Sunday 24 July 2011

nemo zor ‘hyperlight’ mat

Warning: those of a sensitive nature, and those who don’t appreciate my occasionally rather crude sense of humour, are probably best off skipping down to the first sub heading. You have been warned.

Never have I ever found writing a review of a piece of outdoor kit so difficult. And it’s not that I’ve been lacking in opportunities to test this damned thing – I’ve slept on the Nemo Zor mat on the patio outside, in a tent on rocky ground, in a tent on grassy ground, in a tent on tussocky ground, in a bivi bag and in the house (ok I haven’t actually slept on it in the house, that would be silly, but I did spend a while laying on it).


My first Zor arrived in the post and thus I dutifully unwrapped it, keen to see what all the fuss was about. For a self-inflating mat the Zor certainly is light and it really does pack down incredibly small – so far so good, this was exactly what I was wanting…

I unrolled the bright yellow coil of mat onto the kitchen floor, taking note of the neat little stuff bag and the even neater velcro strap that Nemo supply for storing it (the strap is an especially nice and useful touch), I also laid aside the little packet of repair patches…

“Great! It’s huge!” I thought to myself as I admired my latest sleeping partner lying flaccid at my feet. Unfortunately I was to be bitterly disappointed a short while after I started to blow…

I really like the valve that Nemo are using – it’s a little bit like those child-proof lids you get on bottles of medicine, in that you have to push to unscrew or screw the thing up tight, but this cunningly means that you can simply push the valve closed between breaths, without having to tighten it up. A nice touch I thought.

“Mmm, it’s firming up nicely now”, was my next thought as I gently blew, my lips tightly sealed around the reassuringly solid valve stem. I decided to keep going, pumping until it felt really hard between my fingertips…

I like to think I’m a pretty accommodating sort of girl, willing to put in a degree of effort in order to see results. Unfortunately, no matter how strong the desire, sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes you will get let down…Basically, whilst inflating the mat out of the packet for the first time, one of the sections where there is a cutout in the insulating foam had allowed the two halves of the outer layer to stick together (being vacuum packed probably hadn’t helped). After I’d inflated the mat and proddled the stuck-together part, the dissolution of the union had lead to a tiny tear forming in one side. I didn’t really notice this at first, but upon attempting to sleep on the thing outside that night, it became readily apparent that I was going to have to dump my latest partner – he was a complete let down in the [bivi] sack.

Ok, in all seriousness, I wasn’t mightily impressed to find a brand new product managed to damage itself like that when I inflated it. I would have happily stuck one of the supplied repair patches on and made do, but upon looking at the patch kit I realised there was no glue supplied (I’m not marking Nemo down for this mind), and I had nothing that would do the job, so the mat went back and was replaced with another identical Zor, which happily did not self-puncture itself (well done Webtogs, great service as usual!) and the proper testing could begin at last.

The Specs

The Zor is wonderfully light, in fact I believe it is actually the lightest mat of its type around at the moment – an impressively small 405g for a full-length self-inflating mattress. I believe it’s closest rival is the Therm-a-Rest Prolite which weighs in at 460g for the ‘regular’ size (183cm long, same as the Zor).

It also packs down pretty damn small – only fractionally bigger than my friend’s Neo Air (which is an entirely different type of mat altogether anyway, but I digress).


Yes, before you ask, the bottle of wine was indeed the best thing to use for a size comparison. Please note I’ve made no real effort to compress it here either – just rolled it up quickly and whacked the strap round, it will go smaller if you really try

Nemo also make a short version of the Zor, which is obviously considerably lighter again, at 285g for a mat length of 122cm (so between 1/2 and 3/4 length depending on how tall you are).

The Review

Is it light?
Does it pack down tight?
Did I sleep alright?
Did it set the tent alight?
Was the price right?

I’ve already mentioned that the Zor is impressively light for what it is and it packs down lovely and small – both elements that make it ideal for lightweight backpacking use, and also adventure racing type stuff (unless you’re super hardcore and use bubblewrap or something daft like that). I used the Zor in the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon a few weekends ago where I was really impressed at feeling able to carry a full length mat and be relatively comfortable, whilst still managing to remain within my own self-imposed pack weight and size limits.


