There are a huge number of camping mats on the market, ranging from downright enormous inflatable mattresses, down to featherlight, minimalist creations that look barely capable of supporting a human weight. Luckily, thinking a little about what you might want to use it for will soon clear up which will be the best camping mat for you. Broadly, there are two camps of camping mats – the inflatable or self inflating, and the closed cell foam type of mat (if you’re looking for a more substantial setup, head to our guide to the best camping beds).
If you’re planning multi-day trips with your mat, that points towards inflatable or self-inflating mats as opposed to simple foam camping mats, the latter being far cheaper, more robust but less comfortable than their inflated brethren. Similarly, weight is a key factor if you’re carrying the mat long distance, while packsize is also important on longer hikes and treks where space is at a premium in your hiking backpack (it’s no good investing in the best lightweight sleeping bag if your mat weighs a ton).
That’s not to say that the humble foam mat should be dismissed entirely, because they can be ideal in many situations. They’re almost indestructible, so ideal for festival use or trekking in particularly rugged terrain that would slice an inflatable to shreds. They’re also very lightweight and totally unbothered by getting wet, making them excellent choices for water-based travel or long-distance overland expeditions. However, they are very bulky and come in low on the comfort scale.
As ever, you get what you pay for, with the best camping mats delivering enormous comfort and warmth for very little weight, while some of the cheaper inflatable mats not only weigh quite a bit more, but seem to delight in suddenly deflating at 3am. This is when the expense of a proper, quality mat suddenly seems like a brilliant idea…
The best camping mat: Our expert pick
- Camping mats mainly break down into two categories: inflatable and foam (closed cell) mats. Inflatable camping mats either have foam inserts that ‘un-squash’ when unrolled to inflate the mat, or they require lung power (or a pump, usually included with the higher-end models). Foam mats simply unroll as you’d expect.
- Although there are excellent mid-range options that work wonders in a variety of outdoors scenarios, in our opinion none comes close to the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm. We’ve tested it on numerous occasions and say it’s the best because it’s astonishingly well insulated and comfortable. Not to mention it comes with a lifetime warranty, and Therm-a-rest gear has an excellent pedigree.
How to choose the best camping mat for you
The main use for a camping mat is to keep you insulated from the ground, which even in summer is pretty chilly and can conduct heat away from your body sharpish. That’s no fun at 3am, and can lead to a bad night’s sleep where you keep waking up from the cold, even if you’re sleeping in one of the top tents for camping.
Comfort aside, the season you’re using a camping mat in dictates just how much insulation you need to stay warm, which should make your decision about which one to buy easier.
Self inflating camping mats, inflatable camp mats and foam camping roll mats each have different characteristics. These will be the starting point for your buying decision, depending on what you need your chosen mat to do.
Foam mats are pretty bulky even when rolled up, but they are light and can be strapped to the outside of a rucksack for carrying hands-free. They’re almost indestructible too, but don’t offer a particularly plush mattress-esque snooze and only limited insulation from the ground.
Inflatable camping mats are a far more complex beast, as the various materials and construction make a huge difference to the insulation they dish out – yes, even from two mats that look very similar. As usual, the cheaper the mat the less insulation you’ll probably get. Always check the R-value.
Unsure what an R-value is? It references a camping mat or sleeping pad’s ability to retain your body warmth during the night. So the higher the R-value, the warmer and more insulating it’ll be, and the better you will sleep. Many things affect a camping mat’s R-value, including the material and construction.
Best camping mats to buy now
The Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm offers premium insulation at a premium price, knocking out an epic R-rating of 5.7 and weighing in at a featherlite 430g. This makes it the best camping mat for winter or higher altitude walking adventures, where weight and warmth are big factors. You’ll need to blow it up to reach its full 2.5inch depth, which will take quite a few puffs, and being inflatable it is at risk of puncture if treated badly (a repair kit is included). As with the other NeoAir mats, the material does rustle when slept on, so a tolerant tent mate is a must, or at least get them to pack some quality earplugs.
The Nemo Tensor in ‘regular mummy’ size packs a vast list of technology into a tiny and lightweight packsize, delivering a robust R-value of 3.5 but only weighing you down with 410g (minimum) or 490g (packed). The reason for that 80g difference is the generous inclusion of a repair kit, strap, stuff sack and Vortex pump, some of which could be left at home for the gram-conscious. That R-value is plenty enough for UK winter camping, making this an excellent all-year round mat without a significant weight penalty to drag around all summer.
The R-value is achieved in part by layers of metalised film to reflect heat, as well as a downright luxurious three-inch loft, truly impressive in a mat that packs down to 20×7.5cm. Nemo claims the suspended film reduces noise from the pad when the sleeper moves in the night, which is certainly an issue with other brands. That Vortex pump plays a role here too, as it means the mat can be inflated without blowing directly into it, which adds heat-conductive moisture exactly where you want it least.
