Last updated onwith updated retailer links.
It’s time to deep-dive into another thorny topic (no pun intended) for budding cycle tourers and bikepackers: how to choose a camping mattress, or, as my North American friends would call it, a sleeping pad.
We’ll be looking at which camping mattresses or sleeping pads are ‘best’ for cycle touring and bikepacking trips – and how the definition of ‘best’ might differ depending on personal preferences and the details of your planned ride.
I’ll combine advice from my 15 years of bike touring experience with a list of camping mattresses for cycle touring and bikepacking recommended by the riding community today.
By the way, this is not another AI-written, search-engine-optimised spam blog.
This is a personal long-term labour of love, and it’s here to help you hit the road, not make me money in my sleep.
For that reason, while gear listings like this are always popular, I’d much rather you also read posts like How To Cycle Round The World In 3 Easy Steps, Planning A Really Long Bike Trip? Ask Yourself These 7 Critical Questions First, and whatever else resonates with you from the half-a-million words of free advice I’ve linked to from here.
But for now, let’s get back to camping mattresses for bicycle travellers. Are you sitting (or lying) comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Camping Mattresses for Cycle Touring & Bikepacking – The Basics
Far from being an unnecessary luxury, a camping mattress is at least as important as a sleeping bag when camping on a bike trip.
This is because – as you’ll know if you’ve tried sleeping on bare ground – it’s where your warm body touches the cold ground that heat is most quickly lost.
Why doesn’t a sleeping bag stop this happening? Well, it’s the trapped air in the lining of a sleeping bag that keeps your body heat in. But a sleeping bag has the air squashed out when you lie down in it. A camping mattress solves this by providing a structure for the trapped air needed to insulate your body from the ground.
In other words, the main purpose of a camping mattress is to keep you warm.
Although comfort is often the first thing people think about when choosing a camping mattress, this is a secondary concern. No matter how soft and comfortable your sleeping surface feels, cold spots will wake you up if you’re not properly insulated – and then you won’t be able to sleep at all.
The 3 Types Of Camping Mattress You Need To Know About
Camping mattresses suitable for cycle touring and bikepacking are split into three categories:
- closed-cell foam (ie: a ‘roll-mat’),
- inflatable, and
Within each category you’ll find a range of options and styles of interest to the cyclist, from a simple slice of foam costing £5 all the way up to to luxurious padded air mattresses costing hundreds of pounds.
Most of the camping mattresses we’ll be looking at come from the hiking, trekking and backpacking departments of outdoor stores, which is where the needs of bicycle travellers overlap with those of more lucrative markets.
How much luggage space you have will also affect what type of mattress you choose.
For bikepackers trying to reduce gear volume, ultralight inflatable mats or minimalist self-inflating mattresses will stow in a seat pack or handlebar roll.
If you’re off on a fully-loaded tour, however, a bulky closed-cell foam mat or thick self-inflating mattress will sit happily on top of your rear rack.
The other deciding factor is your own sleeping preferences.
Some people can unroll a thin piece of foam on rocky ground and sleep the whole night through. Others, especially side-sleepers, need a thick layer of air cushioning beneath them to get the same good night’s sleep. And yet others sleep better on a thinner ‘self-inflating’ mat with a foam structure (I’m in this latter category).
If you want to get a good night’s sleep, night after night, you need to know which of the three categories of camping mattress will best give it to you.
So head on down to your nearest camping store and actually lie down on some of the options before you spend any money.
Once you’ve understood which type of camping mattress feels right for you, then you can start thinking about things like your budget, luggage space, the climate you’re riding in, and all the other factors, before scouring the web for the best deal on your preferred option.
Let’s get stuck in to the specific products that come highly recommended for cycle touring and bikepacking by people who are actually out there riding, as opposed to what cheap piece of crap has the most paid-for 5‑star reviews on Amazon this week.
I’ll cover each of the three main types – closed-cell foam, inflatable, and self-inflating – in separate sections.
For each model, if there are multiple versions available (eg: different sizes, with or without extra insulation, ‘ultralight’ or ‘luxe’ versions, etc), I will describe the standard, medium-sized, regular thickness, non-ultralight model. You may then adjust your final buying decision based on whether you need any of the additional options.
