Cycling is hard work. Constantly straining your muscles and pushing yourself to the limit brings on major fatigue at the end of the day, and having a proper way to rest is essential. One of the dilemmas I faced while preparing for the tour was to find the right mattress pad that fit my budget, comfort level, and weight limitations. After some extensive searching, I chose the Exped SynMat 7 Deluxe Mattress:
The mat has been around in various forms since 2006 – and received an innards reworking in 2008 based on customer response winning multiple awards from well known periodicals based on its design and overall value. I’ve got the 2008+ model and couldn’t be happier. They’ve improved some of the stability of the cells and added an internal pump to inflate the unit in short order without having to rely on the old clunky stuff sack integrated inflation system.
Weighing in at 877 grams (<2lbs) , the unit has a length almost 6.5 feet to satisfy the needs of most average humans and an extra wide width of just over 2 feet for those who like to sleep on their sides (70% of population) – fetal position like, as opposed to on their back (20% of population) or stomach (10%). Packed tightly in its included stuff sack it measures 11″ x 6″, small enough to fit inside my Ortlieb Rack Pack along with my Sleeping Bag, Pillow, Tent, and bicycle spare parts kit with ease. I noticed that other sleeping pads from competitor Therma-rest were unable to fold to this small space, forcing one to leave the mat outside while riding potentially becoming dirty, wet from weather conditions.
The two-toned laminated polyester fabric is durable, airtight and humidity resistant. The shell’s top surface (Orange) provides excellent slip resistance and comfort next to the skin. I found at first it felt velvet like and didn’t cause any abrasions on my skin even when sleeping on the mat bare without a sleeping bag. The bottom-side offers a grey colour and a much smoother texture. Both sides should they become moist with sweat, condensation, or liquids dry quickly after a few short minutes in open air yet have the downside of collecting stains from dirt (whether being on the tent floor or from a dirty sweaty-haven’t-showered-in-4-days cyclist). I also found that it collects quite an odour, hard to place, but surely rank none the less. The bottom side contains two valves for inflation and deflation with high quality rigid caps. Internally, 150 g/qm of synthetic microfiber fill is placed in the baffles, which seem to be individually partitioned making sure it doesn’t all collect in one cell. Exped was nice enough to include a repair kit containing glue and a few spare patches should the unit get punctured, something I’ve yet to do even though I’ve camped in some not so recommended spots like thorn bushes, and spots littered with twigs and stumps. Repairing a hole would be similar to repairing a punctured tire.
Inflation of the unit is fairly straight forward. Remove the unit from the stuff sack,and lay out flat plugging the deflate hole, and opening the inflate valve. With two hands, simply place them over the hand guide on the corner of the unit covering the inflate valve while depressing. A slow pace with steady movements seems to inflate the unit in about 80 depressions or about a minute. While this can be a pain at the end of the touring cyclists day, the results are worth it. The unit inflates to a firm sleeping platform offering 7 cm (2.8 inches) of protection from the ground below. Deflation of the unit was frustrating the first few times but once I got into the routine of purging as much air as possible from the mattress before folding it into thirds to roll up turned the process into less of a pain and could be accomplished in under a minute. It’s easy to get back into the stuff sack, which can also double as a pillow, and can attach to the mattress with its included loops on one end.
Sleeping on the unit is wonderful. Making sure one keeps the pump end at the foot of their tent as opposed to close to their head will ensure sound operation, as I noticed the unit ‘wheezes’ every once in a while, likely due to a laziness in setup not closing the valve properly. I left the mattress inflated for 4 days and on day 3 it needed a top-up shot of air to become firm once again.When kneeling, I could feel artifacts under the mattress, but felt nothing while sleeping on my side, stomach or back, often thrashing around in my sleep. I’ve experienced no back, arm, or shoulder pains from using the mattress in over 100 days of usage and have yet to feel cold in the morning even though the actual tent floor was fairly chilly in freezing conditions thanks to the units insulating R Value of 4.9 which is claimed to be good down to -17 celsius. I doubt I’ll be touring in these conditions, but it’s good to know should a freak storm may its way over to where I am sleeping.
Other than the fact the unit carries a stink after repeat usage and the wheezing sound that sometimes caused frustration, I think this pad is a real winner for those backpacking, cycle touring, or just looking to have a lightweight addition to their 4 season camping gear arsenal While it’s price tag comes in a bit heftier than other models, the small size, excellent insulation properties and wide footprint offsets the cost and ensures that one is able to have a consistent sleeping experience day after day. Should the unit fail in service I will update this review and provide details. For those who are looking for a smaller unit, Exped also offers a model 6″ shorter in length and width, and for those who wish a thicker sleeping pad, a 9cm thick version is also available, at a higher cost, and wight, although changing the insulating R value to a whopping 6.0.
Its a great alternative to their higher priced models which have similar sizing, construction and weight, yet forgo the synthetic fill for down, and I’d recommend anyone who’s looking for a compact mattress to suit their needs invest in the Exped SynMat. If you’ve liked this review, and wish to purchase, try using the link below, and assist me in getting around the world on your bicycle and send me your comments on how the mattress treated you!
Update: 2011-05-26 – The wheezing sound became more and more noticeable throughout the first part of 2011, until the unit started deflating at night forcing me to wake up and reinflate the mat. After testing for any leaks I was unable to find any and contacted Exped Support. Dave @ Exped was very helpful in helping me troubleshoot the issue, and determined there was a manufacturing fault with the unit and sent me a brand new unit which is now known as the Exped Synmat 7 LW. I still recommend the pad for its packability, and commend them on helping their existing customers.