When shopping for camping gear, many decisions need to be made. Should you choose a swag or a tent? Should you go with a rectangular, semi-rectangle or mummy-style sleeping bag? Is a headlamp or a flashlight better?
Another important consideration will be what kind of sleeping mat to get? Often overlooked in the sleep ecosystem, a camping mat is key to ensuring a great night’s rest in the background. Aside from providing comfort, a sleeping pad is also a great source of insulation, meaning you’ll stay warm and cosy at night by choosing the right mat.
Camping sleeping mats are generally divided into three categories: self-inflating, inflatable and closed-cell foam mats. Each of them offers a different way of trapping air and separating the body from the ground, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Self-inflatable mats are a common choice amongst campers due to their lightweight and compressible characteristics, as well as their ability to offer effective insulation. They use an open-cell foam that is encapsulated in airtight fabric and feature a valve that opens and closes, allowing you to seal the airflow in and out of the foam. Aside from offering excellent insulation, self-inflatable mats allow you to adjust the firmness by releasing or adding air.
You will find self-inflatable camping sleeping mats in different shapes and sizes, with some being designed for car camping and others for backpacking. There are even women’s specific self-inflating mat models. These are generally a little shorter in length and a little wider in the torso area of the mat. These mats also have a little more insulation on the torso and feet areas. So, if you are more sensitive to cold and are 1.65m or shorter, whether you’re a female or male, you can consider this kind of sleeping mat for improved performance.
Self-inflatable mats are typically durable. Manufactures tend to use heavy-duty fabrics that are less likely to puncture on the exterior. When cared for and stored properly, these mats can last an extremely long time.
Advantages of self-inflating mats:
- Lightweight, with an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
- Require minimum effort to inflate
Disadvantages of self-inflating mats:
- Usually more expensive due to its increased technology
- Prone to punctures (which can be easily repaired)
Closed Cell Foam Mats
Although very durable and affordable, closed-cell foam mats are typically quite bulky, the reason why they are generally stored on the outside of a rucksack with lash straps and not inside the backpack.
These mats don’t offer much when it comes to comfort, especially if sleeping on rough, uneven terrains. However, they offer excellent thermal properties to keep you protected from very cold floors. Plus, they can be easily stacked with other mats to achieve extra protection in, particularly cold temperatures.
Different manufacturers utilize different textures and depths of foam, and some even use reflective materials to increase thermal protection. Some models can be easily rolled up while others come with reinforced scores in the foam to create a “Z” folding mat.
Advantages of closed-cell foam mats:
- Light, durable and often affordable
- Resistant to puncture
Disadvantages of closed-cell foam mats:
- Poor packability
- Less warm and comfortable than other options
Inflatable mats are considered the lightest type of sleep mats and pack down very small. Made with lightweight yet durable materials, this type of mat require manual inflation using a foot pump or just your mouth. Using a foot pump is the best way to inflate the mat as it helps avoid a build-up of moisture inside the mat, which could lead to mould.
Although inflatable mats are lightweight and pack down small, they still offer a thick and comfortable sleeping surface when inflated. This makes this mat perfect for predominantly uneven ground. Inflatable mats also often feature reflective detailing and baffle to improve thermal resistance in cold temperatures.
Advantages of inflatable mats:
- Thick and comfortable
Disadvantages of inflatable mats:
- Big and heavy, making them more suitable for car camping
- Require a pump
- Have no additional insulation
How do I Choose a Camping Mat?
Where the size of your backpack is a concern, which means you need to minimize the amount of weight you’re carrying, a self-inflating or inflatable mat are both great options. For camping trips where size, space and weight aren’t a problem, for example with car camping, then closed-cell foams can be considered.
Keep in mind that mats that feature reflective detailing help reflect your body heat towards you, keeping you warm during the night. On some camping sleeping pad models, you will notice an R-Value in the product description. This measure is the mat’s ability to resist heat flow – the tighter the R-value, the warmer the mat will be.
As you can see, you must do your research, and access what conditions you’ll have to deal with when camping. By considering your camping conditions, and the pros and cons of each type of mat, you’ll have a better idea of which sleeping mat fits your needs the best.