As will all my gear round-up articles, I’ve included manufacturer and retailer links for the UK, USA and Canada where I can find them.
Some of these are affiliate links and are marked with an asterisk (*) for transparency. I’ll earn a small commission if you buy through them, which won’t make me rich but will help me keep articles like this one free-to-read and ad-free.
The Best Closed-Cell Foam Camping Mats & Sleeping Pads
Simple, cheap, and usually preferred by riders on a tight budget, generic closed-cell foam mattresses, aka: roll-mats, satisfy the one essential criteria – insulation from the ground – and nothing else.
With nothing to puncture or break, they’re actually a durable choice – as long as you keep them away from over-tightened bungee straps, corrosive substances, and the teeth of wild dogs.
Do not expect much luxury from most of these mats, but do expect to avoid being woken up by cold spots in all but winter conditions (in which case you can use two).
As well as at mainstream outdoor and camping stores such as Decathlon*; you can find these at supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, and so on, where they’re cheap and abundant.
If you’re on a tight budget, what’s ‘best’ is of course the same as what’s cheapest. Before buying anything new, look at charity shops, household recycling centres, skips, campsites’ lost-and-found departments, or find a fellow biker at the end of their trip using Warmshowers and swap their unwanted mattress for a night or two of hosting.
Check out this article for more advice on getting free or cheap equipment for a bike trip.
Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest (RRP $20/£20) & Z Lite (RRP $40)
If you’ve got a little more money and are looking for a specific model of closed-cell foam mat with a good reputation, the camping mattresses from Seattle-based Therm-a-Rest (part of Cascade Designs) are the ubiquitous choice.
The 400g RidgeRest (rolling) and 410g Z Lite (folding) closed-cell foam mattresses having proven their durability over decades – and they’re a lot more comfortable than they look. Many experienced riders still swear by them over anything inflatable.
There’s little to choose between the RidgeRest and Z Lite in terms of weight and insulation; the Z Lite is more compact when packed as there’s no “hole” through the middle (though it still won’t fit in a pannier), costs a little more, and is far more popular.
Both models have SOL or SOLite versions with a reflective coating on one side, which increases the amount of body heat reflected back up from the surface. Therm-a-Rest claim this increases its overall insulating power by 15%; extra warmth for no extra money makes it a popular upgrade. Riders do, however, report that this coating eventually starts to wear off over time (albeit a lot of time).
You’ll sometimes see bikepackers rolling up other camping items inside a RidgeRest and then harnessing the whole roll to their handlebars – a neat way to get around the limited space available with frame luggage.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic in the UK from Amazon or AlpineTrek.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest Classic in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite in the UK from Amazon or AlpineTrek.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite in Canada from MEC.
The Best Inflatable Camping Mats & Sleeping Pads
While there’s only so much you can do with a slice of foam, there’s a variety of styles, thicknesses and insulation types available among inflatable mattresses to accommodate differing sleeping preferences, body sizes, temperature ranges, and other needs.
Manufacturers have exploited these marginal differences to produce a bewildering array of options. At the time of writing, for example, popular Swiss brand Exped had no fewer than 116 different models in their range.
Why bother with anything inflatable other than your bike tyres? It’s one more thing to puncture. All inflatable and self-inflating camping mattresses are vulnerable to being pierced by thorns on that one night you’re not concentrating when pitching your tent. That’s why they’re all supplied with patch kits and glue (yes, you absolutely must bring it with you on your bike trip).
They’re also less durable than closed-cell foam mats due to the internal structure needed to turn pressurised air into a flat mattress shape, rather than a balloon. Use it every day and even the best inflatable mattress will eventually fail internally, resulting in that dreaded muffled ripping noise – always just as you’re getting ready to go to bed – and your mattress suddenly growing a giant balloon-like tumour.
A good reason many people do choose them is because they feel more comfortable to sleep on than closed-cell foam mats – indeed, for some, this might be the difference between a good night’s sleep and not being able to sleep at all.
Let’s look at the most popular inflatable camping mattresses and sleeping pads for cycle touring and bikepacking. All come recommended by riders with many years of real-world experience.
Alpkit Cloud Base (RRP £42)
The 415g Cloud Base from Alpkit is a lightweight, non-insulated mat designed to minimise pack space for a low price. Although the tapered foot end won’t please everyone, riders are positive about the comfort provided by its 5cm of air cushioning.
