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Exped DownMat & SynMat Review


Exped SynMatWe’re happy to leave a lot of things behind when we go bike touring but a good night’s sleep isn’t one of them.

That’s why we never skimp on sleeping mats. We always look for a reliable brand (the last thing you want is a failing sleeping mat in the middle of nowhere) and a mat that’s a bit warmer than we expect to need.

In our search for the perfect night’s sleep, we’ve tried several mats from Thermarest:

  • The inflatable Prolite Plus (our first mats, bought in 2006; they wore out long ago, after about 6 months of constant use)
  • The super-durable foam Z Lite (bought in 2007; endured 2+ years of steady bike touring and still going strong but not the warmest or most compact)
  • The Neo Air (ultra compact and very light; bought in July 2012 so still quite new)

For our bike tour of Spain in 2010, the Z Lite wouldn’t do. It was too bulky and not warm enough. We were – after all – travelling to Spain by plane and preparing to camp in below-freezing temperatures.

We hadn’t yet acquired the Neo Air mentioned above, so we were on the look out for a new mat. We’d heard a lot about Exped mats so we asked our local dealer if it was possible to try and review their sleeping mats. We agreed to buy the mats if we liked them.

A few days later, one DownMat 7 (filled with goose down) and one SynMat 7 (with a synthetic filling) arrived on our doorstep.

Already, we’d achieved one big goal for our Spanish bike tour: a lot of space saved in our panniers compared to the Z Lite.

Thermarest Z Lite vs Exped SynMat
An Exped mat is smaller and warmer than a solid foam mat such as the Thermarest Z Lite. The Exped mat is also three times as heavy and more expensive.

What’s The Difference?
We got both a DownMat and a SynMat because we wanted to compare the two different models. As it turns out, there’s not much difference between them. They’re nearly identical in size and weight. The DownMat provides a bit more insulation and costs more. The packed size of the SynMat is fractionally smaller.

SynMatDownMat 7
Weight:860g (30 oz)same
Dimensions:183cm x 52cm x 7cm
(72 x 20 x 2.8 inches)
same
Packed Size:21cm x 15cm
(8.3 x 5.9 inches)
23cm x 16 cm
(9 x 6.3 inches)
Insulation:R-Value of 4.9
(rated for -17°C or 1.4°F)
R-Value of 5.9
(rated for -24°C or -11°F)
Price:$149 U.S.$229 U.S.

First Impressions
The mats are quite small when packed, so when we inflated them for the first time, we were surprised by their thickness. The Exped mats are nearly twice as high as a Thermarest Prolite Plus mat and 4 times as thick as a solid-foam mat like the Z Lite (the Exped mat is also 3 times as heavy as a Z Lite mat, at 860g vs 290g).

Comfortable?
As far as comfort goes, we’ve tested the mats about 75 times so far and we find the sleeping experience to be identical between them.

They’re nice and thick – an especially nice feature on rough ground. Most campgrounds we’ve been in lately are pretty flat but we attempted to create some rough ground by sticking a headlamp under the Exped mats and flopping on top. We didn’t feel a thing. Great! All of a sudden, it became a little less urgent to move every pine cone and rock out from under our tent to ensure a good night’s sleep.

We also noticed that we can set up our tent on a slight slope and we don’t feel the slanting ground as much as we do with thinner mats.

Thermarest Z Lite vs Exped SynMat
The thickness of an Exped mat (seen here underneath a much thinner Z Lite foam mat) means you don’t feel things like rocks and pine cones under the mat.

What We Like

  • Comfort – These are seriously comfortable sleeping mats. It’s the next best thing to your bed at home; especially if you are a side-sleeper or if you always feel like your hips and shoulders are touching the ground through thinner mats. The Exped mat is thick enough to absorb the curves of your body.
  • Warmth – For late autumn or winter camping, you don’t want to risk being cold. We’ve slept on these mats in temperatures up to -15°C (with appropriate winter sleeping bags) and we’ve been completely cozy.
  • Small Pack Size – The Exped mats pack down small enough to be easily thrown in a pannier.
  • Easy To Use – We had no problem understanding how to inflate these mats. It was also easy to deflate and roll them back up. The stuff sacks are nice and big, so it’s never a struggle to get the mat back in the bag.
  • Warranty – These mats have a 5-year warranty. That’s not quite as good as the lifetime warranty offered by Thermarest, but it’s long enough for most of us to put a sleeping mat to the test. We’ve talked to a few friends who use these mats extensively, and they all speak highly of Exped’s customer service.

Testing Exped mats
Andrew tries pumping up the Exped mats for the first time.

