Want to see the most interesting new sleeping pad of 2011 in action? It's the Exped Synmat UL 7, available only at REI until mid-April, and our little blogcast (a glorified student film, really) gives you a glimpse of how it looks and performs.
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We checked out what Exped calls its "medium" model: 71.5 inches (182cm) long, 20 inches (52cm) wide. That's a pad size other manufacturers often call "large" or "long."
What makes it noteworthy:
Surprising thickness: 7cm, which equates to roughly 2 ¾ inches. (When Exped, a Switzerland-based company, puts a number in a pad's name, it represents the pad's thickness in centimeters.) That's pretty plush when you consider its weight.
Low weight: Just 16.2 ounces. It's the first pad targeted at ultralight zealots from Exped, which also makes the luxurious, 3.5-inch-thick, down-insulated Down Mat 9. I used that beauty, all 2 ¼ pounds of it, while snow camping during my 2010 climb of Mount Rainier. (Personal impression: really good.) In our video you'll see that the far more diminutive Synmat UL 7 tips the scale at just a hair more than 16 ounces.
Compact size: Depending on how precisely you roll it up, it packs down to between 9 and 10 inches long, less than 4 inches wide and 3.5 inches in diameter. It's not much larger than a standard 32-fl. oz. water bottle.
Good insulation: Exped bonds a thin layer of microfiber insulation to the pad's top and bottom layers, delivering an R-value of 3.1. If stuck on a snowfield during summer conditions and you need to make camp (it happened to me last summer), I'm guessing you could get through the night without much difficulty.
Ease of inflation: It's not self-inflating, so be ready for a little huffing and puffing. We kind of hammed it up in the video, making me look like I'm busting a lung to fill the pad, but I got that thing filled on 15 breaths. That's pretty fast. Added bonus: The inflation valve includes a flap that prevents air from escaping as you inhale your next lungful. The Synmat UL 7 has no built-in hand pump, a feature of fancier Exped pads. Tip: When inflating, unfold the pad so it's completely flat. With no folds, air flows in more easily.
Ease of deflation: A separate value (with no flap) lets air escape. By adding some knee pressure, I had the pad flat in about a minute. We've included a separate video that demonstrates the inflation/deflation process.
Not rugged, but not wimpy: The 20-denier ripstop nylon shell with welded seams seems capable of reasonable wear and tear. You'll still want to be conscientious of your camping surface when using this pad.
Extras: It includes a stuff sack and a repair kit.
How does this pad look to you?
Enjoy the show.