Despite the 3‑year guarantee, durability can never be a priority for an ultralight mat at this price point, so consider it for casual and undemanding purposes such as short bikepacking trips rather than long-term expeditions.
Alpkit don’t provide an R‑value, but given the mat’s specifications you should consider it appropriate for 2–3‑season use, depending on how cold you sleep.
- Buy the Alpkit Cloud Base in the UK direct from their website (global shipping is available).
Klymit Static V (RRP £49/$55)
At 531g packed and with an R‑value of 1.3, Utah-based Klymit’s basic Static V model is heavier than other mattresses in this section, but it has a generous 6.4cm of loft, and a full-width foot end, making it a good choice for side-sleepers. Riders are particularly complimentary about the comfort provided by the V‑shaped air cells.
Durability is another strong point of this mat, as attested to by user reviews and also by the lifetime warranty, which few other mats in this category can boast.
It isn’t the lightest or most packable mattress in this section, but if you’re looking for a durable and comfortable summer inflatable sleeping pad, the Klymit Static V is a good choice.
The 680g Insulated Static V doubles the price and triples the insulating power, increasing the R‑value to 4.4 for all-season use.
Options include large, short, “lite”, “luxe”, double, hammock-specific; even “armoured” versions. Craziness.
- Buy the Klymit Static V in the UK from Amazon or Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Klymit Insulated Static V in the UK from Amazon or Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Klymit Static V in the USA direct from Klymit or from Amazon, Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.
- Buy the Klymit Insulated Static V in the USA direct from Klymit or from Amazon, Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.
Exped SynMat HL (RRP £150/$179)
Originally launched as the Exped HyperLite, the 365g SynMat HL from Exped was even lighter than the early versions of the XLite (see below) on its release, with none of the noise issues associated with the NeoAir range. Exped currently claim that this is ‘the world’s lightest mat at its warmth and comfort levels’.
With a generous 8cm of thickness and an insulated inner lining, riders rate this mat highly for comfort. Like other ultralight mats in this section, the heavily tapered design sacrifices versatility in favour of minimising weight and bulk: this mat is amazingly small and light when packed up.
The R‑value of 3.3 is a little lower than the XLite, its closest competitor, but still generous for 3‑season use. A few frosty nights would be perfectly tolerable on this for most.
Exped supply a carry sack and patch kit, and are following the trend for inflation sacks, which help combat the problems associated with moisture build-up inside inflatable camping mattresses.
The 430g Winter version increases the R‑value to 5.2, which Exped claim makes it ‘the lightest 4‑season sleeping mat on the planet’.
Size options include wide and long-wide versions. If you’re camping as a couple, there’s a Duo version of both the regular and winter models, which is double the width and a little heaver than two individual mats.
- Buy the Exped SynMat HL in the UK from Amazon, OutdoorGear UK or Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Exped SynMat HL in the USA from Amazon, Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite (RRP £170/$185)
Ever the pioneers, Therm-a-Rest launched the NeoAir XLite as the lightest and most packable sleeping pad ever in its class. I used one on my 2012 ride down the U.S. Pacific Coast and wrote a detailed review (read it here).
This 340g ultralight mattress is still lighter, more packable and better insulated than most of the competition in this category, with 6.4cm of thickness and an R‑value of 4.2 – and the high price reflects this level of performance.
The tapered foot end saves weight but limits sleeping space; this isn’t a great choice for side-sleepers or those who toss and turn.
One criticism levelled at the XLite is its long-term durability. Several veteran riders have reported delamination after a few years. Though Therm-a-Rest are known for honouring their lifetime warranty, it’s possible that unrealistic expectations are in play here, as inflatable mats will always eventually delaminate under prolonged and intensive use.
Also of concern is the now-infamous noise the XLite makes when you lie on it! Some have described it as like lying on a packet of crisps (that’s British for ‘potato chips’, dear Americans). Whether or not this will bother you or your neighbours in the night is something only you can know. Pack earplugs anyway.
