The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
Four Stars = Better than most comparable gear on the market. It has one or two drawbacks, but still 90% positive.
Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Exped Downmat 9: For a Solid Night’s Sleep
Posted on: April 25, 2008
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
After a big session on the Torres in Patagonia last winter I came back to advanced base camp and found my body seizing up from raw abuse. I had never used an Exped Downmat 9 (distributed in North America by Outdoor Research), but I snagged one out of a friend's tent and collapsed into a solid night's sleep. As soon as I woke up I was jealous of my buddy's pad and swore I'd never do another expedition without one. Since then, the Downmat 9 has allowed me to have sweet dreams while camped on the rock slabs in the Bugaboos, as well as some winter roadside bivies along the Icefields Parkway in the cold Canadian Rockies.
The Downmat 9's first striking feature is its thickness: 3.5 inches that offer full-body support, comfort and insulation. Its R-value of 8 allows for relatively warm nights in temperatures as cold as -40 degrees.
But what's really different about these innovative sleeping mats is that they contain 700-fill down, which dramatically reduces heat loss yet is highly compressible. If you've used conventional air mattresses in cold conditions you know they don't insulate well, and you've probably stayed up shivering. The Downmat solves this problem by filling the mattress full of down and separating the fill with light foam barriers to prevent it from escaping out the valves or migrating among chambers.
To inflate the mattress, you connect a valve on the mat to one inside the waterproof stuff sack, which then acts as a billow. Roll the sack, and the air passes through the one-way valve system and into the mattress. In less than two minutes it's inflated. It's important not blow into these mattresses with your mouth, as the humidity from your breath will damage the down by causing it to clump and freeze.
Other quality features on the Downmat 9 include: a top surface with honeycomb-textured, laminated-polyester fabric to prevent slippage; high-frequency welded seams to ensure mat integrity; two loops at the head to secure the packsack to the mat when used as a pillow; two wide valves to allow for fast inflation and deflation. Also, the mats are made under sound environmental and social standards in a small family-run business in Taiwan.
It's a bit absurd, but Exped claims the Downmat can withstand the weight of a car without bursting—there's even a video of a Mercedes driving over a Downmat (unharmed) on the Exped website. They also have a helpful two-minute video on the site that demonstrates how to use the stuff sack efficiently and how to pump up the mattress.
At $150, it might seem expensive at first, but it won't take many nights to get your money's worth, and I'd highly recommend the Downmat 9 to anyone who likes to camp. At over two pounds, I won't be taking it up a multi-day alpine route, but it will definitely make the approach to base camp.
Pros: Comfortable; light for the R-value; small packed size.
Cons: Big and heavy for a multi-day alpine route.