Gear Review: Exped SynMat UL 7…

  • Rating:
  • Reviewed by: David Creech
  • Price (MSRP): $155-$175
  • Category:
  • Best Use: Backpacking
  • Testing Location: Arizona desert, high plateau, hammock, tent
  • Testing Environment: Mostly dry, cold conditions.

For a while now I’ve been shopping around for a sleeping pad.  I had one of the old, thin self-inflating Slumberjack pads and it is big, clunky and heavy.  I got to the point where I didn’t even use it because it was just too much of a hassle to take with me.  So I’ve been looking.  I have been looking at some of the very lightweight sleeping pads, the kind that fold up to nothing and weigh even less.  I wasn’t happy with any of them.

 

I knew I didn’t want a half-assed half-pad, there’s just no way I could work with that.  I also knew I wanted something without too much width since I would be using it hammock camping as well as on the ground.  I wanted something lightweight but didn’t like the noisy insulation and thin materials some of the UL pads are made out of.  And I worry that some of the lighter materials can’t hold up to Arizona’s prickly desert floors.  I also wanted as much insulation as the weight would provide.  But what would fit all of these requirements and still be a comfortable pad?

 

manufacturer's shot of the SynMat UL 7I eventually found the Exped Synmat UL 7.  I had never heard of Exped before so I really wasn’t sure about the product, how bomb-proof it could be, or if it would even hold my generous 200lb+ frame overnight.  I did a little background on Exped and they looked like they were producing quality products but I still was unsure and didn’t want to order one without seeing it in person.  I finally found some Exped sleeping pads at the local REI.  They didn’t have the Synmat out as a sample, but I did sample some of the other Exped pads and decided to go ahead and buy the Synmat because I had a trip that weekend and I was going to need it.

 

using the SynMat UL 7 in my hammock setup

I’ve now had my Synmat for several months.  I’ve put it through the test on rocky, twiggy Arizona desert, I’ve had it up on the softer plateau soils around Flagstaff, I’ve used it in a pinch in the back of my truck and I’ve used it several times in camping in my hammock.  I’ve even used it once or twice here at home on a hard tile floor just for grins.

 

The Exped SynMat UL 7 rolls up not much taller than a Nalgene bottleThe Exped Synmat UL 7 is 7cm thick inflated with an insulation value of R-3.1.  The one-way flat-valve system is pretty nice for inflating / deflating in the field and when deflated it packs down to less than 9″x3″ and weighs 16 oz (460g).  The thickness and insulation of this pad is really nice when you consider it’s weight.  Exped laminates the synthetic microfiber insulation to the upper and lower sides of the abrasion resistant ultralight polyester fabric of the mat, which is supposed to eliminate loss of loft.  I have found it to be comfortable and reliable in the field.  It can be a little tricky, especially in the dark, to make sure you have the valves closed completely.  I’ve woken at least twice with a deflated pad and a frosty ass due to not getting the valves closed tight enough.

 

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The Bottom Line

It's a spendy piece of equipment at $155-$175 but the weight savings and the quality of the product make me feel a little better about spending that.  I also watch for deals constantly, so this one didn't cost me full retail...but it was still expensive.  I have been trying desperately to get my multi-day pack size down, so the packed size and weight difference compared to other sleep pads was a big selling point.  If I really want to save space I could just about pack this pad inside of a Nalgene bottle.  So far it's held up in a variety of conditions supporting my considerable frame and I hope it continues to prove itself as durable in future adventures.

Dave Creech is a successful business owner and entrepreneur based in Phoenix, Arizona. He shares his personal story and lifelong passion for travel and rugged outdoor adventure through his blog at WildernessDave.com. David’s focus has been on trip stories, gear reviews, Wilderness Medicine and a series of articles aimed at introducing Yoga to hikers and backpackers as a path to staying fit, healthy and injury free.

Comments

  1. David, I am seriously considering buying a double layered hammock with a sleeve made for a pad. I will be using this exact same pad (While I save up for an under quilt if I like hammock camping). How comfortable were you in a hammock with Exped UL 7? What was the outside temperature range while sleeping in a hammock with your Exped? Did it keep you warm lenough on your backside? I have used my Exped for a few years in a tent and really have enjoyed it warmth and compressibility. I have the wide model and am very pleased. I am 6′ 2″ 160 lbs tall and lanky.

    • Jon,

      I like hammock camping. I was pretty comfortable in the hammock with the SynmatUL7. It’s a nice pad and doesn’t make the noise many insulated pads make. It’s also small and light enough to be used in the hammock without too much trouble. Only down side is that the hammock prefers a mummy shaped sleeping pad, and the Synmat is rectangular.

      I usually hammock in temps where the lows don’t dip much below 50. I think the coldest night I had was around 42. It was warm enough, but could have been better with an underquilt.

      One note (if you don’t have your hammock already), at your height make sure you get a large hammock. A doublenest or large hammock will give you enough room to sleep in the right position. I have a small UL hammock I take sometimes and it is too small for me at 5′-11″.

      You’ll have to let me know how you like Hammock Camping!

      D

  2. Hi David,
    Yes, the Exped Synmat UL 7 is very comfortable, pack down small, and is very light. But my expensive UL 7 LW delaminated after only 12 nights, so I would not recommend this model to anyone. It was almost 3 years old, and the Exped warranty on UL products is only 2 years, not 5 years like the heavier models. I would suggest buying a non-UL Exped sleeping pad (with the same flawed tube design?!), or even better a Thermarest Xtherm Max which I’m currently using. I can’t attach a photo here but perhaps I can link to my photo in another review I just wrote: http://iris.backcountry.com/image/view/c364104/900/900
    And yes, I’m trying to spread the word. This product was such an expensive disappointment…

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