Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Pacific Outdoor Equipment Peak Elite AC Initial Analysis

I recently received a pre-production sample of Pacific Outdoor Equipment's new 3-season sleeping pad, the Peak Elite AC - the replacement for the immensely popular Ether Elite 6. This arose out of a conversation I had with Aaron James, the Director of US Sales at POE, after he commented on my choice of winter pad - the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core (IAC). He clearly knows his stuff and it was an illuminating edification on sleeping pad technology. I'm grateful to him for taking the time. The Peak Elite AC will be generally available in January 2011. When I go to the Lake District in January, I'll test both mats, one each night, to give a true comparison. Phil Turner, in his excellent blog, has also filmed a rather fantastic video review.


Onto the Peak Elite AC. Immediately, in 'stretch limo' black, it looks sleek and impressive. It is well over 100g lighter than the Big Agnes IAC at 420g in its stuffsack (on my scales - advertised weight is 396g) for the 183cm version. Recall the IAC 152cm version weighed 540g. Like the catalyst for the Peak Elite AC, the Ether Elite 6, it is a mummy mat with precisely the same dimensions - it simply has RHR radiant heat reflecting aluminised coating within the entirety of the mat to increase warmth, as well as a proprietary synthetic insulation adhered to the top of the mat
rather than underneath as with the IAC; it is black for precisely the same reason - theoretically enhancing heat retention. Also like the Ether Elite, it is bio-mapped meaning the insulation is greater (R-rating 4.4) around the torso, with less insulation around the legs (R-rating 2.5).


Aaron tells me the Peak Elite AC is therefore warmer than the Ether Elite and will pack smaller than the BA IAC, but would caution it is not as durable nor insulates as effectively in the legs due to the bio-mapped insulation. It certainly packs more narrowly than the IAC but is in fact slightly longer. I've had the chance to take the Peak Elite AC in my hands and play around - I agree that it seems less robust than the IAC but not to the point where I would place it in the same category as the diaphanous Neo Air. It is certainly, on an initial analysis, tough enough for UL use constructed in 33D Diamond Ripstop nylon fabric. In contrast, the 20" IAC pads have 50D Diamond Ripstop nylon fabric. Aaron further told me "...our pads ritually are 10 to 20% warmer than comparable products in the market. You will see that sometimes our product might weigh slightly more when looking at a similar style, and this because we keep to strict rules when it comes to building a pad with more than adequate insulation for the environment it is meant to be used in." The Peak Elite AC is designed for 3-season camping rather than winter.


The fabric is finished in DWR which is a sensible touch - especially for a genuine 3-season mat. In terms of comfort, the Peak Elite AC feels very much like the Ether Elite 6 and users of that mat will be comfortably content with the Peak Elite - the 2.5" thick rounded tubes feel reasonably supportive - although I would say that I found the IAC more supportive. Its place in the POE range is as a warmer replacement for the Ether Elite 6 with virtually no weight gain. It is very well made, but the weight saving innovations are evident - alongside the slightly lighter fabric, the valve is not brass unlike the IAC, but in reality I don't know how much difference this will make - it is instead a "superlight", hard-anodised recycled composite - light as plastic but as durable as brass, say POE. It is surprisingly easier to inflate the Peak Elite than the IAC, despite the size disparity. POE suggest the Peak Elite to be warm enough down to -10C air temperature and 0C ground temperature, largely because of the lack of insulation on the legs. My own view is that with something else under the mat where legs are, it's range would be extended. I'm unlikely to be sleeping in my Páramo Aspira Salopettes so they are a prime candidate.


Aaron also makes a very interesting general point about winter mats - "we recommend that a pad must have an R-Value of at least 3 in the torso in order to qualify for 3 season camping, and an R-Value of 5, in the torso, for 4 season camping. You are pushing the limits of the product design, and [in using a mat with a 4.1 or 4.4 rating during winter] choosing to use a lower R-value than what we would recommend." It is symptomatic of UL trekking & hillwalking that we push the limits of product design and when reviewing products we must remember, and be fair to, their manufacturer's intended application.

I like the Peak Elite AC but the real test will be in January at 800m in the Lake District for 3 days when we can swap between the Peak Elite and the IAC.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks, I've been looking forward to hearing more about this pad. Regarding the rating, I think anyone seriously using this for winter would couple it with a CCF pad anyway. At least in snowy winter conditiions, I would.

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  2. Mark: my plan is to use it alone. Let's see how that goes. It will be pushing the limits of the pad, but that's what Aaron and I were talking about in our emails.

    Robin: It's a nice pad, I agree. Looking forward to testing it out.

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  3. Looks like a good pad there Maz, obviously if it has short comings you should let the world know. I now cannot justify another mat what with the neo air for summer and a downmat for winter!

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  4. Maz - good post. I am amazed how rapidly mat technology has pushed ahead in the last couple of years. This looks good. Would be interesting to see how this mat compares with the Exped Synmat 7 UL which will also be out in Jan 2011.
    Mark

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  5. James: I like it so far but I intend to push it's boundaries by using it alone in winter. That said, the IAC felt sturdier but the Peak is lighter yet longer & warmer. It's all about trade offs. If it falls apart I'll certainly say so! Given it should also be warmer than the IAC according to Aaron, that'll be the big test.

    Mark: I'll be interested in your review of the Synmat as I know you plan to get one.

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  6. I reckon I'll get one of these once they become available. Any idea what sort of price we're looking at?

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  7. Fraser: my feeling is $80-85 in the US which equates to £60-65 over here when comparing other POE products to their US counterparts.

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  8. That sounds reasonable. I'n the meantime, I've just ordered a z-lite, to see me through winter and hopefully give me a comfort boost over my existinf CCF pad.

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  9. Fraser: I like the Z-Lite - sadly, I bought mine to carve into several pieces one of which would be four parts folded in two for my Gossamer Gear Gorilla backsystem. It does not, however, fit. It's one of the reasons I think the Laufbursche huckePACK is a good pack - it's much easier to attach a Z-Lite which is a real advantage. I'll see what I can do about the Z-Lite to make it fit...

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  10. I've got hold of the UK prices for the various sizes - SRP is £60 for 2/3 length, £70 for women's petite, £75 for the regular.

    Available in the UK late January, though I'll have one to give away a bit sooner.

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  11. Hi! Like your stuff, keen to hear how this faired in the Peaks?

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  12. is the mat already available in IK or anywhere else in Europe???

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  13. Alas I have no information as yet - I haven't looked as I have one!

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  14. Hi! Like your stuff, keen to hear how this faired in the Peaks?

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  15. I reckon I'll get one of these once they become available. Any idea what sort of price we're looking at?

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  16. Lot's of reviews and comments on this in the Lakes this winter on the blog now.

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