That said, the ‘did I sleep alright’ element does need some discussion. No, I didn’t sleep alright during the SLMM, but that was nothing to do with the mat – my badly sprained ankle and seized up knee meant that I just couldn’t sleep because of the pain. The other times I’ve used the Zor have always been in a more relaxed ‘backpacking’ type environment, so either in a bivi bag or in a tent, and whilst it’s been ok and I have managed to sleep on it, I can’t say I’m in love with the Zor if I’m brutally honest. It’s just too thin – you have to inflate it to be really quite hard, otherwise you tend to bottom out through it, and the solidity required in order to not bottom out is almost as hard as the ground would be anyway. But of course you are being insulated, and on grass the discomfort levels are significantly reduced. It could just be that I’m getting soft – my lovely thick heavy duty therm-a-rest just feels so much more plush (but then it would do – it’s much thicker and much heavier).

Ok that was a load of waffle, I must apologise. I have mixed feelings about this mat – most of the time I’d like to be more comfortable and would probably choose to carry something thicker and heavier, BUT for the times when weight, and more importantly for me, pack size are critical, the Zor is actually fine – the only thing beating it being the ultra uncomfortable but effective custom cut down 3/4 length closed cell foam mat I use on Alpine climbs.

Did it set the tent alight? A bizarre question you might be thinking. ‘What on earth does she mean? Is this some kind of deep spiritual introspection or something?’. No. It is a very literal question, that has only been raised after an alarming incident in a tent on the summit of Cadair Berwyn…

Seeing your world suddenly lit up bright blue when you move any part of your sleeping bag across the surface of your camping mat, is a some what shocking experience (pun fully intended). I’ve never seen anything like it, honestly – it was mad! I could slide up and down (imagine rubbing a balloon on your jumper to make your hair stand on end), then move my fingers close to the mat’s surface and there would be huge bright blue sparks of static arcing everywhere! Super fun, but not a little disconcerting. Admittedly I haven’t recreated the experience yet – I’d been waiting and hoping to make a short video but haven’t quite gotten round to it. I just hope that you can’t set fire to a down sleeping bag using the static electricity generated between it and the mat…(I had been wondering where the name ‘Zor’ had come from, and I can’t help but think it’s quite apt considering the product’s electrifying nature).

(No, it didn’t actually set the tent alight, but it was certainly a bizarre sight.)

Finally, is the price right? Well that all depends on what you’re willing to pay for what is actually the lightest, full-length, self-inflating sleeping mat of this type available on the market. Frankly I think the price is fine and well in line with everything else out there (£79.99 at time of writing).


All in all the Zor is a great bit of kit, far more comfortable than a closed cell foam mat, light weight and packs down lovely and small; just don’t expect 5* luxury – at only 2cm thick there is a definite knack to getting the comfort level right, and some people may well find it just too thin to ever really get a comfortable night’s sleep. I like it though for the most part, and I will continue using it whenever I don’t want the extra weight, bulk and hassle of my old squidgy therm-a-rest.


The link bit

You can buy the Nemo Zor from Webtogs here:

You can browse other mats here:

Sunday 10 July 2011

slacker than slack

I’ve just realised how long it’s been since my last entry here. Guess I’ve had a bit of a bloggage blockage. Admittedly I’m still nursing my ankle injury from the Saunders last weekend, and as such I’ve done nothing outdoorsy of merit. That said, there are some big changes afoot for me.

This week I’m going to be over in Llanberis with Phill George doing my Mountain Leader training (about bloody time too), with the hope of being able to get to assessment as soon as possible, my main thought being to have another potential source of the odd bit of pocket money. Let’s face it, when it comes to the whole outdoorsy thing I have been doing quite a lot for quite a long time. I hope to have some time to think and work on some strategies this week too. This isn’t the biggest news however.

