TAKE IT LYING DOWN

Outdoor gear

Bryn Davies puts his back into testing the best sleeping mats out there, so you don’t have to

A wise man once told me that sleep is one of the most important things our body needs in order to function properly.

Without it we’re boring caffeine-fulled zombies who are incapable of doing much at all, but with it we’re happy, alert, and most importantly, ready to ride.

According to the National Institute of Health, the required amount of sleep for the average adult is eight hours. That means (if you’re average) you’re spending roughly 33 percent of your adventures tucked up in a sleeping bag catching some Z’s. Given this information, it seems all the more likely that you’ll want to make your sleeping area as comfortable and warm as possible.

In order to get a good night’s sleep you need a combination of three things: shelter from wind and rain (provided by your tent), warmth (largely provided by your sleeping bag, but also aided by the insulating qualities of your sleeping mat) and comfort (provided by your sleeping mat).

The latter of these is just as important as the other two and the sleeping mat you choose can mean the difference between getting some quality kip and waking up feeling like you’ve gone 10 rounds with a bear on a bellyful of Stella.

Types of sleeping mats

There are a lot of varieties of sleeping mat available these days from full-size air beds for camping families, to the ultra light- weight sheets of material that you see those hard-nuts using up Alpine peaks. We’ll be looking at two types of sleeping mats in this review as they’re generally the ones that are going to be of most interest to the adventure bike rider.

Self-inflating

The idea behind these magical-seeming mattresses is that a layer of foam is sandwiched between two tough, waterproof outer layers and it ‘self inflates’ by absorbing air when the valve is opened. This will take a few minutes and you’ll have to add a few puffs of your own air to make sure it’s blown up right, but after that you’re good to go. They pack down surprisingly small, and are generally hard wearing (make sure yours comes with a repair kit). More comfortable than foam mats; if you’re on the heavy side, though, thermal qualities may be reduced if the mat is compressed enough that your body makes contact with the floor.

Air beds

You’ll need a fair bit of room in your panniers to carry one of these, but it’s worth it in terms of comfort. An air bead will be the nearest thing to a proper matress you can fit in your tent and they usually require a motorised or manual pump in order to get them up, which will take up even more space in your luggage. Like the self-inflating mats, make sure you have a repair kit handy.

Foam

While we haven’t included any of these in the review, foam mats are still good op- tions for adventure biking. These are your classic sleeping pads, they weigh next to nothing and pack down to a fairly small size. They’ll be made of a closed-cell foam material which means they won’t absorb water but they’ll act as an insulating layer between your body and the ground. They’re not as comfortable as self-inflating mats or air beds, but they do usually cost a fair bit less. Quite simply, the thicker the mat, the warmer and more comfortable it’s going to be.

Weight and pack size

If I had it my way I’d be lumping a four poster bed and memory foam mattress onto the back of my bike, but unfortunately weight and pack size are an important consideration for us adventure bikers. While weight is less of an issue, it’s always good to have something that will pack away nicely into your panniers, especially if you’re sharing the space with a pillion. That said, don’t feel as though you should be scouring the shop floors looking for the lightest, smallest sleeping mat on offer, and trust me, when
it comes to bedtime you’ll be wishing you’d bought the bigger, heavier, but more comfortable one.

Who’s writing?

He may be only 20, but Bryn Davies has managed to rack up 15 years of outdoor experience in the UK and the Alps. He’s walked long distance trails in winter, climbed Mont Blanc and the Eiger and cycled 700 miles around Europe. He discovered the importance of a good piece of kit when he woke up on a stormy morning in Holland, gargling Dutch rain water.

A night on the rocks

Keep in mind that you’re bound to experience a puncture in your sleeping mats at some time or another, and let me tell you, it’s no fun sleeping on a deflated mat on a rocky ground. It can happen to any of them, whether they’re cheap and cheerful or top of the range, so make sure you keep a repair kit handy.

Whatchu talkin ’bout, Willis?

When buying a self-inflating mat you may be told by the enthusiastic sales assistant about the ‘denier’ of the fabric. As you stand there smiling and nodding, pretending to know what they mean, it’s likely you might also be thinking thinking ‘what the feck are you on about?’. Basically, a denier rating is a sign of how durable a fabric is; it measures the thickness or weight of the yarn used to produce it. A higher denier will mean a more durable fabric, but it’ll also mean a heavier product.

