Sleeping in the great outdoors (Dreamstime)
Review Words : Phoebe Smith | 19 October

Sleeping mats: In search of a good night's sleep

In search of a good night's sleep, outdoor expert Phoebe Smith tries and tests the best sleeping mats on the market. We find out the most comfortable, lightweight and compactable sleeping mats on offer...

Exped sleeping mat (Exped)

Exped sleeping mat (Exped)

Exped, Synmat HL M

£105

Yes, it's expensive - but great value for the tiny weight and size. Mummy-shaped, this mat offers a fat 7cm of thickness, has an R-value of 3.3 (at -6ºC) and tips the scales at 365g - by far the lightest - yet is made from durable polyester that's anti-slip. Internal microfibres keep the weight down and heat in, and it's easily inflated - a 'pumpbag' (60g) slips on to the valve and, using the air around you, inflates it in seconds. Incredible.

Verdict: Light, packable, durable and easy to inflate - one for Christmas.

Buy from: exped.com

Therm-a-rest sleeping mat (Thermarest)

Therm-a-rest sleeping mat (Thermarest)

Therm-A-Rest

£65

It's not the cheapest, but this rugged polyester mat gets the 'Value Buy' accolade because it has a good mix of weight and comfort. It's inflatable - it weighs just 560g (second lightest here). It's thick (5cm), packs down small and has a decent R-value of 1.8.

Verdict: Light, small, a decent price - if you have the lung power.

Buy here: thermarest.com

Regatta sleeping mat (Regatta)

Regatta sleeping mat (Regatta)

Regatta, Napa Ultralite

£30

At £30 you can't go far wrong if you need a mat that requires only light use. It's self-inflating (but will need topping up, as most here do), 2.5cm thick and has a slightly tapered shape. It claims to have a non-slip base (though not as grippy as some) and is made from a durable rip-stop fabric with diamond cut foam insulation. It doesn't have an R-value or temperature rating, and at 750g it's the second heaviest here.

Verdict: Light on your wallet, not so light on your back...

Buy here: regatta.com

Wild Country sleeping mat (Wild Country)

Wild Country sleeping mat (Wild Country)

Wild country, Matterhorn Standard

£30

If you're car camping, this is a great option. It's very wide, 2.5cm thick and has a silicone print to minimise slipping. Like the Regatta model, it is self-inflating (again, it needed a top up) and has a robust fabric and a warming foam interior (no temperature rating/R-value) - but this all means more weight. At 915g it's the heaviest on test.

Verdict: Great for car camping, less so for long-distance trekking.

Buy here: terra-nova.co.uk

Sea To Summit sleeping mat (Sea To Summit)

Sea To Summit sleeping mat (Sea To Summit)

Summit To Sea, Comfort Light S

£90

If you need warmth at a good weight, you will pay more. This polyester self-inflating mat (you'll have to top up) has a re-sealable valve that helps stop accidental inflations, plus its foam core is great at keeping warm air close to you (R-value: 2.7). At 5cm-thick, it's slightly tapered (with anti-slip patterns), weighs 650g - third lightest - and packs down to the size of a small coat.

Verdict: Great weight and warmth for a self-inflating mat - but you pay for it.

Buy here: seatosummit.co.uk

Vango sleeping mat (Vango)

Vango sleeping mat (Vango)

Vango, F10 Aero 3 Compact

£50

Throw in an extra £20 and you get a 3cm-thick mat with a good shape. It's self-inflating (needs less of a top than others) and has open-cell foam inside for warmth and patterned non-slip grips. Despite a durable polyester layer, it's a good weight for a self-inflatable, and is the fourth lightest (660g) here.

Verdict: An OK weight for a self-inflating mat; though, for a tad more, you can find lighter.

Buy here: vango.co.uk

From camping in tents to bedding down in far-off mountain huts, a good sleeping mat will ensure you have the best night's kip, so you wake ready for the next adventure...

Weight

As with any piece of kit, this is always the area where there has to be compromise. Naturally, the more insulation you pack into a sleeping mat, the heavier it's going to be. It has to be a balance between what's comfortable for a good night's sleep and what's comfortable for carrying around with you in your bag. It's always a personal choice.

Packability

Basically, this is how small the mat rolls down. Some are little more than the size of a beer can - ideal for squeezing into your luggage or rucksack. Others take up more room and are akin to taking an extra jacket or two. Be aware that the self-inflating variety is rarely as easy to repack to the size they were when you first got them!

Inflatables

Gone are the days when the only choice was a thin, closed-cell foam mat. Though still a budget option, the technology for inflatable mats has come far. You can get a good insulated one that's only a tad heavier (sometimes lighter) than the non-inflatable variety, but much warmer and more packable. There are usually three choices: self-inflating, which blows up by itself (usually has foam inside for warmth but is heavier); inflatable, where you do all the work yourself (lighter, smaller, often more expensive); and assisted inflatable, where valves and specially shaped openings and 'pumpbags' help fill the mat without the need to puff air into it yourself.

Insulation

Look for materials within the mat that reflect or capture the heat that your body will generate - this is key to keeping you warm. Some have down or synthetic microfibres inside to help with this, others have foam that is shaped to trap hot airand keep you toasty. Many (though not all) have an 'R-value' to indicate how warm it will keep you. The higher the number (between 3 and 5 would be at the upper end of the scale), the warmer it will be. Others simply have a minimum temperature rating or their own sliding scale.

Durability

Clearly, wherever inflatables are concerned, durability is key - you certainly don't want it to burst in the night. Look for strong, durable fabric such as tough polyester. Most come with repair kits, which are easy to use. Also look for anti-slip coating, which helps to stop you slipping off the mat, or it from slipping down the tent (especially useful if camping on a slope).

Sizes

Mats will come in many different shapes and sizes. Typically these range from regular/standard to long (for the taller among us), with a choice of mummy (tapered), rectangular (non-tapered) and even women-specific (usually shorter and wider around the hips rather than the shoulders) designs. It's a case of picking what's right for you.

How we did the test:

From the 10 mats we were sent, our editor, Phoebe Smith, picked out the best six for travellers and took them out on the road in search of a good night's sleep. The 'Value Buy' and 'Best in Test' are indicated where applicable.