I’ve been through them all! From the early foam roll mat, right through to the filled inflatable sleeping pad. Some, skip um! and save a few pennies on repetitive purchases. If you buy cheap, you’ll inevitably go for a pad that suits your needs at a later date. As a general rule, pockets in the system restrict air movement and make for a warmer nights sleep.
The Foam mat
If you have one knocking around and you want to get out then this style of pad will do if you don’t mind the size and a comparatively uncomfortable nights sleep. On the positive, they are light, don’t puncture and most don’t let water pass through them.
The Blow Up or Air Sleeping Mat
A good mat to kick off your wild camping experience to see if you like it. An all rounder for Bivvy, hammock or tent. Definitely the cheapest of the bunch to get you started. Prone to puncture without a good ground mat if you’re on the floor in woodland areas.
Looking at the picture above, it’s the lighter orange bag. This one is approx 20cm x 11cm so clearly the smallest mat if size is key. It’s light, although the trade off is they are often a lesser material so you may want to back a ground mat or carry the repair kit. Most come with them although a bike repair kit will do. Come to mention it, this is a great option if you are packing down for a bike trip that ends with a Bivvy.
Often short and narrow so check the inflated size if you are against your knees down overhanging and possibly your arms too. They come in different thicknesses which I don’t think has an impact of warmth, more on comfort.
Sleeping Mat Filling
Air along is not a great insulator so not suitable for colder seasons or countries. Although with the right sleeping bag combination you’ll extend that.
In summary, light and compact. Suitable for activities where you are limited on load and best for summer or warmer climates.
Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
The black bag in the image. I originally bought this for festivals and it’s served me well when blowing up a mat is the last thing you want to be doing. Setting up in the rain, after a long hike …or after a night of bopping around. Good for the ground or in a tent.
Approx 27cm x 19cm so the largest of the pads apart from a foam roll mat and a very similar weight to my filled inflatable Exped. A little harder to pack down as they want to expand so you will need to develop the technique.
Similar to the inflatable although as it is thinner you don’t notice the drop below the knees, same goes for the arms.
Sleeping Mat Filling
These mats have a honeycomb style inner which causes them to expand and draw in the air. You only need to finish them off with a blow. I find this mat to be a slightly better insulator as that inner restricts the air movement and provides a warmer air gap.
The mat in the picture is the Vango Trek Compact Self-inflating Mat
Filled Inflatable Mats
The winner in my eyes although you do pay for the luxury. Good for a Bivvy, a hammock or in a tent. Slightly tougher fabric although I’d still use a ground mat if you’re on the floor in wooded areas. There are two types of filling, you should consider. Do you want a down filled mat or a synthetic fibre filled mat? See below.
Pack size again is a happy medium. In the picture you see the EXPED Synmat 7, however I have the long wide (LW) version to perfectly fit my Amok hammock. The standard size is a little smaller.
Similar to the inflatable although do come if various options depending on the brand. There seems to be no standard size although by the time you a ready to choose one of these mats you will have discovered your preferred sleeping mat size.
Sleeping Mat Filling
Down filling often doesn’t pack down the smallest of the two and you CANNOT inflate a down mat by mouth. Moisture will sit in the down and rot it very quickly. Synthetic filled mats you can inflate by mouth and most come with the pump option as per the down mats. They have a wide temperature rating and are often cheaper than down.
EXPED Synmat Lite 5M Packed size: 24 x 11cm
EXPED Downmat Lite 5M Packed size: 26 x 13cm
We’ll write a separate article about under blankets as they are hammock specific.