I’ve never quite found a perfect year-round mat to use. I tend to camp high and like snow, so I need something that can handle that along with being light enough to carry in summer so that I don’t notice it on my back. I know I can use multiple mats, but I’m a lazy git, so if I can use one mat all year round, I’d be happy. I’ve had sundry mats over the years, latterly I’ve been using the Exped Symat 7.5 Basic, which despite the name is a well appointed bit of kit. It’s seen me through many a cold night.
In to challenge that we now have two very different mats.
The Peak Elite AC from Hyalite (formerly known as Pacific Outdoor Equipment) isn’t new, it’s been around for a while but it’s new to me, so there. It’s a very lightweight affair and weighs in at 376g on my scales with repair kit in it’s stuff sack. It packs small too. Longitudinal baffles are the name of the game here, and the outermost baffles are raised slightly to create a barrier to keep you on the mat. It tapers at the top and bottom, and the insulation varies across the mat, with more around the core area and less down in the leg zone, so the R-value varies from 2.2 to 4.4.
The Thermarest Xtherm is something I’m been looking forward to trying out since it landed an award at the Outdoor show last year. Mine weighs 550g with stuffsack and repair kit, so it’s a bit heavier than the Peak Elite, but still a big win over the 770g of the Synmat Basic. The baffles are horizontal here, and there are more of them. The design is basically rectangular with a slight taper at the legs and rounded corners. Insulation is the same across the mat, with a whopping R-value of 5.7. It comes with a stuff sack that doubles as an inflation pump bag.
I tested both of these on snow before it mostly vanished. The Peak Elite wasn’t particularly warm, but that’s not really down to insultation, it was mostly that it’s fairly slick. I camp on slight slopes quite often, and found myself sliding towards the door of the tent without trying very hard. I’ve woken up on a few occasions to find the mat hard against the door of the tent (and halfway up it on one occasion) with large pieces of me nowhere near it. The design is good for back sleepers, but I sleep on my side so keeping my legs on the mat was a challenge.
The Xtherm on the other hand has a friction surface which stops any slide, and it’s a bit wider at the feet so I found I could stay on it better. It was also a good bit more comfortable for my aging bones, the horizontal baffles spread the load well. The inflation sack is a reasonable idea to tackle the cooling issue with blowing these things up, not to mention keeping moisture out of the internals of the mat. The downside is that it’s not that big, so you could spend a fortnight inflating the mat this way. I prefer to blow it up until it’s nearly there, then let it cool for a bit and then top up with the inflation bag.
So the upshot is that if weight is critical to you, then the Peak Elite is a reasonable mat, although probably better for back sleepers. The Xtherm has a 120g penalty but is warmer and more stable in my experience. I’ll happily carry an extra 120g to not have to fight with my mat, so I know which one I’ll be taking next time I’m out.