A good night’s sleep is crucial, especially if you are exerting a lot of energy carrying a heavy pack on a ski traverse or simply yo-yo'ing a skin track all day laying down line after line. Often the quality of your sleep depends on your comfort and warmth; two things for which a good sleeping mat is crucial.
For years I scoffed at any type of padding to sleep on. "Who needs that luxury?" I would think. In my 20s that was fine but having cracked 40 recently, I now enjoy the added comfort and have changed my thinking to “the bigger the better”. I also find for winter camping a mat is a necessity to keep you warm as it provides an insulating layer between you and the snow.
Although I am now definitely a sleeping mat convert, I still find that it is important to have a sleeping pad that while providing warmth and comfort it also does not add too much excess weight to your pack. For the past few winters I felt I had struck this balance with the Exped DownMat 7, but now there is an even better version: the Exped DownMat UL 7 LW, where "UL" stands for ultra-light and "LW" for long-wide.
The Exped DownMat UL 7 LW provides the same great comfort as the regular DownMat 7 but with extra width and length - after all size does matter. Although I have to say that the most incredible thing about the larger size is that the mat comes with some weight savings; yes you read that correctly - a bigger down mat that is lighter than the smaller version.
The DownMat UL 7 and Schnozzel pump bag.
The Exped DownMat UL 7 LW has the same 5.9 R-value as the regular Exped DownMat 7 but it is a full 210g lighter, how did they do that? It's all about the lightweight polyester fabric. Specifically, a laminate of ultralight polyester and airtight/moisture resistant TPU film is used with a honeycomb structure on the exterior to increase slip resistance. Unfortunately there is a trade off for the lack of weight and although the seams are high frequency welded for durability, the new Exped Downmat 7 is not as puncture resistant as the standard versions and hence the 2 year warranty as opposed to the 5 year warranty.
Anit-slip honeycomb polyester fabric.
To eliminate cold spots, the Exped DownMat UL 7 LW has welded baffles between down filled chambers. As a bonus, this system also makes the mat more comfortable and adds support. To ensure the UL stood up to its UltraLight moniker, down was used for insulation as it's lightweight and has the highest loft and best compression ratio. Why is having an insulated mat so important? Studies have actually shown that we lose three times more heat to the ground below us than the air above us while sleeping. These results clearly show that your sleeping mat is in fact more crucial at providing warmth than your sleeping bag.
Regular DownMat 7 on the top vs. the new DownMat Ul 7 LW on the bottom. Wider, longer and lighter.
Unlike more traditional mats, the Exped down mats are inflated with a pump bag rather than with your breath. The advantage of this is clear, no more feeling light headed as you watch the air woosh out of the mat as you quickly try to take a breath. Some disadvantages of previous pumpbags in the Exped line-up included the number of bags of air needed to inflate the mat and the finicky valves. Their was also a built in pump system that took some time to master and added extra weight to your mat. Exped has taken care of these concerns with their new "Schnozzel Pumpbag." The Schnozzel Pumpbag weighs only 1.4oz and at 20"x 26" is larger than previous pump bags and, therefore, it only takes a 2.5 of fills to inflate the DownMat UL 7 LW (compared to the previous bag which took 8 fills). As a bonus, the Schnozzel also doubles as a stuff sac. Please note that it is recommended that you always use the pump bag to inflate your DownMat as the moisture in your breath can compromise the down fill and cause mould and mildew inside the mat.
The Schnozzel pumpbag is big - really big.
The Schnozzel pumpbag fully inflated and ready to fill.
Two one-way valves, one to inflate and one to deflate.
Super simple new valve system - no more fighting to get it apart.
What's not to like when you get more for less? More sleeping pad surface area means a better sleep and less weight means you are more efficient on the trail. I have always found that the standard 20" Exped DownMat did a great job of keeping me up off the ground but inevitably my arms would always roll off the sides of the mat and be a little colder and slightly more awkward come morning. The 26" wide DownMat UL is just that much wider that cold arms are no longer an issue. There is also an additional 5.5" on the height of the Exped DwonMat UL which, although it is not needed for my 6'1" height, does leave room for a pillow that will now not run away on you. What’s more, I figure since I am still saving 210g or approximately 25% in overall weight from my old DownMat, I will take the added length and width. If you go one step further and select the Medium size DownMat UL you would save a further 170g which would put you in the über light category.