As well as the regular pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite comes in short, large, wide, and women’s specific (ie: warmer and shorter) versions. The current version includes an inflation sack as well as a carry sack and patch kit.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in the UK from Amazon, Go Outdoors, OutdoorGear UK, Alpine Trek, Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock or Ellis Brigham.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite in Canada from MEC.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm (RRP £205/$215)
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm has the same form as the XLite (see above) but with upgraded insulation for camping on snow while climbing mountains, a slight weight increase, and a rather eye-watering price tag.
Weighing 430g and with an R‑value of 6.9, the XTherm has become popular with riders expecting all-season conditions who want to keep things as fast and light as possible – and who have loads of money to spend.
The same crunchy-sounding criticism applies as the XLite above. There are fewer sizing options for the XTherm than the XLite; regular and large versions only.
Side-sleepers and others who prefer space to spread out will appreciate the popular, rectangular MAX version, which also comes in large and wide sizes.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm in the UK from Amazon, OutdoorGear UK, Alpine Trek or Ellis Brigham.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
Exped DownMat 9 (RRP £195/$230)
For the ultimate in all-season camping luxury, the 895g Exped DownMat 9 is a 9cm thick, down-filled, inflatable mattress with an astronomical R‑value of 7.8. Exped say this translates into comfort at ‑38ºC for an average user.
(I used a thinner DownMat 7 at ‑33ºC on a winter ride through Norway and Sweden – watch the short film here – and can personally attest that they’re bloody warm.)
It’s far heavier than the rest of the mats in this category, but still relatively light for its amazing insulating power.
The updated version includes an inflation sack, which is particularly welcome in winter when drawing deep lungfuls of frozen air before bedtime is the last thing you should be doing.
If you’re looking for uncompromising comfort on a journey involving deep winter conditions, there’s little better in this niche than the DownMat.
With a 5‑year warranty, you can expect to get many years of use out of this (and for Exped to honour their guarantee).
Options include thinner 5cm and 7cm versions with lower R‑values, long and wide sizes, and UL (ultralight) editions.
- Buy the Exped DownMat 9 in the UK from Amazon, OutdoorGear UK or Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Exped DownMat 9 in the USA from Amazon or Backcountry.com.
- Buy the Exped DownMat 9 in Canada from MEC.
The Best Self-Inflating Camping Mattresses For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Self-inflating camping mattresses combine an inflatable shell with an open-cell foam filling to give you a mattress with a firm internal structure plus pressurised air for added comfort and insulation.
You squash the air out when you roll it up for storage, and when you unroll it and open the valve the foam will expand to its original shape – hence, ‘self-inflating’, usually to around 60–80% of its capacity, after which you top it up manually.
Many riders find these mats more closely resemble the feel of a ‘real’ mattress, which is probably the most common reason to choose one. They also take a little less effort to set up, and retain some insulating properties if punctured.
Because the filling adds a little weight and a lot of extra volume when packed, they generally aren’t for the ultra-minimalists.
Let’s take a look at the most highly-recommended self-inflating camping mattresses for bike trips. For riders neither on a super-tight budget nor needing to absolutely minimise pack space, this is probably the most popular type of camping mattress for cycle touring.
Forclaz Trek 500 (RRP £25)
Europe-based riders on a tight budget could do a lot worse than Decathlon’s take on the classic self-inflating hikers’ camping mattress, the Forclaz Trek 500.
At less than half the price of the big-brand competition below, it’s unrealistic to expect too much. At 820g it’s relatively heavy, and the 2.5cm of thickness may be on the thin side for some people, but the R‑value of 2.3 will give a good measure of 3‑season insulation.
There’s an XL version available for £5 extra. Decathlon provide a 2‑year guarantee and are very good at refunding or replacing faulty items in-store with no questions asked.
- Buy the Decathlon Forclaz Trek 500 in the UK direct from Decathlon.co.uk or in-store.
MEC Reactor 3.8 (RRP CAD $90)
Riders starting out from Canada and looking for a no-nonsense self inflating mat at an accessible price could do far worse than MEC’s in-house offering.
At 690g, and with 3.8mm of padding and an R‑value of 3.4, it’s the most packable mat in the Reactor range, similar on paper to the ProLite Plus (see below) – a great all-rounder for all kinds of adventures, from summer through mild winter conditions.
It’s lightweight and small enough to pack away in the pannier, and if you do get a puncture, MEC throw in a patch kit too. Women’s-specific and ‘junior’ versions are also available.
