Are self-inflating mats always the best choice?Darche self inflating foam mattress

What do most on-ground campers sleep on? Air mattress, foam mat, or self-inflating foam mattress? We discuss the pros and cons of the 3 sleeping mat styles.

A corporate friend of Victorian Scouting recently generously gifted a lot, I mean A LOT, of self-inflating mattresses to the Q Store. These are now available for the Scouting community to purchase at a mind-blowingly cheap price, through the Scout Events Online Shop.

The gifted mattresses have created access for youth members and leaders to a product that previously might have been out of their price range. Our heartfelt thanks to our corporate friends who continue to support Scouting.

The arrival of the self-inflating mattresses prompted a discussion amongst the FoQs (friends of the Q store) about which are the best sleeping mats for camping and hiking. Here is a summary of the discussion:

3 Sleeping Mat Choices comparison for Camping and HikingBlue rolled foam mat with red Back pack

  • Air mattress
  • Memory foam mat
  • Self inflating mattress

Top 6 considerations when choosing a Sleeping Mat

Who will be sleeping on the Mat?

Child, adult, tall, short, slim, more padded, sleep hot, sleep cool, sleep lightly, sleep deeply

Flexibility of the Sleeper?

Some bodies are not suited to sleeping on the ground. You know who you are. You find it hard to crawl into your sleeping bag, to get off the ground, you rock and roll when you sleep and wind up outside the tent and as for putting on your socks while sitting on the ground – well we won’t go there. If sleeping on the ground is not for you – just accept it and move on to a stretcher.

Where will you be sleeping?

Soft sand is lovely to sleep on, especially when you mold it to accommodate your body. Rock, (think Jamboree 2019) is very unforgiving, the cushioning of air or foam makes a huge difference to a good night’s sleep. In the cooler weather, the ground is very cold, and the insulating properties of foam help to maintain body temperature where air alone does not. Self-inflating matresses offer the combination of air and foam together.

How much weight or bulk do you want to carry?

Weight and bulk are critical considerations for hikers. The humble Orange garbage bag is a favourite amongst the hardy. It is versatile and will keep your sleeping bag cleaner when you lie on the ground. Other than that? As I said it is a favourite for the hardy. The simple foam mat, however, has become the mainstay of hikers. Short self-inflating mattresses also have a role here, for hikers who like to cushion and insulate from shoulder to hip only.

If space and weight are not important, stretchers have become popular for children and adults alike, especially for longer stay camping. However, I would like to make the case for simplicity. The more gear you pack into to trailer or back of the car, the more you have to unload, repair, and store at the end. A full-length self-inflating mattress is a very comfortable option.

How long will it last?

Are you planning to go camping/hiking once only? Will you ditch your gear and buy new stuff next year? We are all becoming more aware of sustainability, waste and carbon foot print. Can the item be gifted when you no longer want it? Perhaps there is a strong case for hiring. What does the Q store offer for gear hiring?

Air beds are the most likely to lack longevity when used in outdoor settings. Many of us have an in-camp air-bed disaster story – slow leak, puncture, broken valve, broken pump and usually on the first night of a 4-day camp! Foam mats have no moving parts and can last for years. Self-inflating mattresses can puncture or have a valve fail if of poor quality or treated badly. If this happens at least you still have the foam element to sleep on.

What is your price Budget?

I believe that cheap camping gear can be a real trap. Please consider the areas described above. Is the item you are considering going to be fit for your purpose? Getting the right mattress, mat, or stretcher to sleep on sometimes involves some trial and error. That is where it can be helpful to borrow from a friend, hire from the Q Store or take advantage of great offers through the Scout Events Online Shop before you commit too many dollars.

The Sleeping Mat SummaryGreen Self inflating foam mattress

Best for Comfort    For overall comfort the combination of air and foam in a self-inflating mattress wins hands down.

Best for Weight and Bulk    The memory foam mat is certainly the best choice if you really want to limit the weight you are carrying

Best for Insulation    A foam mat or a self-inflating mattress will help to insulate your body when sleeping. Appropriate clothing and sleeping bag choice are vital if planning to sleep overnight in cool or cold weather or regions.

Biggest Risk     An air mattress might be okay for extra bedding in a house, but when camping or hiking I would never take the risk of a sleepless night on an air mattress that might not stay inflated.

Many experienced on-ground campers now use self-inflating mattresses.  The combination technology of air plus foam has been commonplace since the 1980’s. There have been developments in outer casing, foam composition and profile but the basic principles persist. Air plus Foam. Our overall choice for sleeping mat