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How to pick a sleeping mat for camping

How to pick a sleeping mat for camping

If you are looking for a new sleeping mat for camping, we have put together this guide to help you pick the best mat for you!

With so many options to choose from it can be hard to pick the right mat. So check out our guide below.

Which mat you choose will depend on a few key factors:

  • The temperature and conditions
  • How far you need to carry you gear
  • Are you sleeping in a tent, a van or under the stars?

Why do you need a sleeping mat?

Sleeping mats have two primary functions:

Keeping you warm and keeping you comfortable. People tend to focus on the comfort part - who doesn't want to be comfortable! But the insulation a sleeping mat provides can be key - especially in low temperatures. 

Generally when camping you will loose a lot of heat to the cold ground below you - so having a good sleeping mat which insulates you from the ground is key to a good night's sleep.

Comfort often comes down to individual preferences - while some people can sleep anywhere, others find it hard to get some shut eye without a good comfortable mat.

All of Sea to Summit's sleeping mats aim to maximise comfort and insulation for their desired weight and purpose.

Air mat or self inflating?

There are two main inflation options for sleeping mats: Air or Self inflating (SI).

Air Mats

Air mats are the favourites of ultra-light campers who are looking for maximum weight to comfort and warmth ratios.

Air mats are lighter than SI mats as they have no internal foam and instead provide comfort with air-sprung cells.

Traditionally Air Mats needed a pump (which adds weight) or lots of blowing to inflate - however Sea to Summit Air Mats included an Airstream Pump that are integrated into the stuff sack for quick and easy inflation, with only a couple of breaths.

Air mats are the most packable and lightweight of camping sleeping mats and if you choose an insulated mat they are extremely warm too.


As the name suggests, self inflating mats inflate by themselves without the need to pump them up. When you open the valve on a self inflating mat the foam inside springs back into shape which sucks in air to fill up the mat.

SI mats provide a great balance between comfort and weight whist still being packable.



As we mentioned earlier in the article - the warmth which your sleeping mat provides is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a mat.

The warmth a sleeping bag provides is measured in an R-Value.

R-Values are a figure derived from an independent industry standard ASTM F3340-18 test. The R-Values are a measurement of thermal resistance – they tell you how well your sleeping mat resists heat loss.

The higher the R-Value the more your mat resists heat loss and the better it insulates you from the cold ground.

So for summer camping with warmer air temperatures and no ground frost a rating of 1 may be warm enough - if you are camping in the winter on snowy or frozen ground you will need a warmer mat with a rating of 4+.

Our sleeping mats range from the UltraLight Air Mat with an R-Value of 1.1 to the extremely warm Ether Light XT Extreme Mat with an R-Value of 6.2. 

These mats have very different intended uses hence their huge difference in R-Values.

The graphic below will give you a good idea of the R-Value you will need for the temperatures you will be camping in.

Where will you be camping?

As well as the temperature of where you will be sleeping the place you camp makes a huge difference to which mat you will choose.

If you are walking for a long distance or climbing to the top of a peak carrying your sleeping mat with you, you will want to make weight and packability your priority. 

But remember lightweight doesn't have to mean cold and uncomfortable. Our Ether Light XT Insulated Mat weighs 490g but has an R-Value of 3.2 and has 4 inches of comfort. 

If you don't have a long walk to camp or are camping in or beside your vehicle weight and packability become less important and you can go all in on comfort!

For the ultimate in luxury for base campers, our Comfort Deluxe Self-Inflating Sleeping Mat features four inches of plush foam and a 30D stretch knit fabric on the upper surface for a luxurious warm feeling when it’s cool, and a cool feeling when it’s hot

Other things to consider

Length and width

Our mats come in different sizes with small, standard and long lengths. If you are a tall camper - one of our long mats will keep all of you warm and comfortable - without your feet over hanging your mat.

If you are smaller, a small size mat reduces bulk and weight which you don't need!

Some of our mats also come in wide or rectangular shapes - perfect if you are broad or like to move around in your sleep.

Women's Sleeping Mats

 All of our mats come in unisex and women's - to provide the most comfortable and warm night sleep for every one.

Statistically, women tend to sleep a few degrees colder than men. It also may come as a surprise that, on average, their height, weight distribution and metabolism can differ too.

What's more, many women tend to be side sleepers, sleeping in a 'figure 4' position.

Our women's specific sleeping mats are shorter, narrower at the shoulders and wider from the hip to knee. The shorter length and better—fit shoulders mean you don't have to carry extra weight around (though taller versions are available within the unisex range). And the more generous cut around the legs allows you to sleep on your side without falling off the mat.

Women's specific Air Sprung Cell sleeping mats have extra THERMOLITE insulation compared to the unisex versions—to help women retain heat where they typically feel the cold.

The women's specific Self-Inflating steeping mats have different Delta Core and Delta Core-V patterns, where foam coring removes bulk and weight whilst retaining warmth and support. We've used a women's specific profile for this coring to create Comfort Warmth Zones where women tend to lose heat.

Sleep system

Your mat is just one element of your sleep system, so it is important to consider the other parts of your set up.

Pairing a lower R-rated sleeping bag with a really warm sleeping bag and liner may work for you - add in a liner and a pillow and you have a great (and versatile) sleep system.

Sea to Summit Sleeping Mats

Hopefully this guide has helped you to pick the right sleeping mat for you - at Sea to Summit we make sleeping mats for every type of camper in every environment  - so check out our range of sleeping mats.

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