Sleeping out without a mat is a good way to remind you of their importance. Getting cold and waking up with a stiff back and bruised hips is unpleasant, and will make you wish you’d brought something, anything, to sleep on. There’s definitely a time and a place when you just can’t avoid being uncomfortable, but when you’re not on an Alpine bivvy, a decent mat is well worth taking. The best sleeping mats are warm, comfortable, lightweight, pack down small, and are reliable: they are every bit as essential as a good sleeping bag.
The ground conducts heat up to 60 times faster than air, and if sleeping on ice it could even be 90 times more conductive. That means a huge amount of heat can be lost to the ground, and a sleeping mat helps negate that. An interesting test is to try using a warm sleeping mat instead of a regular one and see how much lighter a sleeping bag you can get away with.
Often the resultant combination of mat and bag is lighter, and more comfortable too. In our own field trials we have found that replacing a foam sleeping mat with an Aerostat mat lets you use a sleeping bag containing significantly less insulation, sometimes as much as 400 grams less down.
Feeling strong and ready for a big day ahead or recovering after a long route requires good sleep, and a sleeping mat is essential for that. Being able to lie comfortably on almost any terrain, whether it’s grass, moraine, snow, or ice is extremely important to good rest, and a thick and protective mat is a key step towards that. Suddenly, even the most remote and inaccessible camp can be made to feel comfortable.