Overall, the Tensor is one of the lightest and most packable mats on the market, and with a range of sizes to suit all requirements, you’ll be seeing plenty of these on campsites and crags through summer and beyond.
The JW Trail Mat Air is a worthy choice here, weighing in only slightly more than the Thermarest Neoair, at a relatively light 490g, and with a lightweight but respectable R-value of 1.8. However, the Trail Mat has several tricks up its sleeves, packing down to an intensely small 22x10cm thanks to the welded air chamber construction. This design relies on lots of interconnected pockets to keep you comfy overnight, so air can flow around to support your position – also without the rustling noises of some competitors. Another innovation is the dual-valve setup, allowing faster inflation and deflation of the complex matrix of pockets. Lightweight, packable, fast and quiet, the Jack Wolfskin Trail Mat Air is well worth a look for 3 season adventures where weight and space are at a premium.
The Kelty Cosmic delivers a fair bang for buck, especially given the sub-£60 RRP, which is nearly half some of the other mats here. The high points are a pretty storming R-value of 4, seeing you right in pretty much any seasonal camping scenario, and robust build quality – the brass valve and 20D Nylon ripstop both bearing this out.
Another little trick (somewhat of an old-school one) is that the Kelty Cosmic is self-inflating – simply unroll, unscrew the valve and get on with your evening. A few minutes later the foam will decompress, and the mat will only need a couple of breaths to be snooze-ready. Unfortunately this style of pad tends to weigh a little more than the ultralight inflatable options here, weighing in at 560g – no heavyweight, but still a considerable difference.
As an all-season mat at a very sensible price, it’s hard to fault the Kelty Cosmic, especially for DoE-type expeditions where high-end equipment isn’t appropriate, or causal campers who’d like plenty of insulation even in warmer weather.
Although any of these camping mats will do a fine job in any outdoors sleep scenario, sometimes you want the cheapest possible tool for the job. That’s especially the case when it comes to festival camping gear. You also don’t want anything complicated in that type of situation, which is where the fuss-free Yellowstone Insulated Foam Mat absolutely smashes it. Under a tenner and idiot proof (unroll, lie down), this camping roll mat is not only extremely wallet-friendly, but also handy for any other casual camping occasion.
Indeed, paired with a more expensive inflating camping mat and this will make a decent temporary bed for very little cash. Just remember to use it foil side up for maximum insulation and protection from the ground.
The Vango Thermocore is a sizable beast, not only in weight but also in width, hitting 55x185cm. Part of the reason for this impression is the vertical walls. It’s intentional design feature so that you get more surface area to snooze upon (good news for squirmy or wriggly sleepers). This gorgeous camping mat incorporates many of the features of much more expensive mats, with a stuff sack that doubles as a pump. A hollow fibre core adds warmth without compromising compressibility, and Vango’s ‘quiet fabric’ delivers a rustle-free snooze. Although the Thermocore Camping Mat packs down reasonably well, the weight is quite significant, partly due to the heavier materials used. But if you’re looking for a robust all-rounder for general camping, this is well worth a look.
The Klymit Static V2 is an all-rounder even in all-rounder company. More flexible than a Thermarest, very keenly priced, and extremely packable, this is a real contender for a mat that does it all. The main disadvantage here is the R-Value, a mere 1.3, but for summer use that’s perfectly decent, and a quilted effect will see you keen to sink into it every night. That quilted effect has other benefits too, with larger side rails designed to centre you in the pad and keep you snoozing comfortably all night long. A Lifetime warranty and patch repair kit round out an impressive package that weighs in well under a half-kilo.
This air mat from Snugpak is a touch of luxury at a very attractive price point. Even with it’s palatial size it still only weighs in at 630g, so still very portable, albeit heavier than dedicated mountaineering camping mats. Because it’s literally all air, the mat packs down relatively well, and conceals a hidden surprise: a foot pump. No blowing like the proles for the lucky owners of this mat, simply position a foot near the valve and pump away – basecamp luxury awaits.
No camping mat list would be complete without the game-changing Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite. The egg-box style dimpled foam not only gives you the maximum comfort, but also folds down smaller than you’d believe. It is also totally and utterly indestructible, short of dedicated chopping up or incineration, thus ideal for rough-and-ready mountaineering. Sure it packs down to something about the size of a house brick (and weighs a reasonable 410g), and might not be feather-bed comfy, but it is keenly priced and deservedly popular. Double it up with a more expensive self inflating camping mat for the ultimate outdoors snooze.