I first saw the Exped dream catcher at the adventure cycling festival this summer. My first thought was – it’s just another gimmick, what’s the point. I dismissed it without much thought. I was then later offered the chance to test an Exped HL M out with this unique inflation device. To be honest I only stuck with it all after Lee Craigie mentioned how much she loved the bag after a long day riding. To give it a proper test I took the inflation bag and Exped HL M on our tour of the Altai mountains this summer.
I have tested quite a few different mats over recent trips, take a look at the other reviews here. Therefore it was interesting to test the ‘lightest mat on the market for this level of insulation and warmth’.
Why is this mat different?
It ticks my first boxes; it is light, very light at 365gms. It is also very warm being accurately rated to -6.
It packs very small too, this is it in my hand;
It has a thin layer of synthetic insulation inside which helps it achieve these warmth levels at minimal added bulk. Similar to the Thermarest Neoair XLite which uses foil, however to me this insulation works better and is much quieter when you turn over at night to unlike the loud crackly NeoAir.
The really interesting part is the way it can be inflated – The dream catcher as I call it, but being Swiss it’s actually called the Schnozzel Pump bag and comes included as standard, I think the Dream Catcher bag is much more romantic! Basically it’s a dry bag with an adaptor to fit over the inflation valve. To inflate it you need just 3 full swoops of the dry bag to catch some air, then squeeze that through the valve into the matt. Rather than endless blowing after a long day of riding it is so easy! It’s not a gimmick it really works and saves so much effort especially when at altitude and air is precious.
The dry bag approach not only saves time and your lungs but much more importantly it is using drier air, this means the insulation stays dry and works much more efficiently. This makes a much bigger difference to cold weather comfort than you might expect.
Lack of moisture also helps preserve the seam sealing on the bag longer too than a permanently wet interior.
- Light weight (Neo Air is just 15gms lighter)
- Small pack size
- Appears to be strong and puncture resistant (Our NeoAir has punctured already once this hasn’t) (Contains good repair kit as well)
- Remarkably warm for this weight and size (0.1 value warmer than Neo Air but feels warmer than this)
- Thick and comfy to sleep on (1cm thicker than NeoAir)
- Pump bag doubles as dry sack
- Quite narrow and easy to roll off
- Harder than some to de-inflate the last drops of air and roll up small
- Not the cheapest
- You’ll end up helping blow other people’s mats up as it’s too quick!
- Dream catcher bag is very thin and not strong enough for daily wear and tear, but packed away in the saddle pack it is another dry sack/liner bag you can utilise.
This is my new favourite mat, a go to product that has been tested in some pretty cold conditions too. While only tested for 4 weeks usage it seems to be strong and well built too. It is a close race with the main competitor the Thermarest NeoAir XLite but it sneaks the win for me. The only issue is getting that last bit of air out, to roll up again it is always more time consuming than you might expect! The Neo Air wins this contest on repacking, but loses on comfort, warmth and the use of inflation. Weight and pack size is a draw! While the ‘Dream Catcher’ aka Schnozzel Pump bag can be used with other mats it only fits well with the Exped mat valves where it is snug and efficiently inflates after 3 bags of air.