How to Choose a Camping Mat

Got a camping trip coming up and want to make sure you get a good nights sleep? With a massive range of camping mats out there its easy to feel bewildered, here at Facewest we have a pretty extensive, but well thought out range of mats for everyone, from fast and light fanatics to luxury car camping. This is a comprehensive guide to the ranges available to help you narrow down what you need. Sit down with a cup of tea and have a read, whatever you do don’t panic and get a pastel shade pink or blue roll up foam mat, they may be cheap but you’re going to have a bad time.

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 Values Lowest Suitable Temperature Season
Less than 1 10°C + Summer
1 – 2.5 0°C 2 season
2.5 – 4 -5°C 3 season
4+ -5°C and colder 4 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 Prolite Apex, 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.


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. 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

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.

UL (Ultralight) 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.

HL (Hyperlight) in the name indicates mats which are made to the same lightweight spec as their UL counterparts. The difference is that they shed even more weight by having a tapered shape rather than a rectangular one. These are the lightest mats from Exped and are ideal for lightweight missions particularly for those who don’t move a lot in their sleep.

Winter in the same indicates that this is the warmerest version of this mat and there is a ‘non winter’ version available which will be lighter but not as insulating.

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.

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.

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.

Self Inflating

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.

Naming Scheme

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.


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