POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review

We know plain air mats tend to be rather cold, but can this be alleviated by including a very thin layer of synthetic insulation inside the mat on one surface? This is what Pacific Outdoor Equipment have attempted to do with this very light Ether Elite 6 air mat.

Overall Rating: Above Average

The mat is well-made, fairly light, rather comfortable, and with a surprisingly high measured R-value of over 4 when kept still. It is only a bit noisy - much quieter than the MSR NeoAir for instance - and in field testing it has proved rugged enough. However it does have some deficiencies: the bottom surface slides around on silnylon groundsheets a lot (unless given the silicone stripe treatment), blowing it up by mouth means some condensation collects inside, and it does have a bit of a tendency for the edge to curl up rather than lie flat. The comfort factor is what gets it into the Above Average class. That said, we think there is scope for small changes to take it to the Recommended rating.

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by Roger Caffin |

Technical Details

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 1
Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Elite 6 Mat.

Self-inflating foam-filled mats are either very thin or quite heavy. An air-filled mat can be much thicker and lighter, but the design usually suffers from internal air circulation, which can make it a cold mat to sleep on. Pacific Outdoor Equipment have attacked this problem by affixing strips of a thin layer of synthetic insulation (which they call 'Zonal Air Loft Thermo insulation') to the inside of the top surface. The theory is that there will be enough of a thermal gradient across the insulation that the cooling due to air circulation will not be significant.

In order to minimise the weight of the mat, they have only applied the insulation to a (large) central diamond region, as seen in the photo here. As that is the area where most of your torso lies, the idea is reasonable.

We tried to measure the thickness of the insulation layer with a micrometer, but this was not really successful. It came out to about 0.6 mm (0.024") - but that was fully compressed by the micrometer and not a really meaningful result. (The fabric itself came out to 0.3 mm thick for the two layers, which is quite thin!) When the mat is in use and the top surface warms up, it seems that the insulation layer does relax a bit and fluff out. You can actually feel it fluffed up. That is normal - but even so the layer looks very thin. POE do not specify the width of the insulation strips, and we did notice some variation in this width between mats. The variation was not large enough to worry anyone, however.

POE claim a size of 51 x 122 x 6 cm for the 2/3 mat; we measured it as being 47 x 123 x 8 cm inflated fully, but this was with no load on the tubes. You will not get this thickness when you lie on the mat! The reduction in width is due to the way the tubes blow up: it is a bit wider at lower inflations. At reasonable inflation we found that a thickness of about 44 mm was a very generous estimate over a broad area. Blow the mat up too hard (to get greater thickness), and it gets a bit uncomfortable. Measure the clearance between your hips and the ground at a comfortable pressure and it will be much less. Even so, it is thicker than the average layer of foam.

We ended up with four mats between us (see below as to why), although one was supposed to be a hand-made prototype. The dry weights were 307 g, 317, 374 g and 371 g. POE claim 306 g on their web site. POE explained that it was probably due to a mistake in the factory: they have two very similar fabrics, with the lighter one meant to be used for these air mats and the heavier one for Dry Bags. They think the wrong roll of fabric was used in this case. This means you might want to check the weight of the mat when you are buying it to see what you are getting.

The mats seem quite air-tight: one was inflated fairly hard and left for a week indoors. There was little or no apparent loss of pressure.

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 2
The mat blown up in Will's tent in the mountains.

Field Testing

Testing this mat was a little involved at first. Three samples were provided by POE for testing: two went to Roger Caffin and his wife Sue, and the third went to Will Rietveld. Preliminary testing of the first mat received by Roger showed up a problem: when the mat was deflated, folded lengthwise as recommended, and then rolled up, some of the insulation started to come loose inside the mat. It was being sheared by the rolling action.

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 3
Loose insulation.

POE was contacted and they claimed the mat was a hand-made prototype of less quality than the production units, and they replaced it. I have to say that the first mat did not look like a hand-made one, but who knows. I agree that the other mats did not seem to have as much of this loose insulation problem - although signs of it were still visible. Will saw a small amount of this problem on his mat as well.

