What Camping Mat? Well, I Did Ask…

It’s very much a first world problem but… I’ve lost count of the number of camping mats that I have bought and used over the years. I tend to swing from expensive mat (usually a Thermarest) to cheap mat (own brand Go Outdoors etc…) and back again. The issue I’ve had with Thermarest mats – especially on the long trips that I have undertaken – is that they develop blisters which make it almost impossible to have a comfortable night of ‘sleep’*. I suspect that I am overinflating them. The cheaper mats are just air and they can be quite cold.

(*’Sleep’! I wish… My experience of nights in the tent are usually better described as ‘rest’ punctuated with short periods of slumber. I get up at the point where I am fed up of trying to make an effort to go back to sleep.)

But camping mats are essential. I made the error a few years ago of not taking a camping mat with me when I went on a trip to climb Cadair Idris in Wales. (You can watch the video here.) We camped near the summit of the mountain and I ended up ‘sleeping’ on the cold ground. I consider it to be a near-death experience. Camping mats are NOT an option…

When I was cycling last summer, my Thermarest, predictably, blistered and when I returned to the UK I threw it away. At Easter I will be going camping for three nights in Wasdale in the Lake District (with the same friend from the Cadair Idris trip) and I need to buy a replacement mat. I asked Twitter for advice…

Here’s my original tweet and the replies that followed:

Paul Hunter recommends an Alpkit Dirtbag (strange name for a camping mat, no?) at ยฃ64.99:

Rob and Tim are also a fans of the Alpkit. Sean comments that his Alpkit Cloudbase – ยฃ49.99 – is ‘minimal but enough for me’. There are more Alpkit comments below.

Mr Harris has had similar experiences to me by the sounds of things:

Have had some spendy disappointments in the past (Thermarest, Exped) – happier now with the more robust (for an unexpectedly small weight/packsize penalty) Decathlon Forclaz MT500 [ยฃ44.90] series. (Short in summer, long in spring/autumn).

FortyFourIsTheMagicNumber comments:

I’ve had an original Thermarest 3/4 length since the late 1990’s and it’s never let me down. But, being tired of seeing new kit and not having warmth under my whole body length was getting too much, so I’ve gone for an Alpkit Cloudbase which on all first impressions seems great.

Bruce in the Borders has mixed feeling about the Cloudbase:

I’ve a Cloudbase, TBH I can’t recommend it. Doesn’t feel like it’s any insulation whatsoever and really, really difficult to get all the air out to pack it. It is comfy, light, small (when eventually airless) and cheap though.

Decathlon gets a few positive mentions in the comments. Nick Taylor says they do ‘half-decent’ ones. Dominic Brasted bought one and was ‘pleasantly surprised: quality but not at a silly price’.

Martin S points out that Ecotek plant trees for every mat that’s purchased and Richard Hutchinson loves his SeaToSummit mat although he admits it doesn’t pack up small. Richard Cropper thinks the SeaToSummit ‘Ether Light XT’ – ยฃ235 – is great. I assume by the name it is probably a version that does pack up smaller. The SeaToSummit mats are also recommended by Apache on the Drops.

Meanwhile Ullrich von Muffing has reservations about the Exped mats:

I would avoid Exped. When they work, they are great but I find that they fail too often. Really annoying on a long trip. Their after-sales service is excellent but I would prefer to not need it.

However, Callum James has no such reservations:

Look no further than the Exped Synmat HL. Light, easily packable & very warm. No crinkly noise when fidgeting about. Mine’s been on many bikepacking trips & I rate it very highly!

This Synmat HL mat doesn’t appear on the Exped website so perhaps they no longer make it. L Jones comments that Exped are a ‘good brand and comfy’ and Paul Smeaton is happy with his Exped.

David Key sent a link for the Tensor Ultralight Insulated Mountaineering Pad but at ยฃ219 I think I might leave that to the mountaineers. This mat is also mentioned by Cameron Sinclair; indeed it was so good, his wife nicked it.

Finally, Jim comments that the Ultralight Outdoor Gear site is a good place to look and goes on to add that he is:

…happy with SeaToSummit Eherlite XT insulated [ยฃ195] – warm & deep for [an] old side sleeper. Pumpsack & instant deflate valve great. Probably Exped next time… but only if they have the big valve & pumpsack.

UPDATE: Tim Moss – camping equipment guru / co-organiser of the Cycle Touring Festival – has added his own comments via Twitter:

Inflatable are by far the comfiest but most faffy and puncture prone. Exped are great if you don’t like Thermarest, but all the brands are pretty similar and pretty good. The early Alpkit mats were very unreliable but that was a long time ago (10yrs+!).

He also adds a link to his review of camping mats on his own website, The Next Challenge:

Well, I did ask… Feel free to add your own thoughts below.


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8 replies »

  1. Exped downmat is what we use- Jโ€™s first one had a problem but was swiftly replaced . Mine is fine and has been for about 15 years if my memory is correct

  2. The cheapest roll-up foam mat from a high store will be as effective as anything mentioned above. I’ve used the same mat for 40 years.

  3. Alpkit everytime Andrew. Can’t beat them for value. I sleep like a baby on the Cloudbase.
    Try and get the 20 litre airpump (not in stock at the moment). It’s a simple drybag with a connection for blowing up the sleeping mat. Saves you going dizzy when blowing the mat up and takes no space.

    • Why do they blister, is it something you are doing? Thermarest user for over 30yrs and more than average use, in the arctic as well as UK, mountaineering, canoe and kayak, bivi’s and tents. I have had blisters from hot pots being placed on mats and melting the glue, an odd thorn puncture just glued and patched. Warranty has been good from what I have heard but I haven’t used it.
      If you want warm, light and small, not cheap. The new thermarest neo xtherm is the bench mark in my experience. Use a battery pump or inflation drybag.
      I have used the Alpkit Cloudbase, ok, cool, lightish and small… Small airbed! Which was ok when they were down at ยฃ20-ยฃ30.
      I hope that helps.

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