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Gear Test - Exped Downmat 7

This page is a work-in-progress. It's just a log of my testing results, so don't take anything in here as a final conclusion. I'll continue updating it as I get more experience with the product, and eventually I'll consolidate it into a finished review.

Date: 3 Nov 05

Weight is less than an ounce over stated weight.

The directions said "10-15" bags of air in one place and "5-10" in another place, but it took me 25 bags for the first time. It was pretty thin at that point, and when I laid in the hammock I think I only had .5" under my butt. I put 4 more bags in it today...it's much more firm so I'll see if that works better.

If I lay still on my back, I could stay warm without the SPE because it holds me up so much higher than a CCF pad. (It's 2.8" thick.) I put it in my homemade SPE and it seems to work fine.

I also got a cold spot under my leg at one point today - I guess the down shifts, so I shook it up to even out the down.

Date: 5 Nov 05
Low Temp: 50 F
Weather: No rain or wind - used in sunroom
Gear: Green Speer-type, Exped Downmat 7 with homemade SPE, normal house blanket
Worn: Cotton T-shirt, cotton sweats, cotton socks

Man, this thing is comfortable! I was warm to about 50 F - it didn't get any colder than that.

I think it's actually more comfortable than the hammock body if I stay on my back. My foot barely hangs off the end, but the pad is thick enough that my foot doesn't even touch the hammock body and my leg is supported by the ankle. This relieves a lot of the knee strain a hammock can give, and is a lot more comfortable on my feet.

It's not as comfortable when I lay on my side, though, and I have to mess with the pad to keep it in the right place when I roll over. I was using my homemade SPE, so I think a wider one would help a little.

Date: 6 Nov 05
Low Temp: 48 F
Weather: Light rain, wind 5-10 mph
Gear: Green Speer-type, Exped Downmat 7 with homemade SPE, Nest top quilt, MacCat Standard, tarp tensioners
Worn: Cotton T-shirt, cotton sweats, cotton socks

When I got the Downmat into the hammock, it looked like it needed more air in it. I tried to fill it while it was in hammock and I was standing up, but the valve kept closing itself while I pushed on bag. I had to hold the valve open with one hand, hold the top of the blowbag with the other hand, and use my arm to squeeze the air into the mat. Kinda frustrating, but it worked fine.

It was very comfortable and warm, though...I had to completely take off quilt for much of the night. I still found it tricky to roll onto my side without sliding off of the mattress, though. I slept completely on my stomach for a while, which I usually find difficult to do in this hammock - the pad really helped, but my feet hung off the end of the pad and got cold. Because of the curve of the hammock, the pad isn't quite long enough to cover my feet and my head, so I just slid the pad down some and used a pillow.

I had no condensation issues this time, even when I was slightly overheated. This was a big problem with the closed-cell foam pads. When using the SPE, I think the type of pad makes a HUGE difference.

- SPE wings 20x20, folded in half to make 10x20 two layers thick. Makes a sit pad and backpack support.
- Two of these wings, one on each side of lower section, with two 10x20 for shoulders.

Date: 7 Nov 05
Low Temp: 48 F
Weather: Steady rain, wind 5-10 mph
Gear: Green Speer-type, Exped Downmat 7 with homemade SPE, Nest top quilt, MacCat Standard, tarp tensioners
Worn: Cotton T-shirt, nylon shorts, thin nylon socks

When I put the pad into the hammock, it looked like it wasn't as full as the previous night. I hadn't let any air out, so I'm wondering about a slow leak. It might just be the valve. As long as it doesn't get any faster, it's not a big deal - just a bit of air over 24 hours isn't a problem.

It was just as warm and comfortable as before, though.

So far, here's what I like:
- It's very comfortable when on my back, and makes sleeping on my stomach more comfortable. I was always hesitant to sleep on my stomach when using an underquilt because I didn't want to breathe right into the insulation, but this isn't a problem with the pad. It's not as easy to sleep on my side, though.
- No worries about the fit like with an underquilt. You just get on top. It's not as easy to move around inside the hammock because I have to worry about staying on the pad, though, and if I want to really change positions I have to mess with getting the pad in the right place.
- Still insulates when wet.
- No condensation issues like I had with a CCF pad.