Yes, the mats were taken on a number of walking trips by all concerned. Roger and Sue had some issues with theirs (we'll get to those shortly), but they did find the mats rather comfortable on flat surfaces. On one trip Roger and Sue took one POE mat and one self-inflating Therm-a-Rest Prolite and swapped mats each night. We both agreed that the POE Ether Elite mat was 'rather comfortable.'

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 4
Blowing up a mat.

A problem Sue noticed concerned blowing the mat up in the evening - that is normally her job while I stake out the guy ropes. The trip this photo was taken on was a rather hard one, and Sue was tired at the end of each day. Blowing up a mat tends to make one a bit dizzy. But this is a problem for most air mats which are not foam-filled and self-inflating.

Our previous review of the MSR NeoAir mats with its cross-ways tubes found that you could easily roll off the sides. The lengthwise tubes on the POE Ether Elite mat proved to be a lot more stable, with little or no tendency for rolling off. Will commented 'the lengthwise tubes help to cradle the body,' which is a fair description.

Some people have complained that with thicker air mats they notice the drop-off at the end of the mat where their feet hang over. None of our testers had any problem with this. Provided that you don't inflate the mat hard, the ends do seem to give a bit, enough to avoid a hard feeling there.

Other issues follow.

Condensation

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 5
Condensation inside the mat.

This is a problem which many people will have noticed with blow-up mats. Your breath carries water vapour, and when the ambient air is cold this water vapour condenses inside the mat. This photo was take the day after we got home from a four-day trip. You can see the water inside the mat - it's the darker area. We got rid of the water by hanging the mat up on the clothes line in the sun for a day with the open valve at the bottom. This worked OK.

However, it must be said that this condensation problem will strike any mat which the user has to blow up himself. It is not unique to POE. Note that using a small pump solves this problem - but the pump will have a weight.

Sliding Around

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 6
Blue loops holding two mats together.

A very annoying problem we noticed was that the mats slide something awful on a silnylon groundsheet. Tying two mats together with big loops around them did help once we got the mats into the right positions, but that only works when there are two of you. You can see one of the blue tape loops in the photo here: the other one is at the other end of the mats.

If the floor was tilted sideways at all, then things got worse. The mats would slide sideways and the side which hit the wall would then curl up in the air. There was one night in dark rainforest when the site was quite tilted - it was nearly dark before I found anything usable for the tent and I was grateful for it! That night we did slide sideways. I checked in the middle of the night and Sue's mat had at least 2 tubes curled up the wall of the tent. She was sleeping half on mine. I didn't mind: it was a bit cold that night anyhow, but the sliding around is a problem.

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 7
Silicone stripes on the underside of the mat.

This problem can be solved in the usual manner with some thin stripes of silicone sealant run down the lengths of the tubes, as shown here. I wish vendors would do this for us - but they don't. Do it yourself - don't hesitate! I just run the tube down the length of the mat and let the nozzle do the spread - I don't even get silicone on my fingers.

R-Value

I mentioned that the mats were comfortable. That includes being reasonably warm. Will commented "I found the pad to be warm down to about freezing when using a 30 degree bag," and Roger and Sue had similar experiences. Now POE have a strange claim for the R-value of this mat: they claim an R-value of '2 - 4'. What does this mean? We suspect that they are claiming a value of 4 for the regions where there is insulation, but only 2 for the other regions.

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review - 8
R-values for the mat.

Initially I thought that the claimed R-value of 4 was a bit high. However, we measured the R-value of the mat at various degrees of inflation, as shown in the graph here. The numbers on the horizontal axis show the separation of the measurement surfaces (ie top and bottom) in the insulation tester, in millimetres. Indeed, in a still horizontal test the R-value over the insulated section was above 4. For most of the cases here the insulation was on the top surface, as recommended.

