A proper cold-weather sleeping mat is essential if you want to go camping in winter. Those cheap, thin roll mats made of foam just won’t cut it when the ground is really cold beneath your tent - however warm your sleeping bag is, you’ll end up shivering if you don’t have a layer of air between you and the groundsheet. But of course you don’t want to be lugging some bulky lilo around either. Which is why something like the Exped Synmat UL 7 is ideal.
Founded by husband and wife team Andi and Heidi Brun back in the 80s, Exped make a huge range of sleeping mats designed to suit all kinds of conditions. We’ve chosen to include the UL 7 because it’s an effective all-rounder.
“As well as being pleased with how quick and easy it was to inflate, we were really impressed by how comfortable it was..."
Let’s be clear, if you’re planning on going snow camping, there are thicker better-insulated mats you could buy (Exped’s own DownMat models are excellent). But the UL 7 is still rated down to minus 4 degrees celsius, which is more than enough for most conditions that you’ll encounter in the UK. And the UL 7 (the UL stands for Ultralight) scores much higher in terms of weight and packability.
This weighs just 450g (or 459g if you include the packsack) and packs down into a roll that’s 24cm long and 9cm in diameter, which will take up just 1.7 litres in your rucksack. There are separate inflate and deflate valves that are single-directional (so they won’t let air out until you want them to), and it comes with a large pump sack to inflate it. If you get your “scooping air" technique right, you can inflate the mat with two squeezes of the pump sack.
We tested the Synmat UL 7 earlier this year on a seven-day trek along the Kungsleden trail in Swedish Lapland. As well as being pleased with how quick and easy it was to inflate (it never took more than two and a half scoops) we were really impressed by how comfortable it was. After a couple of days we stopped worrying about pitching our tent over small lumps because we knew we just wouldn’t feel them in the night, and the insulation it provided from the cold ground was impressive.
Camping mats may not be the sexiest bits of kit, or the first things you think to buy. But they can make a huge amount of difference to your experience of the outdoors. Having won an Outdoor Industry Award when it was first released, the Exped Synmat UL 7 is still one of the best on the market.
Exped Synmat UL 7 Camping Mat