The biggest news surrounds a huge decision I’ve been pondering for a while now – whether or not to commit to flying as a career. Now, I’m not talking about becoming an airborne bus driver (although that would be pretty cool), no. I’ve got my sights set on maintaining the narcotic rush I get from flying aerobatics, and finally, after much thought I’ve decided that the only hope for my sanity is to get off my backside and commit to giving everything I have to trying to make it work – I want to be an elite level aerobatic pilot.

Soon you’ll start seeing a new series of writings being added to Flight of the Bumblie as I train and flight for the Flight of the Aerobatic Bumblie. I’m not 100% sure what form these postings will take, but they will begin to form a catalogue of interesting perspectives, tips, tricks, photographs, videos and experiences of what it feels like and what it takes to devote your life to something completely improbable.

It has been said that I have a hint of insanity about me, and indeed I must do, but it’s this insanity and the drive that comes from it that is what my life is really all about. I need challenge, I need flight, I need improbability. I live to fight the odds, to push myself and my limits, and I don’t mind taking a few risks in order to do so.

I’d rather give everything in a gamble and lose, than to look back on my life regretting never trying.


Monday 4 July 2011

the what and the why

I’m sat here currently dosed up on anti-inflammatory pills, every now and again forgetting that I’ve sprained my ankle, only to stand up and be sharply reminded of said fact.

This weekend Matt and I headed up to the Lakes, as any regular readers will be well aware, to compete in the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon. Well, I say ‘compete’, but really our main aim was to have a good time, find out what Mountain Marathons are all about and of course, to finish. I guess two out of three ain’t bad!

To cut a long story short, I must offer my humble apologies to all those generous enough to donate as unfortunately we didn’t actually finish. I managed to roll my ankle very early on on Saturday (in fact, before we’d even reached the first of out seven checkpoints). Of course, anyone with any real sense would probably have turned around and bailed there and then. Predictably though, I chose the stubborn and mildly farcical option of using a short length of duct tape to strap up the afflicted ankle and after taking a large dose of painkillers decided to carry on. Some six hours later we made it into the remote camp after having successfully hit all of our checkpoints. Mind you I could barely walk by that point, and I was cursing my old shoes that were slightly too big, the many bogs we’d trogged through, the wet patch on my arse where I’d slipped over in the mud, the horrifically steep bracken covered slope that constituted the final main descent (the race organizers were clearly sadists), the old sunburn I’d had that was blistering badly, and the new sunburn I’d acquired on my legs, as well as the pains in my ankle and knee.

All in all I hated most of it. The pain, the navigational cock-ups meaning we managed to add a few additional km onto our route, the heat and the sheer torture of it all. Every now and again though, I’d managed to catch glimpses of magic through my pained haze.


Matt was loving the midges at basecamp

I’ve never been a big fan of the Lake District. Too many people, too many tourists and people with no real appreciation of our mountain environment. This event granted me a slightly different view though – a view of areas well off the beaten track, still with lots of people, but people all out there for the same mad reasons as we were – we’re all at home in the hills. The weather was incredible, visibility beyond comprehension, with clear cloudless skies. Running along the tops was at once hell in knee deep bog, and heaven in the brief glances at what surrounded us. Even through the pain I'd look up and shout at Matt to look behind us, to just stop and see why we were there. More than once the vista took our breath away (which in fairness wasn’t too helpful seeing as the whole running thing is quite breathing intensive).

On Sunday morning we awoke to another incredible day, but it was with a deal of sadness and despondency that I made the decision not to run. My ankle had swollen up badly overnight, and my previously injured knee that had spent all of Saturday compensating for my ankle, had kept me awake by stiffening up and shooting pains up and down my leg every time I’d moved. We managed to grab a lift back to the start/finish, laid in the sun for a while and then set about finishing up and heading home.

As I sit here, occasionally swearing as I manage to bang my ankle against the table leg, the fact that I didn’t finish the race niggles at me. There was no way I could have continued, but it still grates. That’ll be my competitive side showing through I guess. The Rab Mountain Marathon is going to be in North Wales in September this year, so it looks like I may well have to have another go…