You will see that as the mat is deflated and the thickness decreases (from 44 mm down to 14 mm) the R-value decreases. This is as expected. Comparing these results with actual field performance suggests however that all the values may be a little higher than would be experienced in the field. For a start, the gap under your shoulders and hip is going to be quite low - probably as low as or less than 24 mm if you have the mat inflated only to a 'comfortable' level. In fact, it isn't hard to actually feel the ground under your hips if you try. But also, when you are sleeping on the mat you do move around, and this stirs the air up a bit. Moving air will be colder. All the same, the insulation layer does seem to be effective.

The bar labelled '44 inv' is an interesting case. Roger had noticed that the mat seemed colder when used upside down, so this test was at the 'full' inflation level but with the mat inverted: insulation face downwards. The R-value was lower, but not by much. Again, the still air in the mat while it was in the measurement system seems to have played a part here.

Summary

There is always a trade-off between weight and durability, and POE have made their choice. There is however a bit of a concern as to what is the 'normal' weight. There are also concerns about condensation collecting inside, the mat sliding around (which can be fixed), and some apparent fragility of the insulation strips. Apart from that, all testers found the mats nicely comfortable when inflated to a soft level, and useful down to about freezing.

Possible Improvements

  • Silicone stripes on the underside to stop it sliding around are deemed essential!
  • Making the insulation less prone to shearing off during packing is desirable.
  • A 'zero' mass pump to keep condensation out would also be nice.
  • Limiting the mat's tendency to curl up one side would be nice.
  • A small reduction in the weight would be nice - ie lighter fabric.

Specifications for 2/3 length mat

Dimensions (claimed) 51 x 122 x 6 cm
Dimensions (measured) 47 x 123 x 8 cm (but note comment!)
Weight (claimed) 306 g
Weight (measured) 307, 314, 373, 374 g (plus optional stuff sack and repair kit)
R-value (claimed) 2 - 4
R-value (measured) Over 4 (but depends hugely on effective thickness)
Colour Bright orange
MSRP approx $60
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/poe_ether_elite_6_air_mat_review.html, 2010-11-09 00:10:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/09/2010 16:12:10 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/09/2010 16:55:23 MST Print View

Aha! You metric reviewers are getting your revenge on us US folks who don't use both measurements! :-)

I have the heavier Ether Thermo 6 (actually its predecessor, the InsulMat Max Thermo). My findings pretty much agree with yours on this pad. Just guessing on the Elite's R-value based on the specs and my experience with more insulation in the heavier pad, I figured it would be about where you measured it.

Otherwise, everything you've said about this pad agrees with my findings on mine! I do find mine extremely comfortable. The only improvement would be to go to a thicker pad.

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/09/2010 16:58:13 MST.

Jake Palmer
(jakep_82) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Discontinued on 11/09/2010 16:58:27 MST Print View

From what I've read POE has actually discontinued this pad in favor of one called the Peak Elite AC.

http://lightweightoutdoors.com/?p=1270

Geoff Luscombe
(geoffl) - MLife

Locale: Blue Mountains
Variation in weight on 11/10/2010 04:49:28 MST Print View

The mat in shown in the picture with Will looks like it is 150-160cm long rather than 123cm. Could this extra length explain the variation in dry weights you recorded?

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/10/2010 08:31:05 MST Print View

I used the Ether Elite 2/3 on the Pacific Northwest Trail last summer. I used it in the GoLite Shangri-La 1 Nest and found it fine on that groundsheet. It's the most comfortable lightweight mat I've used. However on the 47th night it sprange a leak and despite several repairs (including trying to wrestle it into a cold lake on a stormy morning to find the pinhole) I couldn't stop it slowly deflating during the night. The leak was on the seam where it's angled. I suspect this is a weak spot. Maybe the replacement version will be tougher.

John Coyle
(Bigsac)

Locale: NorCal
Yada Yada on 11/10/2010 08:45:03 MST Print View

As an owner of the earlier Insulmat Max Thermo and the NeoAir, I can testify that they are comfortable, but a pain in the a** to blow up. Also, as Rodger mentioned, I have often wondered about the cumulative affect of all that humid, nasty air that we blow into these things. Somehow the thought of sleeping on top of a mold factory doesn't appeal to me. Therefore my ears perked up when I saw this YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT5PEuHlhvw Anyone familiar with this gadget?

