This mini-review is part of Part 2 of our survey of airmats. We show three Kooka Bay mats here: a tiny tapered micro mat, then a short synthetic-insulated rectangular mat, and at the bottom a full-length Down airmat or DAM. All are ‘air core’ mats, but with very different target markets. The mats shown in this photo were measured and field-tested by Roger Caffin; Will Rietveld field-tested some slightly different mats, as explained below.
Note that the mats tested by Will are not the same as the ones tested by Roger. This is partly a reflection of the fact that Kooka Bay does a lot of custom manufacturing. For this reason we have moved Will’s comments up to the front here. Roger’s comments follow the tables of data covering the mats he tested.
The mats shown use very conventional valves found on many airmats: they screw shut. They can be a bit of a pain to operate at times as they tend to leak while you are closing them up. At the time of writing we understand that Kooka Bay were negotiating for some custom valves, as shown here. Will they be any better? (They do look similar to the valves used by Vaude and Nemo.)
Also, it should be noted that at the time of writing Kooka Bay was not able to offer a pump for any of their mats. Blowing up a DAM with your lungs is hardly the right thing to do. We understand Kooka Bay is actively experimenting with the design of small pumps to fix this problem. We do not know yet what valve their pump will connect to, but it is likely to be their new design.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the fabric is not all that quiet when you slide around on it. For a solo sleeper that won’t matter at all, but a sensitive partner might notice the noise if you thrash around during the night.
I (Will) tested two [LuxLite] pads: one tapered torso length 48/34 x 84 x 3.8 cm (19/13.5 x 33 x 1.5 in) and one mummy shaped 152 x 51 x 6.4 cm (60 x 20 x 2.5 in) on four trips. These are by far my favorite pads. They are very lightweight and very comfortable. The torso pad weighs just 159 g (5.6 oz), and the mummy pad weighs 292 g (10.3 oz). They are a perfect balance of light weight, durability, and comfort. Most other sleeping pads (except for the NeoAir pads) seem overbuilt by comparison.
An uninsulated inflatable sleeping pad is normally warm down to about 2 C (35 F). I experimented with the combination of the Kooka Bay Mummy pad plus a Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad (0.32 cm, 48 g or 1/8 in, 1.7 oz) on top to extend the temperature range of the pad. On three nights I stayed warm on this pad combination down to -2, -6, and -7 C (29, 21, and 19 F). The combination is shown here in the morning. I was amazed that such a thin foam pad on top made that much difference. The ThinLight pad conformed to the shape of the Kooka Bay pad and did not slide around on the mat; it stayed put, which was really nice.
The Kooka Bay pads are reasonably priced, adequately durable, and very comfortable. They are definitely my first choice for ultralight backpacking.
GoosePad Down airmat
As with any Down airmat, you expect high R-values, and the Kooka Bay DAM obliges. But it is more complex than that: the down is packed at quite a high density into the middle five tubes, with what seems to be just air in the outer tubes. Well, it’s the middle tubes where you will be sleeping, so there is some logic there. Actually, the down density seems very high in the mat Roger tested, and it may be that Kooka Bay would be willing to customise how much down is inserted. Anyhow, the mat retains a very high R-value down to a quite thin layer (or high compression).
The mats tested by Roger were all made of the same fabric which was very non-grippy: the plain surface of the nylon fabric could slide quite fast. In fact, only one other mat was worse for slipperiness. This degree of slipperiness is actually fairly normal for the uncoated side of nylon fabric. Fortunately, there is a ready cure for the problem: stripes of silicone sealant on the underside. As note with the POE Ether Elite mats, the stripes can take the mat into the super-grippy category, and they add very little weight. The alternative approach is to obtain custom fabric such as that used by Nemo (for instance), but commissioning the manufacture of that is extremely expensive.
Comments by Roger Caffin
This mat has a huge amount of down in it, which accounts for its fairly high weight. As mentioned, you could order one with a bit less down. The absence of down in the outer tubes was a surprise at first, but it does make some sense. What would be nice would be if Kooka Bay could narrow the middle tubes down a bit and make the edge tubes a bit bigger, to cradle you into the centre of the mat.
