As I get older, I find that I appreciate a good mattress more and more. That’s as true in the woods as it is at home. Maybe even more so! I started my quest for more comfortable field mattresses earlier this year and I’ve been keen to see what all is available, so when I was asked if I wanted to check out a new compact air mattress from Aerobed, I jumped at the chance!
Most folks probably know Aerobed as the company that makes excellent large airbeds with built in pumps of the type that you use for when guests arrive unexpectedly. They’re nice, comfy air mattresses that rival a regular bed, but they aren’t exactly small and packable. Aerobed has made some other smaller mattresses suited for car camping and taking with you to the hunting cabin if need be, but these still weren’t really something you’d pack in on your back. The Pakmat is the first of their products that, to me, really moves into that realm. When packed in its storage cylinder, the Pakmat is just 19 inches long by 4 3/4 across. Weight comes in right at 5 pounds. Now, I’ll admit that even at those dimensions I was initially thinking that it was still a little big for strapping to your pack. Car camping? No problem, its quite compact for that. I was still unsure about the size though until I compared it to my old Thermarest Z-Lite. The Pakmat is actually smaller in dimension than the Z-Lite when both are stowed! It’s also smaller than my folded up Thermarest Trail Pro mattress. I found that the Pakmat cylinder strapped easily to my trusty old EMS pack just as easily as any of the other pads I’ve used in the past. Now, there’s no getting around the weight though. At 5 pounds it is considerably heavier than either of my Thermarest pads, but lets take a closer look and see if that weight is worth it.
The Pakmat is an interesting design. Unlike most camping mats it comes stored in a hard plastic storage cylinder. This makes for a couple of benefits in my onion. First off, it protects your mattress from thorns, or other things which could cause holes or tears while your hiking. Not to mention that you can just toss it into the back of the truck or Jeep and not worry about other gear poking a hole in it. The tube also keeps the mattress dry, at least in normal rainy conditions (I wouldn’t guess it’ll work if you fully submerged the cylinder). Next, since you pack it into the cylinder every time, you know exactly how much space it’ll take up each and every time. If you’re like me, I swear I can never get a tent or mattress folded the same way twice. With this storage tube, you know exactly how big the Pakmat will be when its stowed away. This can help with packing both your rucksack and vehicle sometimes. Lastly, the really unique thing about the storage tube is that it’s also the pump for the mattress. Yep, you heard that right. As odd as it sounds, the two part tube acts as the pump to inflate your Pakmat once your ready to set it up. More on that in a bit, but it’s a clever solution to providing a pump without taking up unnecessary room, and the fact that it also protects the mattress as well is a big bonus in my book.
The Pakmat is both green and green. By that, I mean that it’s a bright green shade that goes well with your outdoors gear, and is made of “100% eco-friendly phthalate-free materials”. Now, what exactly those materials are, I have no idea. It seems like a thin, but durable ripstop nylon, or a similar material. Once unfolded and inflated, the Pakmat measures 78 inches long by 26 inches wide and is 5 inches thick. That’s a good size mattress that’ll fit most normal human frames and it supports up to 350 pounds of weight. The 5 inch thick part is what I especially was interested in. I’ve found that even with 2 to 3 inch pads I sometimes still get hip and shoulder contact with the ground. I was really curious to see how much difference the extra two inches would make. The mattress itself features internal horizontal channels to enhance structural integrity and support you while you’re rolling around on it. When inflated, it feels firm but gives enough to be comfortable. It’s a mattress after all, so you don’t want it so firm that its like sleeping on the ground!
Set up on the Pakmat is pretty simple. The storage tube consists of two parts. Rotate the handle 1/4 turn and pull it completely free of the other portion of the cylinder. Dump out the folded mattress and unfold it in an area sufficiently large to inflate it fully. Now, insert the inner portion of the cylinder back into the outer tube. This makes your pump. Pretty clever. There is a bayonet coupler on the bottom of the tube which extends and mates up to a nozzle on the mattress. The mattress’s valve has a one way flap to keep the air in as you inflate it and to make sealing it up when your done easy so you aren’t rushing to try and keep from losing all the air. Once you have the now constructed pump attached to the mattress valve all you do is, well, pump. Pulling in and out on the handle creates enough air flow to easily inflate the Pakmat. Aerobed claims that it takes about a minute to inflate the mattress and that seemed about right from my experience. It’s pretty fast and easy to do. Much better than trying to inflate a an air mattress by blowing into it!
Once inflated, you have a good size, thick mattress that’s perfect for camping. It’s small enough that it’ll work well for tarp camping or in a one man tent, but comfortable enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to use it even when I do have more space. I was fortunate enough to hit the woods quite a bit this summer so I got to use the Aerobed on a number of excursions and lent it to a friend to use on a 5 day trip as well. We found that inflating the mattress just shy of being completely firm worked best for us. Basically, fill it until its rigid, then back off the air just a touch. This seemed to be the sweet spot for comfort. When rigid, it seemed a bit easy to roll off of, but that slightly less filled level let you nestle into the mattress comfortably. Naturally, you can adjust the level of air to suite your tastes and preferences. We both found the 5 inch thickness of the Pakmat to be a great feature. That extra couple of inches really does make a difference. Even for a couple of 200 plus pound guys, we had no issues with our hips or shoulders connecting with the ground. I found the sleeping experience to rival that of using a larger inflatable mattress but with the benefit of being much easier and more compact to pack. To deflate the mattress just open up the valves and push out the air. Unlike self inflating mattresses, the Pakmat won’t try and reinflate on you as you’re trying to roll it up! It’s easy to let the air out fully, then fold it in half long ways and roll it so that it packs back into the storage tube.
About the only two issues we had with the Pakmat were weight and noise. At 5 pounds, this isn’t a mat for a through hiker or a lightweight gear junky. That’s at least double the weight of many other pads, and even more than some of the lightweight models. For a one or two night trip though where you aren’t bringing a lot of other gear, or a trip that doesn’t involve you hiking any sort of major mileage, we didn’t think it was a big deal. The trade off in comfort may well be worth the weight to many. The only other issue we noted was that the Pakmat seemed to make a fair bit of noise when you’re rolling around on it. Not an issue if you’re by yourself, but if you’re sharing a tent with others its something to keep in mind. We did note though that the noise decreased a good bit when we backed the air off a little so this is really a pretty minor quibble.
The Aerobed Pakmat carries a two year limited warranty and an MSRP for $99.99. With a little bit of shopping around I saw it as low as $79.99 online. That price puts it in line with some of the other high quality camping air mattresses so it’s in a competitive range. You just need to ask yourself what you’re intended use for the mattress is, and if you mind the little bit of extra weight. If the 5 pounds isn’t an issue for you, I think you’ll find the Pakmat a great choice for ease of use, and especially for comfortable nights in the woods.