Every true adventurer has a sleeping mat – be it a self-inflating or foam one. I mean, how could they not? After all, they’re so comfy and practical! I know I couldn’t get on without one on my various camping trips or at weekend festivals. Despite how much use we get out of these things, a few questions remain: For one, how should we store our precious sleeping mats? In a dark, dank cellar? Oh, and another thing: How should sleeping mats be cleaned? And finally, what should we do with our battle-tested veteran mats that are slowly but surely starting to show signs of wear and tear? Well, you’re about to find out! In the following, we’re going to share some tips and other useful information so that you and your trusty sleeping mat can enjoy many adventures to come.
A brief intro to sleeping mats
Let’s begin by differentiating between the different kinds of sleeping mats. Basically, there are two types of mats: the “normal” sleeping mat and the self-inflating kind. The first is usually made of an insulating and cushioning foam material and can be rolled up or folded. The latter – the self-inflating mat – consists of a compressible, insulating filling covered with an airtight shell and equipped with one or more valves. When you fold it up to store it, the filling is compacted. When you open the valve, the filling returns to its original state and the sleeping mat literally self-inflates because of the vacuum created by it having been compressed. This – also quite literally – gives rise to quite a comfortable sleeping mat with very powerful insulation. Why did we address this difference, you ask? Well, even though both types of mats serve a common purpose (to prevent us from freezing our bums off on the hard tent floor), they are quite different from each other when it comes to care, storage and repair.
How to store a sleeping mat properly
No matter what type of mat you have, where you choose to store it is of utmost importance. The storage area should be dry and warmed up to normal room temperature, so storing it in your dank, dark cellar is not an option. Speaking of dankness and moisture in general, it is incredibly important to make sure your sleeping mat is dry before putting it in storage. Regrettably, I’m speaking from experience. If you leave your mat all rolled up when you get home and store it along with all the moisture it has accumulated over the course of the trip, after a few days you’ll come to find that your mat has turned into a stinky mouldy mess – and nobody wants that.
Other than that, there aren’t any other similarities between the two when it comes to storage. In contrast to normal foam sleeping mats, which aren’t all that fussy when it comes to storage, self-inflating mats are pretty high maintenance. If you have a warm, dry place to store it in, a foam mat can be stored rolled up. A self-inflating sleeping mat, however, can’t be stored in this way because doing so would crush the foam over time, rendering it unable to return to its original state. In other words, it won’t blow itself up anymore. For this reason, be sure to roll out the mat and open up the valve before storing it. It logically follows that you shouldn’t store any heavy boxes or containers on top of the mat, either.
Why open the valve? This will allow any moisture to escape from the inside. Plus, the fabric won’t be unnecessarily worn out by continuous pressure from the inside. So, roll out that mat and store it behind a door or in your wardrobe. It doesn’t matter whether it’s upright or lying flat. And here’s some more good advice: don’t try to blow up the mat with your mouth! If you do, moisture and microorganisms can make their way into the interior of the mat, damaging the filling and potentially resulting in a build-up of odours and mould. Yuck! Then, when exposed to sub-zero temperatures, the moisture on the inside can even freeze and damage the foam core. Again, nobody wants that.
How to clean your sleeping mat
Cleaning your sleeping mat is an absolute must. I know it’s easier said than done, but look at it this way: The end of one trip means another is about to begin! In other words, start prepping for your upcoming adventure by cleaning your sleeping mat! Here are some tips on how to go about cleaning: most spots and stains can be cleaned using a cloth or sponge or a soft brush and warm water. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind: the sponge can’t have a coarse surface, nor should the brush have any damaged bristles, as these could damage the mat’s outer material. For more stubborn stains, you can use detergent (make sure it doesn’t contain any bleach, fabric softener or other additives), or mild washing-up liquid.
Thoroughly rinse the mat afterwards and refrain from using aggressive agents such as vinegar or chlorinated cleaners. Not only do they smell horrendous, but they’ll also damage the foam and the outer material. Let the mat dry at room temperature or outside in the shade . Don’t lay the mat out in the sun or try to speed up the drying process with a hairdryer or clothes dryer! Doing so could also damage the mat. After a couple of hours, your mat should be dry and ready to go! If you know you won’t be using your mat for a while, you should give it more time to dry.
If you’re cleaning a self-inflating mat and using water, be sure to close the valve. Before cleaning, make sure the outer fabric doesn’t have any holes in it so that any water you use doesn’t penetrate the interior. If you stumble upon a hole or two, here’s how to repair them.
How to repair minor damage all by yourself!
Before a tour, it is essential to check the equipment. Unpack the sleeping mat, inflate it (or not, if it is self-inflating) and wait a bit. If the mat loses air over time, then something is wrong. If other factors such as a loss of volume due to temperature change can be ruled out, a hole is the culprit. The leak must be found. And this is where detective work is called for.
Finding the hole
The insulating properties of standard foam sleeping mats usually remain unaffected by minor damages to the material. However, it’s a completely different story when it comes to self-inflating sleeping mats. Even the smallest holes in the outer material are enough to allow insulating air to escape the interior of the mat. If the hole or tear can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s high time you did some sleuthing. There are a variety of ways you can do this:
- use a leak detector, a small container filled with foam pellets that help you to detect a leak
- rub soapy water on the mat, and bubbles will start to form over the damaged areas
- if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and don’t have access to soapy water, you can get your hand damp and patiently (very patiently) try to find the hole
Preparing the mat and repair
Once you’ve found the “enfant terrible”, you can start your repairs. No matter which method you use, the corresponding spot must be cleaned and marked. You can clean it with clean water and a cloth. For coarse dirt, rubbing alcohol will help. Mark the spot with a waterproof marker pen. If necessary, you can also use a pen. Then let the air out of the mat and now it’s ready to be repaired.
For quick repair of the sleeping mat, you can use a repair kit. These kits usually consist of several airtight patches in different sizes and a textile adhesive. They are all similar in handling, but you should always follow the instructions provided for any special instructions. Once the mat is prepared, i.e. the damaged area is marked, cleaned and dry, you can start. First take an appropriately sized patch. If your repair kit does not include a pre-shaped patch, cut one to size. A little tip: round off the corners of the patch with scissors. This will make it harder for the patch to come off.
There are basically two different types of patches: those that stick on their own and those with textile glue that has to be applied separately. For the latter, apply the adhesive to the area to be repaired. Now quickly press the patch on firmly and remove any excess adhesive residue. Self-adhesive patches are similar in application. Only without applying the glue, of course. Take the patch and remove half of the protective film from the adhesive side. Press the patch onto the area that needs repair, carefully peel off more of the adhesive film and press the patch firmly onto the mat with the other hand. With both methods, you have to wait half an hour to an hour, and then the mat is ready for use again.
If a hole in the mat in the middle of the night and you don’t want to wait that long, then you can wait 15 minutes after gluing the patch. This is sufficient in an emergency. However, a long-lasting seal cannot be guaranteed. You should make sure that you do not leave any adhesive residue on the mat when you are asleep. Otherwise, the sleeping bag and mat may become an inseparable duo the next morning. If you have done everything right and patched the hole or holes accordingly, your sleeping mat will be as watertight as on the first day. Now you can have a comfortable night’s sleep!