Date: 8 Nov 05
Low Temp: 50 F
Weather: Heavy rain, wind 5-10 mph
Gear: Green Speer-type, Exped Downmat 7 with homemade SPE, Nest top quilt, MacCat Standard, tarp tensioners
Worn: Cotton T-shirt, nylon shorts, thin nylon socks

It worked fine again, and I'm starting to train myself to stay on the pad during the night.

Date: 13 Nov 05

I let the pad sit for a few days with no pressure on it, and it is definitely leaking some air. This may just be coming out of the valves, and isn't an issue in camp since I have to deflate it and pack it up every day anyway. It works fine overnight - but I'm still wondering if the leak isn't from the valves and if it'll get worse over time. It's so slow I'm not sure it'll be detectable with the soap and water test, but I think I'm gonna email Exped and see what they say about it.

I packed the pad into the stuff sack while standing up today. I opened the valves, folded it in half lengthwise, and started rolling. I set the other end up on a box and rolled slow to avoid shifting all the down to the valves. I had to roll it twice - once to squeeze all the air out, and again to get it small enough to fit into the stuff sack. The whole process took about a minute, I guess.

Date: 16-18 Dec 05
Low Temp: -10 F
Weather: Snowstorm, winds up to 150 mph
Gear: Green Speer-type hammock, Speer PeaPod, Exped Downmat 7, JRB No Sniveller top quilt, MacCat Standard tarp, JRB and homemade tarp tensioners
Worn: Long-sleeve synthetic T-Shirt (not thermal), silk-weight polyester thermal pants, fleece pants, swim trunks, vapor barrier socks, Turtle Fur earband, watch cap

More details in the Winnemucca Trip Report.

The Downmat kept me very warm on this trip. On Friday, it coupled with the PeaPod for bottom insulation to make me so warm that I had to vent the PeaPod down to my waist - and it was 15 F with winds up to 50 F (wind chill -10 F). On Saturday, I laid it on the snow (with a garbage bag ground sheet) and it kept me plenty warm. When it was inflated.

On Friday night, the valve kept opening at the slightest touch. Finally, I realized that the cold made it really tough to tighten the valve enough. I turned it really hard and it finally locked and remained inflated. It kept me very warm Friday night, but it slowly deflated overnight and through the next day. Saturday at about 6pm, I reinflated it before I laid in the hammock. Then about 7pm I bailed into the tent because of the snow blowing under the tarp, and I inflated it fuller (it hadn't deflated any yet, but it needs to be inflated more for ground sleeping than for hammock sleeping). Then about 1 or 2 am, I felt my hip getting a bit cool when I slept on my side. I pushed my hip down a bit and felt the snow underneath. If I stayed flat, it still insulated me well enough until I got up at 4am, but any movement made me touch the snow underneath. I'm not happy about this.

Date: Jan 06

After several emails with Exped, I finally decided to exchange the pad at REI. I checked it for leaks in the bathtub and didn't find any...it wasn't an extensive test, but I checked the seams and valves and didn't see any bubbles. Andre at Exped assured me that no pads had ever left the factory leaking, and that they were tested to the equivalent of parking a car on them. Fair enough. Except that mine leaks, and I think it leaked from the first day I brought it home. And others have reported leaks very early in their use. No arguments, though - that's why REI has a "no questions asked" return policy! I did put Andre's name on the return tag and asked REI to send it back to the factory. I hope they do.

FYI - the valves are made from Lexan, so they shouldn't be fragile in cold weather. I was concerned about breaking it when I twisted so hard at Winnemucca.

So I brought the new one home and inflated it. It's been inflated for about two weeks now, and has deflated to about the same level that the other one would deflate in a night or two. Much better, but I haven't actually slept on it yet.

I'm still debating whether or not pads are the way to go for four-season hammocking. Underquilts are still more comfortable, IMO, and can certainly handle the cold temps...but four-season camping is more than just cold temps. I don't want to be caught in a bad situation without the ability to go to ground. For winter trips where heavy storms might pop up, or when there's no quick bail-out available, a pad is certainly a good idea. However, I think a waterproof bivy would have gotten me through Winnemucca. On the other hand, imagine if I lost a glove and didn't have the dexterity to hang my hammock. Being able to climb into a bivy and on a pad seems to be a much more reliable setup. (Of course, the same goes for inflating a DAM.)

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