Sleeping mats

As you may remember, on my Dartmoor trip, my Exped Synmat UL suffered a puncture on the last night. I returned it to the retailer, who forwarded it to the distributor to investigate. Last week it was returned to me, with the puncture repaired. As you can see from the picture below they’ve sealed it with some sealant and a patch. It seems to have done the trick and it stays inflated. However, the real test will be in the field.

While the failure was not catastrophic as I was carrying a 150cm thin foam pad, which serves as a back pad for my Mariposa rucksack, it would have been more than a bit annoying if it had entailed more nights sleeping with little padding or insulation. There’s no doubt that air mattresses have transformed comfort, but increasing numbers of users are reporting failures after only a few nights’ use.

It’s made me reassess whether I want to risk using an air mattress on longer walks. The alternative is to go back to the good old self inflating mattress, which seems to have a much lower failure rate. Even if it does fail, it still retains a level of insulation and cushioning that an air mattress can’t offer. Apart from a lower level of comfort, self inflating mattresses are generally a bit heavier and bulkier compared with an equivalent air mattress.

Amongst the numerous mattresses I own, I have a Multimat Superlite short mattress that was a free gift from a TGO Magazine subscription. It’s an old style rectangular one, weighing 360g. The newer version is shaped and the weight has been reduced to 320g.

The lightest self inflating mat in the market appears to be the Nemo Zor, which received a good write up from Roger Caffin on Backpackinglight.com. At £72, it can hardly be classed a bargain or cheap. However, it is usefully lighter, at an advertised 285g and because it has a double core construction, it is supposed to fold down smaller, so I took the plunge and bought one.

The thumbnails above (click to enlarge) show the relative sizes of the Multimat Superlite (left), Nemo Zor (middle) and a Thermarest NeoAir (right). They are all 120cm in length. As you can see from the pictures, the Multimat is the most bulky. The Zor is almost as compact as the the NeoAir. The weight of the Zor is slightly lower than advertised at 277g. The NeoAir is 259g. The new NeoAir short costs £95 (!!!!), so the Zor is better value, but the new Multimat at £43 is the best value by far.

The picture above shows the Zor (left) and the (old) Multimat Superlite side by side. The Zor seems to achieve a lighter weight through a higher density of perforations. Additionally, it has horizontal cores, which can’t be seen in the photo and the fabric seems to be slightly lighter. The face fabric is also more pleasant to the touch, feeling warmer and less slippery. On the underside, there are some anti slip silicone strips, shown below.

The inflation valve is also slightly different. Instead of twisting to close, the valve pushes down to seal and is then turned to lock. It’s a neat system and more convenient than the normal twist system.

In terms of comfort, the Zor is no different to the Multimat or indeed any other self inflating mat. It does feel warmer, but that could be a function of the facing material which has a slightly wrinkled appearance and feels softer. I’m not going to be able to make a judgement until I use it, which is now unlikely until spring next year. However, first impressions are good and it certainly compares well with an air bed in terms of weight and pack size.

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29 thoughts on “Sleeping mats”

  1. Hi Robin,

    not tempted to go back to a evazote foam mat at all? I have a Gossamer Gear Thinlight foam that I use if I know I have a large pack. The upside is that they are indestructible, the downside is that they are bulky and not as comfy as an airmat.
    I guess that the self-inflating mat is a happy medium between the two. To be fair, I went wildcamping a few years ago with a group of people and one person managed to set fire to his selfinflating mat. It obviously didnt inflate but still worked to a degree! :)

    1. I think a self inflating mat is a good compromise. Not keen on the bulk of a foam mat, nor the lack of padding especially on uneven ground. Let’s see how the Zor works out. Air beds have spoilt me ;)

      1. lol and me! I used to be able to hack a foam mat without question but my aching bones like a bit more padding these days :D

  2. My new Exped UL downmat developed a big huge blister / egg after only 8 nights, whilst my neoair has been unbelievably reliable considering some of the poor reviews I’ve read in terms of their reliability.

  3. I think a lot of people are of the same opinion Robin. The air mattress is getting to be a bit of a gamble. Mine has been ok so far but i still think it’s more luck than design. I do use a 2mm foam mat under the air mat that weighs around 70 grams so if you add the air mat plus the foam mat together, the self inflating mats additional weight looks negligible. The Nemo looks a good choice and one i would choose also. I would want one longer than 1.2m though. Sheila has a 1.2m and i find it too short, even though i am only 5ft 8in tall.

    1. Because I carry a 150cm long thin foam pad as a back pad for my rucksack, I can manage with a short self inflating mat. Short air beds are not quite as comfortable because of the drop between hip and knees, which is not an issue on a thinner mat. It might be interesting to use a full length mat as a back pad.