- Buy the MEC Reactor 3.8 from the MEC website or from any of their stores across Canada.
Therm-A-Rest ProLite (RRP $95/£105) & ProLite Plus (RRP $105/£100)
Another long-time classic from Therm-a-Rest, the ProLite has been on the market for literally decades. In fact, Therm-a-Rest claim to have singlehandedly invented the self-inflating camping mattress with this product.
The ProLite has an earned a cult following of veteran users who claim to still be using the same mattress they bought in the ‘90s. Durability and reliability is one of the key selling points here. If you want a lightweight 3‑season self-inflating mat that you just know will work, get the ProLite (and the lifetime guarantee that comes with it).
Over the years, Therm-a-Rest have refined the design to make it ever more lightweight and packable, and now claim the current 510g version to be the lightest and most compact camping mattress in its class.
With an R‑value of 2.4, 2.5cm of thickness and a gently tapered design, this is a streamlined yet high-performance self-inflating pad which will occupy minimal pack space for a mattress in this category.
The 650g ProLite Plus increases insulation and comfort for 140g of extra weight, with 3.8cm of thickness and an R‑value of 3.2. If you’re planning a long-term ride in varying temperatures and you’ve got the pack space for a little more comfort, the tiny extra amount spent on the Plus will very likely pay off.
As with other Therm-a-Rest mats, short, regular, large sizes and women’s specific versions of the ProLite and ProLite Plus are available.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite in the UK from Amazon, OutdoorGear UK, Alpine Trek, Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock or Ellis Brigham.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite in Canada from MEC.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus in the UK from Amazon, Alpine Trek or Ellis Brigham.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus in the USA direct from Therm-a-Rest or from REI, Backcountry.com, Moosejaw or Amazon.
- Buy the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus in Canada from MEC.
Exped SIM Lite 3.8 M (RRP £97/$109)
Out of Exped’s bewildering range of camping mattresses, the 740g SIM Lite 3.8 M represents the classic, durable, lightweight, tour-friendly, self-inflating sleeping pad.
With 3.8cm of thickness and a generous 3‑season R‑value of 3.2, it’s comparable in performance and comfort to the ProLite Plus. The 90g of extra weight gets you a rectangular (as opposed to tapered) shape; better for side sleepers and those who have luggage space for a little more luxury.
If you’re looking for a high-quality, comfortably-sized, medium-thickness, self-inflating mattress suitable for everything but deep winter conditions, this is well worth considering.
The UL (ultralight) version costs more, weighs less (580g), and is otherwise the same. Both come in LW (long-wide) and regular sizes.
Exped’s reputation for build quality and reliability is up there with Therm-a-Rest; their mats all come with a 5‑year guarantee.
- Buy the Exped SIM Lite 3.8 in the UK from Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Exped SIM Lite 3.8 in the USA from Amazon or Moosejaw.
Sea To Summit Comfort Plus S.I. (RRP £120/$140)
Finally, I’ve included the 970g Comfort Plus S.I. from Australian gear manufacturer Sea To Summit as an example of a camping mattress on the luxurious end of the scale which is still light and packable enough to consider for a bike trip.
The whopping 8cm of thickness will fool you into thinking you’re in a real bed. The R‑value of 4.1 means you’ll stay warm even on frosty nights. Get the large rectangular version to spread out even more. Or get the 128cm-wide double version and bathe in luxury. Even if you’re alone.
The Comfort Plus S.I. (and comparable mattresses from other manufacturers) is for riders who seriously value a comfortable night’s sleep, and don’t mind carrying a little extra weight to get it.
- Buy the Sea To Summit Comfort Plus S.I. in the UK from Alpine Trek.
- Buy the Sea To Summit Comfort Plus S.I. in the USA from Backcountry.com or Moosejaw.
- Buy the Sea To Summit Comfort Plus S.I. in Canada from MEC.
Still struggling to choose?
How To Hit The Road is here to take the pain out of researching and buying equipment for a long bicycle adventure, with contributions from over 50 veteran riders. Available now as a low-price ebook or print-on-demand paperback.
Bonus #1: What Does The “R‑Value” Mean?
