Sea to Summit’s air-filled mats have been incredibly successful since their launch in Spring of 2015. Journalists and gear testers have bestowed multiple awards on the mats for their innovative design, while end-users frequently comment on the level of comfort and ease of use.
The mats are a tour-de-force of unique technologies. Among these are: Air Sprung Cells™ (which contribute to the amazing comfort and thermal efficiency – see picture below), the Multi Function Valve (which permits rapid inflation, easy adjustment, and incredibly quick deflation), and the Liquid-Extruded Thermoplastic Urethane laminate which has resulted in the extremely high-reliability rate.
If you have read the blog posts https://askbaz.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/sleeping-mats-tech-to-trail/ and https://askbaz.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/the-physics-of-insulation-and-comfort-in-air-filled-sleeping-mats/ you will have a good understanding of what makes some mats more comfortable and better insulators than others.
But – which mat is right for you? Here are a series of (a) questions and (b) points to consider which will help you decide:
(a) How much comfort do I want? – (b) How much weight am I prepared to carry?
In general, as comfort increases in sleeping mats, weight increases too. If you are car camping or static camping, this will be largely irrelevant – if you are backpacking or cycle touring, you will need to be very careful with the weight and packed volume of the mat you choose. One word of caution – some ultra-lightweight sleeping mats use very thin face fabrics: 30 Denier or even 20 Denier. Sea to Summit’s mats use a 40 Denier face fabric and have a lifetime warranty against manufacturing and material defects.
(a) How much insulation do I need? – (b) How important is packed volume and quietness?
The insulation value of a mat can be measured and expressed as an R-Value (as the blog post on the Physics of Insulation explained). Another word of caution: not all R-Values are actually the result of lab testing. And yet another: ‘temperature ratings’ on sleeping mats are manufacturer’s estimates, not empirical test results. Do they relate to air temperature? Ground temperature? It is anyone’s guess…
If a manufacturer does provide a reliable R-Value, here’s what it will mean for use in the outdoors:
|Summer||0 – 1|
|Late Spring or Early Fall (possibility of a mild frost)||1 – 2|
|Early Spring or Late Fall (possibility of a hard frost)||3 – 4|
|Winter (frozen ground)||5 or above|
More insulation generally equals a larger packed volume. And some insulation materials are very noisy, so it is essential to test a mat by laying on it (make sure you roll over) before you purchase it.
(a) How important is fast inflation/deflation – (b) How much time and lung capacity do I have?
Some mat designs require significantly more air to inflate them than others, due to their greater volume or baffled construction, or low-airflow valve or all three. An average adult can inflate a Sea to Summit Regular Comfort Light in twelve breaths or so; a ‘similar’ mat from another brand may require forty or fifty breaths. At the end of the day or at altitude, this may be an issue for you (to say nothing of the amount of moisture you are blowing into the mat with your breath).
Deflation times also vary, from less than 10 seconds for the Comfort Light Mat mentioned above to five minutes of squeezing, rolling and wrestling to get all the air out of mats from some other brands. (Really. Make sure you try deflating and packing a mat in a store, too). Hopefully, you have the right mat if you’re trying to break camp in inclement weather…
(a) How light do I want to go? – (b) How important is durability?
In some outdoor activities, the weight of gear can be a major factor: a Thru-Hike of the AT or PCT is a classic example. Thru Hikers try and save every possible gram because they will be carrying the load all day every day for months.
The issue with making air-filled sleeping mats really lightweight is that the air pressure inside the mat is trying to pull it apart along the welds, which is where the stress is concentrated. This stress, plus other factors such as internal moisture and even mold (see below) can weaken the laminate and cause it to delaminate or fail. And of course, the lighter/thinner the face fabric, the more likely it is to puncture.
Bear this in mind when choosing a very light mat – it is easy for a manufacturer to save weight by using a lighter fabric; it is much harder to do this while maintaining long-term reliability. Some mats are offered with short warranty periods as a result.
Sea to Summit’s mats have a 40 denier face fabric (not a 30 D or a 20 D), and the unique laminate technology (the liquid-extruded thermoplastic urethane mentioned in the opening paragraph) means that delamination failures are unknown.
(a) What is my tolerance for mold? – (b) Wait – are you telling me there is mold in my sleeping mat?
Sorry to break it to you, but the majority of air-filled sleeping mats have mold growing in them. This is the result of moisture from the user’s breath condensing inside the mat and staying there. Long-term users (such as the Thru-Hikers mentioned above) will often have mats which are full of mold.
This is not just a question of the ‘yuck factor’ of breathing in mold every time you inflate your mat: mold will also weaken the laminate and contribute to weld failures and delamination.
What can you do about this? First suggestion – use a pump. This does not have to be a battery-powered device which represents redundant weight in your pack: the Airstream Pump (pictured below) works as a lightweight dry sack during the day, ideal for storing clothing or a sleeping bag in your pack. At night it will inflate your Sea to Summit mat in seconds with just a couple of breaths (or ‘scoops’ of air).
Second suggestion – store your mat unrolled with the valve open when it is not in use – this will allow dry air to get inside the mat. Third suggestion – a Sea to Summit sleeping mat has an anti-microbial treatment built into the laminate which will prevent mold growth. Breathe easy.
OK – enough philosophy. What about some recommendations?
|Activity||Factors||Seasons||Recommended sleeping mat|
|Backpacking||Need to go as light as possible||Summer to early Fall||Ultralight|
|Backpacking||Need to go as light as possible||Summer plus shoulder seasons||Ultralight Insulated|
|Backpacking||Prefer greater level of comfort||Summer plus shoulder seasons||Comfort Light Insulated|
|Backpacking||Hip or back injury||Summer plus shoulder seasons||Comfort Plus Insulated|
|Bikepacking||Need to go as compact as possible||Summer to early Fall||Ultralight|
|Cycle touring||Need to go as compact as possible||Summer to early Fall||Ultralight Insulated|
|Cycle touring||Prefer greater level of comfort||Summer to early Fall||Comfort Light|
|Ski / Snowshoe touring||Need maximum insulation||Winter||Comfort Plus Insulated (possibly with additional foam pad)|
|Sea Kayak touring||Need to go as compact as possible||Summer to early Fall||Ultralight Insulated|
|Car Camping / ‘Base Camp’ use||Prefer maximum level of comfort||Summer plus shoulder seasons||Comfort Plus Insulated Rectangular|
The table above shows a number of outdoor pursuits and the Sea to Summit sleeping mat we would recommend for them. It doesn’t include mats from other brands – but hopefully by reading through the questions and points to consider above you will be able to make comparisons for your particular use.
And if you still have questions – just