For years, British mountaineer and trip leader, Tom Richardson, was a steadfast advocate of the dated, traditional foam roll mat. We decided to change Tom’s mind by offering him the chance to try out our new Aerostat Down 7.0 Mat on a slew expeditions to the Greater Ranges. Read Tom’s full review of the Aerostat Down 7.0 Mat, below:
Words by Tom Richardson
Whether you are planning it, or it becomes an unforeseen necessity, a night spent out in the mountains requires at least two essentials in some form or another. Some shelter from the elements above and insulation from cold from below. It could be for a night or several ,sat uncomfortably on a rocky ledge on a big face, in a snow hole, a bivvy tent of some sort, even a proper tent or what in Scotland would be called a bothy or some other sort of simple solid building with or without a roof.
Without insulation from below we are in a notional battle between the snow, ice and rock of the mountain trying to freeze us and us trying to warm the mountain. We will always lose. When I first started climbing in the Alps in the 1970s, I was told that previous generations of climbers used to take a layer of road tar melted between two sheets of brown paper on the climb as an insulated mat and then set fire to it in the morning to warm up. I think it was apocryphal, I was very naïve.
I had one of those bulky yellow foam roll mats at the time. I used it (or rather several of them) for years including on 8000m peaks and other wild corners of the world. Whilst I tried many other things along the way too, I either found fault or failure with most.
That was until last year.
I used the Mountain Equipment Aerostat Down 7.0 Mat on 4 expeditions to the Greater Ranges in 2017.
Two trips in the Karakoram, up the Baltoro Glacier towards K2 etc., climbing Mentok Khangri in Ladakh and trekking around the mysterious peak of Minya Konka in Sichuan, an area I call the Chinese Tibetan Alps.
There are several reasons why the Aerostat Mat is a real step forward in self-inflating insulated mats. The first is that it is tough as old boots, which is important; a punctured mat is about a warm and comfortable as a sheet of newspaper, but not as interesting.
Both the puncture-resistant outer material and the Gask Mask Valve system on the Aerostat are rugged. The outer fabric is also quiet and doesn’t, unlike some mats, creak and crackle when you are on it.
The second reason is that it is warm, really warm because it is filled with down. Obviously, this is much warmer, lighter and less bulky than the open cell foam inside so called self-inflating mats. A better term being slightly self-inflating.
It also means that it will last much longer because you don’t have to inflate it with your (precious at altitude) damp breath, so it doesn’t go mouldy inside either.
I’ll describe the ingenious method of inflation in a moment, but also want to point out that whilst it packs down really small, it is also quite deep. For me this was yet another plus point as it kept me off the wet tent groundsheet during a very wild storm in below Mount Grosvenor in Sichuan in October.
Often, the trouble with most other mats is that they have to either be completely or at least partially blown up by mouth or have a sophisticated, but bulky internal pump that needs vigorous effort (10 -15 minutes work out) to inflate it. My wife had such a mat and I made the mistake of offering to inflate it for her at a 6000m camp we were at in Kyrgyzstan some years ago. I made a note to myself not to do that again in a hurry.
There is one standout feature of the Aerostat Down 7.0 Mat, and this is the method in which it is inflated.
The instrument that does it is called a Windsock. It is made of superlight fabric, and integrated into the sleeping mats stuff bag. Whilst it’s called a Windsock, it doesn’t actually require wind for it to function.
You attach one end to the mat’s valve, hold open the other and give a small puff, about equal to blowing out the candles on a three-year olds’ birthday cake. You then roll the tube down from the open end. Repeat about 6-7 times and you are done.
In 2018 it’s coming with me trekking in Nepal, climbing in the Karakoram, climbing in western Mongolia, back again to Minya Konka, Sichuan and backpacking across Scotland. That’s a lot of comfortable nights sleep in the mountains.
Tom Richardson is a mountaineer who has climbed extensively around the world and has been on twice as many trips to the Greater Ranges as his age. This includes 7 expeditions to 8000m peaks across the Himalaya and Karakoram, both leading commercial groups and climbing with friends. His favourite trip is, he says, usually the one he has just come back from, irrespective of whether it is from a remote corner of Mongolia or Pakistan or leading a commercial group on a Trekking Peak in Nepal.
Sharing a construction method patented by Exped® but with insulation optimisation technology designed and developed in-house by Mountain Equipment, our Aerostat Mats are amongst the very warmest sleeping mats available. One is filled with POLARLOFT® insulation, the warmest synthetic insulation available in wet conditions; the other with DOWN CODEX® approved duck down for the greatest thermal resistance in dry conditions. These are sleeping mats built for comfort and warmth no matter where you are.
Find out more about the Aerostat Mat series, here.