Camping Virgin?

The last thing you want is for your first proper camping experience to be marred by bad memories of an uncomfortable night’s sleep. If you’re new to the whole camping game we’d recommend you break yourself in gently and take the most comfortable mat you can get your hands on. In this respect it’s worth sacrificing pannier space for a slightly larger and more comfortable mat if it means you’ll have a good night’s sleep and a more enjoyable first-time experience.

SELF-INFLATING

1. VANGO ADVENTURE MAT £22

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Weight: 1,190g Dimensions: 183x51x3cm

Vango has been making camping equipment since 1963, so you’d expect this brand to know a thing or two when it comes to sleeping mats. The Adventure is Vango’s 3cm-thick self-inflating mat which uses a tough 75 denier polyester that’s been given a non-slip PVC coating to stop you from sliding off if you’re pitched on an incline. It comes with a handy repair kit for fixing punctures and a stuff sack to keep it packed up. At 51×15 cm when rolled up it’s not the tidiest size yet it’ll still fit nicely in your panniers. In use the mat is easy enough to inflate (requires a few puffs after a few minutes of self inflating) and on a hard, flat surface the 3cm thickness will prevent even the heaviest ABRs from making contact with the ground, maintaining both comfort and thermal qualities. At £22 the Adventure mat is well worth a look, it’s comfortable, easy to use and it’ll keep you warm at night.

Comfort: 6 Pack-size:Value for money: 9 Overall: 6

In a line: Good value-for-money non-slip mat but not the smallest pack-size

2. SNUGPAK TRAVELMAT 3.8

Outdoor gear

Repair Kit: No Weight: 1,200g Dimensions: 179x47x3.8cm

The Travelmat 3.8 is Snugpak’s entry into this test, and it’s a 3.8cm-deep mat that weighs in at 1.2kg. It’s not the most comfortable mat you’ll find as it feels quite hard to lie on, but its 3.8cm thickness will help prevent rocky, uneven ground from digging into you as you sleep. It comes with its own stuff sack, but lacks a repair kit; something that should come as standard with every inflating sleeping mat. Dimensions-wise it’s long enough but it is, in comparison to other mats on this test, a bit narrow and larger riders will likely find it a bit too small for them.

Comfort: 5 Pack-size:Value for money: 7 Overall: 6

In a line: If you want a cheap mat it’s worth a look, but not suited to XL bikers

3. GELERT XPEDITION £34.99

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Weight: 1,042g Dimensions: 182x51x3

Like Vango, Gelert has been in the camping equipment business for a long while now, and its earned a reputation for good quality kit at relatively low prices. The Gelert Xpedition looks to hold true to the company’s image and at £34.99 it’s the third cheapest mat we have on test. It comes with a stuff sack as well as a repair kit for dealing with any punctures you may get when on your adventures. It’s got a well-thought-out design and the underside of the mat features non-slip pads that help keep the mat in place when in your tent – and they actually work. Comfortwise the Xpedition performs well, at 3cm thick it provides a good amount of insulation and it’ll support the weight of heavier people (supported 15 stone well enough). For your money you also get a reinforced metal valve which will add to the product’s longevity.

Comfort: 7 Pack-size:Value for money: 8 Overall: 6

In a line: A well-designed self-inflating mat that offers good comfort and a non-slip underside

4. ALPKIT WEDGE £50

Outdoor gearRepairkit: Yes Weight: 1,186g Dimensions: 188x63x5cm

If you’re a big guy then you’ll love this mat. At 64cm wide it’s perfect for extra large bikers or people who like to roll about a bit when they sleep. As the name suggests it’s shaped like a wedge, being thicker at the head end (5cm) and then tapering down to 2.5cm at the feet. This cuts down on the product’s weight and also allows it to be rolled up tightly. As it’s 64cm wide when rolled up, you’ll have a hard time fitting it into your panniers, but if you ditch the standard stuff sack and fold the mat in half it’ll slot in nicely. The mat offers a comfortable amount of padding in areas where you need it, 5cm under the head and 4cm under the hip area, so you’ll be kept insulated and jagged ground will be cushioned. The selling point of this mat really is its width though, and if you want a comfortable night you’ll not be sorry you bought this.

