I upgraded to one of these fancy next-gen sleeping mats about five years ago, when I had a cross-country motorcycle camping trip in the works. I had to justify the price to myself by comparing it to a one-night stay in a moderately-priced (okay, nicer than where I usually stay) hotel, but over thousands of miles and hundreds of campsites, the Exped has proved it worth it. I remember well the jealousy in another camper’s voice after the night we pitched our tents in a gravel parking lot near the start of the Trans-Labrador Highway. He didn’t get much sleep, but I was just fine. In a pinch it even works an an indoor air mattress for guests.

They have different styles of these now, but I have the Synmat UL 7 (UL stands for ultralight, which I believe means if has less insulation, but it’s still good to 24.8 degrees F, according to the packaging). It inflates to 2.8 inches and packs down to the size of a one-liter bottle, so it’s both lighter and more compact than the older, torso-only, “self-inflating” style I used to use. Oh, a word about that — it’s pretty easy to inflate the Exped by blowing it up, even a 25-year (now former) smoker like me could manage it without much difficulty, but I did add the Exped pillow-pump a year or so ago, because that’s also very small, and blowing it up night after night is, frankly, a bit of a chore. I believe they have a stuff sack that works as a pump as well.

Since I got this, these types of mats have become more common, but what really made me want to write this review was that I used it recently on a car-camping trip with my nephews, and one of the interior baffles popped, leaving a lump at one end. Not the end of the mat, but annoying, and I started pricing replacements. As a last-ditch effort to save my longtime companion (and a few buck), I emailed Exped, and asked whether it could be fixed. After a brief explanation and a photo of the damage, they told me that they couldn’t fix it, so they’d send me a replacement, free of charge. I just got it in the mail, and I’m hoping to break it in soon. It’s great to see an outdoor innovation that lives up to its hype, and a company that stands behind its gear.

Submitted to Cool Tools by Chris Landers