How to choose a sleeping mat

By Sea to Summit


Whether you’re a hiker, car camper or ultralight mountaineer, there are three key criteria for choosing a sleeping mat.

Sleeping mats are one of the most important pieces of gear in your camping arsenal. Even the most lightweight backpackers have learnt the cold, hard way that saving a few grams isn’t worth missing out on sleep.

Restless nights sap all the fun out of exploring the outdoors. On more technical expeditions, it can be life-threatening.

A good sleeping mat, or pad, depending on where you’re from, is what’s going to protect you from the lumps and bumps of the trail and insulate you from ground temperatures, which can be a whole lot colder than the air. It’s the foundation of any good sleep system.

There’s a lot to delve into when choosing the best sleeping mat for you—from construction and shape to materials and noise. But to help you get your best sleep outdoors, we’re going to focus on the three most important factors: Comfort, Warmth and Weight + size.


Comfort is the one thing you can’t measure and yet it’s going to make all the difference when you’re trying to get some shut eye on the trail. A mat can be lightweight, pocket-sized and ward off bears, but if you find it uncomfortable, you won’t be getting a good night of rest and recovery.

Sleep can be hard to come by in unfamiliar and unforgiving conditions, so consider what you need to get comfortable enough to doze off.

It’s all relative, of course. For some, comfortable is a warm mat with firm pressure, for others it’s about fabric feel, support or thickness.

Our take on comfort is that your mattress should be supportive and well cushioned, and you’ll find this across all of our mats. You’ll also find a lot of different options in the range to suit your personal preference.

Air Sprung Cell™ sleeping mats

Much like a pocket spring mattress, our award-winning Air Sprung Cell mats have been designed to offer more support and cushioning than your average inflatable mat—at the lightest weight possible.

Instead of the typical baffle construction, which offers less stability, our air mats are constructed using a dot-weld pattern to create a high surface-area matrix of interconnected chambers. Each of these cells mould to your body to equally balance the pressure of your bodyweight. It won’t wobble or become unbalanced when you roll over in the night.


If you’ve spent the day clocking up miles on the track, the last thing you want to do is waste your breath blowing up a mat. Beyond the head spins, it’s also a surefire way to introduce bacteria and moisture into your mat. We’ve added an antimicrobial treatment to our mats as a second line of defence but it’s still best practice to avoid the risk altogether.

All our Air Sprung Cell mats have an Airstream Pumpsack integrated into the base of each stuff sack. Harnessing the Bernoulli effect, this handy pump can inflate your mat in a couple of breaths—with minimal effort and condensation.

Self Inflating sleeping mats

These padded mats use a combination or air pressure and foam to create a ridiculously comfortable and supportive sleeping surface. The cushioning of self-inflating mats is hard to beat and they tend to have a soft fabric feel that’s more reminiscent of your home mattress. In fact, our Comfort Deluxe S.I. can give your bedroom mattress a run for its money.

Self-inflating mats have always been the choice for people seeking comfort over weight-savings but thanks to our Delta Core™ process—which removes 40% of the mat’s weight and bulk—these are now a great choice for lightweight adventures too.

Firm vs. soft

Whether you prefer a firm or softer surface to sleep on, our multi-function valve can adjust the pressure of your mat until it’s just right. Simply press the orange button until the job is done.


Even with the best sleeping bag and liner, you risk succumbing to the cold if your mat isn’t insulative enough. Ground temperatures can quickly sap your body heat if you’re not careful—leading to anything from broken sleep to cold related injuries and even hypothermia.

To determine how much your sleeping mat can prevent heat loss, we look to the R-value (resistance value) of your sleeping mat. Your R-value is a metric used to indicate how insulative your mat is.

Once your temperature drops low enough, it’s difficult to get it back up. Insulation only retains heat, it doesn’t generate it.

All Sea to Summit mats are independently tested to the new industry standard ASTM F3340-18, the gold standard when it comes to R-value testing. This standardised testing protocol produces consistent R-values across brands, making it much easier for you to compare sleeping mats before buying.


Sea to Summit Mats undergo the following quality control before being released:

+ ASTM F3340-18 standard at an independent Laboratory
+ Overinflate testing for 24 hours to ensure structural integrity
+ Destruction testing (this is a fun one)
+ Batch number assignation—for quality control purposes

Unlike sleeping bags, it’s hard to assign temperature ranges to sleeping mats. That’s because your warmth and insulation are affected by so many factors—air temperature, wind chill, ground temperature, frost, moisture levels, your sleeping bag, gender (women sleep a few degrees colder than men), sleeping bag, sleeping liner, your caloric intake and more!  

That being said, we’ve developed the above R-value guide to help you choose a mat with an R-value that will be suitable for the conditions you’ll be sleeping in, and your predisposition to cold. Where any of the above factors might make you sleep colder, choose a higher R-value.

Want to find out more about the new R-values? Visit our FAQs page.


Your mat needs to be light and compact enough to be transported where you need to go. It’s not a huge concern when you’re travelling by car but it matters a lot when you’re on an ultralight adventure at altitude. There’s only so much you can cart up a mountain on your back.

When inflated, the footprint of your mat also matters—because hanging off the edge is going to create cold spots that drain you of your body heat. And once your temperature drops low enough, it’s difficult to get it back up. Insulation only retains heat, it doesn’t generate it.

It pays to carry a few more grams if it makes the difference between a night spent shivering and a successful slumber.

For this reason, our Air Sprung Cell mats are wider than most out there, 55cm in width versus 51cm from other brands. We’ve also included different shapes and sizes throughout both Self Inflating and Air Sprung Cell ranges to accommodate different sleepers. Our women’s specific mats, for example, have been made narrower in the shoulder and wider from the hip-to-knee, to accommodate a typical woman’s body shape and their tendency to sleep on their side.

Perhaps a tapered ‘mummy’ shape will do the job on your minimalist trip, or maybe a wider rectangular mat is more your speed. Just remember—it pays to carry a few more grams if it makes the difference between a night spent shivering and a successful slumber.

In the past, typically the more comfortable a sleeping mat was, the heavier it was. But with the introduction of mats like our Ether Light™ XT series—which offers 10cm (4”) of cushion for minimal weight and packed size—and Delta Coring™, that’s changed dramatically.

Delta Coring™

For a while there, air mats saw self-inflating mats relegated to mostly car camping. But new processes like Delta Coring have greatly reduce the weight and bulk of S.I. mats, making them a great choice for backpackers and overlanders alike.

Delta Core and Delta Core-V™ remove 40-20% (respectively) of the PU foam in our S.I. mats to minimise weight and packed size whilst retaining support and insulation in core body zones. Body mapping determines which process is suitable for each mat and different end-users.

There’s a world of design detail to consider when it comes to sleeping mats but if your mat meets these three key criteria, you’re already well on your way to a great sleep in the great outdoors.

Of course, there’s a lot more to your sleep set-up than a mat, which is why we talk a lot about sleep systems here at Sea to Summit. How your sleeping bag, sleeping mat, liner and pillow work together is going to determine your overall warmth retention and comfort level.

We developed our Sleep System Finder for this very reason. Designed to match you up with your perfect sleep system, it takes into consideration factors like physique, trip conditions and personal preferences to take the guesswork out of choosing your sleep set-up.

Photo credits: Feature image, first image and last image by Marc Daviet.