Last summer while looking for camping mats for the family, I scored a good deal on an Exped Synmat 7 LW. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the brand, but the salesperson was very helpful and allowed me to try out the Synmat in the store. My initial impression was that the mat was very comfortable and packed down pretty small, so I bought it thinking that it should work just fine. Later, when I got home, I discovered what a deal I had truly stumbled upon.
Let’s start off with the obvious. I think the hand pump integrated into the mat is sheer genius. I had never seen this before. There is a chamber of expanding foam integrated into the side of the mat. This pump chamber is about the size of two hands. By covering a vent hole while compressing the foam, air is forced into the Synmat and it inflates. A one-way valve hidden inside the mat prevents air from escaping and allows the user to lift the hands and press again. Puffing moisture laden breath into a mat has never seemed like a good idea to me. With this method dry clean air is all that goes into the mat until the desired firmness is reached. A second vent hole in the main chamber of the pad vents the air from the pad for deflation. Firmness is easily adjusted by using a neat trick. The one way valve that allows air from the pump into the mat can be pinched allowing air to flow in reverse out of the mat. Very fine adjustments in firmness can be made this way. I removed the Synmat from its stuff sack and inflated it in about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Eighty four strokes of the pump were needed to reach the firmness I desired.
Comfort-wise this mat is good. Synthetic insulation (160 g/m² Texpedloft microfiber) inside the air chambers of the pad gives a 4.9 R value for warmth. How warm is that you say? Well, this winter we had a lot of snow. My kids and I constructed an igloo about 5 ½ feet tall by about 7 feet around, and upon the urging of a friend or two, I slept in there. I placed a sheet of black plastic on the snow, put the Synmat 7 on the plastic and bundled up in the sleeping bag. I slept from 8 o’clock at night until about 4:30 in the morning. Warmth was not an issue the whole night.
The mat also works as lower insulation in a hammock. My hammock has a double layer bottom to accommodate a camp mat and the Exped fills up the space under me quite well. I have slept in the hammock with temperatures dipping into the mid-teens and did well. My sleeping bag turned out to be the weak link in my setup.
The Synmat 7 with stuff sack weighs in at 39 ounces, so I am not sure an ultralight backpacker would choose this mat. But it measures 78 by 26 inches and provides me with plenty of room. I am over 6 feet tall and measure 56 inches around the arms at the shoulders, and I fit easily onto the mat. I do plan to use it backpacking but mostly 1 or 2 night trips. The pad packs down to a 11 inches long by 6 inch diameter in the provided stuff sack. A full repair kit is also included with the mat and is stored in a small pouch within the stuff sack.
Overall, this is a well-made, very functional, quality mat. Exped has put a lot of thought into the design of the product and it shows. The Exped Synmat 7 is a good value, even with its MSRP of $149. Visit exped.com for full product specifications.