Exped SynMat UL7 Sleeping Pad Review

P1050931Yea, I am… a HUGE NeoAir fan. However, after a random night’s sleep on an older Exped SynMat 7 last July at the “Fontana Hilton” shelter, I found myself re-thinking the comfort level of the Exped pads… But not only comfort, Exped offers these pads in a size M (AKA: regular), but in a rectangular cut, which happens to be the size and shape I most prefer. So, after that hike, I came home and added one of the “UL” versions of this pad (in a size M) to my Pintrest wish list, which my wife ended up buying for me last Christmas (2014)!

At that time, I did an initial look type video, along with the Jetboil MiniMo that I also got. Since then, I have used the SynMat UL7 on 3 separate trips, 2 nights in January, 3 nights in March, and 1 so far in April, as well as 1 night here in my front yard (for a total of 7 nights, not 8 like I mention in the video…) However, there has also been a number of hours in which I have lain on it inside my house in the living room floor watching tv, or on the computer… And one night I even fell asleep on it, only to wake up later in the night to go and crawl in bed with my wife… LOL…

So, while I don’t yet have enough use with this pad to present a long-term report, I do feel like I have spent enough time on it in order to present a very fair review thus far. So this morning before making the (long, drawn-out) video, I made a list first… I listed what I felt were the pro’s and the cons of the pad, as well as some other note’s/thought’s, which I feel are neither pro’s or con’s. After doing this, I then took the items outside and used the list as a guideline for the video…

Now, to talk a bit more on my comparison between this medium-sized (20 x 72) SynMat UL7 pad and my large-sized (77 x 25) NeoAir XLite… I fully understand that these pads are different sizes (M vs Lg) and that one is rectangular cut, and one is mummy cut. I also realize that due to these differences, this is not really a true apples-to-apples comparison… However, the large XLite has been my pad of choice (since my original NeoAir died), and despite these differences, I feel that these 2 pads actually do share a number of similarities…

Saying all of this, my ideal pad would have been a regular sized (20 x 72), rectangular cut, NeoAir XLite. For me, I would have enjoyed this pad more than I do my large-sized mummy cut XLite, not to mention that size and cut would be the most direct, head-to-head comparison to the Exped SynMat UL7. But, that pad configuration is not an option… so for now, the large XLite and the medium SynMat UL7 are the pads up for comparison.

Also, I feel like it is important to note that I use these pads in the Southeast US about 98% of the time in which I hike. Only once have I been outside this region to hike, and due to my normal, everyday responsibilities, I don’t foresee me hiking much in other parts of the world on a regular basis, for a number of years into the future. As well, the temperatures I generally hike in can be as low as right around single digits, and at times can even be a little lower. Also, I generally use my sleeping pads under a tarp on a groundsheet, inside my tents, or on the wooden platforms of the shelters found along the AT. (Take note that these floors are elevated off of the ground, and cold air and wind can blow beneath the uninsulated floors, making for some very cold conditions both, on top and below the pad.)

So, on with my list:

IMG_1549I have went through the list pretty thoroughly in the video above, so I am not going to rehash it all here. But to hit on a couple of the highlights:

  • This pad really is comfortable. I’m not sure why I wasn’t happy with the comfort of my older SynMat 7 when I got it years ago, but my thoughts are not the same any longer. Even when inflated tight (which I like), I find the SynMat UL7 to still be a pretty comfortable pad. I think the feel of the material the pad is made of also plays a part in the overall comfort. And of course the rectangular shape makes a huge difference too!
  • For me, the useable area of the SynMat pad is a bit small. The problem is when I’m lying on my back, my arms will naturally rest on the outside of the outer baffles, which is the wrong side. The outer rolled edge of the pad, combined with how slippery the material is, causes my arms to slide right off every time. And I know that moving up to a MW sized SynMat pad would solve this, however, it will also add even more weight… An extra 4 oz more actually, which considering the warmth of this pad (discussed next), that much extra weight isn’t making much sense to me…
  • The SynMat UL7 pad has not yet proven to be as warm as I had hoped it would be. Despite that the SynMat UL7’s R-value is just below the NeoAir’s R-Value (3.1* vs 3.2), I just haven’t found that the warmth of these pads are even close to the same. I have taken my NeoAir’s down to 20 F on several occasions, with no other pad, and been fine. However, with my SynMat UL7, I noticed that my backside was getting cool at temperatures near 30 F! I was hoping for quite a bit more warmth from this pad, but so far it just doesn’t seem to stack up to my NeoAir’s when it comes to warmth. And in turn, that makes the extra weight of the pad a little harder for me to swallow, not to mention, the less durable material and smaller useable area, and so on…

