Hands-on Gear Review

Exped DownMat 9 Review

Price:  $229 List | $207.72 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Warm, durable, comes with an excellent repair kit
Cons:  Too heavy for most backpackers
Bottom line:  This pad is thick, warm, and ready arctic conditions
Editors' Rating:   
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Type:  Air Constuction/700 fill Down
Claimed R Value:  8
Weight (oz.):  35.7 oz
Manufacturer:   Exped

Our Verdict

This is the big daddy of sleeping pads, with a claimed R-value of 8. The Dowmat maintains a 3.5-inch barrier of warm air between the snoozer and the cold ground with 8.8 oz of 700 fill goose down insulation. Though this pad may be one of the warmest of the bunch, comfort isn't just about pad thickness and warmth, and the DownMat is so heavy most of our testers weren't keen on carrying it in their packs. That being said, this pad is substantially lighter and more packable than the pads in our camping mattress category, and for truly arctic conditions during human powered adventures, this pad is your best bet for staying warm.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Matt Bento

Last Updated:
Friday
May 4, 2018

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The integrated hand pump is slow initially but after 2 minutes of pumping   the pad inflates to a thickness of 3.5 inches.
The integrated hand pump is slow initially but after 2 minutes of pumping, the pad inflates to a thickness of 3.5 inches.

Performance Comparison


The DownMat borrows the insulation strategy straight from sleeping bags, employing down feathers to keep warm air around your body. Since down is rendered useless when it gets wet, you can't blow it up because water vapor from your breath will get inside the pad. To solve this problem, Exped has a unique integrated pump system that inflates the pad quickly and easily. Unfortunately, this feature along with the amount of material required to make the pad so thick and durable results in a very heavy, somewhat bulky piece of equipment to take up precious real estate in your backpack. Though not as warm, most folks will find the lighter, more comfortable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All-Season SV more than adequately warm during their backcountry slumbers.

This pad has an R-value of 8  keeping the cold ground from sapping away your body heat  even on snow.
This pad has an R-value of 8, keeping the cold ground from sapping away your body heat, even on snow.

Comfort


In terms of sleeping pads, 3.5 inches is a lot of space between you and the ground, and it leaves some wiggle room to deflate the pad, so it's softer without bottoming out. That alone makes this pad significantly more comfortable than thin pads like the Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight or any of the foam pads. However, thickness isn't everything, and our testers felt the shallower, horizontal baffles of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir series were more comfortable than the long vertical baffles of the DownMat. This pad also suffered from edge collapse. Edge collapse is compounded with a thick pad, because as your weight shifts to the edge of the pad and it smashes down, you have 3.5 inches of pad to fall off of, and you can't just roll back on as easily as you could with a thinner pad. The 75 denier polyester fabric doesn't feel sticky or plasticky, and it's likely you'll be completely inside your sleeping bag if you're out in conditions that warrant a pad with such a high R-Value. Since this pad uses down for insulation instead of a reflective foil system like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir series, you'll get a much quieter experience if you roll around at night.

The DownMat packs down well considering how large it  but it still takes more space in a pack than m
The DownMat packs down well considering how large it, but it still takes more space in a pack than m

Weight and Packed Sized


No getting around it, this pad is heavy and takes up lots of space in your pack. The DownMat weights 35.7 oz, 15 oz more than the second warmest pad in our review, the REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated Air. If you're pulling a sled, or maybe you've got dogs to pull a sled, or llamas, mules, or some other beast of burden to carry this pad for you, weight and packed size is less of an issue. Our testers usually find themselves carrying their pads on their backs and want something under a pound to sleep on. For car camping situations, go for the full luxury experience a get a camping mattress if weight and packed size aren't a concern. Most of them are much more comfortable for the money.

This pad is one of the largest we reviewed. We recommend it for serious winter expeditions only.
This pad is one of the largest we reviewed. We recommend it for serious winter expeditions only.

Warmth


Keeping you warm is what this pad was built to do, and it kept our testers toasty, even when laying directly on the snow. We would recommend a tarp or the floor of a tent though. This pad is surprisingly easy to fall off of, and waking up in the snow is a recipe for a poor night's sleep or worse. The DownMat is a dark gray color, making it a great solar absorber. The dark color not only helps the pad dry quickly but makes this pad a warm surface to sit or lay on during the day as it soaks up the solar radiation.

Inflating this pad feels a lot like doing CPR  including the all-important recoil. Expanding foam pulls air into the pump chamber  then gets pushed into the rest of the pad with each pump.
Inflating this pad feels a lot like doing CPR, including the all-important recoil. Expanding foam pulls air into the pump chamber, then gets pushed into the rest of the pad with each pump.

Ease of Inflation


Like we mentioned earlier, you can't blow up this pad with your mouth because water vapor will prevent the down from lofting. The DownMat has an integrated foam pump in the bottom corner of the pad. It took our testers a little practice, but pretty soon we were quickly inflating this pad. It feels eerily like doing CPR, complete with the all-important chest recoil. You place your hands on the pad where indicated and press down while covering the valve with your palm. This moves all the air in the pump chamber into the pad. Then you uncover the hole as the foam expands (the recoil) and let air flow back into the pump chamber. At first, progress seems slow, but after a minute of vigorous pumping, you'll have a completely inflated mattress. We had no trouble pumping up the mattress with gloves on either.

A diagram on the pump indicates precise hand placement.
A diagram on the pump indicates precise hand placement.

Durability


If you need a pad with an R-Value of 8, it's going to be really cold out, and in super cold conditions, a deflating pad can be a safety issue besides just being uncomfortable. The DownMat is constructed with 75 denier polyester with a TPU polyether film laminate. It feels tough, and we didn't experience any air loss of punctures while sleeping on rocks or pine duff. Exped takes the threat of deflation seriously, including a full repair kit with multiple patches, glue, and a detailed repair manual, all stored in its own tiny pouch within the pad's stuff sack.

Best Applications


This pad is designed for cold weather expeditions when warmth is even more important than going ultralight. The DownMat is also well suited to winter base camping scenarios, where you might find yourself lugging the pad on your back for a day or two and then leaving it at base camp while you climb or ski all day, returning to your warm down bed at nightfall. For continuous winter travel in most of the lower 48, our testers prefer a lighter pad.

Value


$229 is more than some of our testers paid for the mattresses on their own beds, but they can't exactly haul their beds around on their next ski tour. 8 oz of 700 fill down and durable, lightweight materials ain't cheap, but most folks who've been wandering around the backcountry know the importance of a good night's sleep, and a well-rested adventurer usually has way more fun. For about a $100 less, the REI Co-op Flash All-Season Insulated Air has an R-Value of 5.2. While not as well suited for extreme conditions as the DownMat, the Flash is warm enough for most winter backpacking trips

Conclusion


This pad is overkill for most folks looking to spend a few comfortable nights in the woods. The lighter, less expensive options from Therm-a-Rest, REI, and Big Agnes will do the trick for most folks, but if you're headed to the far north, the far south, or you're that "princess and the pea" type sleeper who needs 3.5 inches of thickfreakness between you and the ground, the Exped DownMat is a quality choice.

Matt Bento

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