What We’re Not So Crazy About

  • Inflation - To inflate an Exped mat, you lean over the mat, put your hands flat on the pump and push about 100-120 times to make it firm. This takes about 2 minutes if you’re pumping constantly. On shorter trips, this doesn’t bother us at all. Usually, one person inflates the mats while the other makes dinner. It is a bit tiring, however, and because the mat takes some work to inflate, we wouldn’t pull it out to sit on at lunch time (as we often do with our Z Lite mats).
  • Noisy - These mats are noisy when you toss and turn during the night. They creak and squeak – a lot! If you sleep lightly and move frequently, you might find the noise annoying.
  • Danger of Failure – As our friend Shane found out first hand, the Exped mats aren’t ideal for an extended international tour. They often fail after several weeks of steady use. Now, this isn’t unique to Expeds (it’s a risk with any inflatable camping mat) and it’s no problem if you can cash in on the warranty but that’s a lot harder if you’re in a foreign country. The dealer may tell you just to “bring the mat to your nearest camping shop” (often impossible on the road). He may also send you a replacement but then you have to arrange a place to pick it up, wait for delivery and hope that you aren’t hit with customs charges.
Exped Failure
A failing Exped mat. Photo from Shane Little.
Our Verdict
Overall, we decided that the comfort and warmth of these mats makes them worth the extra effort to inflate, and we decided to keep these mats for our upcoming bike tours. It’s hard to give up the luxury of a very thick and warm mat when you’ve had a taste of it!

Most of our planned trips are relatively short (up to 1 month). We’d still be cautious about taking any inflatable mat (Exped, Thermarest or any other brand) on an expedition bike tour of several months or years because of the risk of punctures, delamination or a failure with the pump. Even with the best customer service in the world, getting a mat sent to you when you are on the road is a hassle so for prolonged adventures we still favour the spartan but indestructible solid-foam mats.

One More Tip
If you get an Exped mat, you’ll find that the area around the pump stays flat after the mat has been filled, unless you deliberately fill it. Here’s how to fill the pumping chamber so you don’t have a little flat spot on the mat:

1. Fill the mat until it’s as firm as possible and then look for the “integrated pump” at the end of the pumping chamber. It’s easy to spot by the 2 white swooshes, and the words “integrated pump” written to the right of the pumping chamber.

Filling the pumping chamber of an Exped mat

2. Put your finger on the little dot at the end of one of the “swooshes” and push down until you feel the end of the pump, inside the mat.

3. Squeeze the pipe and watch the air flow into the pumping chamber, to give a nice, evenly filled mat.

Filling the Exped Mat

Reviews from other bike tourists:

What Next?
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34 Responses to “Exped DownMat & SynMat Review”

  1. rockstarpaul says:

    I have a synmat and it is fantastic. Although it is a little heavy for hiking, I still generally take it as the amazing night’s sleep you get with it makes it worth the extra effort. It is unbeatable for cycle touring.

  2. awesome article here, foam vs inflatable is my big debate at the moment. Currently using a thermarest 3/4 length, but thinking that something more substantial for a 5-6months tour is needed !

    • friedel says:

      I think the big factor is: how likely is it that you will easily be able to get to a camping shop and replace it if necessary? If you’ll have the time and flexibility to replace it if all goes wrong, then go for the more comfortable option.

  3. woollypigs says:

    We got the DownMat 7 too and yes it is annoying to pump and deflate everyday. But boy what a good sleep you get on it.

    That makes it well worth the extra weight, size and hassle.

  4. Becky says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been looking for something thinker than my prolite 4 – my hips are aging :(

  5. Doug W says:

    Have friends at Thermarest who can get us the pro deal pricing (they’re local) and was thinking about pairing the new Prolite Plus with the fitted sheet and either their Alpine or Ventra down comforters. I’m not a fan of mummy bags and have been wanting to try either of the down comforters. Haven’t seen them at REI yet (not even the mothership store in Seattle). Anyone give any thoughts to that kind of system, or perhaps try it?

  6. Tom Allen says:

    I’ve used a Downmat 7 for years. It must be the most luxurious sleeping mat I’ve ever slept on. After a couple of years it got the inevitable punctures (on the one trip I didn’t bring the supplied glue+patch kit, of course!). And finally it delaminated in a quite amusing fashion on the last night of a tour.

    Exped’s customer service being what it is, I had a brand new mat within a couple of weeks of contacting them.

