Exped AirMat HL and AirMat UL Review

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Forever on the hunt for a better night’s sleep, Miles takes a closer look at the Exped AirMat UL and AirMat HL—one rectangular and long, the other tapered and more packable—to see which one he prefers. Find his thoughts on each here, along with photos and complete specs…

Action shots by RJ Sauer

Emily and I have had some incredibly lousy nights outside. We’ve shared one-person tents, forgotten a second sleeping pad, and attempted to keep warm inside a single summerweight quilt on a cold fall night. The truth is, I’m always the one to blame. During our scouting mission of the Powell River Sampler, Emily borrowed an extra-thick rectangular sleeping pad from our friend Natalie and she slept like a log. Meanwhile, I continuously failed at keeping myself on top of my tiny, slippery, tapered sleeping pad with hopes that the next night would end better than the last. Like two like-charged magnets repelling each other, ultralight sleeping pads seem to want to get away from me and ensure my night is as sleepless as possible.

Exped AirMat Review
  • Exped AirMat Review
  • Exped AirMat Review
  • Exped AirMat Review
  • Exped AirMat Review
  • Exped AirMat Review

I’m not sure if it’s the vertical baffles or the fact that they offer down-filled sleeping pads, but I’ve always been interested in Exped’s products. Earlier this summer I got in touch with the Exped team and they sent over two mats from their lightweight and packable AirMat series: the AirMat HL in a medium length, which is their tapered profile mat, and the AirMat UL in a long-wide size, which is their rectangular version. I brought the AirMat UL along to the South Chilcotin Mountains for a multi-day bikepacking trip, and have used the AirMat HL on several recent shorter scouting missions around the Okanagan. Here are my thoughts on both.

Exped AirMat HL Review

The Exped AirMat HL M is currently the company’s lightest and most packable inflatable sleeping pad. The AirMat portion refers to no internal insulation as opposed to their DownMat (down insulated) or SynMat (synthetic insulated) options. I can only imagine HL stands for hyperlight, and the M refers to the size—in this case, medium. With an inflated thickness of 2.8 inches and a total length of 72 inches, the AirMat HL M is comparable to both the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite and Sea To Summit Ultralight Pad, only a touch thicker. The total weight is on par with the two pads mentioned above, with a total weight of 388g including the stuff sack, mini pump, and repair kit.

  • Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review

For those unfamiliar, many sleeping pads are being shipped with separate pumps to keep the inside of your pad moisture free and the air cooler to avoid deflation during the night. Although it may seem like overkill, they do in fact work well and I’ve noticed a consistent pressure from both Exped pads while using their pumps. The Exped AirMat HL M has a single valve that’s used for both inflating and deflating the pad. The included hand pump snaps into the open valve, and using a ‘wave like’ motion with your hands, easily inflates the pad without any need to use your mouth. It took around 100 pumps to inflate the AirMat HL, which does a good job at saving your lungs but is a little slow in my opinion.

Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review
  • Exped AirMat HL Review

I brought the Exped AirMat HL M out on a few recent solo scouting missions in an effort to keep my pack size small, tight, and light. While in use, the shape and overall feel of the pad reminded me of the majority of other lightweight, tapered sleeping pads. The one major difference is the top-facing fabric, which is much softer and not as plasticky or slippery as others I’ve used. The single valve is well designed and feels solid, sitting nearly flush with the pad when closed. Letting air out is a little awkward, since the internal valve needs to be manually depressed to release the air. Although it takes a little back and forth effort before all the air is out and the pad can be rolled up, the stuff sack is snug but manageable, not requiring any extra effort in the morning to find its way inside.

Exped AirMat HL Review

Pros

  • Lightweight and packable.
  • Reasonably priced when compared against other ultralight pads.
  • Soft, comfortable fabrics.
  • Mini pump included.
  • Five-year warranty from Exped.

