Festival equipment – sleeping mats

I’m frequently amused/amazed/appalled to see people – often young women – struggling into a festival campsite, their arms overflowing with a duvet casually plucked from their bed at home.  Did they give any thought for the weather?  It would only take an inconveniently timed shower for their cosy duvet to turn into a frowsty and uncomfortable stew for the whole weekend.

It’s true that a skinful of cider will mean that when the evening finally ends you’ll be able to drop off to sleep on a fence panel – the thin edge.  But after a couple of hours of stentorian snoring (yes, you too, ladies), the anaesthetic begins to wear off. And it’s then that you start to become all too aware how hard and cold the earth is below your thin groundsheet.

So I’m going to start not, as you might imagine, with sleeping bags (that’ll be the next post), but with What Lies Beneath.

The cold, cold ground

When making their bedding from blankets, boy scouts of old were told “more below than above”.  And with good reason. Still air is a relatively poor conductor of heat.  But the cold ground will uncaringly suck all the warmth from your body like a vampire at an all-you-can-eat convent.

So you need something to sleep on which will not only insulate you but also ease the pain of the uneven (and quite possibly stony) earth digging into your sensitive parts.


The good news is you don’t have to cart in an armful of blankets. If you’re fairly hardy, you could opt for a simple thin foam sleeping mat, often known generically (like hoovers and portakabins) by the name of the original – the Karrimat. It’s a simple, body-sized foam pad about 8 or 9mm thick.

Here’s one rolled up and (at a much smaller scale) unrolled:


They are cheap, light and durable, and do the job perfectly well, as long as you’re prepared to rough it a bit.  Finding or kicking/digging a dent for your hip helps increase the comfort level.  But generally after a night on one of these you know you’ve been camping.

So could I suggest a rather more luxurious alternative?  You’re ahead of me, aren’t you?  You think I’m going to suggest an airbed, like this:


Actually, no. I’ve never been a fan of these.  I find them heavy, unwieldy and actually rather cold, which really is missing one of the points of having a mattress in the first place.

And you have to blow them up, which either means adding the extra weight of a pump, or spending an undignified period on your knees getting redder and redder as you employ mouth-to-lilo resuscitation.  That’s not a good look.

Self-inflating mattress

My choice is for a self-inflating mattress.  I know that this name conjures up a picture of something exploding into life like Otto the Autopilot in Airplane.


The reality is slightly less exciting, although still quite intriguing.

Self-inflating matresses look rather more like the simple hearty Karrimat, and certainly roll up almost as compactly.  But once you open the little valve in the corner, air rushes in without any effort on your part.  This is because the natural state of the foam which makes up these mats is to be inflated.

A few minutes later, you simply close the valve and you have a mattress that, as well as insulating you, will cushion your dance-weary body from the most punishing of surfaces.

The pioneer of this technology was the American firm Therm-a-Rest, I have two of their mats, and it’s fair to say that Which? magazine would probably class them as “good but pricey”.


There are a lot of imitators now.  I’ve recently upgraded my sons to self-inflating comfort with products from the small British company Alpkit. Like most manufacturers, they supply a number of different thicknesses. The boys have the Regular Airic (4cm deep, £35).  For ultimate comfort you might like to consider the Fat Airic (7cm deep, £45), but it is significantly heavier to carry in (1768g, as opposed to 1096g for the regular size).

Next post – sleeping bags

I hope that will have you settled in comfort – nay, luxury.  In my next post in this series, I’m going to talk about the thinking camper’s replacement duvet – the sleeping bag.