By AK Admin
A good airbed is comfortable and packs down real small, but unless you have a baloon bed is heavy and allows a high degree of thermal convection. A foam mat is light, durable and highly insulative but is bulky to carry and not that comfortable to lay on. Self-inflating mats aim to combine the best properties of without the need to carry a foot pump in our packs.
When we set about producing the Airic Bros, we wanted a range of mats that we could use in every eventuality from week long camping trips out of the car to multi-day adventure races. The Airic Bros seem to do a pretty good job but there might be other mats on the market that suit you a little better. Ignoring hamocks and heavy camping beds there are basically 3 types of sleeping mats of interest to the modern camper. Which mat, or combination of mats is best for you depends on your chosen activity.
Closed cell foam mats – these used to be the budget choice. Now their only advantage is their indestructibility and the suitability for very cold conditions, especially when combined with an Airic. Look at the range of mats from Beacons to find one that fits the bill.
Self inflating Mats - This is now the choice for anyone that wants a comfy nights sleep. There is a wide range of suppliers with an even wider range of designs. Later we will highlight a few and if your interested give our spin on the pros and cons of each of the products.
Airbeds – Many people still swear by the old fashion airbed, but unless you want a bed that sleeps two or like carrying heavy sheets of rubber then they are best left alone. However see below for are two very worthy exception to this and one slightly wacky one.
A self-inflating mat is basically a layer of compressable foam sandwiched inside an airtight envelope with a sealable valve. When you open the valve the foam expands and sucks air into the mat. After a couple of minutes the mat will be semi-firm and you will have to add a few breaths of air to make the mat firm enough to sleep on. The first time you use your mat you may have to blow into it more to wake up the foam. The foam is what makes a self-inflating mattress different and superior to an airbed.
The Airic range is now lighter and more compact than ever but we haven't just made the mats smaller. The secret lays in that all important foam layer laminated between the 'Mini Diamond Ripstop Nylon' outer. We use a 'Xlite Die Cut Open Cell Foam', the air pockets in open cell foam are inter-connected making it an excellent cushioning material and gives the mat its self-inflating characteristics. It also gives us a 30% weight reduction over regular foam while still supporting your weight, provide insulation and pack down small. The foam also features high resilience, anti-mold and bacteria resistance. We make this even lighter by die-cutting X-shaped holes that reduces the insulation slightly and reduces the weight significantly. This 'foam technology' means that our new mats are more resiliant, quicker to inflate and will support your weight a little more when not fully inflated.
There is nothing clever about deflating these mats, you open the valve and sit on them until all the air is squashed out. Actually we recommend rolling them from one end towards the valve end, otherwise you will be sitting in your tent all day. The better you are at squeezing out the air the smaller the mat will be. Our Fat Airic features a twin valve design allowing faster inflating and deflating speeds.
Remember folks Airic is not an airbed, an airbed is great for floating around the ocean, but a self-inflating mattress is great to sleep on. Don't get the two mixed up!
Gelert Xtreme 3/4 - aimed at the budget end of the market. For us not the most aesthetically pleasing mat out there, and its crude construction to save weight doesn't help with its looks. The build quality is reasonable and like the Wee Airic the stuffsack and repair kit are included.
Vango Ultralite 3/4 - has a very similar feel to the Wee Airic but has been shaped to be larger around the shoulder area and narrow at the feet. Whilst this does save weight, the likely hood of the sleeping bag making contact with the tent or bivi floor is increased. Personally we feel very few people sleep laying on their back or front without moving through the entire night, and for that reason the Wee Airic retains the same width for its entire length.
Thermarest Prolite 3 Short - is a superior mat. Thermarest were the original inflatable mat guys and they have been raising the bar every year since. Thier build quality is second to none but you have to pay for it. As with the Vango Ultralite 3/4 we question the effectiveness of the tapered design found throughout the Prolite range. If you have the money to spend and can justify it then you wont be disappointed.
Exped Downmat 7 - this is one of the exceptions to the don't buy an airbed rule, it's not a cheap option but does offer a mat that can combine the comfort of a Fat Airic with the lightness of a Slim. It doesn't self inflate so you will need to pump it up, but those ingenious Swiss built one into the stuffsack.
Balloon Bed - we've not used the balloon bed but we've heard of it. Without doubt it offers the most specialist solution to short, technical trips where packed size and weight is an absolute must. It packs away smaller than a can of beans, yet weighs less than 100g. It is prone to puncture and we have spent many a night woken buy the balloons popping. Although great for events like the Lamm and Polaris. It's not so good for multi-day trip where you would have to carry a supply of balloons.
Alternative methods of repairs, Deflating your sleeping mat, Getting Started, How a sleeping mat is constructed, How comfortable is a self-inflating mat, Identify the problem, Locating the hole, Looking after your self inflating camping mat, Pack Size, Repairing your self inflating mat