The long-standing kings of inflatable expedition and camping mattresses are Therm-a-rest. They innovated and replaced the old use of heavy and cumbersome foam alternatives. Although these have been championed as expedition-tough, the raw fact of having an inflatable skin on an extreme journey has always led to puncture and deflation problems. Therm-a-rests have always also been on the high end of most budgets.
In recent years others have tried to replicate and improve on the design, amongst them Alpkit (UK-based) with their low-cost copies and the down-filled alternatives from Exped. As someone who travels for weeks or months without resupply and the option of carrying spares, choosing the very best sleeping mat is vital. Waking in the middle of the night on a cold and hard ground is not the way to get your much-needed rest! So how do these other mats fare in comparison to the 'original'?
I know a number of people who have used all three, Therm-a-rests, Alpkit Airics and Exped DownMat Pumps. I have personally used a number of Alpkit mats for hundreds of nights but others had found theirs to leak or puncture easily. After a big Twitter straw-poll asking others for their experiences, the results seemed to say:
Therm-a-rests : Expensive but almost no-one who responded found theirs to leak out-of-the-box and the only failures were after some sustained trauma!
Alpkit Airics (note Airics have now been replaced with a new range): Half the price and very similar build to a Therm-a-rest. Despite a very good report from those on Twitter, a guiding company I work for ordered ten and five were found to leak immediately. I have been lucky with my own Alpkits but it does knock my confidence in them.
Exped DownMats: An expensive but clever pump design. The down filled compartments undoubtedly provide fantastic insulation. I know two people who have tested them over a long period of time and both have found them to deflate within a week of use. A great idea but more robust development needed.
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