9 best camping mats for a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors

·8 min read
We tested these mats in conditions that range from scorching desert, to winter in the Pamir mountains; on rocky surfaces, living room floors and between cacti (iStock/The Independent)
We tested these mats in conditions that range from scorching desert, to winter in the Pamir mountains; on rocky surfaces, living room floors and between cacti (iStock/The Independent)

From ultralight mats to plush self-inflating mattresses, there’s a camping mat to suit every outdoor adventure.

Camping mats are the perfect way to upgrade your tent bedroom: they provide a layer of insulation that keeps you warm even when the ground is cold, elevate you away from the rocks and pine cones, and get you as close as possible to feeling like you’re sleeping in your own bed.

Fully inflating mats are, generally, the lightest and therefore the ones you want to take hiking. Hybrid mats, which contain some foam but are also slightly inflating, are a good compromise: they are slightly heavier, more durable, and more comfortable if you don’t like the airbed feel of a fully inflated mattress. And finally, there are entirely foam mats, which are extremely comfortable and squishy, usually fairly light, but bulky: these are best for car camping and overlanding trips.

We tested a host of these mats in conditions that range from scorching desert to winter in the Pamir mountains; on rocky surfaces, living room floors and between cacti.

We looked for mats that suited all kinds of expeditions, from lightweight hiking and backpacking trips where weight and pack size is at a premium, to overlanding trips where the only limit is the size of the van floor.

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Whatever expedition you have planned, these are the best camping mats to keep you comfortable.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best camping mats for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Alpkit Cloud Base: £44.99, Alpkit.com

  • Best for ultralight camping – Thermarest neo air Xlite: £159.99, Ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk

  • Best for foam mattress lovers – NEMO Switchback: £52.99, Ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk

  • Best for festivals and family camping – Vango Shangri-La II 7.5 double: £220, Vango.co.uk

  • Best for overlanding, van life and car camping – Sea to Summit comfort delux sI: £170, Seatosummit.co.uk

  • Best for cold weather – Sea to Summit women’s ether light XT extreme mat: £203.95, Alpinetrek.co.uk

  • Best for kids – Outwell dreamcatcher single 5.0cm: £55, Outwell.com

  • Best for rough hiking – Big Agnes insulated AXL trail boss air pad, £148.95, Absolute-snow.co.uk

  • Best for camping on a budget – Quechua self-inflating camping mattress: £12.99, Decathlon.co.uk

Alpkit cloud base

Best: Overall

Supremely comfortable and surprisingly light, this lofty mattress from Alpkit is an absolute bargain. With the same multi-chambered, sprung mattress-like feel of mats twice its price, it gave both our side/front and back sleepers a really good night’s sleep. It’s generously sized – particularly in length, at 189cm (which is just over six feet) – but packs down to the size of a rolled-up magazine. Fully inflating (so with no foam), it takes a bit of puff to blow up, but keeps its shape really well: we didn’t sense any dipping or air leak overnight. It also comes with a brilliant field repair kit in case of puncture.

Buy now £44.99, Alpkit.com

Thermarest neo air xlite

Best: For ultralight camping

One of our reviewers spent 18 months sleeping on a neo air xlite during a round-the-world bike tour, and she still recommends it to anyone travelling fast and light. Fully inflating, it blows up incredibly quickly and easily thanks to the external plastic valve: our record was 20 massive puffs.

Light (345g in the regular size) and small, it packs down to the size of a small water bottle – it is literally pocket size. Thermarest’s heat-reflecting lining kept us snuggly on this mattress down to -20C (in a good sleeping bag): the trade-off, though, is its characteristic rustle. We learned to love it, your tent mates might not be so sure.

Buy now £159.99, Ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk

NEMO Switchback

Best: For foam mattress lovers

Our favourite foam mat, this neat folding mattress is brilliant for sleepers who don’t like the feel of air beds, or campers who have run out of puff at the end of the day. The foam is soft and squishy and feels noticeably warmer to touch than many air mattresses, and the bumpy pattern – which looks a bit extreme to start with – feels awesome under a sleeping bag.

