I love camping, I especially love kayak camping. Traveling by kayak allows one to carry far greater loads than on foot. When I pack my kayak I rarely have an issue with weight, but I do occasionally run into a space issue. When I took my very first kayak camping trip I was advised to prepack my gear to make sure it fit. Was I glad that I did? Yes. Have you ever tried to pack an old school full size self-inflating sleeping pad into a kayak? Sure they fit, but very little else will fit once it is in the compartment. This learning sent me off on a gear quest for the best sleeping pad for kayak camping.
Everyone has different requirements when it comes to choosing camping gear. My criteria were pack size, comfort and warmth. This led me to discover the wonderful Exped SynMat UL 7. Exped make a full range of sleeping pads. Some are insulated with down or synthetic materials. Some pads come with an integrated pump. The SynMat UL 7 has a synthetic filling and come with no pump, this combination creates a highly compact sleeping pad that packs down into a stuff sack the size of a can of beans. The R value for this pad is 3.1. When I purchased this pad I got the regular sized one, it is a tight fit for my 6 foot frame. It is fairly narrow and fairly short. This winter I am planning on a few cold camping excursions and was looking for an upgrade.
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The R value is the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. So if you want to stay warmer get things with higher R-Values. In Minnesota it gets cold, bone chillingly cold at times. The last time I was camping the wind chill was -1F (-18C). After some online research I came across an alternative to the Exped range of sleeping pads, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. The reviews of this pad were mixed, two repeated complaints were present; 1. The noise, 2. The edge support. The Therm-a-Rest is filled with a very interesting material that is highly reflective and helps keep you warm. The downside of this material is that is can be noisy if you squish it around. The edge support refers to how much the edge of the pad collapses if you sleep or roll over near the edge. I decided that despite these two reported issues I would try the sleeping pad.
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I had never previously considered that the moisture I put into a sleeping pad when I blew it up might be an issue. It can freeze, and in cold conditions it doesn’t exit with the air when you deflate the pad. Therm-a-Rest has provided an innovative solution to this challenge, the stuff sack expands in to a large pump bag. You slide the closed end of the bag over the inflation nozzle, and expand the bag, squeeze the end shut and push the air into the pad. It works surprisingly well, and no breath moisture enters the pad. I inflated both the Exped and Therm-a-Rest pads and swapped between them to really try them out, and to test the two issues I mentioned previously.
Noise: The Therm-a-Rest does crinkle a bit. When I rolled over it sounded a little like someone squashing an empty chip bag. Nothing major but the noise was there. When I put a sleeping bag on top of the pad I could barely hear the noise. Ask my wife I am a wiggle worm at night, so the real test came when I slept on the pad. I heard nothing, I slept like a baby.
Edge support: I honestly don’t know what people are talking about. I inflated both pads to roughly the same pressure, to a point where they were both comfortable to lie on and I didn’t touch the ground anywhere when lying down. I tried rolling over near the edge and experienced no issues at all with either pad. During my sleep test I experienced no issues with either.
The specification of the Therm-a-Rest is quite a step up from the Exped. The R value is 5.7 meaning it provides considerably greater insulation. The Weight of the two pads are nearly identical, and the pack size is very similar. The down side is the Therm-a-Rest is 40% more expensive at the time of writing this. The Exped pad is rectangular and the Therm-a-Rest is mummy shaped. The Therm-a-Rest is very slightly thicker when inflated which did provide for a slightly more comfortable sleep.
I gave the new Therm-a-Rest pad a real test and spent a night out on my deck sleeping in -9F ambient air temperature. It passed with flying colors. And I can thoroughly recommend the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm to you if you are looking for a great cold weather sleeping pad that compresses well and will let you sleep like a baby. It is now my go to pad for kayak camping in Minnesota.

Greenland kayak rolling, fad or functional?
Getting your first roll.

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