Camping mats, from a down-filled mattress to a pocket-sized floor covering that radiates heat like an electric blanket, can be a relvelation. Imagine all the comfort of a proper bed, rolled up, in some cases, to a parcel the size of a water bottle.

At their most basic, mats lift you off the cold ground – even, in the case of the simplest rollup mat, just a few centimetres – and away from the stones, pine cones and other debris you couldn’t be bothered to sweep away when pitching your tent. The simplest camping mat is a roll of foam – and, say what you like about that, it won’t get any punctures – while the most complex mats boast multi-chambered dual-valve technology that offer as comfortable a night’s sleep as a proper bed.

Whether you decide to go basic or glamping in style, the main consideration when buying a camping mat is weight, warmth and durability. If you’re hiking or bikepacking, you’ll want the lightest, most compact mat – even if that isn’t necessarily the most comfortable.

For maximum warmth, when camping on snow or ice, you want maximum distance from the ground and, as an added benefit, some kind of heat reflecting insulation or lining. Durability is important: if you expect to camp on gravel or on anything sharp, as we discovered atop a cactus in the Baja desert, a fully inflated air mat is not for you. Nothing ruins a night’s sleep more than waking up as your punctured and deflating mat deposits you gently onto the ground.

For long, cold weather, all-terrain trips, consider pairing a cheap roll mat with an inflatable mat. The weight gain of carrying the foam mat will be negligible, but the added heat and protection are well worth the cost.

Here’s our pick of the 8 best camping mats, tested across terrains as varied as the Pamir mountains, the Baja desert and countless music festivals.

Thermarest NeoAir Xlite: from £95.87, Amazon

Rolling up to a size that will fit in your pocket, lighter than a Sunday newspaper, and capable of radiating your body heat back up at you: the sarcophagus-shaped NeoAir Xlite is an extraordinary feat of engineering. It’s fully inflatable, with no fill at all, and although a pump is available as an extra, it’s expected you’ll blow it up yourself – our reviewer got it down to an energetic 15 breaths. The heat radiation is genuinely amazing – it feels like an electric blanket. The women’s version comes with even more insulation (women are often colder sleepers), but is otherwise identical.

Two things to bear in mind: this mat is fragile and punctures relatively easily if you’re careless about where you set up camp, and because it’s only air-filled, that mean it deflates completely. That’s the price you pay for super-lightweight, although the NeoAir Xlite does come with an easy to use field repair kit, so a puncture isn’t necessarily game over. It’s also somewhat noisy, and makes a rustling sound if you move about on it thanks to the “thermal capture layer”. But we got used to that over time, and found it a small price to pay for a great night’s sleep at just 350g.

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Multimat Discovery 10: £20, Cotswold Outdoor

Cheap, simple and completely puncture-resistant – if you’re not a sensitive sleeper, why overcomplicate things? The Multimat Discovery will keep you from the cold ground, is relatively cushy – for a piece of foam – and extremely light; the lightest of all the mats we reviewed, at 280g. It’s also the cheapest, and will probably outlast all the fancy down-filled pocket-sized mats on the market. It is, of course, very bulky – think yoga mat but marginally less luxurious – but it will swing, happily, from a backpack. The muted “MoD” green colour also does a great job of advertising how tough you are to your fellow down-supported campers.

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Comfort Plus: £175, Sea to Summit

This Rolls-Royce of air camping mats consists of air-sprung cells, which tells you everything you need to know about its comfort level: extravagant. Compared to most inflatable mats, which have horizontal baffles, the little dimples in this mat feel like sleeping on a proper mattress – you don’t bounce around like you’re on a lilo, and you don’t feel like you’re going to slip off if you overinflate it.

It gets better: there are two independent layers of air-sprung cells, controlled by two separate valves, so you can fully inflate the bottom layer to protect against gravel and stones and leave the top layer soft and springy – a brilliant idea. It inflates quickly using a pump bag that’s incorporated into the stuff sack – also a brilliant idea. Luxury comes at a price, though. In this case, weight and bulk; a regular Comfort Plus comes in at 785g, double the weight of the NeoAir XLite.

