Wednesday, 2 February 2011

What Kind of bed is for me?

One of the most asked questions (after what tent?) asked on the forum is about what to sleep on, so I thought I’d put a bit of what I know on here.

There are many options, from a simple sheet of bubble wrap right up to solutions that cost over £100.

So! how to decide?


(From Left, Robens 10cm self inflator (Black/Green), Vango Trek long 3cm Self inflator (Black/Red),

Unnamed Closed cell mat 1cm (Black/Blue) and Alpkit Numo 7cm (Grey/Black).


When I was in my Teens, I used to use a proper, old school camp bed, canvas with a steel frame. It means you are not on the floor, so you’re not mingling with the slugs etc. (if you’re not in a tent).. It’s warm and very comfortable (unless you roll over and end up sleeping on the steel bar) But very, very heavy (several Kg). In fact it would probably weigh more than your tent – and It’s bulky. So that’s out for most people..


A closed cell mat. This is probably what you used in your youth. Very, very light (often less than 200 grams) and has great thermal properties, so it’s good for all year round use. But it’s bulky and not comfortable. In fact it’s barely more comfortable than sleeping straight on the ground. Linked here to a Multimat product so you can see what I mean, if you don’t already.


Self Inflating mat. Most people have at least one of these. When invented by Thermarest, theyVangoTrek revolutionised camping. They come in a variety of sizes and weights and prices. Essentially a layer of spongy foam trapped between two layers of plastic. It’s lighter than a camp bed and more comfortable than a closed cell mat. But most are not as warm as the closed cell mat, and not as comfortable as the camp bed. The majority are around 3-4cm thick

I have a mat 3cm thick. This was my main  hiking bed, but I replaced this as it weighed over 1,200 grams. This is heavy for this type of mat, but it was a ‘long’ and was a cheaper brand. Some self-inflators are half this weight. This mat wasn’t warm enough in winter, so I’d use a closed cell mat with it.

I have another that is nearly 10cm thick. It’s very comfy and very warm, so good for winter. Sadly, like the camp bed it’s very heavy and bulky because all of the extra foam, so really only used when car camping.


DIY, Lilo or ‘inflate yourself’ mats. Most commonly people buy (and refer to) the Thermarest Neoair. It’sNumo tiny packed, extremely light, thick when inflated and warm enough for 3 season camping but expensive (usually between (£70 and £110 new). There are other options out there, most notably the Pacific Outdoor Elite AC (around £40-50) range and the Alpkit Numo (£45 – I have one of these as well).

Don’t forget you need the breath and time to inflate this yourself, though you usually have both these things when you’re camping.

Most of these mats weigh between 400-500 grams, though ones that are insulated for winter can weigh more.

You can get some with a ‘reed’ valve for as little as a few pounds, but they are pretty much the same a lilo you’ll get at the seaside, so they are heavier and don’t last long.It’s best to think of reed valved mats as disposables, so  more expensive in the long run and not environmentally friendly either (if that’s important to you).


Alpkit Numo, (Packed size when folded in three lengthways)

Hammocks…A hammock? That’s only for the beach right? NO! In the right weather a hammock can be great. Small, light and comfortable. But tricky to get in and out of. They take a bit of skill to hang. You’ll need something to hang it from (at both ends – Important tip!) and you could get wet if you don’t use a tarp.


Air filled mattress. Don’t get me started. Usually known to the rest of the camp site when it goes flat in the middle of the night and you wake everyone up trying to blow it up again with a pump that sounds like a hairdryer. Not something I would ever use if I could help it, but cheap comfy and popular (because it’s cheap, comfy and people don’t know better).. When your wife wakes up cold because the mats deflated itself, It’s your fault for taking her camping - remember?