Insulated sleeping mats and beds

Absolutely essential for a good night’s sleep, and a good night’s sleep is essential to enjoying a comfortable stay in the wild.  If you invest in anything, your sleeping system should be the top of the list.  When considering what to sleep on, it is essential to make sure that it has excellent ‘thermal insulation’ properties: even in the height of summer the ground temperature will be lower than your body temperature, and will therefore leach the heat out of you through your sleeping bag.

Also consider comfort.  If you have any back problems then an air-inflated mattress is a good idea, the thicker the better. Robust and puncture-proof materials are essential: cheap versions puncture, tear or split very easily and you’ll be buying replacements every time you go out.

Dont sacrifice compactness for comfort and insulation: if you have to go bulky, do it here.  Also, consider using both a foam and inflatable combination for your sleeping system for the most comfortable night’s sleep.

Features to look for:

  • Good thermal insulation properties – good nights sleep
  • Price is often an indication of quality and durability
  • Foam mats need to be at-least 12mm thick to be any use – thin mats do not insulate
  • Self inflating mats are great, but you need to use a pump with them – don’t inflate by mouth

Features to avoid:

  • Shorter than the length of your body – any overhang gets cold
  • Purely inflatable mattresses on their own – if they puncture you have no insulation
  • Cheap and ultralight in the same description – thin cheap fabric punctures very easily
  • Foldable foam-mats: the folds let through body-heat

Reflective cot

  • Ultra comfortable
  • keeps you in-place while you sleep – no rolling off your mat
  • Good thermal protection – can be enhanced with a thin mat
  • Very expensive fro good quality versions
  • Cheaper versions can be heavy and very bulky
  • Can be tricky to assemble with cold hands / gloves
  • Tends to require a firm surface – can sink into soft ground
Stockists and Price
Good quality ones – such as Thermarest are available from online retailers, and have the widest range, but nothing beats going to a shop and trying it out for yourself.  Check on the thermal properties, camp beds on their own need another thermal layer to work.

Prices for a good model can range from £150 to £200.

Self-inflating mat

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Comfortable, provides some protection from lumpy ground
  • Good thermal protection – mixture of reflective foil and foam is the best
  • All inflatables are prone to puncture and wear
  • Must be inflated by pump – inflating by mouth puts moist air into the mat which is haven for bacteria and mould
  • Can be expensive, but you get what you pay for
  • Not as comfortable as a cot / bed
Stockists and Price
There are a myriad of brands and makes on-line and in all stores.  Go to a store and try lying on one for more than just a few seconds: take a book and lie there for 5 minutes and see if it is comfortable.

In our experience Thermarest is a very reliable and well priced brand, but be prepared to pay between £80 and £120.

Reflective foam roll

  • Cheapest of the options
  • Thick ones are very comfortable
  • Instant bedding – no fussing around with inflating or assembling
  • Need to be thick to be any good
  • Can be very bulky, needs to go on the outside of your pack
  • if it’s any good it will be heavier than an inflatable or even a cot / bed
  • Not as good an insulator as an inflatable mattress
Stockists and Price
Can be bought from all the major outdoor shops such as Blacks, Go Outdoors and Millets for around £10.  Bewildering choice online, make sure you pick one that is ‘5 season’ and as thick as you can find.

Terry’s favourite

“Self-inflating works best for me, but the pump can be fiddly and a bit noisy… it relies on batteries which I don’t like, but overall it is the best for a good night’s sleep.”

Adrian’s favourite

“My Thermarest has lasted several years without puncture: worth checking under your groundsheet carefully for sharp stones and thorns before settling down for the night.  Keep the repair kit to hand too, just in-case.”