Cons

  • May be too tapered and narrow for some.
  • Single valve makes deflating a little finicky.
  • Model Tested: Exped AirMat HL M
  • Material: 20 D Polyester
  • R-Value: 1.3
  • Weight: 388 grams (13.9oz)
  • Packed Size: TBD
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
  • Price: $129 USD
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Exped.com

As far as summer rated sleeping pads go, the Exped AirMat HL M is at the top of my list. I appreciate the soft fabrics and thickness it offers, and it packs down nice and small to keep the bulk down. It’s still a narrow, tapered sleeping pad though, so I was eager to try out the longer and wider AirMat UL.

Exped AirMat UL Review

Rectangular and wide are two words I’ve rarely used to describe my bikepacking gear. Tapered and narrow certainly sounds more compact, but how does that translate over to a good night’s sleep? It might come as a surprise that I’m not the best at sleeping outside, and it generally takes a few nights before I get into a groove of some kind, often induced by melatonin or other substances. I think tapered and narrow sleeping pads are partly to blame, often resulting in a runaway knee or shoulder just as things are getting good. Exped also sent along their AirMat UL in the long / wide size for me to check out, and the first time I inflated it I knew it was going to be incredibly comfy.

Exped AirMat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review

The AirMat UL LW offers the same 2.8” thickness as the AirMat HL, but is a full 5” wider and maintains that width down the entire length of the pad. When inflated, it’s a huge sleeping pad, yet it still manages to pack down impressively small when deflated and rolled up. Besides the shape, the main difference between the AirMat HL and UL is that the latter has both an inflation and deflation valve. The deflation valve, once opened, immediately lets the pad deflate. While the inflation valve uses the same two-way gasket as the HL, allowing for pressure adjustments and use of the Exped’s included Schnozzel Pumpbag or hand pump. I wasn’t sold on the idea of the Schnozzel Pumpbag at first, but it grew on me, and with a quick scoop of air allows for a quick inflation of the pad. It also weighs next to nothing and packs down small, so it’s easy to bring along.

  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review

The AirMat UL, in the long/wide size, has been a real game changer for me. I sleep better on a rectangular sleeping pad, there’s no question there, and I’ve found Exped’s Honeycomb Gripskin coated top fabric to be much more comfortable than other sleeping pads I’ve tried. I’m not totally sure if its vertical baffles contribute to my ability to sleep, but I like to think they do a better job at keeping me in the middle of the pad—or maybe I’m just dreaming.

It’s awesome to see such a big, comfortable sleeping pad pack up into such a tiny stuff sack. Although it packs a touch longer than the AirMat HL, it is also slightly narrower and packs easier into its provided bag—making it easy to pack inside a frame, saddle, or handlebar bag.

Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped Airmat UL Review
  • Exped AirMat Review

I used to be of the mindset that my camping gear (tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag) were some of the heaviest and bulkiest items in my gear list, and that if there was a way to keep them smaller and lighter, I was winning. It’s great that camping gear has evolved so much over the last decade, and that a big, wide, comfortable sleeping pad like the Exped AirMat UL can pack down so small. Of course the durability of these ultralight sleeping pads is usually their downfall, so I’ve made sure to use a groundsheet when possible and take proper care of them.

Pros

  • Surprisingly lightweight considering its size.
  • Wide and long version is great for restless sleepers.
  • Soft, comfortable fabrics.
  • Schnozzel Pumpbag actually works.
  • Five-year warranty from Exped.

Cons

  • Perhaps a little expensive for some.
  • Not as packable as AirMat HL.
  • Might be too wide for some lightweight, narrow quilts.
  • Model Tested: Exped AirMat UL LW
  • Material: 20 D Polyester
  • R-Value: 1.3
  • Weight: 569 grams (20.1oz)
  • Packed Size: TBD
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
  • Price: $149 USD
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Exped.com

Wrap Up

I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try out some Exped sleeping pads, and I’m pretty sold on the AirMat UL Long / Wide version for the majority of my summer bikepacking needs—reserving the AirMat HL for lighter trips and overnighters. The valve system on both pads are well designed and feels sturdy, the fabric is soft and comfortable to sleep on, and they easily pack down to a small size. Now that I’m sold on their products, I’m pretty keen to get my hands on a pad from their insulated DownMat or SynMat series this winter for some coastal bikepacking in British Columbia.

Exped AirMat Review

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