I awoke before the sunlight and peaked my head out from under my quilt and tarp to see if anyone else was rustling about. I heard a bit of snoring and pulled the quilt back over to block out what little light there was. After a couple more hours of dreaming I was awaken by my travel mates packing up and getting started on the first morning of our tour.
Just a few weeks earlier I was standing on the concrete floor of the Sand's Convention Center having a conversation with Aaron James, Global Sales Manager at Pacific Outdoor Equipment in Bozeman, MT. I was casually flipping my way through P.O.E.'s 2011 product catalog on a slow Friday morning of the annual Interbike show.
I stopped midway through the catalog on the page where the Peak Elite AC rested.
The specifications touted a sub-1lb. pad for my 6'2" frame with an R-Value of 2.5-4.4. At the mere mention of my interest in the pad Aaron began digging around in a duffel. He emerged with a rolled up Peak Elite AC. I began looking it over and before I got far he offered it to me for evaluation.
Immediately I noticed the elongated hexagon shape on the surface of the pad. Aaron began explaining the principles of BIO-mapped insulation and how they laminate material into these areas to create more warmth around key areas of the body.
I've been waiting months for the Peak Elite AC to show up on P.O.E.'s site so that I might share my experience using the pad. I am grateful to Aaron for allowing me the opportunity.
I've used my fair share of inflatables over the last couple years. My experience started with the Exped 7.5 .
That experience ended abruptly in a park outside of Butte, MT. Broken glass will shred ultralight air mats. Prior to the end of the 7.5, I was never fully happy with the comfort. I had many a cool night sleeping on it as it had no real insulation properties. The claimed R-Value is 0.7. The Exped 7.5 is truly a 1-Season summer pad. It weighs in at a claimed 530g.
After my experience with the Exped I was on to a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core.
The Big Agnes has a claimed weight of 770grams in the 20x78 mummy shape with a rating for 15F. I have used the Big Agnes down to nights around the mid-20's. I was quite cozy with the Big Agnes. However, it was certainly heavier than what I wanted to carry for summer travel. This is a great pad for late fall/early winter travel. As I write this the Big Agnes pad I used is accompanying my brother on a winter tour down the Appalachian Mountains. Which brings me to my forays into the non-insulated ultralight...
This past summer I decided to give a Gossamer Gear 1/8" evazote foam mat a try.
At roughly 125g for a 20x60 sheet this is by far, ultralight. It rolled and packed neatly under my handlebars, I never needed to inflate it, and I never had to worry about rolling off of it. It was however, not the most comfortable thing. I rolled every hour just to keep my hips, back, and legs from going numb. While I want to like this pad for all trip uses, it just doesn't provide enough comfort for a full night's sleep. A short nap is a different story. I'll likely be using an 1/8" evazote mat on future trips as a ground cloth that adds just a bit more insulation. A large sheet 40"x84" weighs around 1/2lb, about the same as my Tyvek ground cloth, slightly more bulky, but also warmer.
On to the Peak Elite AC.
When I awoke the second time that first morning of our California Central Coast Tour the sun was already beginning to light the golden hills. I had drifted into a deep sleep in those few hours, had a few unmemorable dreams, and apparently snored extremely loud. It was easily the best night of sleep I've had in the outdoors that I can remember. The Peak Elite AC never shifted and never lost air.
In addition to comfort, the Peak Elite AC packs down small enough to be strapped under my handlebars and out of my cables.
After this trip I feel like I've found a great sleeping setup for bikepacking. The Peak Elite AC had helped round out what I've been working on since early 2009. I've never slept as comfortably on any trip as I did on the California Central Coast Tour. Overnight temps hovered in the mid-40's-low 50's fahrenheit. The air was cool and damp (very damp when we slept on the Pacific).
I have recommended this pad to several friends since using it for camping, touring, and racing. I will continue to use it myself (trying to keep it away from glass) and give it a long term use and abuse experience in a variety of environments.