Other than the size and weight differences (both for the better) the Exped DownMat UL 7 LW is essentially the same as the DownMat 7; there are, however, significant changes in how you inflate and deflate the mat. These changes include differences in both the pump bag and the valve system. Specifically, because the Schnozzel is easily twice the size of the previous pump bag, half the fills are required to inflate your mat, which translates to considerable savings in time and energy. For example, I was easily able to fill the DownMat 7 UL with two and a half fills of the Schnozzel Pumpbag. In contrast, there are both positive and negative aspects to the changes in the valve system. Although there are still two valves on the UL, they are both now one-way valves (one for inflating and one for emptying). This means that emptying the mat is slower than with the previous version as there is only one empty valve as compared to two. As compensation for the slower emptying times, however, I was super happy that both valves are now one-way (one in each direction) as this eliminates the ability for air to re-enter the DownMat as you are rolling it up for storage - always a frustration of mine with the previous version. In addition to these changes, the new valve system is a much simpler plug style valve and is idiot-proof compared to the older valve system where you had to thread the pump bag onto the valve and then fight to remove it.
As a bonus, the Schnozzel is designed to act as a normal stuff sac for you to carry your clothes or other soft items. We found that the concept of it having a secondary use is great in theory; however, in reality it means having to empty the bag each time you want ed to use it to inflate your DownMat. On a ski traverse I found this to be an inconvenience and in future I would likely just take it along empty to avoid having my clothes spread around the tent. Having it empty would also save it from possibly becoming damaged.
My only real concern for the new Exped DownMat UL 7 LW is that the fabric is so ultra thin that I hope it stands up to the typical wear and tear, but just in case I will be packing my repair kit from now on - after all with all this weight savings I can now afford to carry it.
It is even more compact than it looks in this photo.
The regular DownMat 7 on the left and the new DownMat UL 7 on the right.
The repair kit I will now carry along thanks to the weight savings of the DownMat UL7.
If you are looking for more insulation value and don't mind a little added weight then you may want to consider the Exped DownMat XP 9 LW which we reviewed over here. You can also read our review of the Exped SynMat UL 9 and the Exped DownMat Lite 5 if you are looking for more sleeping pad options.
Price: $219 US
Weight: 26.5oz / 750g
Dimensions: 77.5" × 26" / 197cm × 65cm
Packed Size: 10.6" × 4" / 27 × 10cm
Thickness: 2.8"/ 7cm
Awards: Industry Award 2011, Editor’s Choice from the German Outdoor Magazine, Gold Award from the Dutch Op Pad outdoor magazine.
Larger than previous version but still lighter. One-way value prevents air entering when rolling up mat. Larger pump bag means fewer fills to inflate mat. Pump bag that doubles as a stuff sac. Simpler plug style valve.
More delicate fabric means extra caution required and it also stains very easily. The single valve empties quite slowly. Lack of a black version to collect the heat of the sun to dry out the pad should it get wet on winter trips.
Pakced size 2/2
Ease of Use 1.5/2
Quality / Price 1.5/2
This is only our opinion. Do you disagree? Did we miss something? Are we totally out to lunch? Join the discussion in the forums here, and let us know what you think. People like/dislike gear for different reasons so chime in and we'll get a well-rounded evaluation.
UPDATE APRIL 2013:
The Exped DownMat UL 7 has been on a wide range of trips over the last year, they range from camping in the alpine of Kokanee Glacier Park, hiking in the Adirondaks, glacier travel in the Coast Mountains of BC to ski touring into Grassy Hut and trekking through Nepal for five weeks. The mat has done it all and so far so good. No wear and tear, easy to inflate, light weight to carry and super comfy to sleep on. The only down side that I have found is that simple water will stain the grey fabric so the mat looks very old before it's time, other than that a really solid product that I would highly recommend.