How Self Inflating Sleeping Mats Work

The Votes are in and have been counted! The result is clear! If you want to get a refreshing night’s sleep while camping, a Self Inflating Sleeping Mat is an absolute must. Not only are self inflating mats extremely portable, they’re great to sleep on, stronger and more durable than their predecessors.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Structure

In contrast to an ordinary blow-up sleeping mat, self inflating mats do weigh a little more, but they make up for that in so many other ways. They simply have so much more to offer, and for around the same price as their non-self inflating opposite numbers. Their superior attributes make them very appealing, features such as: Comfort, Durability, Ease of Inflation, More Resistance to Leaks and Punctures, Greater Insulation and of course Comfort once again!

So, I suppose you’ll want to know: How self inflating sleeping mats work. What type of models there are. And, what you should keep in mind whilst caring for and/or maintaining them? Then read on my friend.

In the following paragraphs (I’ll be brief), we’re going to answer those questions so that you can discover which is the right kind mat for you!

How Do Self Inflating Sleeping Mats Work?

The science behind the self inflating sleeping mat is more than likely relatively complex. So we’ll skip that and talk about the layman’s description, as their fundamental function is pretty easy to understand:

On the inside of the mat, there is a special kind of Poly-Urethane foam. The foam is encased in a waterproof, airtight heavy duty Vinyl outer layer. The foam inside has lots of open cells. When rolled up, the foam is extremely well compressed and the cells are collapsed, but, they want to return to their natural open position. Once you open the valve and unroll it, the foam gets it’s chance to expand, and does so within the confines of it’s outer layer.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Inflating Valve
Close up of the Screw Valve

This expansion starts the moment you open the valve, the sleeping mat literally self inflates because of the vacuum created by the foam cells having been previously compressed when it was rolled up. Air is quickly sucked in from the outside into the spaces created by the rapidly expanding pores of the foam.

Once the mat is completely inflated, the valve needs to be closed again to save the air from being forced back out when you lie down on it compressing the foam.

You Can Always Regulate The Amount Of Air In The Self Inflating Sleeping Mat If Needed

Since some people like their camping mattresses to be firm and others soft, you can alter the firmness and support of your self inflating sleeping mat.

Also, as various ground conditions demand, you can have a range of different comfort levels by simply adding or removing air using the valve, this is a very useful and beneficial feature of inflatable mats over solid ones.

In order to get more air into the sleeping mat, all you have to do is blow a small amount of air in through the valve and close the valve again.

Be aware that while inflating a mat with your mouth, the air you breathe into the mat can sometimes result in a build-up of moisture and bacteria that may eventually damage your mat. This is because mould can form on the inside, which can have an effect on the foam and the insulating surfaces. The moisture could also end up freezing in low temperatures, reducing the insulation ability of the mat.

If you’ve got a mat with foam insulation, you need to make certain that no moisture remains within the mat when you are finished with it. This can be done by simply opening the valve, rolling it up to get all the air out of it, then letting it unroll and sit with the valve open for a while with fresh, clean dry air in it.

If all that sound quite terrifying and you’d want to keep moisture out of your mat, you should just allow them to inflate on their own without the use of your mouth. I assure you, the designers have made them so that the foam fully expands, and they fully inflate given sufficient “valve open” time.

If you want your mat softer, all you have to do is allow as much air out through the valve as you think you need until the mat reaches your desired level of comfort. A bit of trial and error may be needed the first few times you try this.

Personally, I just allow mine to inflate on it’s own, and it is super comfortable without any adjusting of air levels. That’s probably why the designers made them that way to be fair!

So, How Do You Store a Self Inflating Sleeping Mat?

When you wake up on your camping trip, full of energy after your good night’s sleep, you’ll probably want to get going as quickly as possible on the next day’s adventure.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Good Night's Sleep

In order to get your sleeping mat back to it’s packed size, you’ll need to make sure you get all of the air out of it. You can do this extremely easily.

Just open the valve and start rolling up the mat whilst allowing your weight to compress the air into leaving through the valve as you roll. When all of the air’s out and the valve is closed, you can store the mat away on your rucksack.

What Thickness Of Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Will I Need?

Like people, Self Inflating Sleeping Mats come in all shapes and sizes anywhere from 2-10 cm thick, and in a multitude of lengths and widths. You need to take into account how much the mat weighs, how bulky it is, and your own weight and height.

We conducted a sleeping mat trial recently for our own benefit, and we concluded that a mat in the region of 3 cm is sufficiently comfortable, and cushioned enough to give a good night’s sleep and prevent contact with the ground for someone up to and slightly over 100 kg (Over 15 Stone). After this weight, you may need to consider thicker mats, starting at 4 cm and working upwards. I prefer a full length mat so that my feet are not sticking off the end to get cold without insulation. There are three-quarter length ones on the market. And as long as it is wide enough so I don’t roll off it, it will suffice. (there should be a link at the bottom of this page to our trial).

Mats with a thickness in the region of 3 cm should be effective for most camping trips for the average size person. They provide insulation, comfort and are small and light enough to be carried on a rucksack.

Sleeping mats with a thickness of 10 cm or greater afford you more insulation, more comfort, but the obvious downside to these mats is their size and weight. They are probably more suited to “Car Camping” if that is your thing.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mats – Care And Repair

Since your Self Inflating Sleeping Mat is going to be used on hard and uneven surfaces, it is not uncommon for them to get punctured or scratched.

It is a fact of life, especially if you lay it down without due consideration of the surface you chose to put it on. You should always clear away sharp rocks, twigs, thorns and other objects that could cause it damage prior to rolling out your mat. Fortunately such minor inconveniences if they happen are easy to patch up yourself.

Most sleeping mats come with a repair kit you can use if you discover a tear or puncture to your mat.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Repair Kit
Repair Kit, Mat and Carry Bag

The kits generally include patches for the top and bottom in addition to an adhesive (either self-adhesive patches or a tube of solution) to fix the patch to the material. That way you can seal up small holes and tears in the mat’s outer surface and use it on future expeditions.

Cleaning your sleeping mat after use is easy too. Simply wipe your mat with a damp cloth and some sort of light detergent such as washing up liquid.

Make sure you do this when your mat is fully inflated and the valve is closed. Then rinse off any bubbles thoroughly. In order to prevent any mould, make certain to allow the mat to dry prior to deflating it and rolling it back up and putting it back into it’s carry bag.

Self Inflating Sleeping Mat Storage
Rolled Up and Stored in Carry Bag

If you follow these easy instructions, you’ll be able to enjoy a first class sleeping experience on your Self Inflating Sleeping Mat for years to come. I hope this has been useful to you. Please feel free to share it if you think it can help a friend.