How To Choose
A Sleeping Mat
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.
Standardised Measurement Of Warmth
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 Values||Lowest Suitable Temperature||Season|
|Less than 1||10°C +||Summer|
|1 - 2.5||0°C||2 season|
|2.5 - 6||-5°C||3 season|
|6+||-5°C and colder||4 season|
Where mats have an R Value higher than about 7 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.
These are the brands whose mats we stock, all are great brands making some quality sleeping mats, however the philosophy behind their designs is a bit different. I've outlined the range of mats on offer from each brand below.
Rest Better Play Better
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 reasonably 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 Evolite, 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.
Refined Gear For Adventure
Exped have 3 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. 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.
The Exped Naming Scheme
Dura mats are durable lightweight mats for expedition and winter use. They use a durable 75 / 175 denier polyester outer and synthetic or down insulation to keep you warm in very cold conditions.
Ultra mats are a similar design to the Dura mats but use a much lighter 20 denier polyester outer. This helps reduce weight and packsize making them ideal for fast and light enthusiasts.
SIM mats are Self Inflating Mats, which use a foam core to inflate the mate once the valve is open. They come in a range of sizes and weights but have a much larger pack size than the Dura and Ultra mats.
The Number in the name of an Exped Dura or Ultra mat refers to its approximate R-Value (warmth). The number in the name of an Exped SIM mat refers to the thickness.
Built For Adventure
Sea To Summit
The Sea To Summit range is much smaller than the Exped or Thermarest ranges. We stock 2 types of Sea to Summit Mats Air Sprung Mats and Self Inflating Mats. In general, although Sea To Summit mats are a bit heavier and have slightly lower R Values than similar models from other brands they are gaining a reputation for being more comfortable, particularly with their Air Sprung mattresses.
Air Sprung Mats
The Air Sprung Mats have small pockets of air called Air Sprung Cells which provide an adjustable and stable mattress surface to sleep on. Sea To Summit 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, however their mats are a bit more expensive and slightly heavier than those they compete against.
These 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.
The Self Inflating Mats have foam inside them to provide warmth, the foam is also what allows them to self inflate. They have a reversible valve which makes packing the mat easier as you can squeeze the air out but when you stop the valve won't let any in.
These mats are heavier than the Air Sprung Mats, though they do offer a comparable level of insulation, they are also considerably cheaper. They are ideal for backpacking and camping without needing to spend huge amounts.
Comfort Plus mats are the thickest and heaviest mats in the Sea To Summit range. They sit in the middle ground, offering good comfort at for a reasonable size and weight, this makes them ideal for camping and backpacking where where weight and space are not at a premium.
Ultralight mats are the lightest mats. They trade size and weight for comfort making them suited to multi day adventures where less weight and more space is prized.
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.By nature the self inflating mats are insulated, so this isn't included in the name.
Five Decades of Equipping Expeditions
Mountain Equipment been designed and built in conjunction with Exped so the design is somewhat similar with long baffles rather than short ones. They do have a new one way valve and inflation 'windsock' built into the stuff sack, which is excellent.
There's a down filled one and a synthetic filled one, both have excellent R Values and are lightweight and small when packed down. They're designed for year round use and are suitable for everything from fast and light to backpacking, they each come in 2 sizes. If you've been considering one of the lighterweight Thermarest NeoAir mats or the Exped UL mats then the Mountain Equipment ones are worth adding to your shortlist too.
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.