What Is An R-Value When Looking at Camping Mats?

Do you know what the R-Value means when you are looking at buying a new camping mat, sim or pad? If not or you want to understand this a little more read on. This will help you to purchase a mat, pad or sim that meets your needs.

Getting a good night’s sleep when camping is so important. Not only for you to enjoy your time camping, but also for your health and wellbeing. Most people concentrate on their sleeping bags, but, what you sleep ON is also important. You can lose so much body heat by not creating a good barrier between you and the ground. Even if using a camp bed the cold air underneath can make you cold. We always top our camp beds with a good and well R-Value rated mat or SIM.

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sleeping mat

What Is An R-Value?

The R-Value relates to how well a product resists heat loss. When we speak about camping mats, pads or SIMs this means how well it insulates from the cold ground. Meaning how well it resists heat transfer between you and what is on the other side mat eg. the ground.

Some may also have a reflective layer meaning that your body heat will be directed back to you. Thus keeping you warmer throughout the night.

R-Values are rated using numbers. An item with an R-Value of 4.5 is more insulative than one with 1.2. So the higher the R-Value number the more protection and warmth this will provide. Most camping sleep mats, pads & SIMs are rated between 1-7. Although some are higher, mainly SIM’s which can go into double figures.

Wikipedia says – “R-value (insulation) -A measure of how well an object, per unit of its exposed area, resists the conductive flow of heat: the greater the R-value, the greater the resistance, and so the better the thermal insulating properties of the object”

Things to Consider When Looking at Mats, Pads and Sims

What do you look at when thinking about purchasing a new mat, pad or SIM for your camping trips? Do you think about comfort, heat retention, pack size, price or weight? You may think about only one or two of these, especially if R-Value is something you have never heard of. If you think about everything you may just make a more informed decision.

Sometimes the type of camping you do does not require you to think too much about heat loss while sleeping. If you only camp in the summer months or when the weather is warm you might not think much about heat retention. However, it would surprise you how much heat we lose at night, even in summer.

If you camp for more than one season, you will think more about heat loss. By thinking about everything you need for a good night’s sleep before purchasing your new item you will buy what is right for you. It may cost a little more but it will be worth it in the long run.

Outwell Dreamcatcher on bed

For some that both site camp and wild camp it is best to look for a mat or pad that you can use for all your camping needs. For site camping, I absolutely love my Outwell Dreamcatcher but it is too bulky for wild camping. Remember you can always place a mat on top of a camp bed if needed.

R-Values and Temperatures

Below is a rough guide to the R-Value and what season and temperature they are suitable for. You can always add a closed-cell foam mat under any rating of your sleeping mat to give it an additional boost.

R-Value
  • Summer – R-value 0.1 to 2.0 – mats aimed at temperatures no lower than 5C. These mats will tend to be air mattresses with little to no insulation inside them.
  • 3 Season – R-value 2.0 to 4.5 – mats containing moderate levels of insulation and suitable for typical temperature ranges of +10C to -10C.
  • Winter – R-value 4.5 + (the colder the temperature the higher the R-value you will require) – suitable for use in Winter temperatures of -10C and below (often combined with a Closed Cell Foam mat in extreme temperatures).

The Standardization of R-Value

Up until 2020, there was no standardization for how camping gear manufacturers measured R-value. Therm-a-Rest and Sea to Summit, for example, had their own testing facilities, while brands like Exped used third-party researchers to do the testing for them. Some companies would estimate their R-values. As a result, one brand’s 3.2 might have been another brand’s 4.5—meaning there was no way to compare pads with any accuracy.

Popular Mats, Pads and SIMs and their R-Value

Mat/Pad/SIMPrice fromR-ValueSeasonBuy from (click link)
Sea to Summit Comfort Plus£162.005.0Winter/All SeasonsAmazon, Go Outdoors
Thermarest Prolite Plus£95.003.23 SeasonDecathlon, Amazon
Outwell Dreamcatcher£95.006.7Winter/All SeasonsGo Outdoors,
Thermarest NeoAir£195.006.9Winter/All SeasonsAmazon,
Forclaz Trek 500£34.992.73 SeasonDecathlon
Sea to Summit Comfort Light£83.002.73 SeasonAmazon
A rested night

A Warm & Rested Sleep

We hope that this has helped you to understand the meaning and grading of R-Values in sleeping mats. Having this information will help you to choose a mat, pad or SIM that is right for you and how you camp. All campers know that a good night’s sleep is important. Get your sleeping kit right and you’ll enjoy any camping experience all the more.

If you would like to download an infographic with this information on it you can do so here. This way you can always have the information to hand.

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4 thoughts on “What Is An R-Value When Looking at Camping Mats?”

  1. I wish I had known this at the start of my camping journey. I have spent a few hundred pounds before finding my current sleeping system, this was mainly due to poor mats that didn’t retain heat or help me stay warm.
    If I had known about r value back then I could have saved myself money and many cold sleepless nights. Hope others find this sooner than I did.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing this Caz, I myself spent a few cold nights on poor mats at the start. I hope that by sharing this I will help people choose their mats and SIMs carefully and informed. Hope to save them a few pounds in the long run too.

      Reply
  2. I like to camp in the summer months, but even then I do find myself getting chilly even with my fancy sleeping bag. Since readying your blog post, for this summer I will treat myself to a new mat and take note of the R value! I would be interested on your thoughts for my dog – do manufactures provide R values for pet camping beds? Any advice on making camping more comfortable for my dog. Thank you.

    Reply

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