A buyer's guide to sleeping mats

A buyer’s guide to sleeping mats: “As you make your bed, so you must lie upon it”

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For a good night’s sleep
For a good night’s sleep

As hackneyed as this old proverb may be, its relevance is indisputable. For as all of you outdoor enthusiasts know, a good or bad night’s rest can play a significant role in determining your performance and overall well-being in the great outdoors. If you toss and turn at night, feel every little pebble through your sleeping mat or simply freeze your tail off, that’s usually where the outdoor fun stops. Not even the most beautiful of tent pitches could cheer you up!

Imagine finding out in the middle of a multi-day trip that you’ve packed an uncomfortable or poorly insulated sleeping mat. It doesn’t get much worse than that, does it? Anybody who’s ever lain on an utterly useless mat in icy cold conditions knows how energy-sapping and unpleasant it can be, not to mention how harmful to your health.

But, how would you go about choosing the best sleeping mat? Is there an all-purpose mat?

Things to bear in mind

First, ask yourselves a couple of basic questions: What are the temperatures going to be like where you’re going? How will the mat be carried and how much comfort do you need?

All these factors play a significant role in selecting the appropriate sleeping mat. In terms of temperature, there is something call an R-value, which allows you to compare sleeping mats relatively easily.

The R-value measures how well a sleeping mat will insulate your body from the ground. For sleeping mats, the value always indicates the value for the complete mat (the outer material and filling are taken as a whole for completing the measurement). The higher the R-value is, the warmer the mat will be. But, be careful: the measurement is taken in a laboratory setting and does not necessarily correspond to the average person’s perception of cold. Thus, the R-value should simply be regarded as a guideline for selecting a sleeping mat.

You can even sleep comfortably on rocks Photo: Backcountry
You can even sleep comfortably on rocks Photo: Backcountry

As mentioned above, you should think about how the mat is going to be carried. If, for example, you don’t have much room in your pack and are looking to go light, then you should focus on completely different mats than a skier who is planning on pulling a pulk.

And, of course, we can’t forget your personal and very subjective perception of comfort. If you’re more modest and fancy travelling with a light pack, then a lighter and thinner sleeping mat will be more appropriate. Some people even take a very short and small mat along that primarily protects their upper body. In this scenario, your legs would rest on your pack or clothing you brought with you.

If you tend to sleep on your side, toss and turn at night and always feel totally knackered, then I would recommend getting a thicker mat with a thickness of at least 5-6cm. These mats won’t allow your hip to bottom out, and you won’t be able to feel every little pebble through the mat.

Don’t be left out in the cold in the winter – or in the summer for that matter

Out all the seasons, I’d say that winter a special status. So, when selecting an inflatable sleeping mat for winter, you should keep the following in mind. Inflatable sleeping mats can be either manually inflated (using your mouth) or self-inflating, with the latter allowing for better overall inflation. In very cold conditions, however, blowing up a mat with your mouth can lead to water condensation getting into the interior and subsequently freezing inside the mat. Seeing as condensation negatively impacts the mat’s thermal efficiency, traditional and more resilient sleeping mats and mats insulated with down or synthetic fibres that include a built-in hand pump or pump sack are used more frequently in the wintertime.

For winter trips, the combination of a traditional sleeping mat with a self-inflating mat has proved successful, as this combo provides both protection from the cold and plenty of comfort. Speaking of warmth and comfort, in Scandinavia you’ll also see reindeer fur on the outside of rucksacks, but these furs are not only heavier but also tend to shed, not to mention they’re not available at Alpinetrek, nor will they be in the foreseeable future 😉

Swapping your mouth for a pump or a pump sack is recommended for the summer as well. Why? Well, the air you breathe into your mat can lead to a build-up of algae, which will eventually end up ruining the mat and its insulating properties.

What kind of mats are there and where can they be used?

Foam sleeping mats

Therm-a-Rest - Z-Lite - Sleeping mat
Therm-a-Rest – Z-Lite – Sleeping mat

For example: the Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite

R-value: 1.5 / Thickness: 4mm / Weight: 390 g

Foam sleeping bag are the traditional sleeping mats. They are reliable and pretty unsusceptible to punctures. Even if you accidently stand on it with your crampons on, it shouldn’t be problem. High-quality sleeping mats are made of a closed-cell foam, such as Evazote. This material is very tough and resilient, won’t go flat and insulates well. It is available in a variety of thicknesses.

Ideal for winter tours; if you need the mat to be very tough and resilient; very versatile, if it needs to be –for example, you could make an insole for your shoe or padding for your rucksack out of it.

Self-inflating sleeping mats

Therm-a-Rest - ProLite Plus - Sleeping mat
Therm-a-Rest – ProLite Plus – Sleeping mat

For example the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus

R-value: 3.8 / Thickness: 3.8cm / Weight: 680 g

Self-inflating mats are produced by several companies in several varieties. Therm-a-Rest invented a line of self-inflating mattresses in the 1970s and is now basically synonymous with self-inflating sleeping mats.Therm-a-Rest. These mats consist of an airtight envelope filled with a sheet of open-cell foam. When a valve is opened, the mat fills itself up with air. Then you simply close the valve – that’s it.

However, the term self-inflating should be taken with a grain of salt, for most mats require you to use your mouth to blow more air into the mattress to increase firmness. Still, it is much quicker and easier than inflating an air mattress.

To pack the mat, all you have to do is open the valve and roll up the mat tightly to force the air out and then close the valve. Depending on the mat of your choice, you’ll be able to get it quite small.

Perfect for trekking tours; great balance of comfort and thermal efficiency; depending on the model, very robust; easy to repair – some patches and Seam Grip and that’s it!

Air mattresses

Therm-a-Rest - NeoAir Xlite - Sleeping mat
Therm-a-Rest – NeoAir Xlite – Sleeping mat

For example the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

R-value: 3.2 / Thickness: 6.3cm / Weight: 350 g

For the last couple of years now, these air mattresses have been taking the market by storm. But, the only thing they have in common with the originals now is that the airtight envelope is inflated into an air mattress with several chambers.

For these mats, extremely lightweight and durable material is used. Depending on the construction, the mats feature a baffled internal structure that provides stability and support. Plus, it has heat-reflecting material which traps air and thus prevents a loss of warmth.

Perfect for those who want something lightweight and packable; the thickness makes it very comfortable; considered by some to be somewhat less resilient; easy to repair – patch it and it’s ready to go.

Filled air mats

Exped - DownMat 7 - Down-filled sleeping mat
Exped – DownMat 7 – Down-filled sleeping mat

For example Exped DownMat 7

R-value: 4.9 / Thickness: 7cm / Weight: 860 g

Similar to the “regular” air mattresses, these mats feature airtight fabric with chambers filled with down or synthetic fibres in order to increase their thermal efficiency. Despite how light these mats are, they are exceptionally warm. Plus, they’re extremely compressible.

Perfect for trekking tours where comfort is a must; suited for winter tours (an integrated pump or pump sack makes inflating easy); very well insulated.


As is true of almost every product, there is a variety of accessories to go along with sleeping mats. Of course, some are more practical than others.

Those definitely worth mentioning are: the very important repair kit, the abovementioned pump and pump sacks as well as sleeping mat covers to make you feel at home and Vaude’s Navajo Sheet, which makes your camp into a double bed and is compatible with sleeping bags from the Navajo series.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. They are available during the week from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at 03 33 33 67058 or via e-mail.

Get your sleeping mat here >>

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Alpinetrek-Expert Simon

Alpinetrek-Expert Simon

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