How To Choose A Camping Mat

There’s a huge range of camping mats out there, at Facewest we have 48 different types of mat from Thermarest, Sea To Summit, Exped and Mountain Equipment. It can be a daunting prospect sorting through them to find the perfect mat for you, this guide will hopefully help!

I’m going to break the guide down by activities that I speak to customers about the most. For a full break down of our mat ranges and an explanation of R-Values, construction and materials you can view ‘How to Choose a Sleeping Mat guide‘. We also have a ‘Sleeping Mat Comparison Chart‘ where you can filter our mats by warmth, brand and thickness.

Comfort Camping

Car Camping, ‘Glamping’, ‘A Camping Holiday’, whatever you call it, this is camping where you will not have to carry your kit further than the campsite car park to your pitch. Comfort and warmth are the priorities with pack size being pretty much no object.

The Thermarest MondoKing 3D is the most comfortable mat we stock. 10cm thick, self inflating and with vertical sides so two mats can be attached together to create a double bed. Its pretty much as comfortable as a regular bed.

A self inflating foam filled mat will offer the most comfort and is easy to use, usually you just have to open the valve and leave the mat for a few minutes and it will inflate most of the way its self.

The Thermarest Basecamp is a more affordable self inflating mat for ‘basecamp’ use. Its 5cm thick is is still very comfortable and has an R-Value of 6.0 which is comparable with a 4 season mat.

Most of our large mats are very warm purely from the amount of foam inside them. The MondoKing 3D for example has an R-Value of 8.0 which is the same as the down filled Exped Downmat 9, a mat designed for polar expeditions!

The Sea To Summit Camp Plus Self Inflating is a very comfortable 7.5cm thick 3 season mat that packs down to about half the size of a Thermarest Basecamp.

If boot space is at a premium there are more packable options from Sea To Summit, or you could go with a lighter backpacking mat…

Backpacking (Summer)

A camping mat for backpacking needs to be light enough for you to carry for multiple days and comfortable enough for you to get a good nights sleep which is crucial for recovery. Durability is also an important factor as you never really know what type of ground you could end up on. This is a pretty demanding set of criteria, but thankfully there’s loads of options!

The Sea To Summit Etherlite XT Insulated weighs just 460g (regular) and packs down to a 11 x 24cm cylinder. At 10cm thick and 3 season warmth its also a very comfortable mat.

First off I would take a look at your trekking pack and decide how much space you have available in there for a packed camping mat and how much weight you are willing to carry. Weight and warmth will always be a trade off, with a lighter mat being less warm. In the Summer months you can get away with a less warm mat.

The Thermarest NeoAir Topo is a lightweight 2 season mat that’s 7.6 cm thick with a compact 23 x 14cm pack size. Its insulated with reflective foil so there’s no need for bulky foam.

I would also consider how much backpacking I do compared with campsite camping and try to get a mat that will be light enough to carry and comfortable enough for a week at a campsite. It may mean carrying a little more weight but will be worth it on camping holidays.

The Exped Synmat UL 7 is a comfortable 7cm thick mat with a tiny 24 x 9.5cm pack size. It’s insulated with a layer of synthetic insulation so is very warm for its weight.

Backpacking (4 Season)

Similar to backpacking in summer, you are going to have to make a decision about how much you want to carry and how much space you have, but you are going to be out in more demanding conditions so will need a warmer mat.

The Thermarest NeoAir XTherm is the benchmark lightweight 4 season mat. Very warm and only 430g (regular). Thanks to the reflective foil insulation it also has a pack size small enough for multi day treks and expeditions.

One key thing to bare in mind while camping in the winter months is that most heat loss is through contact with the ground. This means that you can have the fanciest down filled ultra warm sleeping bag, but if you aren’t insulated from the ground you will still get cold.

The Exped Downmat 7 is an incredibly warm down insulated mat with a 4 seaon R-Value of 5.9 with a low weight and small pack size. These mats are popular with people going to polar regions.

There are a range of insulation types in camping mats. Thermarest use reflective foil which reflects your body heat back up at you. This is a very lightweight and low bulk solutions. Exped use Down insulation or synthetic insulation similar to a jacket which is very warm and prevents you body heat being conducted away from your body.

The Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Extreme sets a new standard in warmth and comfort in a very compact mat. 10cm thick with an R-Value of 6.2 it weighs just 720g (regular) and packs down to 24 x 17.5cm. It uses a combination of heat reflective material and synthetic insulation.

Another option to consider for winter camping is to boost the performance of your lighter mat rather than investing in a heavy 4 season mat. You can do this with a heat reflective closed cell foam mat like the Thermarest Z-Lite or Exped Flex mat. These offer a dual benefit of increasing the warmth of your set up and they provide protection from sharp rocks. Plus they are relatively cheap.

Duke of Edinburgh Award

Is there a greater test of a mats durability and usability than a tired 15 year old? probably not. A mat for your child’s DofE award needs to be relatively light, comfortable and easy to use without breaking the bank.

The Thermarest Trail Scout is a foam filled self inflating mat with a durable outer fabric. Easy to use, durable and comfortable.

While a foam filled mat will offer the most comfort, even the most durable ones can be punctured by a sharp object or thorn on the ground. A closed cell foam mat like the traditional roll mat is basically indestructible, modern ones can even be comfortable and warm.

The Thermarest Z-Lite SOL is a folding foam mat that is pretty much indestructible. Carried on the outside of your pack so there’s not much of an issue with pack size, it weighs just 410g and is surprisingly comfortable thanks to the egg box type design.

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