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camping sleeping mats

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Sweet Dreams - A closer look at our sleeping mats

At the end of a long day of backpacking, the ability to recover is really important. Subsequent days will be much easier if you are rested, and you will enjoy yourself much more if you have a comfortable night’s sleep. I am always surprised when I see people who are trying to push the limits of their sleeping gear, as it can have such a detrimental effect on your experience.
It is easy to focus on the sleeping bag as the key to a good night’s sleep. However, this overlooks the equally important sleeping mat. When buying a bed for our homes, it isn’t the duvet where we tend to put our money, it’s the mattress. Apply the same principle to camping as to your home, will see you reap the benefits.

So how do you decide on the right sleeping mat for you? Well, as ever, it is a trade-off between several competing factors.

Weight - If you are backpacking, then clearly you want it to be as light as possible. However, if you are car camping then the weight is fairly inconsequential.

Size - Most mats are available in a variety of sizes, and people usually go for a mat that is roughly the same length as they are tall. However, to save weight, you could buy a shorter mat and have your feet hang off one end. Conversely, some people of average height might want a longer mat as these tend to be a bit wider.

Depth/Thickness - The Exped brand has really driven the increasing depth of mats. The deeper it is, the less likely to are to feel the ground beneath you. Unfortunately, it may also increase the weight. Try a sleeping mat inside a tent before you buy, to check if extra depth makes it feel more claustrophobic.

Warmth - If you lie down with nothing between you and the ground, you soon notice that you lose heat to the ground. This demonstrates the importance of a mat’s ability to insulate you from the ground. Most mats are insulated to varying amounts, so deciding what sort of temperatures you will be using them in will be important.

Inflation - Therm-a-rest pioneered the self-inflating mat. However, this technology has declined in popularity as the foams inside are heavy and bulky compared to alternatives. Most of the mats we sell require inflating, with Exped using their ‘Schozzel Pump Bag’, and Therm-a-Rests generally requiring you to blow into the valve. Ask one of our sales assistants for a huffing and puffing demonstration!

Once you’ve considered your requirements, pop into the shop and you can try a few mats to see which one suits you best. Here’s a quick overview of our range:

Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D Large
The ‘daddy’ of comfort, and only self-inflating mat in our range. This is the thickest of our mattresses and also the warmest. Maximum comfort for car camping, but at 2.5kg there are much lighter options for backpacking.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
One of the most popular mats on the market and still the lightestof its type. A thermally reflective aluminium layer provides insulation at very little weight cost. Ideal for those who want the lowest weight. However, this comes at a cost of reduced depth versus the competition, so try the mat before you buy one.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Venture
A really good value alternative to the SynMat UL but with less insulation and slightly heavier. Great for those camping in warmer months or with a tighter budget.

Exped DownMat UL Winter
We all know that down sleeping bags are lighter than synthetic ones, so why not have the same option in your mat? This down-filled mat is the premier choice for camping in cold conditions, with the least weight penalty. You do have to pay a bit extra though.

Exped SynMat UL
The all-rounder and most popular mat in our Exped range. Filled with enough synthetic insulation for ‘3 season’ use. Packs down relatively small.

Exped SynMat UL Winter
This is a step up from the ‘standard’ Exped SynMat. Increased depth and insulation makes this ideal for those who feel the cold or are camping in the winter.