The biggest problem with this mat is blowing it up. The mat has to be blown up by mouth – unless you can rig up a cunning pump of some sort. At the time of writing Kooka Bay did not offer a pump to go with the mat. As noted in our previous review of the POE Ether Elite mat, when you blow such a mat up by mouth several times you end up with condensation inside the mat. I was able to get rid of the condensation in the POE mats by hanging the mat up with the valve open for a week after a multi-day trip. Doing that on a walking trip might be a bit too hard. A better method for this mat would be to inflate it using a pump of some sort at home, place it in the sun for a couple of hours to evaporate the water, then roll the mat flat while it is still hot. You may have to do this a few times.
Sleeping on the mat was of course very comfortable. The thickness means you can afford to reduce the pressure slightly to spread the load out, without impacting the R-value under your hips too much. Being full-length meant I had no problems keeping my feet off the ground. With the big thickness and without large side tubes I found a slight tendency to roll around, but it was quite manageable. A slightly shorter mat would also work very well.
Rectangular Synthetic Insulated airmat
As mentioned in Part 2, the synthetic fill in the Kooka Bay mats is quite significant – or thick, when fluffed up. This is why the R-value declines rather slowly for this mat. I think (but am not sure) that the fill is only in the middle tubes again, missing out on the two edge tubes.
This mat has the same fabric as the GoosePad mat above, and behaves exactly the same.
Comments by Roger Caffin
This mat is a bit of a contradiction in some ways, but other manufacturers should perhaps take note. The weight is under 400 grams, putting it into the summer-weight class, but this is a 6.3-cm thick insulated airmat! The only problem with it for winter use is the rather short length of 115 cm (45 in). In theory, that is a bit short for use on snow, but if you are not really tall and you have enough gear to make a pillow off the end of the mat, plus a little more to put under your feet, it makes for a very warm, comfortable non-snow winter mat. With a light foam layer over the top, a hardy soul might get away with it on snow provided the weather was very kind. I haven’t tested it on snow, but it works fine in cold weather.
Blowing up this mat has the same problems as listed above. Add a pillow pump and you could be set.
OK, so the R-value on this mat is a wee bit low. It is, after all, meant for very enthusiastic SUL campers. You will need to keep it fairly well inflated for both warmth and comfort.
Comments by Roger Caffin
At 160 grams (5.6 oz), this was certainly the lightest mat tested. But it is also very ‘micro,’ both in length and in thickness. Yes, some mats were actually thinner (2.5 cm), but those mats had a foam core: this one is just air. The mat is tapered, and even the tubes are tapered. But it is awful light…
The thinness means that you either bump the ground – very easily, or you blow this one up pretty hard. But when it is blown up very hard it is not all that comfortable unless you have well-contoured soft stuff underneath. Also, it does not smooth out the lumps and bumps of the ground very well, either when hard or when soft. Basically, it is an interesting exercise, and may be worth considering if you are going to be sleeping on soft pine duff, but it was definitely less than exciting when laid down on hard ground and flat rock! In fact, I was not game to try it out overnight in our Hawkesbury sandstone country: I know how rock-hard that can be. On thick grass it was fine for a snooze in warm weather.
Traditionally one expects to put the wide end of such a mat at the shoulders, but you should reconsider that. I reversed the orientation and found that the narrow end was just fine under my shoulders and the extra width was appreciated at my hips. That’s for side-sleeping, but I suspect that sleeping on my back might be the same. With something this small, you have to be a bit creative.
This is a mini-review in the 2011 Lightweight Airmats State of the Market Report. The articles in this series are as follows (mini-reviews can be found in Part 2), and a subscription to our site is needed to read them.
- Part 1 covers the basics, testing methods, and lists all the mats in the survey.
- Part 2 examines the actual mats, and the performance of each mat tested.
Disclosure: The manufacturers provided these products to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and they are owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review these products under the terms of this agreement.