It doesn’t raise you very high off the ground, so may not suit side sleepers, and – while it’s rated down to -7C – would need to be paired with a second mat in seriously cold weather to keep you comfortable. Easy to set up (just unfold it) and pack away, it’s also great to have to hand for lunchtime stops, or nights sitting around the campfire.

Buy now £52.99, Ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk

Vango shangri-la II 7.5 double

Best: For festivals and family camping

We’ve been camping with Vango’s shangri-la mats for years now, and we’re still in awe of their fast and easy self-inflation. This large, roomy mattress, at 132cm width, is most at home in a larger family-size tent but fits in most tents built for two people. It was a squeeze in our narrowest ultralight tent, though, so it’s best to measure your floor space before you buy.

The vertical walls and plush top make it one of the most mattress-like of all the mats we tested: the pay-off is weight – at 4.9kg, this is a mat designed for car camping rather than hiking. The self-inflation works brilliantly, but we topped ours up with a few breaths for an extra firm feel.

Buy now £220.00, Vango.co.uk

Sea to Summit comfort delux si

Best: For overlanding, van life and car camping

This giant, plush self-inflating mat boasts that it’s comfier than your bed – and it certainly comes close. At 10cm thickness it gets you as far off the floor as most futons, and, even in the regular size, it’s incredibly generous. Made of deep, squishy foam, it’s really supportive, and self-inflates quickly without much intervention – we barely needed to add any extra breaths.

Although we slept off the ground on this mat (in a car roof tent), it kept us warm, with plenty of insulation. It rolls up smaller than you might think, making it ideal for car camping or very short hikes. This is our new festival favourite.

Buy now £170.00, Seatosummit.co.uk

Sea to Summit women’s ether light XT extreme mat

Best: For cold weather

A cold weather-ready version of one of our favourite sleeping mats. The sprung cells in this mat make it feel incredibly mattress-like, with a firm support that keeps you well clear of the ground with none of the wobbliness of flimsier mats. It’s air-filled, but Sea to Summit’s amazing pump sack (the stuff sack, which ingeniously becomes a kind of air sock when you plug it into the valve) gets it to maximum loft with minimum effort. It’s light and packs down small, and was – by far – the warmest mat we tested, with two good layers of top-class insulation.

Buy now £203.95, Alpinetrek.co.uk

Outwell dreamcatcher single 5.0cm

Best: For kids

Simple to use and perfectly comfortable, this super durable self-inflating foam mat is ideal for younger campers. The springy foam keeps you warm in spring and summer conditions, and the simple valve system makes it easy to set up and pack down and to keep topped up with little puffs of air on longer trips. Outwell specialises in family camping, and this mat is designed to fit in its tent bedrooms – so, while it can travel anywhere, it’s most at home in a family tent where its tough finish can withstand almost anything your trip can throw at it.

Buy now £55.00, Outwell.com

Big Agnes insulated AXL trail boss air pad

Best: For rough hiking

Unbelievably durable, this tough mat from US-based wilderness experts Big Agnes is perfect for those trips where you can’t guarantee a smooth landing. Aviation-grade ripstop fabric and polycarbonate coating means that this mat will glide over most thorns and pebbles, and last a lifetime of all-condition camping. Light and warm, we loved the slightly higher outer walls, which keep you nestled in the middle of the mat no matter what position you sleep in (or what kind of slope you’re on).

Buy now £148.95, Absolute-snow.co.uk

Quechua self-inflating camping mattress

Best: For camping on a budget

If you’re camping in warm weather and on grass, there’s no reason to overspend on your sleeping mat. This simple, self-inflating mat has seen our reviewer through plenty of festivals: it’s durable, easy to set up, and surprisingly light (just over 1kg). You need to add a few breaths to the self-inflation to get it to a firm level of support, and ours needed topping up in the morning, but overall this is a handy standby for short trips in good conditions.

Buy now £12.99, Decathlon.co.uk

The verdict: Camping mats

Alpkit’s cloud base mat is a brilliant addition to its lightweight camping range and has everything you want in a hiking/biking mat. For extreme conditions, we absolutely trust Sea to Summit’s fabulous ether light extreme mat.

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