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How to Choose a Sleeping Mat

See also: Sleeping Mat Comparison Chart, a direct comparison between every mat we stock.

At Facewest we stock a large range of mats in three brands: Thermarest, Exped and Sea to Summit. I've tried to keep this article as short and simple as possible without missing any important information, this has proved difficult as our sleeping mat range is so large; there really is something for every situation. If you don't have time to read through the article then the best thing to do is to go to the the Sleeping Mat Comparison Chart and use that to work out which mat is best for you. If you've got time to do the research then read on and you're sure to find the perfect mat.

Before we look in more detail about what's available it's important to know that a sleeping mat is the single most important part of your sleeping system to keep you warm. Tests have shown that you lose 3 times as much heat to the ground (conduction) as you do to the air (convection), so it is more important than your sleeping bag. Also, your sleeping bag insulation is compressed under you and is less effective than when it is properly lofted. This will further reduce the insulating properties of your sleeping bag against conduction. The second thing a mat does is make you comfortable enough to sleep. It's no good being warm and having a stone in your shoulder blade.

Warmth (R Value)

The warmth of all our mats are measured by a universal measurement, the R Value, so we'll look at this before going into more detail about the mats available. The higher the R Value number the warmer the mat is. The reason we give an R Value, rather than a temperature rating, is because a temperature rating is very subjective to both the person and the conditions. The table below gives a rough indication of what you can expect from a mat in terms of insulation. Please be aware that this should only be used as a rough guide as there are a huge number of influencing factors which cannot be accounted for.

R ValuesLowest Suitable TemperatureSeason
Less than 110°C +Summer
1 - 2.50°C2 season
2.5 - 4-5°C3 season
4+-5°C and colder4 season

Where mats have an R Value higher than about 6 it is usually because the thickness and construction of the mat is there for comfort, this has the side effect of excellent insulating properties. Unlike if you were to use a sleeping bag designed for extreme cold in summer, a mat with a high R Value won't make you too hot at night in warm weather, it just means less heat will be lost to the ground. There's no disadvantage to having a high R Value to your mat.

Thermarest, Exped or Sea To Summit?

All are great brands making some quality sleeping mats, however the philosophy behind their designs is a bit different. Rather than go through the differences I've outlined the range of mats on offer from each below.

Thermarest

The 3 series' below are how Thermarest have chosen to categorise their range. If you've decided that a Thermarest mat is for you then the first thing to do is to select the series which best suits your needs, these have been briefly outlined below. If you're not yet sure on a Thermarest mat then reading the information below will give you an idea of the options available from Thermarest.

Fast & Light series

These are the lightest and most compact mattresses in the range, they are aimed at those whose primary need is something lightweight and highly packable. Inevitably this will be at the expense of comfort and/or durability though they are still infinitely better than the ground. These mats are ideal for those who are prepared to sacrifice comfort at night to make their days easier.

Check out our video overview of the Fast & Light range:

Trek & Travel series

These are versatile mats which are designed to be light and packable enough to carry with you, but at the same time don't compromise too heavily on comfort, warmth and durability. These mats are ideal for trekking, backpacking and lightweight camping trips.

Check out our video overview of the Trek & Travel range:

Camp & Comfort series

These mats provide the ultimate in comfort and warmth, they are heavy and large and so not suited to carrying with you on a daily basis. They are ideal for car camping or even as a spare for overnight visitors to your house.

Check out our video overview of the Camp & Comfort range: Please note, this video is of the older camp and comfort range so there are a few changes. We'll update soon, but for now it's still a good guide on what's available.

Thermarest Mat Types

Within each series there are 3 types of mat: NeoAir mats, self inflating mats and closed cell foam mats, these offer different levels of performance and price within each series. Now you've selected your series you should decide which mat type sounds best for you.

