Full disclosure: Lyon Equipment, Exped’s UK distributor, provided my original DownMat 7 under their Expedition Award scheme. As with all such arrangements, I’m not obliged to write favourably about products — just honestly.
I’ve long used the DownMat 7 mattress by Swiss company Exped. DownMats are a serious alternative to the established Therm-a-Rest, and are designed with extreme comfort and all-weather use in mind: the name comes from the fact that the mats have a down filling in addition to the air padding. I’ve used two DownMats since 2007, most recently the DownMat 7 Pump during my Arctic bike trip.
My original DownMat 7 served me wonderfully throughout my travels, providing a luxurious sleeping surface in African and Arabian deserts, as well as in freezing Caucasian winters and everything in between, in a surprisingly lightweight and compact package — the benefit of the 700 fill-power white goose down filling.
It’s not the smallest or lightest sleeping pad on the market: the medium size weighs in at 860g, with a pack size of 23cm x 16cm. Exped make a large range of other non-down-filled mats which serve these concerns, like the self-inflating SIM Light 2.5 which I also have for warmer, shorter trips.
But on a long bicycle journey, a little extra comfort usually wins over ultralight minimalism in the long run. You’re practically living in your tent for months on end, and you’ll want quality sleep between long days in the saddle. This mattress will give you just that.
It has a hexagonal-textured fabric on the top side that provides enough friction to stop you sliding around on top of it — a thoughtful feature. It does make a fair old squeaking noise as you move around, although I think that this is a function of its thickness and flexibility more than anything else.
Exped supply a patch kit including a small tube of Seamgrip-like urethane adhesive, which I’ve never had to use, and their mats come with a five-year warranty.
The built-in pump is more time-consuming than oral inflation, but this innovative system does shave a few grams off the carry sack, which in previous incarnations doubled as the inflation bag. You position your hands on the assigned spots and press down, pushing air through an inner valve into the mat body. You then lift your hands to allow the pump unit to expand and take in air. Repeat for 1–2 minutes.
Interestingly, when the temperature drops much below –20°C, the interior foam that gives the pump its self-expanding property begins to stiffen (along with your other plastics) and consequently takes longer to expand, so the 1–2 minute inflation time begins to increase. I found it actually helped to get warm before jumping into my sleeping bag!
The reasoning behind a pump or inflation bag will be obvious to polar travellers — inflating a down-filled mat orally would introduce a lot of moisture to the interior, and this would freeze within the mat and quickly destroy the down’s insulating properties.
Deflating and packing is much, much quicker; fold the mat along the middle and roll up from the bottom.
Does the DownMat 7 live up to its minimum temperature rating of –24°C? From my experience on the Arctic trip, yes — and it can exceed that if used carefully. Even on the odd night below –30°C I had no problems with cold spots or heat loss, as long as I made sure my hips weren’t directly on top of lumps in the snow and ice.
Much lower than –30°C and I would recommend looking at the DownMat 9, which has the extra 2cm of insulation and consequently more down filling (and swapping your bike for skis and a pulk).
For most cyclists it’ll be the comfort, rather than the cold rating, that this mat will be judged on — and in this respect it’s a hands-down winner. The thing is simply luxurious to lie on. I find it difficult to go back to anything thinner!
It’s so thick (7cm, hence the name) that you can say goodbye to hunting for that perfectly smooth surface and just bung your tent down on gravelly or lumpy ground. I’d quite happily blow it up as a spare bed for a guest at home.
Pedants will appreciate the choice of sizing — extra small, small and large/wide options are available as well as the standard medium, which works fine for me (I’m 5′ 11″ and 75kg).
The DownMat 7 is a premium mat and the price-tag reflects the fact. It’ll give you an excellent night’s sleep at any temperature you’re likely to encounter on a bike tour, unless you’re as hardcore as this guy, in which case you’ll probably consider any kind of mattress an unnecessary luxury.
If the concern is long-term comfort in all conditions at a manageable size and weight, I can’t recommend it enough. Fast and light more important? Look at Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XLite.