With an ease in lockdown measures, bikepacking is back on the agenda. And a hard day in the hills, nothing can beat a comfy night’s sleep. The Exped SynMat HL M has been my secret weapon on countless adventures for catching some well earned rest.
When I first started bikepacking, I lugged a Karrimor around with me which was little more than a glorified roll of foam. It was bulky and awkward to pack, but worse of all, it was uncomfortable. On the plus side, it was cheap and could take a lot of abuse. Which was fortunate as I’d usually spend nights punching it in a sleep deprived stupor. My tired brain hoping that I could tenderise it into offering some degree of comfort.
Blow up comfort
As is often the way, if you chuck money at a problem, you’ll find the solution. The Exped SynMat HL M is just one of many lightweight, inflatable sleeping mats which offer a comfortable bed of air upon which you can drift away under the stars.
This example, so Exped claim, is the world’s lightest mat at its warmth and comfort levels. Weighing an insignificant 365g and compact enough to stash away inside a saddle pack rather than on it. The SynMat HL M (that’s M for Medium; you can get a variety of sizes) keeps weight down by keeping excess material to a minimum. The shape tapers at both the top and bottom, so there is a less ‘wiggle room’ than a traditional rectangular shaped mat.
Stashed away and compressed in it’s stuff sack, the SynMat takes up little space in your kit. I’ve packed it in saddle bags, strapped it to fork cages and chucked it in backpacks. It is superbly versatile whatever your kit strategy may be.
In the pack photo above, the SynMat is stored away with the included Schnozzel Pumpbag – a big bag you connect to the mat and then squeeze to rapidly fill with air. It’s a lot easier than inflating with your lungs and ensures the air will be dry, reducing the likelihood of mould spores forming. Also stowed away is an optional Exped inflatable pillow and a puncture repair kit. It’s good to be able to keep all the sleeping gear in a single bag like this when it comes to rapidly setting up camp at night.
Features & Specification
I’ve been using the SynMat for well 12 months now in a variety of conditions through summer and into chillier autumn nights. Thankfully most of have been dry, but there was one night that I awoke to find my tent flooded! Before we go any further, lets take a quick run through the specifications.
- Mat weight: 365g
- Pump weight: 60g
- Temperature rating: -3 °C
- Mat depth: 7cm
- Length: 183cm
- Shoulder width: 52cm
- Foot width: 35cm
- Packed size: 19 x 9cm
As mentioned already, the SynMat has a useful air bag to rapidly inflate it with. I usually camp in an MSR Carbon Reflex 1-man tent which frankly, has zero room for swinging the proverbial cat. Let alone inflate the SynMat. Unless you’ve a huge family tent, you’ll inflate it outside and then have the challenging process of posting all 183cm of inflated mat through the doorway of your tent. As you can imagine, life is much easier with a bivvy bag. It’s super easy to inflate and can be done within a matter of minutes.
Speaking of bivvy bags, it is a tight fit to squeeze both the mat, your sleeping bag and of course, yourself into. The whole caboodle will just about fit an Alpkit Hunka, but unless you find a straight jacket roomy, you’ll feel very restricted. It is best to lay everything on top of the SynMat and treat it like you would a mattress.
Texpedloft insulation is used to ensure the SynMat keeps you comfortable at night. This isn’t Thermarest levels of insulation by any stretch. Inflated, the mat has all the look and feel of a typical ribbed air mattress. 60 g/m² Texpedloft Microfibre lurks within the mat, but it can still feel decidedly chilly once night falls and temperatures drop.
I’m a light sleeper at the best of times and I wiggle a lot. The tapered shape of the mat does mean my legs will inevitably slip off. If weight isn’t your main concern, you’ll be better looking at a more rectangular design like the SynMat UL.
Lying on the SynMat though, is super comfortable and is by far the best sleeping mat I have experienced. It may only be 7cm deep, but it offers up plenty of plushness. The top of the mat is finished with a honeycomb ‘Gripskin’ coating and is soft to the touch. It’s an anti-slip surface designed to stop you sliding around. It’s not ‘sticky grippy’ and I still slide about, but the main benefit I found is that the Exped SynMat is far less squeaky in use than many other inflatable mats.
The additional Exped Stuff pillow shares the same technology as the mat. I personally find it is too small for comfort. Plus, you’ll just get comfy and then it’ll ping out from under your head or slide across the floor. My favourite sleeping pillow still remains a drybag full of clothes.
Breaking down camp
Waking up in the morning feels so much better when you’ve had a decent sleep rather than a night interrupted by discomfort. You’ll feel much more positive about getting out and riding again. If you’re out on a multi-day adventure, this benefit can mean the difference between quitting and carrying on.
The ease at which the Exped SynMat inflates, doesn’t quite carry over to the morning after. Deflating and packing the mat is awkward due to the single valve design that needs to be depressed to let air out. Riding buddies will usually be all done and patiently waiting while I’m still wrestling to get all the air out of the SynMat.
Exped do supply a repair kit with the mat, just in case the worse happens and you do puncture. I’ve found the mat to be surprisingly durable considering how thin the material feels. I’ve probably jinxed things on my next trip now…
I’ve kept quiet about the price so far. Mainly because to me, £150 felt like a big wedge of money to spend on a blow up mat. But having now become accustomed to the comfort it brings, I feel it is money well spent. It has changed my bikepacking sleeping experiences from the one negative that has to be endured, to something I now actually enjoy.
Last modified: 17th July 2020