Buy Now, Pay Later with Afterpay & Zip

Buy Now, Pay Later with Afterpay & Zip

Buy what you want now. Make your first payment today and the rest over six weeks. And best of all, there are no additional fees if you pay on time.

30 Day Returns & Exchanges

Complete peace of mind when buying online

See Returns Policy
Sleeping Mat Guide: Cumulus 5

How to Choose the Best Sleeping Mat for Camping in 2024

Everything you need to know about buying a sleeping pad for your hiking, hunting or camping adventures.


Your sleeping mat is your bed in the outdoors so it’s an important piece of gear to get right. Unfortunately, you can’t carry your luxurious queen size mattress into the wilderness with you, but you can still enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep with a good quality, lightweight sleeping pad. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a beginner planning your first trip, choosing the right sleeping mat can make a big difference to your experience. In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know when buying a sleeping mat so you can rest easy on your next adventure.

Explore Bushbuck's range of camping gear

Sleeping Mat Guide: Cumulus 4

Tech Talk: Bushbuck Cumulus Sleeping Mat

The Different Types of Sleeping Mats

Let’s start with a quick overview of the three main types of sleeping mats people use for camping these days as this will help narrow down your decision from the outset.

Air Construction Sleeping Mats

Air mats, or air pads, are the lightest and most compact when packed down, making them ideal for hikers looking to save on weight and space. They consist of chambers that need to be filled with air, either manually by blowing into a valve, or with a pump sack. Modern air mats often include insulation or reflective materials to enhance warmth. While they offer excellent comfort and can be adjusted to personal firmness preferences, their lightweight materials can be more prone to punctures. However, they are the most common and popular type of sleeping mats for adventurers due to their lightweight and compact construction. Pros: Ultra lightweight, compact, comfortable and warm. Cons: Durability and cost.

Self-Inflating Sleeping Mats

Self-inflating sleeping mats offer a blend of comfort and convenience. They are typically made from a durable polyester or ripstop outer with some form of padding and insulation inside. The main benefit of self-inflating sleeping mats is they, well, self-inflate. You simply unroll your mat in the tent, undo the air valve, and it will inflate all by itself. Self-inflating sleeping mats tend to be more comfortable and durable than other types. The main downside is the insulation, padding, and heavy-duty fabrics makes them bulkier and heavier than air mats so they’re less ideal for ultralight backpacking. Pros: Durability, comfort, and easy to inflate. Cons: Heavy and bulky (but not as bulky as foam). 

Closed-Cell Foam Sleeping Pads

You might be familiar with the old-school, roll-up foam sleeping mats. You can still buy these, but foam sleeping pad design has come a long way in recent years. Foam mats are lightweight, fairly durable, and have no risk of puncturing and deflating. Some modern foam sleeping pads have “egg crate” or dimpled surfaces, which are designed to trap warm air. The main downside is they’re bulky and don’t compress down and usually have to be strapped to the outside of a pack. They’re generally less comfortable and don’t provide as much insulation as inflatable sleeping mats. Pros: Lightweight, durable and affordable. Cons: Comfort, warmth, and bulkiness.

Sleeping Mat Comfort 

Sleeping Mat Guide: Cumulus 6

Comfort is one of the top considerations when choosing a sleeping mat. But what makes one sleeping mat more comfortable than another? A lot of it comes down to personal preference, similar to buying a bed, but here are a few key things to help determine sleeping pad comfort.


Thickness is perhaps the most important indicator of potential comfort in a sleeping mat. Thicker mats generally offer better cushioning, which provides better protection from the hard ground. We recommend a thickness of 50mm or more to ensure a good level of comfort. The Bushbuck Cumulus Sleeping Mat is 75mm thick, for example.

Padding and Internal Structure

The type and amount of padding makes a significant difference. Modern foam mats use dual density foam in various shapes to provide more comfort than their basic roll mat predecessors. Air mats use padding, insulation and sophisticated internal structures to create as much comfort as possible. Look out for features like air tubes, foam cells, and insulation, which all contribute to a sleeping mat’s padding and comfort level. 

