If you love camping but hate sleeping on the hard ground, a self-inflating mat might be the perfect solution for you. A self-inflating mat is a type of sleeping pad that uses air and foam to provide cushioning and insulation. Unlike an air mattress, a self-inflating mat doesn’t need a pump to inflate. They also roll up into a compact size for easy storage and transport.
How do they work?
The inside of the self-inflating mat is open-cell foam; in essence, it is just like a kitchen sponge. If you were to squeeze a kitchen sponge in your hand, it would draw itself full of air once you released your grip. Exactly the same thing happens in a self-inflating mat, except that the ‘sponge’ has an airtight skin around it with a valve. Once the valve is opened, the foam core will draw air into the mat.
It is important to know that a self-inflating mat (regardless of brand) will not self-inflate to the degree of firmness necessary for sleeping on – you will always need to add a little extra air (either via mouth inflation or with a manual pump) to bring the mat up to the pressure you will want.
But how do you use a self-inflating mat? Here’s some simple tips and steps to follow:
Unpack your mat
The sleeping mats are vacuum-packed at the factory to save on space and thus on shipping costs. This sometimes causes the individual cells of the foam to stick together, so that when the valve is opened for the first time, the mat may not fully inflate, the best thing to do here, is let the mattress inflate as much as it can, and then top it up manually using your mouth or a manual pump to blow air into the valve.
Or if time is an issue, you can manually inflate your mat (either by mouth or using a manual pump), the cells inside will unstick, and the mat will self-inflate the next time you use it. this can happen after being stored for extended periods. The more a mat is used the better and faster it gets.
Inflate your mat
To inflate your mat, open the valve(s) at one end of the mat. The valve(s) may be twist-and-pull, push-and-lock, or modern high flow flip valves types, depending on the model. Once the valve(s) are open, air will start to enter the mat and expand the foam inside. Depending on the thickness and size of your mat, it may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to fully inflate. Note: the inflation speed will improve over time with increased use as the foam will get its memory back the more its used.
Adjust your mat
Once your mat is inflated, you can adjust the firmness and comfort level by adding or releasing air. To add air, you can blow into the valve(s) with your mouth or use a hand pump. To release air, you can press down on the mat or open the valve(s) slightly. You can also roll up one end of the mat to squeeze out excess air, then unroll it and close the valve(s). Experiment with different amounts of air until you find your preferred level of comfort.
Enjoy your mat
Now that your mat is ready, you can place it inside your tent or under your sleeping bag and enjoy a cozy night’s sleep. A self-inflating mat will not only cushion your body from the ground, but also insulate you from the cold and dampness. You may even forget that you’re sleeping outdoors!
Deflate and pack your mat
When it’s time to pack up, you need to deflate and roll up your mat. To deflate your mat, open the valve(s) and let the air escape. You can speed up the process by folding or rolling the mat from the opposite end of the valve(s), pushing out as much air as possible. High flow flip valves allow air out only, and not back in, so you can roll your mat up more than once for better compression. Once your mat is flat and deflated, close the valve(s). Secure it with straps or elastic bands and put it back in its bag.
Dry your mattress outside and inside: Inflating your mattress and letting it air dry will take care of exterior drying. Don’t leave your mattress where direct sunlight can hit it, though, because UV rays will degrade the material.
Moisture that accumulates inside foam in mattresses can lead to unwanted mould growth on the inside. After your trip, you can lower the moisture level in your mattress by inflating it, then deflating it a few times. Use a source other than your lungs. Setting a hair dryer on low (NOT hot) and holding it directly against or over your pad’s valve is an easy way to do this type of inflation—partially inflating the mattress each time is fine for this step.
Where to store your mattress at home: Moisture and temperature extremes are hard on your mattress, so avoid damp places and unheated (and uncooled) spaces like garages and attics. Susceptibility to temperature extremes also makes car boots a no-no. Find a dedicated position in a wardrobe or under your bed instead.
How to store your mattress at home: Your mattresses and storage sack should be thoroughly dry inside and out before you store them. Leave it inflated with the valve open. That’s good for both the foam’s long-term resiliency and for air circulation inside the pad.
That’s it! You’ve learned the expert tips to successfully using a self-inflating mat for camping. By following these steps, you can enjoy sleeping in comfort wherever you go.