How to Buy a Sleeping Mat
There is nothing more important than a good night's sleep, especially when you've been slogging it out on the trail all day. But, choosing the right sleeping mat can be difficult, especially with so many technical terms, shapes and styles. In this video, Chris explains different types of sleeping mats and how to choose one, be it summer hiking or winter ski touring.
What is the R-Value?
The R-Value represents the thermal resistance of transferring hot to cold. In practical terms, if you are sleeping directly on the ground with no insulation or thermal resistance, you will lose body heat to the ground. The higher the R-Value, the more thermal resistance there is, less heat is transferred from your body to the ground. In summer, a lower R-Value mat allows heat transfer helping you to cool down. The ground draws the heat from your body, creating a cooling effect.
For most situations, a mat with an R-Value of 3 is practical for summer. An R-Value of 3 provides some resistance to keep you from getting cold. A suitable sleeping bag and mat with an R-Value of 5 and above provides insulation in winter conditions like frost or snow.
Remember that the R-Value is not a heating value. A sleeping mat is not going to make you warm. A sleeping mat will retain the warmth provided by a good quality sleeping bag (suited to the conditions) and thermals.
Sleeping Mat Shape
Sleeping bags come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate sleeping positions and comfort preferences. The sleeping mat shape you buy is personal to you.
A tapered or mummy shaped sleeping mat is wider across the shoulders and narrow at the foot box. Tapered or mummy shaped sleeping mats are lighter as there is less material and insulation. However, if you are someone who moves around a lot in your sleep, you won't find tapered mats as comfortable as the space a rectangular mat offers.
The thickness of a sleeping mat is also an important consideration, especially if you are a side sleeper. A sleeping mat of at least 7cm thick allows support for your hip.
Air Mats vs. Closed Cell Mats
Arguably, an air mat is the most comfortable and packable option. Most air mats are lightweight and can pack down to the size of a water bottle. However, comfort, weight and packability come at a higher price tag. There is also the risk of a puncture. Closed-cell mats or foam mats are generally cheaper, won't puncture and are lighter. The downside of a closed-cell mat is the bulkiness and lack the cushioning an air mat offers. A closed-cell mat can be used underneath an air mat to increase the thermal resistance or for additional protection on rocky, abrasive surfaces.