Insulation (R-Value)

While insulation might not directly impact the 'feel' of a mat, it significantly affects thermal comfort. A mat with higher insulation properties (higher R-value) will do a better job keeping you warm by preventing heat loss to the cold ground. We’ll cover insulation in more detail below.

Surface Texture

The surface texture of a mat can influence comfort in subtle ways. A softer, brushed-fabric surface might feel more pleasant against the skin and less slippery compared to a smooth, plastic-like surface. This can help prevent the sleeping bag from sliding off during the night, contributing to better sleep.

Sleeping Mat Insulation: R-Value Explained 

Insulation is a critical feature of sleeping mats, especially for camping in cooler conditions, as it prevents heat loss to the ground, which can significantly affect your warmth and comfort during the night. The effectiveness of this insulation is often measured in terms of "R-value."

How Does Sleeping Mat Insulation Work?

Sleeping mat insulation works by trapping air and minimising the amount of body heat that escapes from the sleeper to the cold ground. This insulation can be achieved through various means depending on the type of sleeping mat.

  • Air Mats: These rely on the air held within their chambers, tubes or baffles to provide insulation. Many air mats also incorporate insulating materials like synthetic fibres, reflective layers, or even down feathers to enhance their thermal properties. For example, the Bushbuck Cumulus Sleeping Mat has layers of Thermolite® insulation to allow for warm air convection.

  • Self-Inflating Mats: The insulation in these mats is primarily provided by the open-cell foam that they contain. The foam expands when the mat self-inflates and since air is a poor conductor of heat it creates an excellent insulating barrier between you and the ground below.

  • Closed-Cell Foam Mats: These are made from dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells. Modern foam mats provide decent insulation thanks to thicker foam and “egg carton” nodes that trap warm air. Some foam mats have a reflective surface or metallic film which reflects radiant body heat and reduces heat loss.

What Does R-Value Mean?

In the context of sleeping mats, the R-value indicates the mat's ability to insulate you from cold ground temperatures and prevent heat loss. The higher the R-value, the better the mat's insulating properties. Here’s what the R-values generally mean for sleeping mats:

  • R-Value 1 to 2: Suitable for warm weather camping.

  • R-Value 2 to 4: Good for three-season use, handling mild to moderate cold.

  • R-Value 4 to 6: Designed for colder conditions, suitable for all but the coldest temperatures.

  • R-Value 6 and above: Best for winter camping in very cold conditions.

The Bushbuck Cumulus Sleeping Mat has an R5 insulation rating, making it suitable for almost all weather conditions. Knowing the R-Value of a sleeping mat helps you to know how it will perform across different seasons, similar to temperature ratings for sleeping bags.

Sleeping Mat Weight and Size 

 If you’re hiking, hunting, or backpacking, sleeping mat size and weight matter a lot because it needs to fit in your pack and you need to carry it on your back — sometimes for several days in steep terrain. As you’d expect, sleeping mats come in a wide range of weights and sizes. We recommend choosing a sleeping mat that provides the warmth, insulation and support you need while keeping weight and size to a minimum. 

What’s a Good Weight for a Sleeping Mat?

Weight depends on the sleeping mat fabric, insulation and padding. Technically, the heavier you go, the more durable, comfortable and warm it should be. But that’s not always the case. While the weight-performance ratio can vary a lot depending on the fabrics, insulation and design, this will give you a general idea of sleeping mat weights across the board.

  • Ultralight Foam Mats: These are the lightest options available, typically weighing between 300 to 600 grams.

  • Self-Inflating Mats: These sleeping mats typically weigh between 450 to 1500 grams. They can be a bit heavier due to the foam insulation and durable construction.

  • Air Pads: These vary widely based on features like insulation and size. Lightweight versions for summer use can weigh as little as 300 to 700 grams, while insulated versions for colder conditions can weigh between 500 to 1000 grams or more.

  • Thick, Luxury Air Mats: For those wanting to sleep in luxury outdoors, these mats can weigh anywhere from 900 to over 2000 grams, especially if they are designed for two people or are made with heavy-duty materials.

