Can you get packable and comfortable when it comes to camping mats? We’ve been testing the most promising options in the world of camping mattresses.
On our wishlist;
- A camping mat that rolls up fairly small – preferably self-inflating
- Comfortable enough for long trips
- No shiny plastic-like surface for sleeping bags to slide off
- Reliable valves
We’ve huffed and puffed and tossed and turned and now we know what works (and what lets us down). Far too many supposedly self-inflating mats still need a LOT of blowing up after the valve’s done all it can. Far too many have sharp edges that rub the fabric and eventually cause a leak. To be fair, that can be years down the line, but there are much better options.
Here are our favourites – tried and tested.
Sea-to-Summit camping mats
We’re blown away by Sea to Summit’s mats. Apart from the price, they’re everything we could want in a sleeping mat. Comfort, very well-designed valves and a decent weight and pack size. There are two ranges – self-inflating and airsprung cell – with a choice of rectangular or space-saving mummy shapes, thickness and sizes. We tested one from each range and they’re now top of our list.
Ultimate 10cm comfort and extremely fast inflation thanks to the two-layer valve. This feels like a memory foam mattress and has deep sides so you don’t roll over the edge. The fabric is soft and smooth too.
The valve has also been designed so that when you deflate you’re not fighting against the air rushing in. Getting SI mats back into their bag can be exhausting, so finding one that doesn’t make you want to go straight back to bed is a big plus.
This has to be our number one choice for camping with a car.
- Size: 183cm x 64cm (regular rectangle)
- Packed size: 18.5cm x 64cm
- Weight: 1840g
- Price: Around £130
Not a self-inflater, but VERY fast to blow up, either by mouth or using one of the Sea-to-Summit mattress pumps. The advantage of a non-SI is that you save on weight and size. They’re also easier to deflate and pack away without a struggle.
We were worried about the rustling fabric of this model as we unpacked it, but once lying down and with a sleeping bag, it’s not too noisy at all. It’s extremely small and light, but the dual-side design means you can achieve good support and finetune to suit your sleeping position. The insulation is superb. You can feel the warmth as soon as you lie down.
An ideal choice for backpacking or wild camping.
- Size: 183cm x 56cm (regular rectangle)
- Packed size: 12cm x 23cm
- Weight: 920g
- Price: Around £135
Exped camping mats
The first thing you notice with the Exped mats is that they seem a cut-above many of the high street brands in the choice of materials and quality of manufacture. And you certainly pay for the difference!
The Comfort range has single and double mats ranging in thickness from 5cm to 10cm, and including the mighty Mega mat, which is more of a guest-bed than a travelling mat. The camping-size (though still generous) LW models have a Velcro strip along the side so that two mats can be joined together.
They inflate themselves through a single flat valve (there’s a second valve for deflation) and have foam in strips inside to increase the comfort. It takes 24 hours to get the mat fully inflated the first time it comes out of its carry-bag and a bit of puff helps the process. A tip we’ve learnt over the years: if you’ve got the space, leave your self-inflating mat semi-inflated (you can fold it in half to take up less room) rather than keeping it scrunched up in its bag.
Fantastically comfortable and warm. Slightly tricky to deflate and get back into the bag, and you pay for the quality! We tried the Comfort LW 10.
- Size: 197cm x 65cm
- Packed size: 72cm x 18cm
- Weight: 2500g
- Price: Around £138
Exped also make a huge range of camping mats that come with mini pumps or have built-in pumps.
The built-in pump versions are not so great if you need to inflate them on an unstable surface, such as in a car). There’s a knack to pumping, but watch one of their videos for instructions (and a laugh). Comfort is excellent.
Thermarest camping mats
Thermarest invented the self-inflating mat, so they ought to know what they’re doing. They certainly do know when it comes to the amazing Speedvalve!
Thermarest sent us a NeoAir Camper SV to test. Not self-inflating, but wow! Actually, when we read the instruction to blow five or six times a distance from the huge opening, we laughed…a lot. How could that possibly work? In fact, it’s the fastest to inflate and deflate that we’ve ever used. Costs around £95.