Camping mattress and sleeping pad manufacturers will almost always quote something called the “R‑value”. This is a measure of insulating power taken from the construction industry, and has mostly replaced the temperature rating as the standard measure of insulation for a camping mattress. A higher number means more insulating power. You’ll find recommended temperatures for “comfort” are often quoted too.
There are three important things you need to know about these numbers.
The first thing is that they are calculated in highly controlled laboratories in which brand new high-quality tents have been perfectly pitched in perfect conditions.
This campsite does not exist in the real world.
The second thing is that temperature ratings will be based on a user of average size, weight and metabolism, wearing a full set of thermal underwear, who is sleeping in the above-mentioned laboratory.
This user also does not exist in the real world.
The third thing to know is that because, physiologically speaking, males tend to sleep warmer than females, manufacturers often base temperature figures on a male user to make them sound more generous (you’ll usually find this stated explicitly if you dig deep enough into the small print).
We all know that both males and females go camping.
How, then, to interpret R‑values and temperature ratings when choosing a camping mattress for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip?
Firstly, you need to know what R‑values mean in the context of a bike trip. For much of the temperate zone, the R‑value rating of a given product roughly matches the number of seasons you could use it in. In other words, a mattress with an R‑value of 1 would be appropriate most 1‑season uses, ie: summer, whereas a mattress with an R‑value of 4 would see you through most 4‑season uses, ie: temperate-zone winters.
This is your starting point.
Next, think about your own sleeping habits. Do you sleep hot or cold? Are you the one who wakes up sweating and throws off the blankets in the middle of the night, or the one who’s still shivering even when snuggled up with woolly hat and a hot water bottle?
Thinking about this will help you decide whether to interpret a recommended temperature rating generously or conservatively, and whether to go for a higher or lower R‑value than the average for your intended use.
If you happen to be female in the unfortunately male-dominated world of outdoor pursuits, consider that manufacturers such as Therm-a-Rest who make “women’s specific” models tend to increase R‑values by roughly 30% over the “regular” models.
Unless you know you sleep hot, I’d therefore advise female riders to add 1 to your target R‑value, ie: 2 for summer, 4 for 3‑season, and 5 for all-season use.
Finally, consider the worst-case scenario for your upcoming trip, given where you’re planning to go and when. If, on the coldest possible night at the highest possible altitude on your route, you followed every tip in this article about staying warmer when camping in winter, would you probably survive on a camping mattress with the R‑value you’re considering?
Thinking about this will do two things. It will help you avoid “overkill” – in other words, buying a mattress far more highly insulated (and expensive) than you actually need. It will also help you identify possible situations in which a mattress with a higher rating might actually be a good idea.
Therm-a-Rest have published a useful blog post explaining R‑values in more detail.
Bonus #2: 14 Pro Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Camping Mattress
Once you’ve chosen your mat, there are a few clever ways to get the most out of it while cycle touring or bikepacking.
These are tips that take most people time and experience to discover, but I’ve listed a few here so you can leapfrog the learning process:
- If strapping a closed-cell foam mat to your bike, protect it from damage by using flat straps rather than regular bungee cords.
- Before setting up camp, lie down on top of your inner tent in the space you’re planning to put your mattress. If there are any rocks or other uncomfortable lumps underneath, now’s the time to find them.
- Always inspect your pitch closely for thorns to protect your inflatable or self-inflating camping mattress from punctures – particularly small ones, which are more difficult to find and repair.
- Particularly on long rides, you can protect an inflatable or self-inflating camping mattress by buying or making an additional protective groundsheet (aka: footprint) to go under your tent. Most tent manufacturers offer these as optional extras.
- If you’re using a self-inflating mat, unpack it and open the air intake valve upon arriving at camp. By the time you’ve finished pitching your tent, it will already be at 60–80% capacity.
- To get optimal comfort out of an inflatable or self-inflating camping mattress, inflate it fully, lie down on it in your usual sleeping position, then very slowly deflate it to your preferred softness.
- If you’re planning a very long trip with an inflatable or self-inflating mat, consider an inflation sack, which will prevent moisture from your breath building up inside the mattress, causing mould and mildew in the short term, and possible structural failure in the long term.
- Never fully inflate a mattress and then leave it in direct sunlight, as the heated air will expand and possibly damage the internal structure of your mat.
