slightly larger pad and a bit more weight. This pad features 2 one-way valves. One to inflate, and one to deflate.

    Uses: Kayaking expeditions, car camping, and backpacking trips where I am not overly concerned with packability.

    Specs:
    R-value: 6
    Length: 77.6 inches
    Width: 25.6 inches
    Straight sided shape
    Weight: 28.6 oz

    This pad is an excellent choice if you’re looking for more comfort on a trip. With the straight sided shape and the thickness after inflation, it provides a high comfort to pack-ability ratio. Of course, it is almost twice the weight as the Hyperlite versions, and that is primarily why I take it on kayaking expeditions where I can afford to schlep a little added comfort.

    Pros

  • Large size (for sleeping)
  • Comfortable – thick padding
  • Dual one-way valves
  • Cons

  • Weight
  • Overall, these Exped mats are quality choices for a sleeping system. With the one-way valves it makes it easy to inflate them without the risk of passing out before your bed is set up. All of the pads above have slightly large side baffles that help keep you on your pad at night, this is a huge bonus if you’re a moving sleeper. Additionally, the one-way valve allows you to quickly dump air when it’s time to pack up. I can simply open the valve and start rolling it from the bottom and it packs down almost to the same size that it comes in from the store (this is a hard feat to accomplish).

    I have had a slight issue with the synthetic insulation leaking out of the deflate valve. It is a small amount, and causes no major problems. The insulation can collect debris, which you'll want to avoid putting back into the pad for risk of damage.

    I have had a slight issue with the synthetic insulation leaking out of the deflate valve. It is a small amount, and causes no major problems. The insulation can collect debris, which you’ll want to avoid putting back into the pad for risk of damage.

    One thing I have noticed with the Synmat pad is the synthetic insulation coming out slightly from the deflate valve over the years. This hasn’t been a major problem (other than occasional collecting debris), as I can just stuff it back in, but it could be solved with a small mesh screen on the inside of the valve. Also, like I said earlier, I have had issues in the past (3 years ago) with a baffle delaminating, which essentially turned my Synmat into a tubular pool toy (not awesome on a multi-day trip). Exped sent me a replacement quickly.

    During this time I was inflating my pad by blowing into it, and I realized this caused a build up of condensation and ultimately mildew because it could not be adequately ventilated. It was my conclusion that this led to adhesive failure in the baffles and caused the delamination. Since then I have been using Exped’s Schnozzle Pump Bag. At first glance, this seemed like the most ridiculous accessory I had ever seen, but after using it now for almost 2 years I won’t go without it. The Schnozzle bag can be used across all of Exped’s products, and allows you to pump up your pad way faster, without lung power, and keeps the inside of your pad dry. I have had absolutely no issues with delamination, or getting lightheaded while trying to set up my bed.

    The infamous schnozzle pump bag in action. A seemingly ridiculous contraption is highly effective and weighs almost nothing. Some versions of the schnozzle bag double as a light weight dry stuff sack.

    The infamous schnozzle pump bag in action. A seemingly ridiculous contraption is highly effective and weighs almost nothing. Some versions of the schnozzle bag double as a light weight dry stuff sack.

    Exped has a very extensive sleeping mat (as they call them) collection. It can be a little overwhelming to figure out what you want when you look at their website. Here is my attempt to guide you through the lingo:

    First there is the family name: AirMat, SynMat, MegaMat, etc. This is the place to start. Figure out if you’re looking for an expedition mat, something super insulated, ultra light, or something for car camping. Their website has a system to help with this at the top of their mat section.

    Second, many of their mats have a number in the name. This is speaking to the thickness of the mat from the surface that you’d be sleeping on to the ground surface. This number is in centimeters. For example, SynMat 9 is nine centimeters thick.

    Next you’ll find some acronyms in the name. Here is a key:

    UL ultra light
    XS extra small
    S “small”
    M medium
    LW long and wide
    MW medium length and wide
    LXM long and extra wide
    SIM self inflating mat
    XP external pump. This is to specify it against other versions in the same family that have a built in pump system.
    TT tube technology. Meaning that each air cell is isolated and can be replaced individually.

    Lastly, they have some of their mats in a “duo” version. These are two person sleeping pads.

    You can shop for Exped mats here.

