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Are down-filled sleeping pads the panacea for winter camping?

We asked Outdoor Magazine Gear Guy

We do a reasonable amount of winter camping in both Adirondack lean-tos and in tents. Typically I use some combination of an emergency space blanket, a closed-cell pad, and an inflatable Therm-a-Rest pad. A couple years ago I had a hip replacement so padding comfort is a big factor. My question, then: Are the pricier down-filled sleeping pads like those from Exped really that much warmer?

And he replied: Concerning your commitment to wintertime activities, all I can say is: I doff my cap to your outdoor hardiness.

As for your provisional choice of pad, the good news is Exped’s Downmat 9 ($149; www.exped.com) has an R-value—an insulation rating—of about seven (higher is better). A standard Therm-a-Rest, in comparison, has an R-value of about three (depends on the model). Adding a Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest ($20 in regular size; www.thermarest.com) to the self-inflating pad—an excellent cold-weather practice—adds another 2.6 of R goodness for a total of about 5.6. As you see, that’s still some way off the Downmat 9′s grand total. So one Downmat more than equals two regular pads—a self-inflating and a closed-cell pairing—in insulation. And while I’ve never used one of the new-generation down-filled pads, I am told they are molto comfortable.

You also win on weight. A Downmat 9 weighs two pounds, while the two Therm-a-Rest pads will end up at three pounds six ounces. That’s quite a difference! You could even add a regular-sized 14-ounce RidgeRest and still have no more weight to lug than before. So while it’s true the down-filled pad is fairly expensive—about $60 more than a pair of pads from other makers such as Cascade Designs (inventors of the original Therm-a-Rest)—it performs extremely well. I’d go out and buy a Downmat 9, and look forward to a good night’s rest in the mountains.
From November 18, 2004 outdoor gear question

As yet none of us have tried a Downmat.  I have always been concerned about the pump and getting moisture inside the mat.  If you have used one, please leave a comment on your experience.  Thanks

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1 comment to Are down-filled sleeping pads the panacea for winter camping?

  • Carol D

    I have owned a downmat 9 for a couple of years and agree that they are WAY more comfortable than even the thickest Thermarest. However, camping in snow is problematic and the Downmat itself is NOT warm enough. My husband tried it the first time at about -5 celcius, in a tent on snow, with nothing else underneath the mat and was cold all night. He had on all of the available clothes, including a down jacket inside his winter weight sleeping bag and even that didn’t help. Last night I tried the mat outside at -12 celcius, with a ridgerest underneath and a winter weight down sleeping bag (rated to -25). I was relatively warm with a moderate amount of clothing on but I could feel the coolness from underneath. If it was much colder outside I think I would have had an uncomfortable night. I think the problem is that the air space in the Downmat is too thick for your body to keep warm when it’s getting cooled from the ground underneath. A ridgerest underneath isn’t quite thick enough to offset the problem. Plus, the Downmat is quite wide (several cm’s wider than my mummy bag on each side) so much of it is exposed to cooling by the outside air. I still love the Downmat for comfort so I think next time I’ll try a thicker foamie underneath the Downmat, full length, and sleep inside a tent. Hopefully that will be warm enough!