Sleeping mats help ensure you get a good night's sleep by providing both comfort and insulation. They come in 3 forms, namely air pads, self-inflating pads and closed-cell foam pads. They vary in level of insulation, weight, comfort and size. Depending on the activity — whether hiking, car camping or winter camping — you’ll want to ensure you choose the right one.

Air Pads

Air pads need to be inflated. While some advanced models have a built-in pump, in most cases they can be inflated in a few minutes. Air pads are surprisingly light and provide a comfortable bed along with insulation from the cold ground.

Many air pads come in different ratings. Some are 3-season, others 4-season, with the latter providing better insulation for the colder conditions. They are often the ideal sleeping mat in that the firmness can be easily adjusted by releasing some air for customisable comfort.

With these benefits, however, comes the extra cost, especially with those that are light and compact. And because they’re inflatable, they can be punctured or torn. Be careful if you’re sharing your tent with a pet!

Self-Inflating Pads

A combination of open-cell foam insulation and air, self-inflating pads are a convenient form of sleeping mat. By simply opening the nozzle, the air chamber fills automatically for quick and simple inflation. When not in use they can be conveniently rolled up and take up minimal space in your pack.

With a layer of air between you and the ground, they offer excellent insulation. And their firmness can be easily adjusted for maximum comfort by releasing air as required.

As with air pads, they can also be punctured or torn, so take care around potentially dangerous objects and with pets.

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

The most basic form of sleeping mat, the closed-cell foam pad, is an ultra-lightweight and inexpensive solution. With tiny air pockets inside the fabric, they offer surprisingly good insulation. And as there’s no inflation necessary, there’s no risk of puncturing.

The pads can be rolled up for easy carrying on the outside of your pack. However, they often come at the price of decreased comfort.

Insulation Ratings of Sleeping Mats

Sleeping mats use a term known as the “R-value” to specify their ability to insulate. The higher the value, the better the insulation it provides. values can range from 1.0 to 11.0.

For the warm nights of the summer, the suggested rating for sleeping pads is 3 or above. However, those with circulation issues or those who need a little extra warmth to stay comfortable should always go with a pad with a higher rating.

It’s worth noting that the ratings for sleeping bags and sleeping mats are not comparable. Choosing a highly rated sleeping bag for summer use will result in you overheating. However, this is not the case with mats.

Sleeping Mat Weight

If you’re travelling by car, then you’ll have little worries about weight. However, those travelling by bicycle or hiking will almost certainly want to take weight into consideration. For those who simply must reduce weight, then mummy or tapered shaped mats will save you some precious grams. While another weight-saving option for couples backpacking together is to share a lightweight 2-person mat.

Which Sleeping Mat Suits which Activity?

Now that you understand the theory, it’s time to decide upon which mat is best for your intended activity.

Car Camping

If you’re car camping, then size and weight are generally a non-issue. Larger air pads which allow for more room between you and the ground will be your best bet in this case.


For the backpackers, weight is often an important consideration. It all comes down to how much comfort you require versus how much extra weight you can carry. Most touring cyclists will pack a lightweight self-inflating pad for the best compromise between both.


For those hikers spending days on end in the mountains, a closed-cell foam pad is often the best option. No one wants to haul unnecessary weight up and down the mountains, so every gram you save is crucial. For those who really want to minimise the weight on their backs, pads of reduced length also exist. They support your upper body and core, while the lower legs can be rested on clothing for extra insulation.

Winter Camping

The winter campers who brave the biting temperatures may require a more elegant solution. To begin with, if you'll be sleeping on frozen ground, an air pad with a high R-value is important. In addition, if weight is not an issue, some campers like to place a closed-cell foam pad under the air pad for increased insulation.

Whatever your chosen activity, rest assured that at Decathlon, we’ve got the right fit for you. We stock a wide range of camping mats of differing types, and no matter the conditions, a good night's sleep is guaranteed!