Comfort: 8 Pack-size:Value for money: 8 Overall: 8

In a line: A brilliant wide mat for big guys

5. MULTIMAT ADVENTURE 38

Repair kit: Yes Weight: 790g Dimensions: 180x50x3.8cm

With a name like Multimat these guys should be the experts on camping mats. The company’s so confident in the quality of its products that each one comes with a two-year guarantee. The Adventure 38 is a mat that’s been designed with a light weight and a small pack-size in mind, but that doesn’t mean it compromises comfort. Measuring in at 3.8cm thick it offers a nice, soft bed, and for a mat of its pack-size it’s quite impressive. Like the Wedge, the Adventure sports a ‘body fit’ shape which cuts out excess fabric in areas where it’s not essential. Like the other mats it’s supplied with a repair kit and a stuff sack. Despite this being a self-inflating mat, I found that it still required a decent amount of encouragement from human lungs before it was ready to be slept on.

Comfort: 7 Pack-size: 9 Value for money: 7 Overall: 7

In a line: Lightweight and small pack-size without sacrificing comfort

6. ROBENS TREKKING 5.1

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Weight: 1,900g Dimensions: 192x63x5.1cm

If you’re a biker who buys his jackets from the XXL rail then the Robens Trekking 5.1 is the mat for you. Looking at the Trekking 5.1 is like being placed in front of a sleeping mat on steroids – it’s massive. At 64cm wide it equals the Alpkit Wedge, however, there’s an added 4cm to it’s length, making it a monster of a mat. At 1,900g it’s just over 700g heavier than the Wedge, but it feels very strong and substantial. Despite its rigidity it offers a huge amount of comfort. It has a constant thickness of 5.1cm which will keep you cushioned from any bumps in the ground, and due to its size it feels more like an air bed. If you’re a bigger biker looking for luxury and comfort, then the Trekking 5.1 is definitely worth making room for.

Comfort: 8 Pack-size: 5 Value for money: 8 Overall: 8

In a line: A monstrous sleeping mat that offers a huge amount of comfort for big bikers

7. ORTIK BODYLITE £75

Repair kit: Yes Weight: 692g Dimensions: 177x53x3cm

The Ortik BodyLite has been designed to offer a low weight and pack-size for mountaineers and hikers, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of place in the adventure motorcyclist’s panniers. Ortik says that the BodyLite has insulation and comfort where you need it, with no unnecessary volume and weight, and this is evident in both the shape and variable thickness of the mat. The BodyLite is thicker (3cm) and wider (55cm) at the torso section than it is at the leg section (2cm thick and 52cm wide). This cuts down on both weight and bulk while keeping the comfort and thermal qualities of bigger mats. However, at 55cm in its widest section big guys are going to find it a bit narrow heir liking and if you’re tall (over 6ft) your tootsies will be chilly as the mat’s only 177cm long. If you’re after a mat with a small pack-size and if you like to dabble into the dark art of travelling by foot every now and again, this mat is one for you to consider.

Comfort: 6 Pack-size:Value for money: 6 Overall: 6

In a line: Offers a small pack size and is worth considering if you’re an active out doors man as well

8. MAMMUT LIGHT PUMP MAT £120

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Weight: 570g Dimensions: 186×50 (38)x7.5cm

The Mammut Light Pump mat is a brilliant example of why light weight and small pack sized don’t mean reduced comfort. The Light Pump mat weighs in at an impressive 570g, and when inflated it has a depth of 7.5cm, making it one of the most comfortable self-inflating mats on test. The mat takes on a ‘body-fit’ shape and I should mention here that at 48cm in its widest part, some larger bikers will find it slightly too narrow. Pumping the Light Pump up is a doddle with the inclusion of an easy-to-use internal hand pump and Mammut claims that the mat can be fully inflated in 30 seconds. I’m not sure where Mammut’s test guys got that figure from as it took me two minutes 29 seconds to get it ready for use. If you’re a small guy then the Mammut Light Pump is definitely one for you to consider.

