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How to choose your winter camping mat

*Thinking of going camping? Check out our Winter Camping series for our other 2 articles on tents and sleeping bags.

That’s it. You’re resolution for 2017 is to face your fear of the cold and to try winter camping for the first time. You already bought the equipment needed for this type of activity: tent, mummy sleeping bag and portable heater. However, you’re missing an important piece to your survival kit: the camping mattress.

Essential for a good night’s sleep, the mattress comes in several forms: foam, self-inflated and air filled.

Foam mattress

Materials: They are usually made of closed-cell foam

Thickness: 0.5 inch

Advantages: These mattresses are very lightweight and can be easily stored on the side of your backpack. In addition, some are silver coated which reflects body heat. Moreover, in terms of pricing, foam mattresses are the most economical. However, if it’s very cold (-18 ° C), it’s recommended to pair it with a isolated mattress.

Disadvantages: A little less insulated than the other two types, foam mattresses tend to tear if you hang them on trees or rough surfaces. Simply avoid dragging your mattress, and most importantly, avoid hanging it off of tree branches.

air-filled mattress

Materials: The exterior is made of high strength Ripstop nylon or polyester. They can sometimes include a layer of interior insulation (aluminum, synthetic or down).

Thickness: 2 to 3.5 inches

Advantages: These mattresses are highly compressible and require less storage space than the other two types of mattresses (practical if you carry them in your backpack). They are also probably the most comfortable of their kind.

Disadvantages: Obviously they must be inflated before their comfort can be enjoyed. This usually takes a few minutes. If you plan on buying one, be sure to pre-assemble your tent before inflating the mattress so that you won’t be affected by gusts of wind or bad winter weather.

Self-Inflating Mattress

Materials: The exterior is made of highly resistant Ripstop nylon or polyester, and the interior is made of open-cell foam. Some mattresses also include a layer of aluminum (Sea to Summit, NeoAir series, Thermo Capture technology) or down (Exped) that insulates from the cold, providing even more heat.

Thickness: 3.5 inches or more

Advantages: Easy to use and place, you simply lay it on the ground and the cells that make up the mattress fill up with air and expand.  Most are made with aluminum plates or an integrated synthetic down layer that maximizes heat levels. Self-inflating down mattresses also have the advantage of making less noise when you move.

Disadvantages: Since they are a larger option, they are not designed for expeditions. However, they are perfect for occasional campers.

Tips from our pros

With these tips, you are now ready to go to parts unknown and spend the night under the stars. If you know the exact temperature of your outdoor destination, you can purchase your mattress accordingly based on the temperature index. For example, if you plan to camp in temperatures below -15 °C, a mattress with an index of 3.5 will suffice. However, for colder temperatures approaching -30 °C, you will need a mattress with an index of 4 and more.

Finally, the thicker your mattress, the greater the distance between you and the ground, which means you will be less cold. This is an important piece of information to consider before your purchase. Take the time to look at all the different models available from brands such as ThermarestExped and Sea to Summit, and assess whether the thickness is large enough to protect you from the cold.

On that note, layer up and happy winter camping!