Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gear talk: Sleepy time

This is the first in a series of posts that will deal with our gear selections, new and stuff we've had for a while.  Although it's possible to take on an adventure like this for comparatively little money, our version involves some investment, not the least of which is arranging for a house sitter for four months and renting and driving a vehicle into back-of-beyond Canada--well, Jasper, anyway.  For others considering cycle touring, these posts will serve as a resource for making selections.  I have my biases, which will become clear soon enough, but my goal is always to give good information.

As the sub-title of the post suggests, this is about getting sleep, laying one's pedal-thrashed carcass down for a few hours of much needed regeneration before getting up and doing it all over again.  In this area, I will cut no corners, spare no expense, and deal with extra weight as necessary.  Having a comfortable platform for hanging out and sleeping is one of the most important considerations for me and Jodi.  If I don't sleep well, the whole experience starts to unravel--as do I.

My equipment has gone the standard evolutionary route, I suppose.   When I was quite young (early/mid-teens), I could sleep on those spongy, flesh-colored "insulite" foam pads, but by my late teens, those days were over.  Next began a decades-long relationship with the Thermarest corporation.  I've had 1" pads (too thin), and for years and years used the 1.5" model, usually 3/4 length so I had to put something under my heels to make the pads workable.  Finally, we said, and I quote: "Screw it!"  And went with the deluxe 2" "Camp Rest" model, complete with chair kit cover, for a lot of life in camp is not in the horizontal plane.  We sit to cook, eat, gawk at the sunset, so a comfortable chair is important, too.  With this setup, you are the King of Kings on his throne:

The Camp Rest and this chair kit were on my bike for my 2007 cross country ride.  In general, I was quite happy with it, but still, like a junkie, I craved more, thicker, softer, yummy sleepier! So we tried the Big Agnes line of air mattresses, a high-tech rework of the classic design:

These are light and comfortable, if a bit noisy to sleep on.  The down side?  The chairs are not the most sit-friendly, although these were okay.  The big problem with Big Agnes is production quality.  We've had three of these fail along the seems, resulting in very annoying leaks that left us with limp pads in the morning and the occasional refill in the middle of the night.  I cannot recommend this brand.  Sorry, Big Aggie, we love your tent (more on that in a later post), but we'll pass on the pad.

So my quest for the perfect pad was unfulfilled, the Grail illusive, the Sorcerer's Stone hidden.  Thanks to the glories of the Internet, I found--to date--the best sleeping system for my needs: Exped.  Below is a photo of the Exped Synmat 7 long:

This line of pads, designed by a Swiss wizard, has some very nice features.  The pads are almost 3" thick, have a soft-to-the-touch top fabric, and, get this, have their own built in pump system:

The pump is constructed of a one-way valve inside and to the left of the visible plastic valve.  Just pop the inlet valve, place hands as indicated, and start pushing.  My large pad 78 x 26" inflates in two minutes or less.  No light-headed staggering about after a day on the open road, and no damp air injected into the pad.  Here's a view showing how to inflate:


The pad also has an excellent chair sleeve that stays on the unit.  Here's a pic of the Exped next to my Camp Rest:

Here are the two pads rolled, side by side:

So what are the drawbacks?  One, $$$.  Two, weight.  The bulk doesn't bother me, and the cost isn't a big deal for me--about $150 at REI--because a good night's sleep is worth it.  So, how much does it weigh?  Ugh, about 4 lbs.!  This is not a lot more than the Camp Rest, but many weight-conscious hiker-bikers will find this a deal breaker. We're willing to haul some extra weight for the comfort of the perfect camp.  These are the best we've used, and we look forward to many nights in the wilds on these pads.  Check them out.  I think you'll be impressed.


  1. Hi Scott, I have been sleeping on the Exped Synmat 7, I have to say, I'm large in shoulders, and 187cm height (6.1ft), the long is good but the widht for me was tricky to spend a night on... I use to awake many times every night because falling off the pad, to narrow for me.
    So I checked on internet for the next pad... And found this model.
    Nemo Cosmo XL
    I still have to try it, but people say that is more comfortable than synmat and others because of the construction of the pad, horizontal instead of vertical, they say it keeps you better from falling off.

    cheers :)

  2. I've used the Exped Synmat 7 for a couple of years now and have been looking to replace it. I like the Exped stuff as I think it just does what its meant to. I have been looking at the Exped Downmat 7 instead like this one I know it is more expensive but the down should definitely make a huge difference when the temperatures start to drop!

  3. Is your Synmat wearing out or not warm enough? My main complaints about the pad are minor: Noisy to sleep on, and the weight/bulk. For cycle touring, no problem. For backpacking? My last backpack--an overnight up a big mountain--I carried my old 2 inch T-rest with a Big Agnes ultralight chair kit, and I was pretty happy. I was able to save at least a pound over the Exped system. I'm always on the hunt for the ideal system. When the weight's on your back, you have to start making some compromises if you have to cover any ground.

    Thanks for checking in.

  4. Hi Scott, Thanks for getting back to me. Its not warm enough, I know its not going to be a big issue in the next few months as summer approaches, but I want something in place for the end of October and onwards. I want to get a few wildcamps in the Cairngorms done next winter and want that bit extra. hmm I see what you say about the bulk, though I am quite used to carrying the weight so its not too big a concern. I don't need to buy straight away as I say I still have the synmat so I can do some pondering yet. If you come across any new gems let us know :)