While I do find the Exped SynMat UL7 pad to be a nice pad, I can’t say (at least for now…) that it is the best option, for me anyway. In my findings so far, my SynMat UL7 has come up short in just about every aspect when compared to my XLite. At this point, the XLite has proven to be a warmer pad than the SynMat UL7, weighs less than the SynMat UL7 despite its overall larger size, is built from slightly more durable materials, doesn’t bottom out so easily, and it works well with my pillow set-up. Considering these things, the XLite will easily remain to be my go-to pad when I am expecting temperatures below freezing. The SynMat UL7 will still likely get occasional use from me (mostly because it is a rectangular shaped pad), but likely not too often. More than likely, it will instead end up being the pad my son or wife uses when they come backpacking with me…

P1050451So, by this point, some folks may be shaking their head at my findings… But I hope that you can see that I am not saying the SynMat UL7 is not a good pad. Exped makes some great products, and this is indeed one of them, however, I feel like it is still a step behind the XLite (even if it is just a small step). I think if Exped could squeeze a little extra warmth into this pad, without adding any weight or cutting any corners, it would be an even better pad, and for sure one that I would want in my pack.

Also worth noting, Exped has already introduced their new pads for this year… One of them being the SynMat WinterLite pad, which according to the listed specs increases the R-Value to 4.9, and even drops the weight to 14.3 oz (for a size M), however, they have done the same silly thing that Thermarest did by actually cutting corners on the pad… For me, the mummy cut is a turn off. Also worth mentioning, the SynMat HyperLite pad lists’ a 3.3 R-Value and comes in at only 12.3 oz (size M), but again, they cut the corners on this pad too, so it’s not really an option… Although I do like the weight… And then there is the DownMat Lite 5, which is a rectangular cut pad, has a more durable 75D shell and a listed R-Value of 4.1, but at the listed weight of 21.7 oz (size M), I feel it is a bit too much weight for the slight warmth increase…

So, there it is… My thoughts thus far, on the SynMat UL7 pad. I can say that I am glad that I have this pad, and I don’t regret that the cost of the pad came out of my bank account at all. And even though it isn’t quite stacking up to what I had hoped it would be, it does still have 2 big things going for it: it is a comfortable pad, and it’s got the right cut and dimensions! For these reasons, I do not regret the purchase, and will even choose to use it again… sometime. So, if anything changes, I will be sure to update my findings… and until then, thanks for stopping by!

~Stick~

Disclaimer: As I mentioned, my wife bought this pad for me for Christmas. I am not associated with Exped, nor am I being paid to write this review. The statements in this review are of my own opinion, which I formed after personally using the pad.

* The R-Value for the SynMat UL7 pad is listed at 3.3 on the Exped website, however, the packaging that came with my exact SynMat UL7 pad had a R-Value of 3.1 listed. I contacted Exped via email in December of 2014 about this discrepancy and their reply was as follows:

Hi Chad,

Thank you for your email.

Congratulations on your new mat! The R-Value listed on your mat is the correct R-Value for your specific mat. Our product managers tend to weigh and also test for R-Value for every single product run of our mats. This often leads to our specs changing slightly throughout the course of the year which, we do admit can cause confusion and is something we are working on changing going forward.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

Have a great day!

 

 

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
This entry was posted in Backpacking, Exped, Gear, Gear Reviews, Hiking, NeoAir, Sleeping Pads and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Exped SynMat UL7 Sleeping Pad Review

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  2. Thomas says:

    Hello guys,
    My Synmat UL 7 LW didn’t hold up so well. It delaminated after only 12 nights. It was almost 3 years old though. Since the warranty on Exped UL products is only 2 years, I was out of luck. No repair service available over here in Europe. I would suggest buying the heavier version and enjoy a 5 year warranty, which in my opinion is worth the extra weight. I’ve moved on to another brand though. I don’t trust the Exped tube design for field use. A failure 500 miles from home was not that fun. My failed Synmat:
    http://iris.backcountry.com/image/view/c364104/900/900

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    • Stick says:

      Thomas,

      That’s a bummer to hear about your pad, especially after only using it 12 times. I have the same UL7 pad, used it probably amount the same amount of time, or a little more, but only had it just over a year or so. So far it has been fine. Not that I can say it matters, but I have always used the Schnozzle bag to inflate it (to minimize moisture inside the pad) and let it sit out once I get home, laid out with the valve open.

      I also have the older, heavier version with the hand pump in it, and have had it for about 4 or more years. It doesn’t get much use due to how heavy it is, but it gets loaned out. It’s a tough pad, although I had to send mine in due to a leak inside the air pad to the pump chamber (they said it was ok since it was all inside the pad).

      Anyway, sorry again to hear about your pad. And you are right, a failure anywhere isn’t all that fun, but the truth is, with any air pad we take that chance. Hope you were able to get it remedied somehow… And thanks for sharing your experience with yours.