It’s also very lightweight, reasonably comfortable at 7.5cm thick and packs away easily into a generous sized stuffsack. As with many Thermarest (and other lightweight) mats, however, the one problem is the fabric. It rustles as if you’re sleeping on greaseproof paper. That aside, an amazing fast and comfy mat for backpackers.
Theramrest comfort mats
The most comfortable in the range is the bedlike MondoKing 3D, with its 10cm thickness. The L version (there’s an XXL too) still weighs only 2.5kg.
Dreamtime, with 8.6cm of comfort, (two sizes) are a bit heavier at more than 3kg, but we like the protective mattress idea. Extreme comfort and pretty good on self-inflation (just a couple of extra breaths for more firmness). Not cheap at £145-ish.
Our preferred Thermarests are the 7.5cm thick LuxuryMaps, which come in regular, large and extra-large sizes (the purple ones shown here). They’re a good compromise between portability and comfort. The internal foam varies in thickness so that you get support where it’s needed without adding unnecessary bulk and weight. We tested the large, and liked the single valve with its nicely rounded inside – no sharp edges to wear through the fabric. Comfortable, lightweight, but a bit harder than the Exped, which might suit some sleepers.
- Size: 183cm-196cm long, 51cm-76cm wide
- Packed size: 16cm x 53cm to 17cm x 79cm
- Weight: 1500-2300g
- Price: From around £85
Trail camping mats
Trail Outdoor Leisure is a new name to us, but they make exceedingly cheap self-inflating camping mats, ranging from 2.5cm to 10cm in depth, and ranging in price from…£10 to £25! How does anyone make and transport a product and get a profit out of that? It’s a worrying question.
They’re basic in design , and a little heavy, with a shiny surface and a single valve, but they seem fast to inflate and the 10cm one we tried was comfortable. They are a little narrow (at 50cm), so wouldn’t suit larger bodies. The integral straps make them easier to pack away.
- Size: 180cm-50cm
- Packed size: 25cm x 55cm
- Weight: 2440g
- Price: Around £25
Vango self-inflating mats
The Comfort camping mat range offers thicknesses of between 5cm and 10cm and there are single, double and a ‘Grande’ extra-wide single to choose from.
The top material is fairly soft and slip-resistant and the self-inflation works with just one valve. These are slightly heavy and we weren’t so keen on the sharp edge of the valve inside the fabric, as this has a tendency to wear through the fabric over time. The valves on the Exped and Sea-to-Summit are way better, but they are nearly three times the price!
We tested the Comfort single 7.5cm.
- Size: 60cm x 200cm
- Packed size: 64cm x 20cm
- Weight: 3000g
- Price: Around £50
There’s also an Adventure DLX 5 and a 7.5, which are a little more expensive and operate with two valves. Comfortable, though slightly more solid feeling than the Exped. The valves are still the sharp-edged type, but the fabric feels tougher and so more able to cope with the wear.
Don’t buy a Duvalay
Just out of interest, we also looked at the Duvalay memory foam mats with built-in duvet. Sadly, we weren’t convinced. We tried a 4cm three-season weight version (around £120) and found the cover a bit cheap and scratchy. Our main problem, though, was that we couldn’t see an advantage in building the duvet and foam into one product. In fact, we thought it just made it hard to get the cover on and off for washing. But, people do seem to love them, so we’ll accept that tent campers perhaps aren’t the market. They’re really intended to soften an uncomfortable bed, and for that you do need to opt for the more expensive, thicker mattresses.
TOP TIP for ordinary airbeds
If you do have a mouth-blown airbed, save yourself some time and effort. Once you’ve blown some air into it, roll it down from the valve to the other end (making sure you’re not letting air escape out of the valve). This moves the air to the foot end. That way, you won’t have to blow air all the way down to the bottom. Clever, eh!
Got a camping bed, mattress or mat that you love (or hate!)? Leave a comment below.