How to Choose Hiking Gear

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If you’ve ever found before the radius hiking mattress in a store, you had to wonder at the number of shapes, colors, materials and different prices. But what is the difference between the mattress to 5 euros and 129 euros? What is the difference between the small and large thick all end?

For starters, a camping mats concretely what for? Here are his two main functions:

The first is fairly obvious to some that you already slept on the floor: comfort . Few camp sites without stones, branches, roots, bumps, holes, etc. The mattress thus serves to improve the sleeping comfort to try to get the best effort of the day.

The second is thermal insulation. This is surely the most important. If this were only a story of comfort, we often see hikers without mattresses. Contrary to what many people think, it is not enough to have a good sleeping bag for not having cold night. The part of the sleeping bag that is crushed under our body isolates little cold from the floor because there is very little trapped air. This is why it is essential to have a camping mats to ensure good thermal insulation.

In addition to these two main uses, the mattress also protects the sleeping bag of moisture, can be used as reinforcement in some ultralight backpacks and other ancillary uses.

So do not neglect your choice of mattress hiking and do not think a vulgar piece of foam or a pool inflatable mattress can do the trick.

Selection criteria

You have to choose your mattress based on your practice . To start, consider the conditions you’re going to use (weather, duration, frequency, type of soil, etc.). Then determine what your preferences and priorities.

Once your criteria identified choice , you will have no problem choosing your camping mats by reading the rest of this article.

Here are some criteria to consider.

Thermal insulation

Often, we distinguish 3 seasons mattresses (spring, summer, autumn) of winter mattress . Please note that this definition applies to temperate regions. Even in summer, it may be necessary to have a winter mattress in certain cold regions.

Mattresses 3 seasons are often thinner and less isolated from the cold. They are against lighter, less bulky and often cheaper. In winter, it is possible to combine several mattresses 3 season or invest in a special mattress winter.

For those who have never had the unpleasant sensation of lying on an ice cube, believe me, the mattress plays a very important role for a good night without feeling cold. If it does not isolate enough, you feel cold at the parts of your body in contact with the mattress – even with a good sleeping bag-and you will have a bad night. I tested this with a foam mattress too late in the Queyras Nature Park in early November, just a few years.

So find a good compromise between a good heat insulation for the thermal conditions in which you plan to hike and a reasonable weight . Especially taking into account the temperature of the soil which may be different from the air temperature according to the conditions during the day (sun, shade, etc.). The soil also plays an important role. More soil is dense, the more it will lead to the cold body.

How to tell if a camping mats isolated well or not?

It is not easy. It depends on many characteristics such as material, thickness, volume of air imprisoned, etc. There is a measure of thermal resistance of the mattress: the value R (or R-value) .The higher it is, the better the thermal insulation of the mattress. Unfortunately, this measure is not shown on all models. The typical values of R-value for a good camping mats 3 seasons 2 to 3 . In cold conditions, there are mattresses with R-values of up to 8 or more.


There are various mattress sizes depending on your body type. There are lengths, widths and different profiles (right sarcophagus). There are even special female models.

The goal is to have the lightest possible and mattress that is tailored to your body and your needs .It’s always nice to sleep on a good mattress off but still have to wear it. If you are tempted by the model of extra large camping, first read this article: Are You Making These 2 errors in backpacking beginners .

Do not be surprised to see very short mattress (about 1.20 m). These mattresses are made only for the upper body – where take place the majority of heat loss. With this type of mattress you can pile clothes, your backpack or two under your legs to protect them from the cold. This is a less comfortable and a little less insulating but lighter and cheaper alternative.

For foam mattress, just take a knife to reduce the size of the mattress if you prefer the lightness and comfort.


If the sleeping comfort is your priority , this is not the mattress that will make a huge difference, it is primarily the choice of the location of your mattress . Well, it’s sure a self-inflating mattress 2.5 cm thick is more comfortable than foam mattress 0.7 cm thick and that this first best reduces unevenness in the terrain (stones, small lumps, etc.). But there will be very few differences for large irregularities.

This is why you must choose your location before you set up your tent . If possible, place the mattress on the floor and lie on it to test if it’s comfortable. Without it, you will realize too late (after the tent set up) as the field you have chosen and who look flat requires you to sleep in an uncomfortable position.

Feel free to try the mattress store to test the sleeping comfort and compare different models. If the sleeping comfort is really your priority, read the article ” Are You Making These 2 errors in backpacking beginners ” not to neglect your comfort while walking promoting your comfort too in the bivouac.

