How Can I Get a Great Night’s Sleep When Camping?
The success of any camping trip comes down to two things. How much fun you have during the day and how well you sleep at night. Often, the two are a direct consequence of the other.
The key to getting a great night’s sleep when camping is making sure you have the right gear. That is why we want to help you to make the right choices. At Crua, we know a thing or two about tents but what about the other essentials? Having the right pillow and sleeping bag is important. However, we’ll start at the very bottom, the base layer. The all important camping mattress.
Getting the right camping mattress is very important. Without a good camping mat it can be almost impossible to get comfortable and drift into the land of nod. Some people can manage without one but for the majority the camping mattress is all important.
Like most pieces of camping equipment these days, there are so many different options on the market that it can be a little overwhelming. So, we want to look at the four areas you need to consider when choosing a camping mattress. Let’s dive into it below:
What To Consider When Choosing A Camping Mat
1. The Types of Camping Mattresses Available
We are going to start out with what might be considered a controversial statement although, really, we don’t think so (let us know in the comments). That is that when listing the types of camping mattresses available, an inflatable air-mattresses shouldn’t be considered. By “inflatable air mattress” we mean the ones that you would have at home and pump up for guests when there’s no beds available. In our opinion they are too chunky, susceptible to punctures and too inefficient to be considered. However, there are a number of other options available.
Camping Mat or Closed-Cell Foam Pad
A camping mat or closed-cell foam pad is the most basic type of camping mat but it’s not without its uses. Lightweight and inexpensive, this type of mat acts much like a traditional yoga mat or car mat. Although it doesn’t provide any real support camp mattresses like this provide one simple function - they stand between you and the ground. In that regard, camping pads like this do the trick. They provide insulation in that they stop the ground from absorbing all your body heat.
This type of camping mat is very limited but can suffice when sleeping on soft, level ground. Some obvious disadvantages would be the lack of comfort and although slim, they are not the most compact. As closed-cell pads can only roll up so much, they can be quite bulky to tidy away.
Air Pad or Inflatable Pad
Air pads are in many ways, an all-round better option to the above. Although they are a little more expensive, it is definitely worth the investment. Air pads have improved incredibly in the last number of years and are currently the biggest growth area in sleeping pad technology. If you are the type of person that needs extra support underneath you to fall asleep, air beds like this are are a marked improvement on the last option.
Air pads make for surprisingly efficient travel mates. They can be easily deflated and tidily stored in your backpack. This is even added to the fact that some airpads can inflate to 3 or 4 inches thick. Most air pads need to be inflated manually either with a pump or by mouth. However, as they are not as thick as the traditional home air mattress, they typically do not take very long to pump.
Some air pads come with built-in pumps although this can reduce the pad’s packability. Air pads are usually filled with down so tend to be a warm option.
Self-Inflating Camping Mattresses
Self-inflating camping mattresses are favoured by a huge number of campers. In terms of price they usually fall somewhere between foam pad and air pad. In terms of design, it’s a similar story. The self-inflating mattress is made of a combination of air and cell-foam. The foam pad rests within the padding. The design uses this internal foam pad to inflate. When the valve at the top of the mat is opened it sucks in air which gets trapped around the foam layer. When the valve is closed again, it traps in the air and stays inflated. This allows for a more comfortable and insulted mat that can be advantageous to the two previous camping mat types mentioned.
Although air beds are temporarily rendered useless if punctured, the self-inflating mats still have the foam layer, even if deflated. Self-inflating mattresses can be excellent in terms of support, comfort and insulation. However, they are not as compact as the camping air beds mentioned above. (At Crua, we have a self-inflating mattress coming very soon, check it out here.)
A term that you might have become familiar with while researching camping mattresses is ‘R-Value’. Although a r-value mightn’t be attached to every camping mat on the market, it is good measurement to understand. It has to do with insulation.
As alluded to earlier, the main function of any camping pad is to act as barrier between you and the ground. If you are lying directly on the cold ground, it will absorb your body heat and make for an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The purpose of a camping mattress is to provide resistance against the cold ground and keep you insulted overnight. The “r” of r-value therefore stands for “resistance”, i.e resistance to the cold. Anything below 1.5 should probably be avoided. A r-value of five would be a good measure for a high quality camping mattress with the ability to withstand the harshest of winter temperatures.
This insulation metric isn’t exactly like sleeping bags. Often, sleeping bags that are too well insulted can cause you to overheat. However, a camping mat with a high r-value will not overheat. A high r-value just amounts to greater protection against the cold.
So why wouldn’t you pick a r-value with 5 every time? Well, generally, the higher the r-value, the more expensive, so we will leave that up to you. A r-value of 3 or higher should provide efficient coverage during the Summer while higher protection may be needed during the Winter months.
3. Size - Length, Width & Weight
Size, length and weight are obvious considerations when choosing a camping mattress as you want the camping mat to fit your body. Different brands will come in different sizes and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to camping mats.
A great place to start is figuring out your own size requirements and using that when choosing a camping mat. There is a very simple way of doing this that we highly recommend to help you find your perfect fit. Pitch your tent at home and lie down inside of it, spread out as comfortably as you wish. Using masking tape, get a friend to mark your widest points and then connect to make a “camping mat outline”. This masking tape representation will have your minimum measurements and will help you when shopping for your perfect size. Simply as that.
As for the perfect weight, that is a matter of convenience and we will touch on that next.
4. Where Will You be Using Your Camping Mat? - Intended Use
The final piece of the puzzle has to do with the type of camping you will be doing. Depending on type of camping you will be doing there are considerations in terms of inflation and deflation, convenience of use and packability. The season of the year can also play a part.
Generally, there are only a few different types of camping that matter when considering the type of camping mat for you. If you are travelling by car and are unrestricted by weight or size then you have a lot more options available to you. You could almost recreate the comfort of your own home by getting a thick air mattress with built-in pump or an accompanying mechanical pump for convenient, quick inflation.
If you are carrying all your material on your back, there is a lot more to consider. Packability can trump all other considerations. If this is the case, a lightweight air pad would be a good option. Closed-cell foam pads are very light and don’t require any setting up. However, as mentioned earlier, they do not tidily fold up into a bag and usually have to be carried along attached to it.
A final consideration would be the time of year. If you are camping during the cold winter months, then insulation and r-value take on a huge significance.
All these considerations are personal to your trip. Does insulation matter more than convenience? Does packability trump quality? Does simplicity, price and ease of use take preference of all else? These question come down to the type of camper you are so the final decision is yours.
Oftentimes we spend the most time deliberating on the best tent and sleeping bag and only consider the camping mat as an afterthought. However, when the quality of your camping mat can decide the quality of your sleep, it is something that mustn’t be taken lightly.
We hope that this article will help you find the perfect camping mat for you. To help even further, in the coming weeks we will be highlighting the Crua community’s seven favourite camping mats. In the meantime, if you want to check out another of our top seven lists, why not check out our seven best camping chairs. Another vital consideration as we help set you up for the perfect camping holiday.