Sleeping Mat Buying Guide

Sleeping Mats - Why they matter

Sleeping out without a mat is a good way to remind you of their importance. Getting cold and waking up with a stiff back and bruised hips is unpleasant, and will make you wish you’d brought something, anything, to sleep on. There’s definitely a time and a place when you just can’t avoid being uncomfortable, but when you’re not on an Alpine bivvy, a decent mat is well worth taking. The best sleeping mats are warm, comfortable, lightweight, pack down small, and are reliable: they are every bit as essential as a good sleeping bag.


The ground conducts heat up to 60 times faster than air, and if sleeping on ice it could even be 90 times more conductive. That means a huge amount of heat can be lost to the ground, and a sleeping mat helps negate that. An interesting test is to try using a warm sleeping mat instead of a regular one and see how much lighter a sleeping bag you can get away with.


Often the resultant combination of mat and bag is lighter, and more comfortable too. In our own field trials we have found that replacing a foam sleeping mat with an Aerostat mat lets you use a sleeping bag containing significantly less insulation, sometimes as much as 400 grams less down.


Feeling strong and ready for a big day ahead or recovering after a long route requires good sleep, and a sleeping mat is essential for that. Being able to lie comfortably on almost any terrain, whether it’s grass, moraine, snow, or ice is extremely important to good rest, and a thick and protective mat is a key step towards that. Suddenly, even the most remote and inaccessible camp can be made to feel comfortable.


Types of sleeping mat

There are four main types of sleeping mats, each with their own characteristics.


Closed-Cell Foam Mats

These are an outdoor industry super-classic, a benchmark product recognised by hikers and mountaineers across the generations. They provide an extremely durable and relatively inexpensive option which is crampon-proof, quite light, and completely idiot proof. For these reasons they remain a common sight strapped to the packs of alpinists on big routes, and we recommend them for very rocky or confined alpine bivies, or in scenarios where mat failure is both likely and would result in serious consequences. However, they have their downsides as they offer relatively little comfort, don’t fold up very small and provide precious little insulation. So for serious routes they are still hard to beat, but for many applications there are now better options available than the closed-cell foam mat.

Uninsulated Inflatable Mats

Essentially using air mattress technology, these mats are phenomenally lightweight and relatively comfortable, but they lack any real insulation and are quite vulnerable to puncture. For when weight is absolutely critical and in applications where mat failure is not disastrous (for example, some adventure races or mountain marathons) they are a good option, and we ourselves have used them regularly, but we would not recommend these mats for most applications unless you’re obsessed with saving weight.

Novelty fact: Mountain Equipment used to make a sleeping bag which was Balloonbed compatible: it had fabric tubes along its length which were then filled with long modelling balloons. The resultant bag/mat combination was extremely light and relatively comfortable, but the sound of bursting balloons during overnight camps at Mountain Marathons defined some competitors’ experiences.

Insulated Inflatable Mats

These mats offer the greatest performance of all mat types across most metrics. They are the warmest option, they are very light, they are exceptionally comfortable, and they pack up very small. Their limitations are their relatively high price which makes them the domain only of more concerning users, and the risk of puncture (though this is seldom as much a problem as many people expect). For cold-weather camping, for weight conscious users, or for those to whom comfort is key, this is the best sleeping mat option available.


These are another veteran of the industry, a genre-defining and iconic product. They use foam to pull air into them (‘self-inflating’) and then require a little air to top them up and increase the pressure. Self-inflating mats are significantly more comfortable than closed-cell foam mats, are warmer, and weigh only a little more. They are easy to use and pretty durable, and pack up much smaller than a foam mat too, making putting a full-length one inside your pack a much more reasonable proposition. However, self-inflating mats can puncture and lack the real intense warmth and comfort of an insulated mat. They are a good all round option for many campers, but are no longer the highest-performing option out there.

Sleeping Mat Performance by Type

Mat Type





Ease of use

Insulated Inflatable












Uninsulated Inflatable






Closed-Cell Foam






Sleeping Mat Construction

Mountain Equipment make self-inflating mats* and insulated inflatable mats. Both of these mats work a little like airbeds, using air to support a sleeper, but while airbeds allow air to circulate inside them, making them notoriously cold, our mats are filled with insulation and this stops air moving inside them. As a result, out mats are warm.


*not available in the US


Self-Inflating Mats

In self-inflating mats, foam is used as an insulation. The foam greatly increases both insulation and comfort. However, we all know that the best insulating materials are down feathers and synthetic fibre insulations. As such, sleeping mats filled with down and synthetic insulations offer the best possible warmth. This is where our Aerostat Mats come in.

Insulated inflatable mats

In our Aerostat 7.0 Synthetic Mat, sheets of Polarloft® synthetic insulation are stretched from the top to the bottom of each mat to prevent convection occurring inside the mat, and to minimise radiation of heat. Our Polarloft® insulation provides reliable durable warmth far in excess of that offered by the foam in self-inflating mats. It is also resistant to moisture and extremely durable. Our Aerostat Down mats use 700 fill power down insulation held inside the mat. Down is an exceptional insulator which has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of all known fibrous materials. However, the difficulty with down is that it likes to move around if not kept in place. As a result we have used our unique and patented-pending internal Helix™ Baffle to reduce down migration and to ensure the mat is warm throughout its length. This results in one of the warmest sleeping mats on the market, and certainly the warmest in its weight category.

Aerostat Mat Construction

Construction of the Aerostat down and synthetic mats is difficult. We use technology patented by Exped® and licensed by us to ensure that the insulation can never escape the mat: foam plugs are used in the end of the mat to resist insulation leaving the mat, and these are welded into the mat.

Our custom-moulded Gas Mask valve is 2-way and allows a user to inflate their mat without fear of air escaping at any second, but it also allows the user to dump air out quickly when it’s time to strike camp. While an inflatable mat is never going to be as durable as a foam mat, we have used very durable 30D fabrics with coatings that are highly resistant to hydrolysis to create mats that should last for many years. These little details result in the finest sleeping mats that we’ve ever made.


Sleeping Mat Temperature Rating

What is an R-value?

R-values are used to determine how warm a Sleeping Mat is. ‘R’ refers to thermal resistance, and a greater R-value and thermal resistance means a warmer mat. Until very recently there was no universal test for assessing a mat’s warmth, making direct comparison between the R-values from different manufacturers difficult as they may have been tested in different ways. However, the 2018 publication of ASTM F3340, a Standard test for sleeping mats, will greatly improve this situation. Our Aerostat mats are amongst the first mats to have been tested to ASTM F3340.


Your Sleeping System is Key

Regardless of how a mat has been tested, remember that having a Sleeping Mat that is warmer than you need often means that you can carry a lighter sleeping bag and the result is often a warmer, lighter, and more comfortable sleeping system. Sleeping mats are often overlooked when thinking about sleep systems in favour of thinking about more glamorous and squishy Sleeping bags, and yet Sleeping Mats influence how warm you feel, how comfortable you feel, how much weight you carry, how rested you feel, and how big your bag has to be. They’re an absolutely key part of any overnight trip.


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