A deflated mat is like a broken heart…Just kidding, we’re not going to go there, but you have to admit that there is a bit of truth to what I was going to say. To put it more simply and without using a sappy simile: Once your mat starts to lose air, you can bid farewell to all that toasty warmth that makes you feel all bubbly inside. After all, sleeping mats can only do their job when they’re inflated…and stay that way. Steer clear of sharp rocks, flying sparks and try to reduce all the wear and tear because all of these factors could potentially damage your mat and even put a hole in it and break your heart! There it is. But don’t go down without a fight! To avoid having to sleep on the cold, hard ground, here is a brief overview of how to seal up your sleeping mats perfectly!
Finding the hole
Before heading out, it’s imperative to inspect your kit. This includes your sleeping mat. Take out your sleeping mat, blow it up (or don’t if it’s self-inflating) and wait a bit. If the mat starts to lose air after a while, something is wrong. If you can eliminate the possibility of its losing air because of a change in temperature, it’s safe to say that a hole is the culprit. So, put on your detective hats because now we’ve got to do some sleuthing.
There are several ways to find a hole. As you would with a bike tube, you can just give the mat a nice bath. Just place the inflated sleeping mat in a tub filled with water. When you see little bubbles starting to form in a particular area, you’ll know where to look for the hole. If you don’t have a big tub at your disposal, you can use the soap-sud technique. To do this, mix some washing-up liquid with water and wipe it on areas of sleeping mat that could be damaged. If you see bubbles, you’ve found it!
If for whatever reason you can’t use this method, you can always resort to the leak detector, a small see-through container filled with foam pellets that help you to detect a leak. These things are available in specialised shops and are perfect for when you’re on the go. Oftentimes, when you’re touring, neither the bath nor soap-sud method is possible, so it’s a pretty nice option to have. To start, simply slide the detector over the sleeping mat. When air comes out of the hole, the little pellets will start moving. By the way, I’ve found a hole before by running my damp fingers over the surface of a mat, but this method is really only recommended in emergency situations because it isn’t as reliable as the others mentioned above. Regardless of the method you choose, it’s always a good idea to put some pressure on the mat so that the hole is noticeable.
If you were unable to find a hole despite all your efforts, it’s possible that the valve is the cause of the loss of air. If there’s dirt in the valve, it won’t be able to close properly. Sometimes, a thorough cleaning can work wonders with a dirty valve and seal it up just as before!
Preparing the mat for repair
Once you’ve found the hole (regardless of the method), the spot has to be cleaned and marked. To clean it, simply use some clean water and a cloth. If it’s really dirty, rubbing alcohol can help. Mark the hole with a waterproof marker. You can use a pen, too, if you don’t have a marker. Then deflate the mat. At this point, you can begin.
For quick repairs, you can use a repair kit. These kits usually consist of several airtight patches in different sizes and fabric glue. They’re easy to use and the basic principle is the same for all of them. However, be sure to read the instructions just in case. Once the mat’s clean and dry and you’ve marked the hole, you can begin. First, grab a patch that matches the size of the hole. If your kit doesn’t have pre-sized patches, just cut it to size. Here’s a tip: try to round out the corners of the patch with a pair of scissors. That way, the patch won’t come off as easily.
There are generally two different kinds of patches: self-adhesive and not self-adhesive. If you have the latter, all you have to do is apply the fabric glue to the damaged area and quickly press the patch down, removing any excess glue. Self-adhesive patches are applied in a similar way, but you can obviously do without the glue. Take the patch, remove half of the protective film from the sticky side and press the patch down on the damaged area, while removing the rest of the film. Use your other hand to press down the other side of the patch onto the mat. Then wait (regardless of the method). It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour for the adhesive to dry. After that, it’ll be ready to go!
If you notice a hole in your mat in the middle of the night and don’t have the patience to wait that long, 15 minutes will do the trick, but really only in dire situations! If you don’t wait long enough, it’s likely your mat won’t be sealed for long. Oh, and make sure not to leave any sticky residue on the mat. Otherwise, you might find that your sleeping bag and sleeping mat have become inseparable overnight! If you follow these instructions and patch up your mat correctly, it’ll be as good as new! Sleep tight!
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