The 2015 line of air mattresses by Sea to Summit is awesome. We’ve put the brand’s Comfort Plus model through the wringer and enjoyed great sleep in a variety of tough circumstances.
We got in touch with product designer Brendan Sando, part of a team that spent four years developing the new mattresses, to learn more about the inspiration and construction for this ground-cushioning product.
In one sentence, what should GearJunkie readers take away… what do you most want them to know?
At the end of the day, it’s all about a great night’s sleep and the core technology of our mats – the matrix of individual air chambers called Air Sprung Cells – delivers that.
What was the inspiration for this new line of pads?
Quite simply, our inspiration was the everyday mattresses we use at home. We were wondering if it would be possible to sleep just as comfortably in the outdoors and how much this would improve our days out and about. We took inspiration from pocket spring mattresses that provide individual spring support to the contours of your body. We created a different welding pattern that created the unique surface and appearance of Sea to Summit mats to replicate the concept and function of the pocket springs. We named this technology Air Sprung Cells.
What were the main issues the design team hoped to address or improve upon (to make the pads better than available options)?
To create a more comfortable air mat that didn’t use traditional horizontal or vertical baffles yet kept the weight and size down – we wanted to develop the perfect balance.
We also wanted to create a more stable air mat, which the dot welded matrix creates with the Air Sprung Cells. Traditional horizontal baffles tend to collapse when you roll close to the edge, and vertical baffles tend to be bouncy if you move around – you move your feet around and your head bounces around in response.
The beauty of our Air Sprung Cells is that each cell independently absorbs pressure and conforms to the contours of your body without affecting adjacent cells. The result: pressure is evenly dispersed and you feel more supported.
We also wanted to source better fabrics that resist delamination and were still light, compact, and durable to abrasion and that had good puncture resistance.
We had to rethink and then redesign the air mattress valve to make it easier to use and to combine all functions – inflation, pressure adjustment, and deflation – into one unit. We were tired of wrestling the air out of those tiny twist-style valves and the time it took to get other mats packed up because of it, and wanted a more elegant solution than multiple valves on a mat.
The dual-layer construction pads… these are a great idea. Has this been done by other brands?
The dual layer, two separate chambers is not a new idea. There are old patents that have since expired that have been published in multiple countries. And yes, they are a great idea for a couple of reasons: Being able to have different pressures in each layer allows for a softer more comfortable mat without bottoming out and touching the ground. It also offers that built in redundancy if you get a puncture in one layer – you have a back up until you can find and repair the leak.
One other brand that we’re aware of has a dual-layer mat.
Describe any epiphanies the design team had while working to build a “better sleeping pad” over the past couple of years.
Before I answer I should tell you that it took us about four years of research and development work until we gave our okay for production. Our reputation for developing high quality products was something we were really mindful of in launching into a new category like mats.
Coming up with the design for the multi-functional valve was a real breakthrough and one we’re really proud of. It’s a genuine innovation in the sleeping mat market (and we also use them in our Aeros pillow range). The one valve does it all perfectly. It’s super fast to inflate – simply lift the inflate tab and blow into it or preferably use one of our pump systems. The inflate hole has a one-way valve to prevent it deflating before you close the valve tab. This also allows you to adjust the pressure simply by pressing the orange dot with your finger.
Because our deflate opening is so large, when you’re ready to roll your mat up the air dumps out quickly and the mat is flat and ready for packing up. There’s no longer that protracted pushing, squishing, rolling the mat up twice to get all the air out. It’s all super fast and efficient.
It also overcomes one of the biggest fears people have with using air mats: What if I get a puncture?
With two independent layers, if you get a puncture in one layer you have built-in redundancy, because the other layer will stay inflated to get you through the night. Our mats come with self-adhesive repair patches to fix a puncture, but it’s not always easy to do when you’re out in the field.
Where were they tested, and by whom? Describe any stand-out test scenarios.
Being a Perth, Australia based design company, the majority of testing was done by friends in the Southern Hemisphere. We had mats on mountaineering trips in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, bushwalking remote locations in Tasmania, and camping out in deserts and beaches of Western Australia.
Beyond simply mimicking a spring mattress, where did the idea for Sprung Cells come from?
We studied mattresses used in other industries, and discovered a similar concept used in pressure relief mattresses in the medical industry.
Has this spring-like design been done before?
Not in the form we have created with a round weld dot that allows quicker inflation and deflation. There are similar looking mats in the medical industry, but they use a different welding pattern.
Was it difficult to design and manufacture the “springs”? What were some challenges along the way?
There are hundreds of individual weld points in the design of our Air Sprung Cell mattresses, and each and every weld dot has to be perfect and precise. This requires high quality extrusion laminated fabrics, and precision tooling and machinery. We partnered with a factory that manufactures inflatable life vests for the aeronautical industry, which has the highest quality standards and a zero fail policy.
The real challenge came with welding the dual layer mats that have an offset welding pattern on the top section and bottom. But that is some of our acquired propriety knowledge that I won’t share.
Is Exkin Platinum a unique ingredient? Where else in the outdoors industry is this used?
No, it is not unique in the outdoor industry; it’s been used in gloves and clothing before. And, radiant heat layers are also used in other brands of sleeping mats. Exkin Platinum is a silver reflective layer deposited onto a soft, quiet, non-woven material so we thought it was the perfect choice for a quiet and warm night’s sleep.
Where did the inspiration for the Multi-Function Valve come from?
We were playing with the idea of a “valve in a valve” and wanted one opening to serve both inflation and deflation, that also had a built-in, one-way function. Then I started sketching up some options and it was taking form, so I did a 3D model and got it prototyped. Once we had it in our hands we knew we were onto a winner because it’s just so much easier to use.