    I recently took the new Downmat 7 to Scandinavia where I managed to test it to it’s very limits. Down to -25C or so it does indeed work incredibly well. The pumping takes longer as you approach this kind of temperature, as the foam within the integrated pump becomes stiffer, as all plastics do at such temperatures. So inflating takes 4-5 minutes instead of 1-2. But that’s fine, because you get warm while doing it :).

    At -30C and below, cold spots become more difficult to avoid. I’d stick a foam mat underneath if temperatures that low were going to be the norm, or look at the Downmat 9.

    The SIM Light range is also great; I use the SL 2.5 which is much smaller and lighter and I’ve used it down to around zero with no problems. Being (mostly) self-inflating, it’s also a doddle to use, although a bit of a fiddle to pack away again. It’s perfect for fair weather trips.

  7. Gerardo says:

    I also own a exped synmat 7,and to inflate goes on my nerves,but thats the price for comfort u pay

  8. James says:

    I have a question: If these mats have some filling (either down or synthetic), would they be comfortable to lie on in the event of a puncture? If they were moderately comfortable even when deflated, that would partially mitigate the risk of carrying an inflatable mat.

    • friedel says:

      James, they do have some filling but when you deflate them they are quite thin so I don’t think they would be comfortable at all with a puncture. If anyone has actual experience though, please chip in!

    • sz says:

      These mats come with a puncture repair kit, and fixing them is not that much different than fixing a puncture on your bike.

      • Friedel says:

        As long as you remember to carry the kit, you’re fine ;)

        Punctures are definitely not the problem I would worry about with these mats (or any other inflatable mat). It’s more delamination or a pump failure on a long trip that would be a pain.

      • sz says:

        I store the repair kit in the mat’s stuffsack to make it hard to accidentally leave it home. Should this happen, nevertheless, I would try to fix it with a superpatch. Or good old duct tape. If I happen to have none of these on a tour, then, frankly, I will deserve to sleep on the ground ;)

        With the rest I agree. But they are so damn comfortable ;)

  9. Brenda in the Boro UK says:

    we are just back from a 10 day cycle trip in Scotland and we used the downmat 7 on top of old ultralight thermarests. we wanted to see if it made for a truely comfy sleep. Well, it was like being at home in bed. Now being an OAP (LOL) I need the extra comfort for my hips and depite the weight it was well worth it. I’m short and both mats are 3/4 length so I was fine but we had to pad under my husband’s feet as the drop was too much. We sleep under a rayway quilt and were as warm as toast even though the temps dropped to about -4C in the early hours. We didn’t inflate the downmat as firmly as when used on it’s own. I also bought myself an exped pillow and made a case for it. Really comfy as well.

  10. Alex says:

    Exped DownMats are extremely warm and comfortable, which is why I continue buying them…

    1. My first DownMat 7 DLX appeared to delaminate and completely self-deflate after a month of using it.
    2. Its replacement deflates a little bit from day one, but luckily gets me through the night. For a subsequent night it needs further pumping.
    3. Got a DownMat 9 M for my partner a month ago, which came with a hole (puncture?) from the factory… We tracked it down due to a feather that was luckily captured there making it obvious and patched it with the glue. Seemed to work fine after that, but I returned the mat anyway – spending $180 on a product defective from the get go is unacceptable for me.

    Having said that, I’m tempted to buy ANOTHER DownMat 9 and see if that one will work as advertised…

    This mat is excellent, if only for the bad reliability experiences I’ve had.

    (for the record, I take very good care of my mats, never put them out on the ground – always in-tent use, have never camped on thorny fields, got them drenched or anything like that)

  11. We have brought a pair of these mats for our up coming world tour.

    Have found the comfort level amazing, and they keep your back, or what ever side is exposed to the ground , warm.

    We also have a pair of Exped sleeping bags, as they zip together and I would stand these up against my old Macpac anyday, really impressed with the build quality..anyway there is a cool device built into the compression sack for inflating the mats.

    When it comes to inflating we use a simple inflation tube sold by Exped and used in conjunction with the compression sack, which acts like a rudimentary set of bellows and inflates the mattress in about a minute. Adrienn has the bed area sorted before I even have dinner on..

    We have also brought the Exped chair kits, so far so good, great for that end of day nap……

  12. Cinda says:

    Hey Friedel,
    Great article but have you ever heard of Big Agnes. As I was planning for my first tour last year, I looked/looked at sleeping bags/mats. I too wanted compactness yet comfort as I still weighed more than 200 lbs then. I seriously considered several different Thermarest mats, but ultimately went with Big Agnes. They have a couple of options. I chose a down bag because it compresses significantly smaller than the synthetic, I had room in my panniers for it (now I also have a waterproof compression sack for it if I need the pannier space for something else). The Big Agnes sleeping bag is designed with a sleeve on the bottom side into which you slip your sleeping mat. Mine was an inflatable version air core – 2.5 inches thick when inflated – yet extremely compact when deflated. No pump needed, takes 2-3 minutes to blow it up. Never slip off your pad during the night. Like sleeping in a bed except when close to the train tracks.
    Looking forward to my next excursion.