- If you find an inflatable mattress slowly deflating over the course of the night, you may have a slow puncture. Find it by inflating the mat, immersing it in a bathtub of water and looking for bubbles of escaping air.
- If no bathtub is available, drench it with a bucket of water mixed with washing-up liquid and look (and listen) for foaming bubbles.
- If you can’t find any punctures, check if a faulty valve is the cause of the air leak, using the same methods.
- If you’re stuck with a punctured inflatable mattress, gather dry grass, leaves, ferns and any other soft foliage into a big pile and pitch your tent on top of your “natural mattress”. You’ll need more than you think!
- As an additional measure, dig out that foil emergency blanket you packed and spread it out underneath your punctured mattress where your torso is going to be.
- Closed-cell foam mats make good protective under-layers for inflatables if you’re worried about punctures (and if you have the space), as well as adding extra insulation in cold weather.
Wow – that was a seriously long post! I think I need to go and lie down…
11 replies on “What’s The Best Camping Mattress Or Sleeping Pad For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking?”
Thumbs down for the Alpkit Cloudbase, that I currently lie on after inflating it 4 times overnight. Two years light use. Seems I have a puncture. Avoid
I totally understand your frustration. Question is, would a different mat have survived the thing that caused the puncture? I’ve ruined plenty of high-end mats by failing to check the ground for sharp objects at the end of a long day…
These looks good. i have recently bought POWERLIX Sleeping Pad and it is amazing but the Exped Downmat looks so neat. Looks like i would have to give one of these a try.
Having enjoyed a Helinox seat, I recently bought a Helinox ‘cot’. It’s a camping bed that puts you off the ground and it has transformed my sleep. It’s so comfortable that I have even preferred it to sleep on that the spare bed when we have guests at home! My mattress weighed 750g and the Cot weighs 1.2kg so not a lot more. It means that every night you sleep on the same surface — a different surface every night when touring can contribute to impaired sleep.
Thanks Mike. As a hammock user I naturally gravitate towards off-the-ground solutions like this. How do you find it in colder weather? Do you think an insulating layer is necessary in addition to the cot?
Hi Tom, I’m an avid reader of your site. Great articles like this with zero nonsense. Thank you.
I left home with an expensive Therm-a-Rest mattress myself but lost it during a thunderstorm in Poland! I ended up buying a EUR 30 one from Decathlon as you mentioned above and it actually lasted me another nine months on my bike trip. Just shows that you don’t need to spend a lot!
As a self=proclaimed elderly cycle-camping-tourer, my sleep improved no end when I swapped my closed foam backpacking mat plus a self-inflating Therm-a-Rest (took up a lot of room !) for an Exped Downmat 7 in 2017. I am just about to begin my 2020 season (in Tasmania) and after 3 years the Exped is still going strong.
The ride is a Greenspeed Magnum and we do overnighters (S24O and S36O) with the occasional 3–4 week trip thrown in. Currently the planned trip to Victoria keeps getting rescheduled owing to covid restrictions.
BTW. Is Market Harborough near Thedingworth? I used to stay there on a farm when a kid.
Thanks for the comment, Tony! My Exped Downmat 7 is still the most comfortable camping mat I’ve ever owned too 🙂
And yes, Market Harborough is indeed near Theddingworth. I grew up in a village just the other side of it. Small world!
Just and update. Thermarest now do a prolite Apex model that is thicker, has a higher R value and a similar weight to thinner models and a marginally thicker pack size. I really like it. PS I’m one of those people who’s had an original thermarest model for nearly 30 years and it still looks great and works fine. It’s just a bit thin now I’m not getting any younger.
I’ve used the Exped DownMat 7 for the past 4 years and found it to be comfy and warm in any season in the UK — though I do sleep warm.
I have been using the Alpkit Cloudbase for the past 18 months for trips of 2 / 3 nights as I tend to take minimal equipment on shorter trips and it is comfortable but the tapered foot does make a difference to the comfort factor especially if you fidget, more than you think.
I live in NSW Australia and mainly bicycle tour along the east coast. I have used a Klymit Static V2 (R=1.3) for all four seasons with no problems with cold. Winter temperatures down to 0C. So I suppose another factor to consider is the geography and climate of your touring area. Winter in UK is a lot colder than here.