  4. Did you consider the Klymit Inertia X Frame? OK it’s a blow up but is allegedly pretty tough and the gaps allow the sleeping bag to loft better under you. it’s around 260g and full length. Saw an older guy with one at the OMM and he reckoned it was surprisingly comfortable.

  5. Good post. I have had two PoE mats fail (full refund received), one Neo-Air and one Exped UL (was quite fond of that one). I used a Mulit-Mat superlite on last two Highland trips this year and was pleased with it! I have to pick a mat for a two month trip next year and it may be that one though I liked your review of the NEMO (luck xmas is around the corner!). Air mats are too ‘touch and go’ though great to sleep on when they work. I have spent several hours trying to fix punctures in wet tents and worrying about what I would sleep on for the next few nights!

    1. I think you are right. I’m now loathe to trust an air bed for a lengthy trip. I’m very pleased with the small pack size of the Zor, which is not much bigger than an air bed

      1. I now have before me one Nemo Zor and one Thermarest Prolite, both standard size and both in their packaging. I have to choose one of the two for a two month trip next year and I am verging towards the Prolite I think. My reasons for not using an air mat is the durability issue and that’s why its back to the ‘self-inflating type’. Whilst the Nemo is 50 grs lighter and about 30 per cent smaller in terms of pack size a US review by Outdoor Gear Lab seems to suggest that the Prolite will be more durable. I face a difficult choice here. Would you have any concern about the Nemo’s long-term durability? It’s hard to say really without extended use in the field. I suppose the Prolite though is tried and tested at least!

      2. Only time will tell on the Zor durability. I see no particular reason why it should be different to the Prolite. The difference in weight seems to be more about the different core construction in the foam (i.e. the Zor has vertical and horizontal cores). The face fabric is softer to the touch so may not be as robust.

      3. I noted the difference in production. I suppose what the Outdoorgear Lab review suggests is a stronger ‘skin’ – who knows, as you said only time will tell. I’ve unwrapped the Prolite and it’s naturally fine, nothing too unexpected about it or surprising. The Zor still remains unopened but its tempting due to its pack size and the little extras such as the strap and repair kit are nice (though easily procured for the Prolite). Tricky, I suppose I will always wander whatever one I choose and I sway between the two.

  6. Interesting post. On my last bike trip, I took my old ProLite in favour of my neo air. I’d forgotten how tough the ProLite is and enjoyed seven fairly comfortable nights. It also converts into a chair using the Thermarest gizmo a wee bit more successfully than the Neo in my opinion. I too have concerns over the durability of the Neo although it’s been OK so far.

  7. Robin,

    I have been using very short length self inflating mats for backpacking for a couple of years. The main downside I find is that they become much harder and uncomfortable than a full length self inflator when you lie on them all night. This is probably due to the remaining volume of ‘free’ foam that the air that is displaced into by your body weight being quite small.
    I have switched to an Inertia X frame along with a partial length OMM duomat. This combination seems quite good to me but I have not tried it when it is proper cold yet. Because the X frame is narrow it works very well with that Rab topbag you have.

    1. Thanks. I don’t think the x frame is for me. I used self inflating mats for many years and agree they are not as comfortable as air beds but they are still reasonable. It will be interesting to see whether air beds have made me soft!

  8. I dumped air mats way back. Over rated performance, they fail a lot and if using a bivy I still say I get more loft with a thinner self inflating mat. I use Thermarest Prolite XS most trips this year with sometimes a foam mat combing. 230g and small but still fine for me at 6’2. Did get cold at times in the cold spring. I am using a full length winter self inflating foam mat for a while, then back to the Prolite in warmer months. TGOC its in the pack and fits my top bag like a glove. Really happy with this combo.

    1. I think the xs is a bit small for my tastes. I used the torsolite and found it a bit small. I’ll probably miss the comfort of an air mat but won’t miss the worry.

  9. As you said I am a bit spartan kit wise. But don’t forget I am against going light according to some. I agree you should not have any hassle now. I must admit the Nemo pad does look good kit.

  10. I hope the Nemo self- inflating pad is more reliable Robin! Having previously told you of my woes with both POE AC and Neoair, and having heard of of you and a number of others (including Chris Townsend) having failures with other air pads, I’ve now gone back to a Thermarest self-inflating mat. It’s a Prolite R (long enogh for me: 5′ 11”). It weighs more than most airpads, but if it proves as dependable as my previous Thermarest, a Ultralight 3/4, I’lll be happy (the 3/4 Ultralight actually weighs a little more than the regular Prolite!).

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