    Update: Exped has changed the laminate they are using in their pads this year to solve the blown baffle issue. As always, Exped will
    replace pads with manufacturer’s defects quickly and for free.

    For more information on the differences in pads you can watch this video.


    Comments

    9 Responses to “Exped Variety Pack – the Ultimate Pad Review”

    1. Rod Georgiu November 15th, 2016 8:34 am

      Does the warmer pad provide any insulation if it’s punctured?

    2. John Yates November 15th, 2016 8:47 am

      I had two Exped pads a few years ago. Both failed. One after about a dozen uses; the insulation started coming out one of the valves as you described. The other failed the first time I used it in cold weather. I tried it at home, and it worked OK. Then I took it on a trans-sierra ski trip, where it deflated slowly the first night I used it. One of the valves was leaking. I put a small piece of a plastic bag on to top of the open valve and closed the cap of the valve on top of it, causing the plastic to act as a washer. That worked.

      The second of the two pads came with a schnozzle, which worked well until some of the seams burst.

      I got a light Thermarest, made my own schnozzle clone, and am now a happy camper.

    3. Bruce Moffatt November 15th, 2016 9:24 am

      Had great luck with the Exped Synmat UL series. Several years of backcountry use and in winter I enhance the “R” properties with a thin closed cell foam pad. Would recommend them. Bonus, quite a bit quieter than some of the competitors in this class. Chose your tent mates carefully unless you do not mind the sound of a crinkly potato chip bag every time a tent mate shifts in the night.

    4. Todd November 15th, 2016 1:00 pm

      To deflate the pads with a single valve (e.g. the Downmat Winterlite, Synmat Hyperlite) you can pull the stem on the green rubber flap until the flap pops out the front of the mat. Then just push it back in when you want to inflate it again, or let the schnozzle bag do that for you. I have the Downman Winterlite and really appreciate being able to take a lighter sleeping bag because of it.

    5. Jernej November 15th, 2016 1:21 pm

      I’ve used many over the years, as a kid mostly during summers in seaside campsites, car camping and such. But I once took an expensive inflatable matress on a proper scandinavian hiking trip and I will never make that mistake again. It lasted about 3 or 4 nights. Very comfortable, lightweight and packable but a viable option only when you have a backup or a shop around the corner.

      The hole is always somewhere you can’t fix so the only option is to throw away the matress. I began to see them as disposable single use products and would only ever buy the cheapest one available at a beach kiosk and the like. They always fail and even the most durable, heavy duty ones don’t last more than a year or two (a couple of weeks worth of use). I honestly don’t see how they are regarded as a serious choice for anything but short term, ultralight hikes. They are designed to fail when you want the exact opposite (uneven, uncomfortable surfaces), essentialy unfit for the purpose. More often a problem rather than solution.

      At least a self inflatable matress retains some comfort when it fails (and it inevitably will in the same non-fixable manner).

      Rant over 🙂

    6. James November 15th, 2016 8:15 pm

      Can you speak to the lack of insulation in the outside baffles of the the Downmat Winterlite Pad? I’ve read a few reports of cold arms and cold torso unless side sleeping on the center baffles.

    7. See November 15th, 2016 8:43 pm

      Why use a full length pad when you can just put your pack and other gear under your legs?

    8. stephen November 24th, 2016 7:04 pm

      Out of 5 downmats myself and friends owned, 4 failed relatively quickly; the other saw little use. Failure modes varied – seams splitting, slow leaks, etc – but all were irreparable. FYI: warranty is region-specific; there is ZERO warranty on items from another distributor – the mats have serial numbers. Inflating and deflating the mats was slow and painful, and they are bulky enough to be a problem in some bivy bags, or in smaller tents with narrow foot ends. I’d suggest staying well away from the downmats, but if you must buy one, do so locally and keep your receipts(!). They are very warm, but that’s the only good thing IMHO.

    9. Phyllis Tiller December 12th, 2016 5:02 am

      My son inlaw sent me a Exped Downmatt TT 9 for Christmas 2015. I have used it in a Exped tent only with a heavy duty ground pad under it i am 60KGS A seam has come apart and a tube appears to have a puncture as it no longer stays up.
      As I live inn Perth Australia and the mat was purchased in Texas. What can I do about this. Its been a great mat to sleep on but I am dissapointed as it falling apart in it first year. I have only used it on cycling tours.





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