Preparing a camping mat for sleeping on the snow

What Are Sleeping Mat R Values And Why Do We Use Them?

By David Hanney

We usually only find out that our sleeping mat isn't warm enough when we're mid-trip, shivering our bits off and wishing we'd got another warm layer to pull on.

Sleeping mat R values have the potential to help us avoid cold, sleepless nights. But these numbers can be misleading, even to the most discerning of campers. Here's everything you need to know about R values and why we don't use them.

Sleeping Mat R Values Explained

  1. What are sleeping R values?
  2. Why we use R values?
  3. Why we need an international standard
  4. When will there be an international standard?
  5. How do you use R values to choose a sleeping mat?
Cloud Base inflatable sleeping mat inside the Hunka hooped bivvy bag

What is an R Value in Sleeping Mats?

R Values are a measurement of thermal resistance – they measure heat flow through a given thickess of material - so they tell you how well your sleeping mat resists heat loss.

The higher the R value, the more your mat resists heat loss and the better it insulates you from the cold ground. As a rule of thumb, an R value of 1.0 to 2.0 is fine for summer use but you’d need a rating of 4.0 to 5.0+ for winter camping.

Why Do Alpkit Use R Values?

There's an international standard for R-values. It's a framework to help you make the right decision for the adventure you have in mind. So you can stay warm, sleep soundly and wake up full of beans for your next day out.

Alpkit Airo 180 lightweight self-inflating sleeping mat

Why Do We Have an International Standard for R Values?

Having an internationally agreed standard makes it easier to compare between mats from different companies, much in the same way we now can with EN 13537 Comfort, Limit and Extreme ratings for sleeping bags.

Without a consistent standard, brands will always choose the testing method that produces the highest R value for their mats. These test results can be mis-leading and can make it hard to choose between different manufacturers.

Pushing a Dirtbag self-inflating sleeping mat into the tent in the Peak District

How Do You Choose a Sleeping Mat?

Some types of sleeping mat construction are much more insulating than others. For instance, uninsulated inflatable mats will always be colder than self-inflating mats which are packed with insulating open-cell foam.

Our sleeping mat range covers every eventuality from ultralight inflatable mats for summer backpacking and bikepacking, to luxuriously thick car camping mattresses. We’ve made sure each mat has a particular purpose, influenced by decades of experience using sleeping mats all over the world.

r value graphic

There are lots of different factors that can affect whether you get a warm night’s sleep. Remember that your sleeping mat is only one part of your sleep system, along with your sleeping bag and clothing. That said, choosing a warmer mat means that your entire sleep system will be more effective when it’s time to hit the hay. Well, not hay. Don’t use hay. It gets everywhere.

Sleeping Mats for Camping

Folding foam sit mat to keep your bum warm and dry on lunch stops
Ultralight, folding foam sleeping mat: full length, 1.7cm thick, 245g
Lightweight, inflatable camping pillow for multi-day hikes and overnight stays
Lightweight, inflatable sleeping mat: full length, 8cm thick, 350g
Lightweight, inflatable sleeping mat: full length, 5cm thick, 420g
Insulated, inflatable camping mat: full length, 7cm thick, 720g
Inflatable camping mat with built-in pump: full length, 10cm thick, 850g
Self-inflating sleeping mat: torso length, 2.5cm thick, 450g
Self-inflating sleeping mat: full length, 2.5cm thick, 630g
Self-inflating sleeping mat: full length, 5cm thick, 900g
Self-inflating camping mattress: full length, full comfort, 7.5cm thick
Self-inflating double camping mattress: full length, full comfort, 7.5cm thick

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