Exped SynMat UL 7 S and Schnozzel Pumpbag

Near the end of 2012, after weeks of cold, uncomfortable nights on cheap inflatable mats that developed pinprick punctures faster than Keith could repair them, I swore I was reverting to sleeping on foam. But then, in the camping shop, next to the durable but bulky Thermarest Z-Lite, nestled the diminutive Exped SynMat. So small! So light! So damn comfortable! But would it stand up to the rigours of multi-month camping?

Friends using Exped DownMats reported months of puncture-free camping, so at the start of 2013 we decided to give inflatables one last chance and bought a pair of SynMats, along with the Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag.

Here’s the review we wrote in March-2013 after just 21 nights of use.
To read about our experiences after nearly 2 years of ownership, page to the bottom or click here.

Positives:

01Pack size – Smaller and lighter than either our Karrimor or Yates mats; they’re only slightly larger than a 750ml bidon and weigh just 450g (including storage bag and repair kit).

Inflated size – Longer (163cms) and thicker (7cms) than our previous mats. We’ve got the shortest of the SynMat UL range but they’re still far longer than our old mats and we can both just about get our feet on them (we’re both around 173cm/5’8″ tall), which is much nicer than when our feet were resting on some bundled-up clothes.

Valves – Our old mats had a twist valve sticking out the side of the mat near the shoulder and I’d sometimes feel it dig into me.

Deflate (L) and inflate (R) valves.

Deflate (L) and inflate (R) valves.

The SynMat has two flat valves, one to inflate and one to deflate, on the underside of the mat. I find this a much better location, although Keith has reported noticing them if they’re at his head – but as the mats are rectangular rather than tapered that can easily be resolved by putting the valves at your feet.

Sleeping comfort – Whether on your side, your back or your front these mats are fabulously comfortable.

Fancy a snooze?  (NB - the mats are the same length, we just haven't straightened them out properly).

Fancy a snooze?
(NB – the mats are the same length, we just haven’t lined them up properly).

Negatives:

Noise – There’s a notable rustling when you shift position. This won’t bother everyone but if you worry about funny noises in the night this might freak you out the first few nights.

Slipperiness – They have a tendency to slide around which our previous mats didn’t have. More than once I’ve woken up pressed against the wall of the tent.

Depth – The 7cm depth of air that makes sleeping so comfortable also means that when you sit up your head is closer to the tent roof than it used to be. Not a big problem in our huge tent, but if you already struggle for headroom be warned. It also means you have to bulk out your pillow to raise it above the deep mat and Keith doesn’t like the way his feet dangle in the air if he shifts down the mat.

Not comfy to sit on – an issue for Keith not me: he complains that his bum hits the floor in a way it didn’t on our old mats. I’ve not noticed this myself and at least that negates any headroom problems for Keith.

Curved surface – our old mats had a flat surface that was fine for playing cards on and even stable enough to rest a drink on if the chopping board was used as a base. The SynMats have a series of thick ribs running down them so we lose our flat playing surface and you definitely wouldn’t put a drink on them.

Verdict:

A divided opinion: I love the comfort and warmer feet, and for me that outweighs the niggles, the biggest of which is the really annoying slipperiness; Keith can’t deny the comfort, but finds them less easy to live with than our old mats to a degree that means he probably wouldn’t choose this style of mat again.

Exped Schnozzel Pumpbag

Because the SynMats contain such a large volume of air we decided to buy the Schnozzel Pump to inflate them. It also means we’ll get less condensation in the mats.

 This pump's a really clever idea: it’s basically a large lightweight roll-closure bag with a snout sticking out the bottom that has two valves on it.

This pump’s a really clever idea: it’s basically a large lightweight roll-closure bag with a snout sticking out the bottom that connects to the mat.

One valve connects to the inlet valve on the mat. The other is a release valve to stop you over-inflating the mat.

One valve connects to the inlet valve on the mat. The other is a release valve to stop you over-inflating the mat (and is also somewhere to plug the first valve into when not in use to stop dirt getting in).