      ~Stick~

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  5. John Higgins says:

    I didn’t have a good experience with my pad. e-mails from exped where never replied back to. I’m not sure if the problem was ever resolved or they just turn a blind eye to it, or it was just a bad run of pads(YMMV). this is going back a few years now, I know i wasn’t the only one this happened to. i had an xtherm and xlite but didn’t like the mummy cut.now trying out a gg pad this summer with a 1/8 ccf pad. and probably pick up a xtherm max for next winter (i’m a warm sleeper again YYMV)

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    • Stick says:

      John,

      That is a bummer. I contacted Exped a few years back about my older, regular SynMat 7. It was leaking air, so I sent it in. They tested it in the dunk chamber, and the leak is inside the pad at the pump… but it is just air leaking from the pad back into the pump chamber until full… They sent the pad back and it is still going very strong…

      Anyway, I am also thinking about maybe picking up the new XTherm Max pad later this year to try out…

      ~Stick~

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  6. Had you given any thought to the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm MAX Sleeping Pad? The beefier 5.7 R value is not quite what you prefer but at ~1lb for a Regular Rectangular shaped pad, a more durable 30/60 denier top/bottom & soft materials it sounds very intriguing. Perhaps some of the perks of the Exped in the new NeoAir. Maybe Therm-a-Rest was listening. 🙂 It even includes a patch kit now. Wow!

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    • Oops I meant 50 denier bottom.

      Great detailed review info. While I have owned some kind of Exped and Therm-a-Rest and prefer some of the features on the Exped, I still think your points are valid & well made.

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    • Stick says:

      Christy,

      Yes, I have! 🙂

      I have actually consider it and the DownMat UL pads… of course, the numbers are better on the XTherm pad though… Anyway, I may end up getting one of the XTherme Max pads, but I feel that these are a step above the XLite pad (and a bit more over the SynMat UL7).. of course, they are a little heavier, but they are also way up there when it comes to warmth… almost twice what the XLite is! Anyway, I may get one to give a try for next winter season.

      The only thing though is when it’s cold, I like to carry a thin ccf pad to supplement the air pad… In my neck of the woods, the XLite and a 1/8″ ccf pad has been all that I needed, and it’s lighter than the XTherm Max and the 1/8″ ccf pad… This is nice also because if something did happen to the air pad, at least the ccf pad would help a little… Any who, I think my wife would appreciate the pad though in the colder months too… 🙂

      ~Stick~

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  7. milligan308 says:

    Liked your review Chad, it’s always great to read your in depth reviews knowing that you are always looking to improve weight and performance.

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  8. Gotcha, man, I need more sleep. Reading comprehension is off tonight. Maybe I will give another look at the XLite. Never could get past the noise and hand feel in the store, but maybe I need to really test one.

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    • Stick says:

      Yeah, noise is something I didn’t address in the write up, but kinda wanted too… I tried not to make it too much about about the XLite, but I had to, to some degree…

      Anyway, I see why folks say the NeoAirs are loud, but I just don’t see how they are any worse than any other air pads… It doesn’t matter what air pad a person is on, I notice that all of them are noisy in a way… those plastic sleeping bags swooshing across them, the sound of folks rolling around on them, they all make noise and I can’t say the NeoAir is worse, but some do… I dunno. It doesn’t bother me…

      And hand is something else that a lot of folks don’t like, and here again, I can understand. It has almost a plasticky feel, but again, it doesn’t bother me, even when using quilts. (However, I don’t use my NeoAir in the summer when it’s hot… the pad is too hot to use… I go to a small ProLite 3 then.) I will admit though that the hand on the Exped’s are a little nicer though, but in turn, the SynMat UL7 is also a lot more slippery…

      Both pads are nice though… I still think that the biggest thing that comes down to it is overall comfort… some are more comfy on the Exped, some the NeoAir. I believe I now find them both to be about equal in comfort, however, the numbers on the XLite easily have the SynMat UL7 beat, plus as I mentioned, it doesn’t bottom out like the SynMat and my pillow actually works on the XLite…

      Anyway, hope you find one that works for you! It’s still fun trying them all out… 🙂

      ~Stick~

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  9. Great writeup, Chad. I will be curious to see what you think of your Exped over a longer time. I had only used self-inflating prior to making the leap and will never go back.

    Maybe I missed it in your writeup (haven’t watched vid yet), but why did you not opt for the Wide? Weight?

    Also, seems like I’m one of the few people to use a Downmat Lite 5,but I’ve been real happy with it. I am never it temps so far (knock on wood) to justify the extra cost for an R-value higher than that, but I agree with you it it s a bit heavy. Great for my wife to use in the fall though as she is always a colder sleeper.

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    • Stick says:

      Shawn,

      As for going with the MW pad, I addressed that in the 2nd bullet point under my list. But to expand a little, IME, the SynMat UL7 is not a very warm pad, despite the almost exact same R Value as my XLite (which is a warm pad). For this reason, I don’t see how the extra weight of a larger SynMat UL7 is justified… Already, the regular size SynMat UL7 falls short in almost every aspect to my XLite, and by adding more weight it would just make it worse. For this reason, I will be going back to my XLite for all cold weather trips for sure… I may still carry the SynMat UL7 here or there, but I really was hoping for more out of this pad… Ah well…

      ~Stick~

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