What’s the best sleeping mat for me?
Sleeping mats come in an almost endless range of size, shapes, colours, features and benefits and can range from less than $10 to well over $400.
Deciding what is going to be the best sleeping mat for you can be a difficult process and there a several things that you should take into consideration before making a purchase. One of the most important features is of course comfort, and when it comes to comfort there are many variables that influence the level of comfort a mat can provide.
Some of these variables you need to consider is the climate and terrain where you are most likely to be using your sleeping mat which in turn effects the insulation and padding features needed for a great night’s rest. For example, if you plan on sleeping directly on the ground in an alpine climate, then a sleeping pad with insulation properties is a must to avoid getting a chill from underneath.
Another thing to think about is noise, yes that is right noise. Depending on the fabric that a sleeping pad is made from, and the type of inflation used to expand it, they can be quite noisy when you move on them at night. Now this may not affect you, but if you find yourself in a small cabin with several other hikers out on the trail, and you are tossing and turning a bit, the noise from this has the tendency to annoy others. Typically, a sleeping pad that has an internal media to help expand it is generally quieter than a pad that is mostly filled with air, but you need to weigh up your personal comfort versus your desired popularity.
So lets start at the beginning….
The Standard Foam Mattress
The most basic sleeping mat is a plain old foam mattress, and these come in a few different options. Camper or Swag mats generally are between 50mm and 75mm thick and range from 70cm to 140cm wide - these offer a basic level of comfort. These would be used for general camping in a Swag or on a stretcher bed and are readily made by Oztrail and Darche. These are usually cheaper mattress – under $100 but lack any sort of compactness when packed up. For a family of 4 or more, this would take up most of your storage/ transport space. Sticking to the cheaper end of the scale is the compressed foam mattresses, and these are typically anywhere from 8mm to 10mm thick. They are lightweight and extremely compact but offer very little in the way of comfort. Great for kids who seem to be able to sleep anywhere. If this is the type of mat you are after, than the Oztrail Earth Mat Camper and Earth Mat Deluxe are your got products.
Next on the list is the self-inflating range of sleeping mats and pads. These mats are generally filled with a compressed media -normally a high-density foam that can be squashed and have the air pushed out by opening a set of valves which are typically located at one end of the mat. Starting at the opposite end and rolling towards the valves the air is expired and in turn reduces the size of the mat to a more compact size for transport. Once the valves are sealed, the mat remains in the compressed state. To inflate the mat, the process is as simple as removing any straps or ties, place the mat on the ground and open the valves. The compressed foam will start to expand and will begin to intake air until the mat is fully inflated. Some mats do allow for you to blow air into them after they are inflated to make them a little firmer if that is your preference. You can use the reverse cycle on an air pump to vacuum out any air in your mattress making it more compact, but we would not recommend keeping it in this state for long periods of time as you may loose your self-inflating properties.
Things to consider with self-inflating mattresses -
- They are more comfortable than a plain foam mattress.
- For longevity of use, they should be stored in an inflated state when not used.
- They will remain inflated if there are any holes in the mat
- They are more expensive than foam mattresses.
- While still bulky to a degree – they take up less room than a foam mattress
- They are the heaviest options in the sleeping mat range.
Now another thing to consider in this category is bonded and un-bonded. Simply what this means is the outer skin of the mattress is either bonded to the internal media with glue or it is loose. The difference usually means a bonded mattress is firmer in its feel and can tend to offer a little more support. An unbonded mattress can have a few surface wrinkles on it and be a little bit softer in feel. Once again this comes down to personal preference and budget.
Hiking Mats and Sleeping Pads
The next category and probably the most complex of all the sleeping mats is the Hiking Range. Typically, hiker mats and pads are ultra-lightweight for ease of transport, extremely compact so they take up less room in and on your pack, and can be either inflatable, self-inflatable, have in built pumps or be basic compressed foam.
Because compactness and weight are huge factors in this category, and that sometimes these pieces of equipment need to perform is some extreme climates, a huge amount of research and development has gone into these essential tools. Brands like Nemo, Thermarest, and Kylmit offer ground-breaking technologies in providing comfort, protection, and durability while out in the wilderness.
Hiking mats also come in a range of sizes and shapes. Mummy Styled sleeping pads tend to narrow down at the feet and in doing so have the look of an Egyptian mummy. This is done to cut down on size and weight and to shape to a corresponding mummy styled sleeping bag. Once again size and shape is a personal preference.
Insulated or Non-Insulated Sleeping Mats
This is pretty much self-explanatory however an insulated sleeping pad has insulating properties than assist it in maintaining heat or shielding away the cold. This can be measured by what is know as the R-Value. The R-value is a number by which the transfer of heat is measured. A sleeping pad with a high R-Value will resist the transfer of heat more than a pad with a lower value.
Basically, an insulated sleeping mat will maintain your body heat and resist the ingress of coldness from the ground and prevent you from gaining a chill.
The R-Value has recently become standardized and now comes under the ASTM F3340-18 standard. What this means is you are now able to compare apples with apples between different branded sleeping mats and compare their R-Value. It is important to note that as this standard is relatively new – some brands are yet to comply, however Nemo, Therm-A-Rest and Kylmit all comply with this standard.
Conclusion – There are many features to consider when purchasing a sleeping mat, and it may well be that you need to have several options available to you depending on the type of adventure you are about to undertake. Budget is the other major consideration, and this may also affect which creature comforts you want, and which ones you go without.
Just remember if you are confused our team is here to help, drop us a line and shoot us an email and we will be only too happy to assist you.