  13. Brenda in the Boro UK says:

    On Wednesday, we began packing for a 2 week trip. My Dh’s Downmat7 was difficult to roll up – stored flat and valves open – turned out there was a fault and down was leaking @blockiing up the outlet valve. I emailed exped in Switzerland and with 1 hr they had replied telling me to return it to the retailer or there UK distributor. I phoned then at 4.30pm and we arranged to drive over and collect a new one. I don’t trust the post – think Map Freidel- We got a new full length in exchange for a 3/4 length as they are now special order only. DH is happy and he’s not too worried by the weight.

    • friedel says:

      Don’t blame you for not trusting the post! No sign of your map yet, unfortunately. I fear it’s lost in the English Channel. Glad to hear Exped lived up to their reputation for good service, though!

  14. Brimstone says:

    Like Cinda I also use a Big Agnes ‘Insulated Air Core’ mattress. Similar to the SynMat; a bit less insulating by spec, a bit lighter. I use a 3/4 length mat. That’s comfy enough for me and leaves a bit more floor space open in the tent when pulling on my trousers. Some day I’m gonna really get civilized and get a tent I can stand up in while putting on my underwear.
    I also carry a full length 5mm Evazote foam pad. It’s very light, compact and flexible (compared to a Z-rest). That gives a boost to the insulation, helps keep the BA from sliding around, and most importantly helps prevent punctures. It’s thin enough to slip folded into a pannier for equipment padding and separating the volume, and makes a real nice seat pad and beach mat and lay-out mot for gear. I use it like a small Exped Multimat. In a pinch I could sleep OK with just this and the BA deflated. Which is always a possibility especially when sleeping with desert thorns.

    One of the best things about the BA is the special sil-nylon stuff sack I bought. It’s got a stiffened roll top, and a funnel shaped spout on the bottom, similar to a cow’s udder. You slip this over the mattress inflation nozzle, secured with a bungee ring, then inflate by opening the top to scoop in air then and rolling the captured air into the mattress. Sounds awkward but it’s quick and easy. Takes about 45 secs to inflate with no breath moisture contaminating the insulation. Less time if there’s a breeze to help. The carry sac double as a hanging shower with nozzle attachment. And triples as a water carry bag. And quadruples as a pillow- put something soft inside and partly inflate it, it holds air all night.

    A lot of folks like the Therm-a-rest ‘NeoAir’ but I haven’t tried that. Seems a bit fragile and crinkly and…bright lime green is not the best color for wild camping.

  15. Walid says:

    Hey here!
    I like your review but I would like to ask some stuff.
    I’m looking for a Matt that doesn’t become to warm but is at the same time very comfortable like the matt in the review. I need it for summer nights, thus it should not create to much warmth but it must comfortable.
    Would this one here be suitable for summer nights or is it too warm?
    I’d be happy with any reply!
    Thanks

    • David says:

      I would highly recommend the Exped Synmat Ultralite 7 M
      http://www.actionoutdoors.co.uk/outdoor_gear/info_X32205294-Exped-SynMat-7-M-Ultralite.html

      It’s a lighter weight version that also isn’t quite so warm.

    • private says:

      Hey Walid
      My partner & I both use Exped Downmat 9LW.
      We find them perfect for both winter (snow camping, eg. minus 20 degrees in Slovakia) and summer (Australian Summer) … indeed any time of year.

      Most recent use was a couple of weeks ago, camping in ocean-side sand dunes, southern australia. Was not exceptionally warm weather (35 deg daytime, 18 degrees nighttime) but again mats were perfect.

      In summer (eg. 30 degree Celsius nights) we sleep on these mats, just with Sea-to-summit sleeping bag liners (Thermolite Reator Extreme). Extremely comfortable in all senses – perfect temperature, nice stretchy liner that gives you sense of freedom like in real bed, breathable (not clammy at all), and soft even for my curves (which had always been a challenge with all previous sleeping arrangements we’d tried). All in all, we won’t go back to previously tried products :) Love this combo.
      Also, mats allow you to drop back sleeping bag weight (or for summer sleeping – as above – completely remove need for sleeping bag :) ) … or in extreme conditions adds to value of your bag.

