Choosing the best sleeping mat for bikepacking is just as difficult and personal as choosing the perfect bike.
What works for one person, may well be completely wrong for someone else. So when trying to find the perfect sleeping mat, here’s a few pointers and questions to help you on your journey to a good night’s sleep.
1. Start off with the mat you have
If you already have a sleeping mat that you use for camping, then start off using that one for your first bikepacking trip – assuming it’s small enough to strap to your bike in some way.
Once you’ve been on a trip, or two, with your current mat, you’ll start to have an idea of what’s working for you, or what isn’t, and this will help with choosing your new mat.
2. Borrow or buy second hand
There’s no easy way to trial sleeping mats, and spending 30 seconds lying on a mat in your local camping shop probably isn’t going to help very much.
Although, looking at mats in a shop is still a good for determining the length of the mat and to work out its packing size (more on this later).
If you’ve got mates that are happy to lend you their sleeping mat, then borrowing different mats and asking for recommendations is a no-brainer and goes a long way. If no-one’s on hand to lend you a mat, then consider buying one second hand, there’s always plenty up for sale on Gumtree and within Facebook groups. If you don’t like what you’ve bought, you’ve a good chance to sell it on again without losing much money.
3. Insulated or Non-Insulated?
Unless you live in Queensland, or somewhere equally warm, you’ll probably want to invest in an insulated mat. If you had the cash you could get one of each, but when camping in winter the difference made by using an insulated mat like the Sea To Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Mat will definitely help you keep warmer overnight.
Insulated mats generally pack away a little larger than non-insulated mats, so if weight and space is at the top of your list, then you might be willing to forgo a little extra warmth.
4. Packaway Space
When choosing the perfect sleeping mat for bikepacking, you need to think about where you’re planning on storing your mat.
Different mats pack away in slightly different shapes and their packaway size will vary in height, width and diameter. There’s also closed cell sleeping pads like the NEMO Switchback that we’ve reviewed, which are unlikely to fit into any of your bags, so you’ll need to consider whether your setup will accommodate this style on a rack or strapped to a bag.
Most sleeping mats are small enough to pack away and fit into nearly every saddlebag, handlebar roll, frame bag and even in your fork bags.
5. What type of riding are you doing?
This is an important consideration to bear in mind and it’s kind of similar to asking how important is a good night’s sleep on your trip?
If you’re racing in an ultra-endurance bikepacking race, then chances are you’re not sleeping more than 4-5 hours a night. In this case you’re probably so tired that you won’t notice a slightly thinner mat like the Sea To Summit Ultralight Self Inflatable Mat when you bed down for a few hours and these come in a range of lengths so you can really tailor your size and weight preference.
In this case, you can go smaller and lighter with your mat, and probably prioritise a mat that’s super quick and easy to inflate and pack down.
If you’re heading off for a cruisy overnighter, you’ll probably be less fussed about carrying a bit more weight, and the extra comfort of a thicker, more insulated mat like Zorali’s Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat which I’ve reviewed here (and hugged below) will probably be worth it.
6. How do you sleep?
Whether you’re a side sleeper, front sleeper, back sleeper, or some combination of all three, then you might find you’re comfier on one style of sleeping mat more than others.
This takes us back to our first and second points, looking at which mat works best for you. Unfortunately, you’ll only find out what works by trying to sleep on it. And remember, it’s easier to fall asleep after a big day of pedalling.