Gear Review: Exped SynMat UL 7

F and I don’t sleep in a tent too often because we do most of our travel in one of a variety of vehicles and it’s a bit more comfortable for Forrest than the tent. However, I really like backpacking and would take Forrest along sometimes so I insisted that he find a sleep system that works for him, regardless of the cost.

Having picked out his sleeping bag, he turned his attention to a sleeping pad. The 3/4 length REI self-inflating pad wasn’t doing enough to keep his hips off the ground and made sleeping really uncomfortable. On the way back from the wedding we stopped at the Missoula REI and tested everything they had but kept coming back to the Exped SynMat UL 7.

Retailing at $165 for the medium (Forrest’s choice at 72″ x 20″), this isn’t a cheap sleeping pad. However, it is really comfortable (I know, I stole it for my trip to Behind the Rocks) and almost 3″ thick. When I used it, the temperatures fell into the high teens and in combination with my 15 degree bag, I was cozy and comfortable.

One of my reservations was a mat that had to be blown up but it really doesn’t seem to be a problem. Plus, since it tips the scales at a scant 16.2 oz, blowing it up seems like a small price to pay. It isn’t the easiest thing to fold back into its stuff sack but it seems to be getting easier with practice (I think the trick is to make sure you really roll all the air out of it before trying to pack it away). The stuff sack measures in at 9″ x 3.5″.

Is the pad worth the $165 price tag? Maybe. If it’s the difference between being happy sleeping in your tent or choosing to stay home on the couch, absolutely. If you’re okay on what you’ve got and just want a bit of a comfort upgrade, I’m not sure: I’m coveting a comfy full length pad now but am happy enough that I’m not sure I need to spend the cash on a second one (but I’m taking this one when I go solo!).

I’d love to hear more about someone’s experience with the REI Stratus Insulated pad at $79.50 as a comparison!


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