There are some people who can get by on little or no sleep and still conquer mountain summits, but most of us need a half-decent kip to feel human in the morning. Enter one of the most important inventions of the last fifty years when it comes to letting more people enjoy the outdoors: the self-inflating mattress. Now there’s no reason to be cold when staying out overnight.
Mention camping comfort and often the first item that comes to mind is a big thick sleeping bag. But even the biggest and best sleeping bag might not keep you warm enough on its own because the bottom filling will be squashed underneath you, therefore trapping less air. They’re designed to work in tandem with a more resilient and insulating layer to reduce heat loss to the ground; in other words a sleeping pad or camping mattress.
Camping mattresses come in many forms, but they all do the same thing: trap a layer of air between you and the ground which massively reduces the amount of heat that travels between the two. That’s the main purpose, though a generously proportioned mat will also give your shoulders and hips something to sink into for extra comfort. They can be thick or thin, lightweight or luxurious, full-size or minimalist, bulky or compact. Some unroll and are instantly ready, others self-inflate or require a little more effort to inflate. Each offers a unique combination of insulation, comfort, weight, packsize and cost; there really is something for everyone.
For best insulation, the air inside a mat needs to be held as stationary as possible – the smaller the spaces inside the better. That’s why closed-cell foam rollmats are so effective despite being so lightweight (and so cheap). In fact, minimalists can get away with small pieces of closed-cell foam under hips and shoulders when conditions aren’t too severe. However, those wanting a little more comfort than that may well want something thicker, but space is at a premium in a backpack , so the challenge is to provide comfort that’s easy to carry.
So most camping mattresses are compressible – compact when squashed flat and rolled, but warm and cushioning with air added. Many are filled with a substance that traps air - open-cell foam, down, synthetic insulation – again holding that air still to slow down or even stop convection inside the mat, hence the improvement in efficiency over a basic inflatable mat.
Perhaps surprisingly then, some of the most thermally efficient camping mats by weight are purely inflatable. This is achieved by Therm-A-Rest with a sophisticated design using two layers of baffles and a heat-reflecting barrier in between – convection does occur but within each half separately, so heat transfer top to bottom is massively reduced. Just one of the innovations that’s taken comfort into the back of beyond.
However, we do know that there are situations where lightweight doesn’t cut it and nothing but all-out comfort will do. So we also stock a range of mattresses that are generous in all dimensions, that don’t compress as small but offer quite amazing resilience and warmth for car- and base-camping and even for guests at home.
Not only do we stock a wide range of mats but we use them too; since our team spend plenty of time in the outdoors we have great experience of using them and can help you find a mat appropriate for your next trip. In our Milton Keynes shop we also have a range available to try, so you can work out which offer sufficient comfort and pack small enough for your needs.
There’s such a range of camping mattresses available now that the choice of which is best for you may take some time, but what price a good night’s sleep?