NeoAir Mats

These are the lightest mats and offer the best warmth and comfort to weight ratio, however they do tend to be more expensive. They work by trapping air between thin baffles. The various models feature different thicknesses, materials and constructions to reflect heat and trap air in different patterns providing varying degrees of warmth and stability. They do not self inflate and must be inflated by the user or a pump (sold separately). Due to the lightweight nature of these mats they should be looked after as the fabrics used are not as durable as other heavier mats.

Self Inflating Mats

These mats are durable and are reasonable priced, though they are not the warmest, lightest or most packable available. The different mats have different thicknesses and varying amounts of foam cut into different patterns to provide different levels of warmth and comfort vs weight. They work by having foam sandwiched between the airtight shell of the mat. When the valve is opened the foam expands, drawing air into the mat.

It's important to note that the self inflating feature that the foam provides is actually secondary to it's insulating properties. This means that the self inflating feature of these mats depends on the type of foam and how much of it is used inside the mat, for example the MondoKing uses a lot of dense foam which will expand quickly causing the mat to inflate quickly. The Prolite, on the other hand has a carefully cut and shaped amount of lightweight foam which will take a while to expand. All these mats will still need a few breaths to make them fully inflated.

Closed Cell Foam Mats

These are like the traditional 'roll mat' which you might have camped on in scouts. There's a bit more technology to them than a basic roll mat as Thermarest have designed the peaks and valleys of these mats to provide a specific level of warmth and comfort. These mats are very lightweight, tough and cheap though they are not particularly comfortable or warm, they also don't pack up very small.

Below is a table which shows each mat in it's type and category. As you go down the table the mats get more comfortable. As you go across the table the mats get heavier. You can replicate these results on the webpages by choosing the Thermarest series and using the filters on the left hand side of the page to show only one mat type.

 Fast & Light seriesTrek & Travel seriesCamp & Comfort series
Closed Cell Foam Mats
  • Z Lite Sol
  • Z Shield
  • RidgeRest Classic
  • RidgeRest SOLite
  • RidgeRest Solar
  • Self Inflating Mats
  • Prolite
  • Womens Prolite
  • Prolite Plus
  • Womens Prolite Plus
  • Evolite
  • Evolite Plus
  • Trail Scout
  • TrailLite
  • Womens TrailLite
  • Trail Pro
  • Womens Trail Pro
  • BaseCamp
  • BaseCamp AF
  • LuxuryMap
  • MondoKing 3D
  • MondoKing
  • DreamTime
  • NeoAir Mats
  • NeoAir Xlite
  • Womens Xlite
  • NeoAir Xtherm
  • Xtherm Max
  • NeoAir Voyager
  • NeoAir Venture WV
  • NeoAir Trekker
  • NeoAir All Season
  • NeoAir Camper
  • NeoAir Camper SV
  • NeoAir Dream

  • Hopefully by now you've got a shortlist of mats which will work for your uses. The final point to consider is how warm you need the mat to be, the mats in the table above are arranged with the highest R Value (warmest) mats at the bottom of their box and the lowest (least warm) at the top.

    Exped

    Exped have 4 series' of mats in their range. If you've decided that an Exped mat is for you then the first thing to do is to select the series which best suits your needs, these have been briefly outlined below. If you're not yet sure on an Exped mat then reading the information below will give you an idea of the options available from Exped.

    Down Filled Sleeping Mats or Downmats

    These get their insulation from being down filled. The properties of down allow them to be very light, warm and packable, if quite expensive, they are ideal for cold weather camping and expeditions. They are not self inflating and, due to the down filling, should be inflated by pump, not breath. They all come with either an inbuilt or external manual pump.

    Synthetic Filled Sleeping Mats or Synmats

    These use a microfibre filling for insulation. They are not as warm or packable as the Downmats, but they are cheaper and offer a competitive option to similar Thermarest mats. There is a large range available in this category and you can find anything from a lightweight expedition mat to a large super comfortable camping mat. They are not self inflating and must be inflated by the user, some come with a pump. All are compatible with an Exped external pump which is sold separately.