Comfort: 8 Pack-size:Value for money: 6 Overall: 8

In a line: Amazingly small pack size and useful hand pump, suited to smaller guys.

AIRBEDS

1. EXPED DOWNMAT 7 £125

Repair kit: Yes Weight: 860g Dimensions: 181x51x7cm

I had the luxury of using the uninsulated version of this mat when I was touring around Europe last summer, and if that’s anything to go by then the Exped Downmat 7 is one of the comfiest, if not the comfiest I’ve tried. Unike the other self-inflating mats on this test, the Exped is insulated by a lining of 700 fill down, that’s the type of down you’ll find in top-of-the-range insulated jackets, and although we haven’t tested it in super-low temperatures, the packaging suggests that it’ll keep you warm in -24oC conditions, making it ideal for those winter rallies. Not only that, but at 7cm thick it makes for a very comfortable night’s sleep and, like the Mammut Light Pump, it uses a hand pump as a means of inflation, getting it up in just two minutes 15 seconds. It doesn’t pack down as small as the Mammut, but it’s still impressively compact when rolled away, measuring in at a very reasonable 23x16cm. It’s worth noting however, that the Exped Downmat was the only mat on test to deflate a bit when left to stand for a few days.

Comfort: 9 Pack-size:Value for money: 7 Overall: 9

In a line: Impressive comfort, warmth and small pack-size justify the price tag

2. THERM-A-REST NEOAIR £125

Repair kit: No Weight: 410g Dimensions: 183x51x6.3cm

Here’s your interesting fact for the day; the world’s first self-inflating sleeping mat was created by two ex Boeing engineers in the early 1970s after they decided that they were fed up of sleeping on cold, hard ground. They called their invention the Therm-a-rest. So what would a sleeping mat test be without a Therm-a-rest, eh? From the get-go you can see that the Neoair has been crafted by people who know what they’re doing, and it’s amazing how a mat so long and thick can pack into something so small (slightly smaller than a kitchen roll) and weigh just 410g. When inflated it’s as comfortable as some full-on airbeds and the 183cm length will suit taller riders out there, however at just 51cm wide it’s not going to accommodate the larger, rounder guys among our ranks. The 6.3cm thickness does a great job of preventing you from touching the floor and you’ll be cushioned from most bumps and lumps in the ground. Repair kits are available for this mat, however you have to buy them separately, and when you’ve already spent £125 that’s a little disappointing.

Comfort: 9 Pack-size: 10 Value for money: 6 Overall: 8

In a line: Can’t fault the quality of the mat, but it’s not one for the XXL bikers

3. VANGO SINGLE FLOCKED AIRBED £14

Repair Kit: Yes Time to inflate: 1 min 22 seconds Weight: 1,408g Dimensions: 194x78x25cm

At £14 the Vango Single Flocked airbed is an attractive-looking piece of kit for bikers on a budget, and I’ve found it for under a tenner online. However, it doesn’t come with a pump, and the two-way pump alone adds £21.50 to the overall price. The inflation time given on the box is 1min, and in a timed trial, it proved to go up in 1 min 22 seconds; not too far off. At 78cm wide it’s big enough for most people and the 25cm depth takes you up a decent distance from the ground, meaning you won’t feel any bumps or lumps. It’s got coil beams throughout which help support your body weight and prevent you from sinking into the bed too much. While most other beds on this test have a built in pillow this one doesn’t, however this isn’t too much of a problem if you use a stuff sack filled with clothes. The bed’s been lined with a soft fabric for a bit of added comfort, and there’s a single valve used for inflation and deflation, this isn’t a problem, but the one-way valve (in) can close on deflation and you’ll have to stick your finger in to keep it open.

Comfort:Ease of inflation: 9 Pack-size: 7 Overall: 8

In a line: Good, cheap option if you’ve already got a pump.

