A sleeping mat is an essential part of hiking gear. Sleeping bag insulation crumples under our backs and doesn’t keep us warm (unless you use reindeer skin). Hiking mats are used to protect our bodies from heat loss from the ground.How to choose a good hiking mat that is comfortable to use, lightweight and still provide insulation?
The perfect mat, of course, does not exist, and the choice depends on:
You need different mats for different temperatures. To compare them to each other, there is an R-value. Of course, everyone has different thermoregulatory needs, and where one person gets cold, another will sleep comfortably. But the R-value allows you to compare different mats one to the other, and there you can adjust for your own peculiarities. For example, I tolerate the cold well, and on mats designed for +5…+10, I sleep down to zero and even lower.
[blockquote]Important: Before 2020, each manufacturer measured R-value as they saw fit. Since 2020 there is an American ASTM F3340 test, and many mats have changed their R-value up or down. So it’s better to be guided by ASTM F3340 when buying.[/blockquote]
Approximate R-value and lower temperature of comfortable use:
The R-value of a comfort mat can vary greatly from person to person and even from person to person in different states: fatigue, moisture trapped on the mat, hunger, stress all affect comfort.
It is because of the R-value that thin fitness mats or inflatable mattresses like Intex should not be used for hiking. Even if you travel by car and the weight does not matter to you, the temperature of their use is limited to +15…+20 and above.
There are three kinds of mats: foam mats (“carimats”), inflatable mats and self-inflatable mats.
Most often they are called “karemat” or “karimat”, sometimes “izhevka”, “foam”. There are thin one-layer fitness mats (not suitable for hiking!), two-layer and three-layer. Sometimes one side has a reflective aluminum coating for extra thermal insulation.
Curious fact that the Karimat – a proper name from the name of the British company Karrimor. They back in 1968 released their famous rug Karrimat. It spread so widely among tourists that the word “karrimat” stuck in many countries as a synonym for a sleeping mat. The name “izhevka” also came from the name of the Izhevsk Plastics Factory.
The benefits of carimats, or foam mats:
Disadvantages of carimats:
Foam is most often used to make “seat mat“: a small piece of karimat with an elastic band and a clasp to make it easier to walk with it. It is interesting that the design with a clasp is popular among our tourists, in Western Europe you will rarely meet a tourist with a seat on the strap. If they do wear a seat, it’s mostly just a rectangle, without clasps and straps to wear on the hips.
Inside them is a soft foam, something like foam rubber, which is surrounded on all sides by airtight fabric, most often TPU. When you open the valve, the foam flattens out and gathers air; when you close the valve, the mat is ready. But it is only in theory. In practice you have to inflate the mats yourself, to be more exact, to inflate a little bit to make them harder. Uninflated mat easily kinks, and it will be colder to sleep on it.
In short, “self-inflating” mats are a strange intermediate category between foam carimats and inflatable mats. They have lost most of the advantages of rigid foam, but have gained the disadvantages of inflatables. At the same time, they lose in weight and compactness to inflatables of the same class.
Oh yes, a specific disadvantage of self-inflatable mats – they are even more difficult to roll up than foam carimats. The foam inside just tends to straighten out and gain air, unrolling it back. This problem is solved, for example, by special back valve and some skills of folding, but the inflatable mats do not have it at all. In addition, thick self-inflating mats should not be folded in half, but rolled. And you really want to fold it lengthwise to take up less space, but because of this the foam inside can deform and split.
These are the lightest, most compact and at the same time expensive and fastidious mats.
They are available with and without insulation.
Without insulation are designed only for summer. No matter how the manufacturer thought through the design, limiting air convection inside, for cold weather you need a heater. Nevertheless, such mats are cheaper and lighter, which is why they are mass-produced and purchased. For example, the Sea To Summit Ultralight weighs only 250 grams and is very compact. Unfortunately, the comfortable temperature of its use barely reaches +10. The exception to this category is the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm mat, which has an R-Value of 6.9. This value is achieved by the honeycomb structure of the mat and the aluminization of the inner surfaces (about +25% to the R-Value). At the same time, there is no down, synthetic filler or wool in it. And the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite weighs only 340 grams, but the temperature of use is down to -12 degrees! Sure, these are some of the most expensive and lightest rugs in their class, but others are not so much inferior.
Inflatable mats with insulation are the best type for most campers. They are a little bigger and a little heavier than similar models without insulation, but still much more compact than “self-inflating” and even more so carimats. And much warmer than mats without insulation. For example, if you take the same Sea To Summit Ultralight in Insulated version (with insulator) its weight will be 230 grams more, but the temperature of usage will be down to -5…-8.
Softness. This is probably the main advantage of inflatable mats. Unlike rigid foam, their thickness starts from 5-6 cm. They better hide the unevenness of the ground, sleeping on them is much more pleasant and comfortable.
For all its undeniable advantages, inflatable mats have disadvantages:
Remember that air expands and contracts, depending on the temperature. There are two important consequences of this. At night the air is likely to cool down, and the mat will “sag” a little, so you should inflate it with a small margin. A padded mat in no case can be left in the bright sun with a closed valve: the expanded air can deform the mat, and the stratification, it appears “bubbles.
Another feature of inflatable mats – some of them are strongly rustling. Most often this is found if it has a “metallized” layer, which should, according to the manufacturers’ idea, reflect thermal radiation. If you are a light sleeper, it is not superfluous to read reviews before buying, whether the carpet you choose rustles.
By the way, if you think that inflatable mats are only a product of modern technology, they are not. The first mention of “inflatables” dates back to 1824. They were not used for beach recreation, but in the polar expedition of John Franklin, who was looking for the Northwest Sea Route. And in mass production for tourists brand Therm-a-rest launched them in 1972. That is, only four years later than the Karimat.
In short, to understand what suits you, you can only in hiking, and so do not be afraid to go to the mountains, because the equipment only helps you to walk comfortably, and most importantly – it’s your experience.
And Kuluar – your life-changing mountain experience!
Author of the article: Аndrr Piven, FB Andrii Piven