Pretty small and compact
This full review has been a long time coming but you can be sure that the thing’s had a very thorough test. I’ve been using this 3/4 (POE call it 2/3) length mat for the best part of eight months, it’s seen service in tents, stuffed in bivvy bags and even a couple of bothies.
The first thing you notice and the first thing most people ask is, how small the pack size is. You can see in the photograph that compared to a ‘standard’ size POE Ether mat it really is tiny. Obviously it’s nice if the small size relates to a low weight … in this case it does. The all in weight of the mat, repair kit, strap and stuff sack is 305g , the mat alone comes in at 285g. The next consideration and one which strangely often gets overlooked is comfort, if it’s not comfy then you may as well not bother taking it, no matter how light or compact it is. I’ve lost count of the number of nights I’ve slept on the thing and I can’t recall a night when I’d wished for something else. The air channels run length ways rather than width ways like a NeoAir. Thermarest say that the width ways air channels make their mat more stable, this could well be true but I’ve not noticed any tendency to ‘roll off’ the POE mat, so I don’t think stability is much of an issue in the real world.
POE Peak Elite 2/3 v POE Full Length Ether
Being an air mat rather an a self inflating foam cored mat, the thing obviously needs blowing up before you can use it. There’s all kinds of gadgets available to make inflating your air mat easier, bags that act as pumps, pillows that act as pumps, you can even buy a pump that doesn’t act as anything other than a pump! … now lets be honest about this, unless you’re a 92 year old asthmatic with one lung, you don’t need outside assistance, just use your mouth, it’s really not that hard! There are a couple of points worth considering when you inflate the mat (and the vast majority of air mats) they tend to be comfier when they’re slightly soft but they do tend to ‘lose’ a little of their initial firmness through the course of the night. This means you’ve two choices, start off with it nice and hard and allow it to ‘settle’ during the night which may result in a slightly less comfy start to your evening … or do the opposite and potentially end up with the thing a touch too soft by morning. I must say, this isn’t something peculiar to POE mats, it’s pretty common regardless of manufacturer. Experimentation is the way forward here, play about with pressure and see what suits.
Most 3/4 length mats share pretty similar dimension regardless of their construction and the Peak Elite’s no different … but it’s the mats size that’s my only criticism. The 3/4 length is fine, it’s the width that’s the concern or it will be if you sleep on your back. Lie on your side and all is fine, turn onto your back and the mat’s wide enough to support everything but your arms. I believe air mats tend to exaggerate this due to their thickness compared to a foam mat and your raised position. Whilst it doesn’t actually cause any problems I do find I have a tendency to ‘hold’ myself in position, it’s something I’ve never noticed on foam mats of the same width and once again I think it’s an inherent trait of any mat that shares the dimensions not just this one.
So how well’s it stood up ? As I said at the start, I can’t recall just how many nights I’ve used the mat and the repair kit’s still untouched and the mat still looks like it did on day one. It’s been used on bare ground that wasn’t cleared too carefully and didn’t suffer a puncture, so I can only assume the outer material is strong enough to take some abuse. I suppose the last question is, how good a job does it do insulating you from the ground ? There’s only been one occasion when I could ‘feel’ the ground, I wasn’t cold but there was certainly a ‘feeling’ that what lay beneath me was frozen solid, so yes, as an insulator it works. POE class it as a 3 season mat and give it a temp rating down to -10 but my own opinion would be at -10 I’d possibly want to double it up with something else but someone else might not.
Besides the 2/3 length you can also buy a full length version. If you only ever sleep in a bivvy bag without a groundsheet of any description, then I’d consider the extra 90g of the full length version worthwhile … not so much for the issue of cold feet but to help combat condensation forming in your bag.
I could continue and tell you about the aluminium particles bonded into the material that help to reflect heat, the bio mapped insulation or the 33DRS outer shell fabric but I’m not going to … you’re not really interested and I can’t be bothered. What I will say is, the Peak Elite AC is a really good mat, it shares certain traits common to nearly all air mats but scores extra points when you consider, weight, R value and importantly price. Would I have another ? Yes. Is it better than a NeoAir ? Someone send me one and I’ll tell you.