      All my life I have slept quite warm (I grew up in very hot climate, and love heat – but get quite warm at night); whereas my partner is like a cold frog :) For both of us, the mats are great both in cold and heat. We find them extremely adaptable; and with wider “temperature ranges” that other products. Akin to good thermal clothing – that has wider temperature range than lower quality items :)

      THe obvious care applies – when using anywhere that is warm, deflate the mat a bit when you get up in the morning, to avoid damage to the mats.
      ie. the obvious that in warm environments, air volume changes significantly as heat expands the air. During day we always just open the deflate valve and leave them; and at night is super quick to just re=inflate to preferred level.
      Equally, if you’re using the mat where you get sudden drops in temperature – you can experience the SENSATION of the mat deflating…. but where it is actually just the air itself compressing under lower temperature (it is not air loss; just air compression). It’s just all the obvious stuff – and you manage exactly the same as per your MTB tyres etc for cycling trips :)

  16. friedel says:

    In our experience, it’s the sleeping bag more than the mat that will cause you to feel too warm. We have happily used our Exped mats on nights where the temperature has been around 10C and they’ve been fine.

    That said, if you only plan to use the mat in summer then maybe you could get a lighter alternative. The great advantage of the Exped is that it will keep you warm on cold nights but if you won’t ever use it on a cold night then why carry the extra weight? It might be worth looking at the Thermarest Neo Air mat.

  17. David says:

    Has anybody tried out or considered Exped’s Ultralite versions of the Synmat and Downmat?
    I have a SynMat Ultralite 7 M and it’s fantastic! It is the same size and thickness but also a lot lighter than the original version, at only 460g and packs down even smaller too.
    The lighter weight and smaller size is partly due to a lightweight material but also it doesn’t have the integrated pump. This does that blowing the mat up by mouth takes a while and makes you quite light headed but I have found the perfect solution to be the Exped Pillow Pump – a comfy pillow that doubles up as a pump for the mat!!
    Take a look here http://www.actionoutdoors.co.uk/outdoor_gear/info_X32205294-Exped-SynMat-7-M-Ultralite.html

  18. Thanks for the review. Any chance of an update on the mat(s) you are still using? I have given up now on my Synmat UL 7S as the first one failed on tour (delaminated) and the second one has now got a second hole which I cannot find and neither can the dealer find.

    All that said I still like these types of mats but accept that I may need to get a Synmat (not UL) and use a Evazote or similar with it.

  19. We have used the Downmat 9 (without integrated pump), the Downmat 7 (with integrated pump) and the Synmat 7 (with integrated pump) for over 8 years. We have never had a puncture (though the same cannot be said for the Exped pillow which suffered multiple punctures and a tear around the valve).

    We used the Downmat 7 with integrated pump on an aborted world tour. We spent 12 months on the road camping wild as often as possible and were camping in (central) Turkey this last winter (Feb 2012).

    The only problem we had with one of the mats was that one of the valves started to fail which made inflating it longer (though not impossible) and would make some interesting noises. At times it would randomly moan (with or without a person on it) very audibly which on a campsite could be rather embarrassing! The explanation usually resulted in laughter all round, but it was a sign of a failing valve.

    We were not able to get it replaced where we were, but on our unexpected return to the UK, Cotswold Outdoors agreed to help us get it replaced even though they do not sell them (Exped wanted us to use a supplier in the UK rather than go direct). In all fairness it was replaced quickly and without question, but it did raise questions about Exped’s support elsewhere in the world.

    Would I use them again? Certainly. I am totally sold on them and will use them again when we get back out on our round the world tour.

  20. John Coochey says:

    I picked up one for a few dollars from a thift shop, it had already started to fail and failed more during test. I would not be inclined to buy one new for any serious purpose, a good warranty is no use if you are half way up a mountain

    • I have been a few days into a tour with a few nights of sleeping out before getting to the next big town when my first Exped Synmat UL7 failed. Thankfully the retailer, Mainpeak did the right thing and sent a replacement mat ahead for me which was waiting when I arrived. I then sent my failed mat back. All sorted easily.

      Bit harder up a mountain but :)

  21. John Coochey says:

    I bought a downmat from a thrift shop and is was starting to delaminate which it did more when I tried to use it. I would not buy one for any serious purpose, what point is a warranty half way up a mountain?

  22. Emily says:

    One other main difference is that the down is very likely live plucked from birds which is painful and terrible. I believe the exped down comes from China and in China this is still a common practice, even though it is outlawed elsewhere. Some outdoor brands are tracing their down so they know where it comes from.

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