Camping 101: A Guide to the Different Types of Sleeping Mats

Are you eager to get away from the hectic pace of your everyday life and spend some time communing with nature? Do you feel drained and in desperate need of some fresh air? As much as we all love our comfortable beds, there’s something special about sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sound of birds chirping.

Camping provides us with a much-needed opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world. It’s a chance to reset, recharge and have some fun. But any camper can attest to the struggles of getting a good night’s sleep when you’re outdoors – the ground is hard, lumpy and often cold. This is where a comfortable camping mat may come in handy.

sleeping mat

What Are the Different Types of Sleeping Mats?

For the most part, sleeping mats are designed to do one thing – insulate you from the ground and provide cushioning to make getting some z’s that much easier. They usually differ in the type of material they’re made from, as well as how they’re inflated.

Closed-Cell Foam

These sleeping mats are made from, you guessed it, foam. They’re typically lightweight and easy to carry, with some models even rolling up to the size of a water bottle. They can be inflated manually by mouth or with a pump, and don’t require a lot of effort to set up.

One downside of closed-cell foam sleeping mats is that they don’t provide as much insulation as other types of mats, so they may not be ideal for camping in colder climates. They also don’t have the same level of cushioning, so if you’re a side sleeper or are looking for a mat with more support, this may not be the best option for you.

Air Pad

If there’s one thing an air pad has going for it, it’s comfort. This kind of camping mat is usually made from a waterproof and puncture-resistant material, such as nylon or polyester. It’s inflated with air, either by mouth or with a pump, and can be rolled up or folded for easy storage and transport.

While air pads are definitely more comfortable than closed-cell foam mats, they do have some downsides of their own. They’re usually more expensive, given their construction and materials. The lighter they are, the higher the price tag tends to be. Additionally, they can be punctured more easily than closed-cell foam mats, so you’ll have to take extra care when using them.


Self-Inflating Mat

As the name suggests, self-inflating sleeping mats will start to inflate on their own once you open them up. They usually have a valve that can be opened or closed to control the level of inflation. They’re typically made from an open-cell foam material, which basically means that the foam cells are interconnected and allow air to flow through them.

This particular type of sleeping mat is a good middle ground between closed-cell foam mats and air pads. They’re cosier than closed-cell foam mats, but not as expensive as air pads. However, they can be heavier and bulkier than other types of mats, so they might not be the best option if you’re planning on backpacking or hiking long distances.

Factors to Consider

With the major typology out of the way, let’s get into some of the manufactory specifications you should look into before purchasing a hiking mat.


The R-value is basically a measure of how well a material can insulate. Naturally, when you’re sleeping outdoors, you want a mat with a high R-value so you can stay warm throughout the night.

Generally speaking, the higher the number, the better insulation the mat will provide. For example, a mat with an R-value of 5 will provide more warmth than one with an R-value of 3. That said, it’s important to note that R-values can vary depending on the temperature and humidity levels, as well as the type of material the mat is made from.

Intended Use

Are you planning on using your sleeping mat for backpacking, car camping or both? This is an important aspect to look into, as it will dictate the size, weight and construction of the mat.

For instance, if you’re looking for something to take backpacking, you’ll want something that’s lightweight and easy to carry. On the other hand, if you’re car camping, weight and size won’t be as much of an issue but the thickness should be.

Size and Surface Texture

Depending on how many people will be using the mat, you’ll want to look for something that’s big enough to accommodate everyone. There are models that are specifically designed for one person, as well as mats that are meant for two or more.

As for surface textures, this is more of a personal preference. Some people prefer sleeping on a mat that’s smooth and slippery, while others prefer one with a rougher surface. The former is typically better for camping in warm weather, as it doesn’t hold on to heat as much. The latter is usually better for cold-weather camping, as it provides more insulation.

Additional Features

Some mats come with extra features that can be helpful, depending on your needs. You may find something with built-in pillows, for example, or a mat that comes with a carrying case. These are usually more expensive than the basic models, but they can be worth the investment if you know you’ll use them.