Exped SynMat HL M Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
If we were awarding the first pick in the inflatable ultralight insulated pad category strictly by weight, the SynMat HL would be the winner. It weighs in a bit lighter than our award winner at 15.5 ounces but lags in some other absolutely critical categories — mainly in overall comfort.
The biggest hit to the overall performance for the Synmat HL is the lacking comfort. It isn't that the pad is too thin because it's actually on par with our award winner in thickness; the main detractors are how narrow the pad feels and how easily collapsed the sides are, making it feel even more narrow than it is. Our two main testers for this pad represent two wildly different body types. One is about six feet and 180 ish pounds, and the other five feet, four inches, and only weighing 115 pounds.
Even the five footers lamented on how difficult it was to find a comfortable sleeping position with how narrow the pad was. Our six-footer engulfed the pad, shoulders, and arms hanging off when lying flat on his back. While the pad footprint wasn't quite adequate for our testers, the bottom line is this pad was far more comfortable than a closed-cell foam pad but lags behind the top pads in this subcategory of ultralight backpacking inflatables.
Weight and Packed Size
The highlight of this pad was how little it weighs and how tidy a bundle it packs into. At 15.5 ounces, it is lighter than our award-winning top pick for ultralight pads (by about .5 ounces) and retains a decent R-value. The weight is impressive considering this pad utilizes a synthetic filament for insulation, which makes for crinkle-free insulation vs. our award winners aluminized crinkle fest insulation.
The packed size is equally impressive to the overall weight. Utilizing synthetic insulation typically adds a lot to a pad's bulk, but the SynMat HL is highly packable and about the size of a standard Nalgene bottle and able to crush down even further without compromising the loft of the insulation inside.
The SynMat HL carries an R-value of 3.3 from Exped's testing and a universal ASTM value of 2.9. Though it did a decent job of keeping us warm enough, we found a few factors outside of the R-value detracted from the overall warmth of the pad. The narrow footprint and waking frequently having our feet or arms off the pad significantly detracted from staying warm through the night. Additionally, for a three-season pad, we have been struggling to stay warm during chilly fall nights. As a fair-weather sleeping pad, we found the warmth to be adequate, but ultimately, we found ourselves supplementing this pad with a closed-cell pad underneath to make it through cold (mid 30 degree) nights.
Ease of Inflation
Exped has the inflation side of sleeping pads dialed — their Schnozzel pump sack is the best sack we have tested. The SynMat HL holds such a small volume of air it is filled with two full Schnozzel loads of air. When we hurry, we can unpack and inflate this pad in less than one minute, which is wildly fast compared to some of the other pads. While inflation is a snap, deflation can be a bit more frustrating as the HL only utilizes one valve for both inflation and deflation. The pull tab is utilized to keep the one-way valve open while packing the pad. Yes, this is one extra step, but ultimately it wasn't too much frustration and works well.
Throughout our multi-month testing period, we didn't encounter any issues with durability, as the pad has not developed any leaks or issues of any kind. Some aspects are noteworthy; however, that may indicate additional care needs to be taken with this pad. First, the inflate/deflate valve is often in contact with the ground, potentially allowing debris and dirt into the one-way seal, which would certainly cause a slow leak. The other concern is the thin 20d fabric used throughout the pad, which feels fragile. Using a ground cloth of some sort and being very picky with where this pad is pitched is critical. While the past generation of this pad proved fragile and only carried a two-year warranty, the updated HL carries a five year warranty and has an abundance of reviews online remarking about its multi-year longevity.
This is a tough one. When stacked up side by side with our award-winning pad, which is quite similar, the SynMat HL isn't a great value. While it is a touch lighter, it's also more expensive and less comfortable and warm. If the comfort rating was just a bit higher, the price of this pad could be justified, but as it is, we feel like the overall value is a touch lacking.
The SynMat HL M is a decent sleeping pad that is surprisingly lightweight. The synthetic insulation is quiet and packable, which we did enjoy. The biggest fault is the poor comfort offered by a relatively expensive sleeping pad. If going ultralight but having an inflatable pad is a must, give this pad a throughout look, but there may be better options available that suit your needs.
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