Sara C
(Jon) - M

Locale: SE Missouri and NW Arkansas
Re: Yada Yada on 11/10/2010 08:56:25 MST Print View

"Somehow the thought of sleeping on top of a mold factory doesn't appeal to me."

I had a Prolite 4 that developed mold inside after a few years, but I always added at least a few breaths of air to it after it self-inflated.

Edited by Jon on 11/10/2010 08:58:21 MST.

Elizabeth Tracy
(mariposa) - M

Locale: Outside
What's the distinction between all the different POE pads? on 11/10/2010 09:41:00 MST Print View

I have the POE Ether Thermo 6.

It seems that POE has several, extremely similar offerings at the moment. Would be useful if someone could explain them.

I for one believe the high claimed "R" values of these pads. I switched to the Ether Thermo from a series of closed-cell foam pads, and my backside is now *much* warmer.

- Elizabeth

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Yada Yada on 11/10/2010 10:17:01 MST Print View

John, yes I'm familiar with The Instaflator I have been testing it for about 2 months now and I have used it on a NeoAir Large and a BA Insulated Air Core.
It takes about 2 full "bags" to inflate the pads (approx pad inflation time is about 4 to 5 minutes).

At this point I would "Highly Recommend" it. It works great. I just don't know how long they last. They are very easy to work with and there is no lightheaded feeling or moisture blown in.
Because of the length they do require you to work outside the tent (a problem in the rain) but I haven't dealt with that yet.

I think BPL should try and get a bulk purchase from them. From what they have told me they are working on the wholesale angle right now and they don't have a system set up to handle single (small) orders. Maybe we should put together a bulk order and have someone distribute it out?

Sorry for the tread drift.

BTW, I have no affiliation with this company whatsoever.
edited to add the "BTW"

Edited by bestbuilder on 11/10/2010 10:21:21 MST.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/10/2010 10:46:27 MST Print View

I also have the InsulMat Max Thermo, and find it very comfortable. When I get below 30F, I bring along a 1/8" closed cell pad for extra warmth. I agree that it's not the ideal pad, but am still searching for that (I know I'll get the hammock folks chiming in on that comment). I wonder about its durability from leaks and the insulation debonding/moving.

I have to say that blowing up the pad is really no big deal, never understood why people even mention it. I live in PA and it's awfully nice to be able to float above the ubiquitous pointy rock.

Jake Palmer
(jakep_82) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Yada Yada on 11/10/2010 10:49:08 MST Print View

I saw the Instaflator when Jason Klass featured it a while back (Video link below). I wanted to order one, but it was very obvious they aren't set up for retail sales. I wasn't willing to fax them my credit card number and I never took the time to mail a check. I would definitely be interested in purchasing a couple of them if someone put together a group buy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJLVYfg88TE

Edited by jakep_82 on 11/10/2010 11:03:37 MST.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Condensation on 11/10/2010 12:34:33 MST Print View

I have been dealing with this perennial problem with blow up mats for several years and finally found a workable solution. It started with the exped downmat that comes with a fairly heavy stuff sack which doubles as a inflator. I noticed that Big Agnes carried a water and air tight sack which weighed in at about 1.5oz. for about $20. They call it "The Pumphouse". I tried it out with the Exped pad and it worked fine. Then I tried it out with my Thermarest NeoAir and it worked like a charm. Takes a few times using it to learn how to maximize getting air into the body of the stuff sack and then pumping into the mat, but once you get the hang of it, it takes about 5 bagfuls of air to pump up my 72" NeoAir and about 7 to do the Exped.
SO now I don't get any condensation in my inflatables.

Almost forgot: It takes me about 3 minutes to inflate them with the Pumphouse and it is the size of a large stuff sack, so no worries about standing outside the tent to inflate your mat.

Edited by mitchellkeil on 11/10/2010 12:41:56 MST.

