UPDATE: One of our ToughSkin sleeping mats de-laminated. Click here for more information.
It was clear when we started preparing to cycle around the world that doing so would require giving up countless luxuries. During our research we quickly decided there were a few comforts we simply weren't willing to part with. High on the list of must-haves was a good night's sleep. With this in mind we read countless sleeping mat reviews, compared specifications to no end and finally made a trek to REI to try them all out.
During our testing we were both taken in by the thickness of the Exped DownMat 9. Not only were they the most comfortable sleeping mats we'd ever laid on, they packed down smaller than all of our other contenders. Ignoring several reviews about minor mat failures and lots of complaints about the inflation/pack time, we bought two. Within three months both mats (the pump sack variety) had started to fail.
Exped's customer service is top notch. After explaining our situation they promptly sent us free replacements without any haggling. The newer models they provided (with built in pumps) performed well and were immune to our initial problem thanks to a different design. Unfortunately receiving them was a bittersweet affair as we were both growing weary of the nightly labor required to inflate them as well as the morning annoyance of packing them up.
In spite of the problems we encountered with our DownMats we would still reach for them first for any kind of casual camping where comfort is a primary concern and setup is not a daily task.
DownMat 9 Strengths
Almost as comfortable as a real bed, really!
Thanks to their thickness they provide a flat sleeping surface on almost any terrain.
Pack size is very small.
DownMat 9 Weaknesses
Inflation is a slow, time-consuming process.
Packing is a slow, time-consuming process which can be difficult until you get the hang of it.
Older models with the stuff sack pump are (in our experience) prone to failure.
One of our mats required patching several times (it was always used in the tent, with a ground sheet)
At the time our DownMats were failing we purchased two Therm-a-Rest ToughSkins and had them sent to Tara's parents so they could bring them to us when we met in Italy. We thought about the more comfort-oriented TrailPro model but after all the durability issues we'd encountered with our DownMats the ToughSkin's touted indestructibility won us over. We've also toughened up quite a bit since leaving and are now willing to sacrifice a little comfort in exchange for convenience!
Fast forward to their arrival: we hated them. Exped's DownMats are the clear winner in the comfort and pack size department. Even so, after much deliberation we decided to give them a shot after we found a way to fit them on Tara's bike. Thankfully even though the ToughSkins are twice as big we actually have more pannier space because we used to store one of the sleeping mats in her clothing pannier.
It took a week or two but we've now acclimated to the slightly less cushy sleeping surface the Therm-a-Rest ToughSkin provides. What has really won us over though, is the speed and ease with which we can inflate them at night and pack them away in the morning. Neither of us ever thought we'd pick speed over comfort but it really makes a big difference in our daily routine.
Inflation takes seconds.
Packing takes seconds.
Nearly indestructible, still works if punctured.
Not as comfortable as DownMat 9.
Rather thin, can be 'lumpy' on extremely uneven ground.
Twice the pack size of DownMat 9.