The humble sleeping mat has undergone a revolution over the past five or so years. Not so long ago, the choice was between a closed cell mat or a Thermarest self-inflating mat. Now we have a plethora of air mats to choose from.
Thermarest Light 3/4
At the luxury end, Exped introduced their Downmat. An air bed filled with down, it was simultaneously more comfortable and warmer than anything else on the market, but it was quite heavy.
Thermarest responded with the NeoAir, which was much lighter and used an innovative air chamber and reflective material to achieve a decent level of insulation. While not as comfortable or warm as the Downmat, it was considerably more compact and lighter.
Thermarest NeoAir 3/4 (with MYOG fleece cover)
POE (now Hyalite) pitched in with a number of different mats like the Ether Elite and Peak Elite AC. Meanwhile, Exped was introducing lighter air beds with synthetic insulation and latterly a lighter weight down mat.
Thermarest responded with updated versions of the NeoAir. Nemo, Alpkit and Trango have also produced their own versions. Now we have a significant choice in manufacturers, weight and insulation in the airbed market.
POE Ether Elite
However, another trend has been emerging: tales of failures. When we were restricted to self–inflating mattresses, reports of punctures were quite rare. Now it seems there’s a regular flow of reports of failures (punctures and seam welds) from bloggers and twitterers.
The question that many backpackers are asking is whether air mats are worth the risk of catastrophic failure. Until Dartmoor last year I’d happily used various air mats and hadn’t really considered it much.
POE Peak Elite AC
For some time I’ve been using a thin roll of foam under mats anyway to boost insulation and as a pad for my backpack. So at least I had a backup when my Exped Synmat UL sprung a leak. It wasn’t very comfortable but at least I had some insulation.
It’s made me think that I wouldn’t risk an air mat on longer trips in future. Air mats are significantly more comfortable than self–inflating ones, especially on lumpy ground. However, a self–inflating mat is much more comfortable than an air mat with a puncture.
Exped Synmat UL
Maybe for weekends, I’d take the risk. Indeed, my next trip will be over a weekend, so I’m inclined to take my Downmat UL. I expect that I’ll be returning to self–inflating mats for much of the rest of the year.
Nemo Zor (l) and Multimat Superlite (r)
Of course. It will be interesting to see whether a lightweight mat like the Nemo Zor really is more durable than an air bed. Perhaps self–inflating mats are the happy medium between comfort and robustness. Anyone got any thoughts?