Dan Durston
(dandydan)

Locale: Cascadia
POE Review on 11/10/2010 20:59:33 MST Print View

Nice review. Good to hear several views on it. Great job BPL.

Regarding the slipperyness on silnylon, I would say this is the fault of silnylon, not the pad, because most pads slip on silnylon. I'm glad they didn't add silicone to the bottom of the pad since most people don't use silnylon floors and so it would be unnecessary weight. Silnylon is okay for a tent canopy but I don't like it as a floor due to it's slipperyness and mediocre waterproofness. I much prefer PU coated 30D nylon or cuben with the heavier mylar layers.

BER ---
(BER) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Instaflator on 11/11/2010 08:47:10 MST Print View

I also saw the Jason Klass vid as well as hearing about the product here. Although others have noted that they are not set up for small retail purchases, I had no problems. Actually, their fax number was down at the time of my order, so I called and they threw in an extra instaflator free for the inconvenience. So about $6 total with shipping in about 1 week.

Works well. I concur about 1.5-2 full tubes to inflate a 72x20x2.5" rectangular BA air core. Takes about 2-3 minutes. Weight is 44g on my scale after cutting off the two additional valve adapters. Need to remove the outer grey portion of the BA EZ-Flate valve (which seems to have no purpose anyway). Hey, saves you 1g right there!

Edited by BER on 11/11/2010 09:53:35 MST.

>> Bender <<
(Bender) - MLife

Locale: NEO
Re: POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/11/2010 09:39:20 MST Print View

I'm having a hard time believing the R value of the Ether Elite. What testing methodology was used?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/11/2010 10:00:02 MST Print View

R-4.7 in the full thickness, no-movement case.

R-2 where hips and shoulders compress the mat to 18 mm, and Less if you are moving and "stirring" the internal air.

The "testing world" versus the "real world".

No wonder my butt got cold. (I sold mine long ago.)

Benjamin Evans
(bevans)

Locale: Atlanta
Instaflator on 11/11/2010 16:10:45 MST Print View

Yep, I called the company about a month ago and ordered two of the instaflators. They did not charge me for shipping. I talked to the son for a good fifteen minutes about the product and was impressed with his knowledge and his interest in the backpacking community. Their main target group is the swimming pool and lake crowd with flotation devices(A MUCH larger group !!)compared to us backpackers.

Received the products about a week ago and they are pretty simple and well made. Material is a little flimsy but with care should last quite a while. I use a Neoair large 25" X 78" X 2.5" and it takes two fillings of the instaflator to top it off. Not bad at all and a very easy procedure. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for high volume pads and ones that you want to avoid moisture in the insulation. Best thing is these babies cost like $4.00 each...here's a great video illustrating the principle :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olVJzVadiFs

great stuff !!

link to their website :

http://www.themillair.com/

F. Thomas Matica
(ftm1776) - F

Locale: Vancouver, WA
Roger's Tent on 11/11/2010 18:40:16 MST Print View

Man, that nice tent of yours really catches my eye, Roger!!

If only......................??????????????????

And, hey, I thought that it's thermally better to have your auxiliary CCF pad on the top of the air mattress???
Yet it looks, in the picture, that you have placed yours on the bottom. Any comment about that outside of the fact that we can all do things out own way!

Thanks,
Thomas
Vancouver,WA, USA

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Variation in weight on 11/12/2010 00:55:12 MST Print View

Hi Geoff

> Could this extra length explain the variation in dry weights you recorded?
Nope, as the variation in weight was measured on my scales! It was indeed a fabric variation.

cheers

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: POE Ether Elite 6 2/3 Length Air Mat Product Review on 11/12/2010 01:50:18 MST Print View

Hi Bender

> I'm having a hard time believing the R value of the Ether Elite. What testing methodology was used?

I have built a Thermal Insulation Measurement system using calibrated layers of foam (courtesy Richard Nisley), a controlled hot plate and a controlled cold plate, and computerised data (temperature) logging. I must do an article on the measurement process itself at some stage. This is not the first time I have been involved in the measurement of thermal conductivity at the research level.

Cheers
Roger Caffin (PhD)