Open the bag and flap it a bit to get as much air in as possible...

Open the bag and flap it a bit to get as much air in as possible…

...roll to seal...

…roll to seal…

....then continue rolling and compress to inflate the mat.

….then continue rolling and compress to inflate the mat.

Two to three bags full is enough. It's a bit of a faff, but better than trying to blow them up by mouth.

Two to three bags full is enough. It’s a bit of a faff, but better than trying to blow the mat up by mouth.

 

The pump is easily stored by folding in half lengthways and rolling around the mat.  They then both fit into the SynMat's storage bag.

The pump is easily stored by folding in half lengthways and rolling around the mat. They then both fit into the SynMat’s storage bag.

Deflating the mat is easy: open the release valve, lie on the mat to expel some of the air, fold it into thirds lengthways and then roll towards the valves to expel the remaining air.

 

Verdict:

A really lightweight, packable, effective pump. We’re glad we bought it.

 

And After Two Years?

At all times when using these mats, they have been a delight to sleep on – comfortable no matter how rough (within reason) the ground is that you’ve pitched your tent on. So long as the unevenness of the ground is no more than about 7cm (the depth of the mats) then when you lie on your mat, you won’t feel either humps and hollows or protruding stones or roots. For comfort and insulation from the ground below you, they have performed wonderfully at all times. However …

We bought the Exped mats in Jan-2013 while in the UK and between Feb-2013 and the end of Jun-2013 we used them 63 times. By then, we were in the hot, sweaty & sticky tropics of central and southern Thailand and we found it just too hot for camping. For the rest of 2013 we used the mats just 7 more times. For about 3 months at the end of 2013 we were in a brick-built bungalow on the island of Koh-Tao (Thailand) and we kept the mats opened and lightly inflated (as per manufacturer guidelines). From Jan-2014 to mid May-2014 we were travelling most of the time but still not camping owing to the heat and then from mid May-2014 until early Nov-2014, we were on Malaysia’s Tioman Island, but this time staying in a wooden hut where rats were a notable risk (and often unwelcome visitors) so our mats stayed in their bags as we figured the rats were too big a risk to inflated mats.

Seams separating even just as we put air in and before we lie on them

Seams separating even just as we put air in and before we lie on them

In a hotel room in early Nov-2014 we got the mats out to check they were okay as we knew we’d be using them in December in China. We were more than a little disappointed when, as we inflated them, the glued seams just began to lift and separate creating great bubbles of a air. We slept on them in this state for one night between Tioman and Kuala Lumpur and it was no surprise that they were now unusable.

After a night of trying to sleep on them - no longer usable

After a night of trying to sleep on them – no longer usable

We contacted the manufacturers by email (via their website contact details) and as we were still within their 2 year warranty limit, they immediately sent us new ones. Of course the difficulty with that plan when you’re travelling is trying to get somewhere to have them sent. Somebody we met in KL agreed to receive the parcel for us from Germany but between the senders using a less expensive courier, us not initially giving them a phone contact (coz we didn’t have one to give them) then first being sent to Singapore and then onto Kuala Lumpur, and customs officials somewhere having a good look in the box, the mats arrived only 12 hours before we boarded our plane from KL to China.

L-R - old storage bag, handle-less old bag, and new bag with new handle design

L-R – old storage bag, handle-less old bag, and new bag with new handle design

Anyway, the new mats are just as comfortable as the old with all the same features. One upgrade between the old and new is a stronger handle on the bottom of the storage bag to make it last a bit longer when you’re pulling the mat out of the bag.

So armed with our new mats, we set off on a 1,500km jaunt across a little bit of China where we were camping on most nights. That’s when we noticed that the Schnozzel Pumpbag was now leaking along most of its seams. We have used the supplied repair kits to glue along the seams but it’s still only about half as efficient as it was when we reported on it above – so it now takes about 5 bag-fulls of air to fill each mat. We are in the process of asking the manufacturers if they wouldn’t mind supplying us with a new Pumpbag as well (Jan-2015) hopefully they won’t consider it to be a little cheeky of us.

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