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Aerostat Down: £170, Mountain Equipment

Stuffing camping mats with down is a welcome and long-overdue development, and this mat by Mountain Equipment is leading the field. Filled with 120g of duck down, for a maximum fill power of 700, the pump – the ingenious “windsock” – quickly inflates the mat and circulates the down within deep air chambers. All of this combines to make a toasty warm mattress that’s perfect for seriously cold camping trips, or camping on snow. Remember that down is always a risk – when wet it becomes effectively useless – but this mat feels resilient, and the outer fabric is supposedly puncture-resistant. For the luxury, it’s also surprisingly light, at 580g, and packs away small.

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Vango Dreamer 3 Double Mat: £48.44, Amazon

Surprisingly few outdoors brands have come up with double camping mats, either for couples or anyone who simply wants a bit more room. The Vango Dreamer 3 is a reasonable shot at the holy grail: it’s comfortable, and although you don’t get huge clearance from the ground, the soft fabric texture is surprisingly snug. It’s self-inflating – so just open the valve and come back when you’ve had your cuppa – and stuffed with insulation for a warm night’s sleep.

It’s heavy – even for a double bed – at 2.5kg, and comes replete with logistical concerns; it wouldn’t fit in many of the 2-person tents, particularly tunnels, we tried, so is best paired with a 3/4 person tent, a family tent, a dome or left for car camping. That aside, the price is superb and the mat feels durable: the perfect choice for a family holiday or for festival season.

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Kelty Recluse 3: £90.77 (down from £125), Amazon

A great intermediary option, this mat is part air, part thick insulation, which means you get some of the packability of an all-air mattress with added warmth and comfort. It is gratifyingly easy and quick to inflate using the pump (included), and is wider at the side, thanks to two “fins”, which is a nice addition if you move around a lot at night and don’t want to risk rolling off onto the ground. It isn’t ultralight but it is very small when packed down, making it a good option for cycle tourers or bikepackers who are short on space.

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Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Compact: £94.95, Absolute Snow

Thermarest’s big rival, American favourite Big Agnes, is the brand of choice for thru-hikers and bikepackers on trails in the US. The Insulated Air Core Compact showcases the best of what Big Agnes has to offer at a decent price: comfort, because you’re literally lifted inches off the ground, and warmth, because of the effective insulation. While not as light as the Thermarest (it’s 656g), it offers a lot of the same portability perks at a much lower price. Our reviewer found it slightly more prone to punctures than the Thermarest, but over the course of a few inflating races it beat the Thermarest by a couple of breaths. The slightly bigger perimeter compartments are a nice addition – overinflated, they give you a real sense of stability.

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Exped MegaMat 10: £143.95, alloutdoor

As close to a proper mattress as you can get without caving and buying a full-on air mattress, the MegaMat puffs up to a proper 3D rectangle – and it does it all by itself, albeit slowly. You can move things along a bit by using the mini pump, which is included. Stuffed with foam for warmth, it promises a really good night’s sleep – but it is enormous, and at 2.23kg, heavy. Exped has done everything it can to mitigate this – the stuff sack has a rolltop, so you don’t have to spend ages trying to cram the mattress back inside, and it comes with a carry strap. Ultimately this isn’t a mat for hiking or biking – but it would be ideal for car camping or vanning.

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The verdict: Camping mats

The Thermarest NeoAir XLite comes with very few compromises for what it offers: a warm, comfy night’s sleep that rolls up and fits in your pocket. If you’re careful to sweep the ground before you roll it out, punctures shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re anticipating thorns, shells or sharp stones – or just can’t be bothered – a foam mat to slip underneath will do the job. If weight isn’t an issue, Sea to Summit’s ingenious mat is wonderful, and probably the comfiest mat we tried.

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