Other criteria

I presented some criteria for choosing a camping mats, but there are many others . Some hikers prefer eg, weight, price, ease of maintenance, durability, reliability, compactness, etc. Often it is necessary to compromise: for example, if the light is your priority, then it may need not be too fussed about comfort or price.

My main criteria are for example: thermal insulation, lightness and reliability. Moreover, the thermal insulation should be the first criterion of everyone-except if it is hot enough to do without mattresses.

Although this is not as important as for hiking shoes, try as much as possible before buying. Lie on the mattress, put it, inflate it, deflate it, etc. Test it as if you were at the camp . This will help you choose the right size, test its comfort and see if it matches your criteria.

In the remainder of this article, I present the main types of camping mats and the advantages and disadvantages of each . You will be able to choose the hiking mattress that best suits your needs.

Foam camping mats

There are a multitude of foam mattresses, with very different qualities and characteristics.

For hiking, it is generally advisable to choose closed cell foams. They are stronger and are waterproof. Avoid use basic models that have open cell foams that are much less dense, shaky and absorb water.

You will find smooth foam mattresses and other with cavities . These cavities serve to trap air to improve thermal insulation without increasing the weight of the mattress.

Most foam mattresses are rolling, but some models fold accordion to reduce clutter. Some mattresses have two sidesto improve thermal insulation-to put a ground contact and another in contact with the sleeping bag-similar to the survival blankets . Some mattresses even have a variable thickness of foam to maximize the weight (heavier in the hips and shoulders).

The main advantages and disadvantages of a foam camping mats.


  • Reliable and durable (except the base models).
  • Quick and easy to install.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Good insulation (except the base models).


  • Little insulation (especially for basic models).
  • Bulky (some accordion models have better compactness).

Self-inflating camping mats

As its name suggests, a self-inflating mattress inflates itself . When you open the valve, the open cell foam contained in the mattress sucks air to resume normal. Just close the valve and your bed is ready. This process may take more or less time depending on the quality and age of the mattress.

It is possible to blow into the mattress to inflate faster and more firmly,but it is not recommended because it brought moisture in it – which can freeze or get moldy inside.

To deflate the mattress , just open the valve and roll it to remove the air that is inside. You must then close the valve to prevent the mattress inflates.

Be careful where you install your mattress because thorns or other asperities can pierce the outer shell. This is why most of the time, a repair kit comes with mattresses.They are also often guaranteed. But the guarantee will not change the bad nights you spend on a mattress “flat”.

Warning: for your mattress keeps its autogonflantes and insulating properties, we must place it flat with the valve open in a dry place when not in use.

The main advantages and disadvantages of a self-inflating camping mats.


  • Good insulator.
  • Easy to install.


  • Rather expensive.
  • Sustainable little.
  • Fragile (crevable).
  • Require maintenance and proper storage.
  • Takes a little time for it inflates.
  • Can absorb moisture.

Inflatable Camping Mats

There are two main types of air mattresses for hiking: empty ones and those that contain a filling made of down or synthetic fibers .

The second type was created to address the insulation problem of the first type . Air trapped inside an inflatable mattress without lining circulates easily and heat exchanges are therefore very well (convection). The cold ground is well transmitted to the body-not ideal as insulation. This is why (among others) I advise you to use an air mattress or a rubber pool inflatable mattress.

The inflatable mattresses that contain a filling (down or synthetic fibers) do not have this problem and provide excellent thermal insulation while keeping main advantages of inflatable mattresses. To inflate the mattress, just use the storage bag that incorporates a pump or can directly be used as bellows pump. This prevents blow directly with the mouth , thereby introducing moisture into the mattress that could freeze facilitate the formation of mold or decrease the thermal performance of the packing.

The main advantages and disadvantages of an inflatable camping mats.


  • Light (for models without packing).
  • Inexpensive (for models without packing).
  • Good insulation (for models with trim).


  • Slow to install.
  • Takes effort (you have to pump or blow).
  • Little insulation (for models without packing).
  • Heavy (for models with trim).
  • Expensive (for models with trim).
  • Can absorb moisture.

What I use

I always had a preference for foam camping mats. I currently use a honeycomb pattern that has agood thermal insulation (R-value: 2.8). I already tested self-inflating mattresses and have highly appreciated their comfort. But I have already seen several times a teammate inflate his self-inflating mattress at night or waking up on a mattress “flat” due to leaks. I prefer the reliability and lightness of my foam mattress even though comfort n’ is not optimal.

And you, what do you use? Tell me in the comments, and do not hesitate to ask questions if you have them.

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