    SIM Mats

    These are Self Inflating Mats. As with the Thermarest self inflating mats they use foam to self inflate and will do so to a varying degree. They will usually need a few breaths once the self inflation has done it's job to get them to a reasonable firmness. They are reasonably light, comfortable, packable and warm, and though they are comparable in price and performance to the Thermarest offerings the range is not as comprehensive.

    Airmats

    These are a traditional airbed style mat, they offer comfort and durability at a low weight and a good price. They are not warm as there is no insulation in them. They are ideal for summer backpacking on a budget.

    The Exped Mat Types

    Ultralite or UL in the name indicates mats which are made with the lightest fabrics. They do not have a built in pump and need to be inflated by the user either by breath or external pump (all downmats come with a pump). They are ideal for expeditions or those who value weight over durability and cost. They do need looking after as the lightweight fabrics used are not as tough as the heavier fabrics in the other mats.

    Lite in the name indicates mats which are made with lighter weight fabrics. They compact down well and offer a good compromise between the ultralight mats and the pump mats. They are ideal for backpacking, trekking and general camping.

    Pump in the name indicates that the mat comes with a built in manual pump, this adds weight to the mat, but saves having to carry an additional item, the pump may freeze in very low temperatures. These mats are made with the most durable fabrics and are good for basecamp or for those who want extra durability at the cost of additional weight.

    MegaMat & Comfort mats are made for comfort, they have a soft face fabric and are made from heavy and durable materials. They are ideal for car camping or as a guest mattress at home.

    The Number in the name of any Exped mat refers to the thickness of the mat in cm. The thicker the mat the more comfortable it will be.

    Sea To Summit

    Picking a Sea To Summit mat is easier than Exped or Thermarest as the range is much smaller. All the Sea To Summit mats use small pockets of air which they call Air Sprung Cells to provide an adjustable and stable mattress. They believe that this is makes for a more comfortable mat than the traditional baffle construction used by Exped and Thermarest in their non foam mats. This method of construction does give a consistently high level of comfort across the range, however their mats are a bit more expensive and slightly heavier than those they compete against.

    All Sea To Summit mats use 40 denier ripstop nylon as an outer fabric, so the different mats do not feature different levels of durability or fabric weight. They are not self inflating and can be inflated by breath or a manual pump (sold separately).

    As they don't have foam in them they are suited to those looking for a highly packable option yet still providing comfort. They are also more suited to slightly warmer climates/seasons as the R Values don't go that high (Sea to Summit is Australian after all). The range is described below.

    Comfort in the mat name means that the mat features a high resolution 2 layer air pocket construction, this is split into 2 further categories of Comfort Plus and Comfort Light.

    Comfort Plus indicates that the 2 layer construction covers the whole area of the mat and has more air pockets per square metre. This means that the mats are very comfortable to use and each layer is independently filled and adjusted. It does make them quite heavy and not the smallest to pack down.

    Comfort Light in the name indicates that the 2 layer construction is only in the torso area of the mat and doesn't extend to the head and leg areas. This is a good compromise between a high level of comfort and keeping the mat fairly lightweight.

    Ultralight in the mat name means that the mat features a single layer of medium resolution air pockets. These mats remain comfortable as they still use individual air cells, but they are lighter and more packable the the two above.

    Insulated (as you might expect) in the mat name means that the mat has insulation added to the air pockets for warmth. These mats also feature a reflective layer inside the cells to reflect heat back to the user. Mats without this are therefore not insulated and rely purely on the air pockets for warmth, just as the Exped Air Mats do.

    Not convinced or don't like the traditional sleeping mat and sleeping bag combination?

    Have a look at Thermarest's other Sleep Systems and Luxury Cots.

    If you need any more help in choosing a mat then please give us a call or drop us an email. Details are in the footer just below.