Episode 4: Camp mattresses

The single most important factor to ensuring everyone has a fun time camping is making sure everybody in the family gets a good sleep.

Getting used to sleeping outdoors can take a bit of getting used to particularly for very young children or families that have never done it before.

Setting up your tent to test out your sleeping arrangements in the back yard at home is always advised to allow you to get the most comfortable arrangement. If you are camping out of a car and have plenty of room then taking pillows, sheets and doonas from home is the easy way but they do take up a lot of room and getting the right mattress to suit your needs and budget can be a challenge.

There are two basic sleeping bag types; down or synthetic. Goose down is very light and warm and can be compacted down to remarkably small sizes while synthetic fill bags can handle moisture better. Down bags are generally significantly more expensive and more care needs to be taken with storage but if the temperature drops right down to around zero they are incredibly insulating.

A sleeping bag saver or camping sheet is effectively a single sheet stitched down the sides and bottom with an open top. It keeps the inside of the sleeping bag clean, increases the performance of the sleeping bag in winter and in summer is the perfect weight to use by itself on warmer nights. These can be bought in hi-tech materials as well as silk and cotton or you can make them yourself if you are handy with a sewing machine.

In this episode we have a quick look through some of the sleeping mats available that will ensure that everyone is getting up bright eyed and bushy tailed after a night in the campground, on the trail or even in the backyard.

Foam mats or yoga mats have been the staple of school outdoor education programs for decades and there is a reason why; absolutely reliable, cheap (about $10) and easy to roll up and store mean they are probably the first place to look particularly if body mass is under about 30 -40 kgs.

Self-inflating mats have been the staple of hikers, bike tourists and kayakers for decades because they offer insulating capacities to insulate you from the ground, can be tuned to user preference, are readily available and often relatively affordable.

Air Mats have to be inflated either with a pump system or lungs and are more aimed towards the ultra-light camping brigade. The last couple of years have seen some real innovation with the better quality ones incorporating insulation and some great pump designs.
The Sea to Summit AirSprung series and the Exped SynMat system are good examples of this type with the ability to pack down to about the size of soup tin and weigh only a couple of hundred grams. The better quality ones incorporate insulation layers.

The bigger, heavier air mat is more suited to car camping than any other form; these are larger, thicker, softer, better insulated but also far more bulky; the Thermarest Dreamtime and Exped MegaMat are probably the best examples complete with memory foam tops and self-inflating cores they pack down to about the size of a small single swag. Most of the camping chains will also offer a similar product that is often a lot less expensive but significantly bulkier.

 

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