4. GELERT SINGLE FLOCK AIRBED WITH BUILT IN INFLATER £18. 99

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Time to inflate: 2 min 56 seconds Weight: 1,962g Dimensions: 185x76x22cm

At £18.99 the Gelert Single Flock airbed won’t dent your wallet too much, and it’s got its own internal foot pump so you won’t have to buy or carry anything extra with it. We like the internal pump as it’s easy to use and all it requires is a bit of man power to get the bed up and ready for use. The bed’s been coated in a soft, comfortable material and it provides a good amount of support even for heavier guys. The bed has a built in pillow too, and while this may be a bit small for some people I found it to be big enough not to need an additional pillow. It might be a bit short for some 6ft+ people, but that’s if you stretch out. Width-wise it offers a fairly good 76cm and the 22cm depth gives you a nice amount of comfort and cushioning. However, it does tend to deflate a bit after a while, requiring a few extra pumps of air every now and then.

Comfort: 8 Ease of inflation: 7 Pack-size: 6 Overall: 7

In a line: A comfortable and cheap option with an easy to use internal pump

5. EUROHIKE DELUXE £19.99

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Time to inflate: 2 min 10 seconds Weight: 1,596g Dimensions 187×73

As the name suggests, the Eurohike Deluxe is designed to provide campers with a super-comfortable night’s sleep, and with a built in pillow and a pleasantly soft coating it does just that. However, with a length of 187cm, it’s slightly on the short side if you’re a tall guy (6ft +). That said, width-wise it’s definitely wide enough for well-built bikers, and the length issues are less of a problem if you like to sleep with your knees tucked up. The mat doesn’t come with a pump, but a foot pump is available separately from Eurohike for £5.99, again, like the Vango, adding a hidden cost onto the £19.99. A repair kit is included, there’s a carry bag for easy storage and the bed packs down small enough to fit nicely in to your panniers. (Remember to take into consideration the extra space needed for the foot pump though.) If you want a comfortable night’s sleep the Eurohike Deluxe is a good option, however, we’re still a bit sad that the pump comes separately.

Comfort: 8 Ease of inflation: 7 Pack-size: 7 Overall: 7

In a line: Good value and comfortable airbed; pump comes separately, mind

6. COLEMAN COMFORT BED SINGLE £29.99

Outdoor gearOutdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Time to inflate: 3 min 2 seconds Weight: 2,296g Dimensions: 188x85x22cm

Our sample of the Coleman Comfort bed didn’t come with a pump, so the time given here for inflation is the result of using a standard foot pump. At 85cm wide the Coleman Comfort provides a substantial width for larger bikers, and although only 1cm longer than the Eurohike it feels substantially bigger. The bed comes with a stuff sack and it packs down to a relatively small size which will fit into most panniers. In use it’s comfortable and this is largely down to its width as there’s plenty of room to stretch out. The Comfort has a single multi-function valve for inflating/ deflating and this is simple and easy to use. I’d have liked to have seen a built in pillow on the airbed for this price, but the lack of a pillow is made easier to forgive due to the comfort this bed provides.

Comfort:Ease of inflation: 8 Pack-size: 7 Overall: 8

In a line: You’ll need a separate pump and pillow but it’s very comfortable and wide

7. AEROBED ACTIVE £59.99 (£79.99 FOR A DOUBLE)

Outdoor gearRepair kit: Yes Time to inflate: 2 min 25 seconds (for a double) Weight: 4,000g Dimensions: 200x100x23cm

The Aerobed Active is double the price of the next most expensive bed on test, but is it worth the extra money? Well, there’s one thing that really impresses us about the Active, and that’s the inclusive pump. You can charge it at home (or, if you have an adapter, on your bike) and then sling it in your panniers along with the bed and it’s ready to use. This bed is about as easy as it gets. The pump clicks in to place and then automatically turns on. The manufacturer states 60 seconds as the time it takes to inflate, but we recorded 2 minutes 25 seconds. As all you have to do while this happens is watch /drink beer, however, we can forgive this slight indiscrepancy. Once up the Active provides a very comfortable night’s sleep, and the raised head section gives enough cushioning for the one-pillow crowd; if you prefer two, bring another along. There’s one thing that must be said about the Aerobed Active though: it smells. Very strongly of plastic, which isn’t too pleasant to lie on. I’d recommend airing the bed out before your first use.

Comfort:Ease of inflation: 9 Pack-size: 7 Overall: 9

In a line: A bit pricey, but it’s foolproof and once up is a comfortable place to sleep.