If you’re looking for a sleeping mat to take hiking or hunting across 3-4 seasons, we recommend looking in the 600-1000 gram range.

Sleeping Mat Size: Length and Width 

Most sleeping mats come in a standard size for the “average” adult, but there are options available for taller, shorter, and wider campers. Given that most hiking tents allow for about 60 centimetres of width per person, most sleeping mats will fit within that limit. These dimensions will give you a general idea of what to expect when choosing your sleeping mat.

  • Standard Size: Typically about 51cm in width and 183cm in length.

  • Large or Wide Size: Widths can range from approximately 63 to 76cm.

  • Long Size: These can be up to 195-203cm in length.

  • Women’s Size (Shorter): Usually around 168cm in length, with varying widths to accommodate different body shapes.

  • Mummy or Tapered Shape: The dimensions can vary, but they're generally narrower at the feet and wider at the shoulders.

  • Double Size: About 127cm in width and around 195cm or more in length. Suitable for two people.

  • 3/4 Size: These mats typically measure about 51cm in width and are shorter in length, around 122cm, providing coverage for the upper body.

Sleeping Mat Packed Size

Sleeping Mats Guide: Cumulus 2

Packed size is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to sleeping mats. A foam roll mat barely compresses at all and usually has to be strapped to the outside of your pack, whereas some air mats can compress down to the size of a drink bottle. If you’re looking for a sleeping mat that you can easily carry in your backpack, we recommend looking for one that’s 10-15cm in diameter and 25-35cm long. It should be easy enough to find both air mats and self-inflating mats that tick those boxes.

Sleeping Mat Fabrics and Durability

Durability is an essential factor when choosing a sleeping mat. A good sleeping mat needs to be able to endure rough, uneven surfaces, getting knocked around inside your pack, and your bodyweight tossing and turning night after night. These are the most common fabrics and materials used in sleeping mats and how they compare when it comes to durability.

  • Ripstop Nylon: Often used in higher-end sleeping mats, ripstop nylon includes a reinforced thread pattern that stops small tears in their tracks. Thickness can vary, but 20D (denier) to 40D are common ranges, offering a good compromise between durability and weight. We reckon it’s the best option for lightweight performance.

  • Polyester: Generally cheaper than nylon, polyester is commonly used in sleeping mats for its strength, durability and moisture resistance. Lightweight sleeping mats will typically use 20D to 40D polyester, but you can get more heavy duty mats with 70D polyester or above.

  • Oxford Fabric: Known for its strength and longevity, Oxford fabric is often used in bulkier mats where weight is less of a concern. Its thick, woven structure stands up well against rough use.

  • TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane): TPU is a coating applied to nylon or polyester fabrics to enhance air retention and water resistance. It's highly valued for its flexibility and resistance to punctures and abrasion.

  • Closed Cell Foam: Foam is known for its durability. Unlike air mats, foam mats are solid without any need for inflation, making them impervious to punctures and leaks.

Sleep mat fabrics are important, but how they’re used is more important. You can have the best materials on earth, but if they’re poorly constructed they’re not going to work well. As a consumer, it’s not easy to determine construction quality, which is why we often go with known and trusted brands. However, we recommend looking at things like product reviews to get a better idea of sleeping mat durability and performance.

Sleep Easy on Your Next Adventure

Sleeping Mat Guide: Cumulus 3

A good sleeping mat is more than just a piece of camping gear—it's your foundation of rest and recovery in the wilderness. It insulates you from the cold, hard ground and helps you recharge after a day of challenges and discovery. With the right mat, you can rise each morning refreshed and ready to embrace the trails and vistas ahead. Yes, choosing a sleeping mat is an important decision, but you don’t need to overthink it. The main things to consider are the comfort, weight and size, insulation, durability and quality, which we’ve covered in detail in this article. The main thing is get a sleeping mat that suits your needs and budget so you’re ready to go when adventure calls. Looking for camping gear? Check out Bushbuck’s range of sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tents, gas cookers and more.

Jonathan Carson

Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire. 

Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.

Explore more articles from The Campfire

View all articles