Camping mats

Steady yourself on the back of a chair because this is not about anything to do with carbs or food.

It’s about camping, or what to sleep on.

Now, my entree into camping was via the army. And we didn’t have fancy things like camping mats. We could only light fires whilst remaining tactical and as fires could be seen from the air, they were hardly ever lit. So instead of eating sausages, and singing, as I had envisaged, we ate cold things out of tins labelled “bully beef” and singing was obviously completely out of the question.

We had to sleep with our personal weapons, in our sleeping bags; and as mine was a Sterling sub machine gun, it was the very opposite of going to bed with a cosy hot water bottle. The tents were also tiny, so you could only crawl into them. No standing up, you could hardly sit and you slept in a sleeping bag, with two kilos of cold steel with you, on a ground sheet on often very lumpy ground.

It was, in short, miserable. You hardly ate, you hardly slept. My only saving grace was that I was very, very young. Just 18, so these things didn’t really matter. But that is, perhaps, why I didn’t camp again for decades and when I did I looked longingly at bell tents and wanted to hang bunting off every surface.

When I did go camping again it was first to a luxury camping site (‘glamping’, I hate that term but there you have it) and then in a family member’s back garden. I say back garden, but this being Norfolk it was 4 acres. We had a lovely tent that you could stand up in (Vango Icarus 500 if you’re interested), that had a separate dressing area. We had pillows and duvets. No bunting, but I did have battery powered fairy lights and I did buy these rather fabulous camping mats: Vango Adventure Sleeping mats.

Now, there seem to be three different things you could sleep on (other than just the ground of course). A self inflating mat (SIM), a camping mat that is foam, and you roll it out and it doesn’t do anything, and an air bed. I didn’t want an air bed, too much faffing and blowing and they make a noise every time you turn around and can deflate and..I just didn’t want one.

I didn’t want just a foam roll thing, either. They’re fine for exercising on but in order to be comfortable to sleep on they’d roll up to be the size of an oak tree. I was interested by the self inflating mats. You get them in various thicknesses and widths. I went for the largest for me and my partner – XL width and 7.5cm thickness and with hindsight, I wish I’d got these for the children as well as I think it was a false economy (ours were £45 each, theirs were about £30) getting them the smaller ones (theirs were still 5cm thick though). It’s not that the smaller ones aren’t perfectly adequate, they are, but once you’ve tried the big ones, well the standard mats seem just that…standard.

Plus if we’d got four the same, we could more easily have doubled them up for EXTRA LUXE.

Anyway, SIMs have a valve at one end. If you are the sort of camper who walks places carrying your own kit then stop reading now.  You’ll want mats that are light and thin so that they fold down really small. This isn’t them. It isn’t that these mats are giant, they’re not, but you wouldn’t want to carry these too far, not with a sleeping bag etc as well. So you unfurl these SIM from the confines of their stuff sacs, open the valve and watch in awe as they INFLATE THEMSELVES. It’s to do with equalising the pressure inside and out and something to do with physics. You don’t walk on them when they’re inflating, you just watch in awe and call people over. And after about five minutes, they’ve have inflated, you close the valve thing and you’re ready to sleep on it either in a sleeping bag or with sheets and pillows and down-filled duvets.

I think I got mine from Simply Hike but you can get good deals at various places, just do a search. I know it’s not a cheap outlay, but if you’re going to go camping in a car and don’t have to travel far with your kit, these are really great and, I think, have a life beyond camping as you can (and we have) used them as spare beds and I’ve slept on them in people’s houses. With their permission. Plus, I’m not 18 anymore so a good night’s sleep has far reaching effects.

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