Can I use a Yoga Mat as a Camping Pad? Tips and Alternatives

Pair of trekking poles and camping equipment for tourism on white background

If you’ve ever gone on a camping trip, you probably will remember lying on the ground in your sleeping bag and trying to get some shut-eye. Was the ground colder and harder than you’d anticipated, or did you just camp in someone’s backyard where there wasn’t that much variation on the ground with that softening cushion of grass to keep your back fairly comfortable? Camping is very customizable, but how well you sleep is one of the biggest parts of having a successful trip.

A thick yoga mat can be used as a camping pad if it is warm enough and the ground is even enough to comfortably sleep on. A yoga mat is made from squishier foam than a camping pad, and yoga mats are made to be thin, so they will not be great substitutes in all circumstances.

When it comes to camping there are many different options in camping pads or sleeping pads as they’re sometimes called. There are mats made to insulate and provide a barrier between your body and the ground, air pads that can be placed on top of those mats to make it more comfortable to sleep, or the combo options of self-inflating pads that also have a foam bottom, and lastly, there’s always the option of a yoga mat if you’re not as concerned about the ground being an issue as in some less-serious camping situations. The real thing to understand here is the different kinds of pads that can be used for different kinds of camping which we’ll discuss below.

What Does a Sleeping Pad Do?

Camping pads, also called sleeping pads, are those long mats that you’ll see on a camper or hiker rolled up into a cylinder hanging below the backpack. They can be rolled out at night for sleeping and rolled up again for travel. A camping pad is made to be lightweight so a camper can carry it easily for days on their back if they’re going hiking or trekking. It’s built to be transformable, meaning that it can adjust to being rolled up and rolled out daily without staying in that curved shape. That tends to happen when the camping pad is too stiff to conform to being flat in the evening.

A camping pad gives campers an extra layer of comfort between their sleeping bag and the ground, but the most important thing that a camping pad does is insulate the hiker from the cold ground at nights when the sun isn’t shining and the ground becomes cold and moist. This can be the difference between a cranky, exhausted hiker and a happy, well-rested hiker.

What Should a Good Camping Pad Be Like?

When you think of going hiking, you may think of your tent, food, and sleeping bag first until someone at the camping store reminds you that you also need to purchase a camping pad. If you’ve never gone hiking for multiple days, you may think that you don’t need a more comfortable sleep. Maybe you’ve been camping in the past at a campsite and you just used the tent floor which was placed on top of the gravel campsite and that wasn’t too bad, but if you’re going on a hike in the mountains or in anywhere that may get a little cold, you’ll want to consider getting a good camping pad.

When my family and I first started buying our hiking gear to go on our first hike, we were told that we’d want some camping pads that were at least 2 inches thick, but you’ll really want to use a mat that is 2.5-3.5 inches thick. We bought some old inflatable camping pads that didn’t inflate as well anymore and old foam mats that were not very elastic, which made them difficult to unroll and re-roll up every day. They also had some places that were thinner or more compressed like in the middle and some places that were thicker, like the edges, which made it slightly uncomfortable to sleep on. Keep that in mind if you’re looking at old or used equipment.

The inside of a red tent with an blue sleeping bag and an orange self-inflating blow-up mattress pad for under his sleeping bag

The Three Main Kinds of Camping Pads

There are a few types of camping pads that you should be familiar with so, that you know how they stack up next to a yoga mat. There are many options and variations between camping pads and mats, but we’ll just talk about the basics here.

Self-Inflatable: The self-inflatable pads are easy to use because all you need to do is lay them flat, untwist the opening valve, and let air come in to inflate the pad. When you’re ready to roll it up, you simply open the valve again and roll the pad up as you push the air back out of it and close the valve to keep it flat. Self-inflatable pads are usually a combination of air and foam pads so that you don’t have to worry about bringing both with you on your hike.

Foam: The foam pad or mat can be used by itself to provide insulation and a barrier between your sleeping bag and the ground, but it is not the most comfortable thing on its own. Usually, campers will purchase air mats to place over the foam mat to provide an extra layer of comfort when they’re sleeping. Foam pads are made with closed air foam which makes the foam dense, unlike a yoga mat. The nice thing about a foam pad is that you don’t have to worry about punctures or damaging them as you would with an air or self-inflatable, but they are rigid and stiff especially when they get old.

Air: Air pads are much like thin air mattresses. These pads are more common for casual camping or glamping, or just taking a nap outside on the ground, but suppliers make lightweight, insulated, high-quality kinds for hikers and trekkers. They are one of the most comfortable options for campers. The primary drawback to an air pad is that it can be punctured easily. Many campers have seen that unfortunately, they don’t hold up well when camping with dogs. (Source)

What Does a Yoga Mat Do?

Women practicing yoga together and sitting in the lotus pose: mindfulness meditation, spirituality and healthy lifestyle concept

A yoga mat is made of a flexible, somewhat stretchy foam that allows the person using it to bend and move without overstretching by accident or slipping on an inflexible surface. This is great for yoga, but as you may have already guessed, it’s not great for camping. A yoga mat is not designed to withstand the weight of a sleeping person with rocks under it.

A yoga mat will allow rocks and sticks and other objects to come right through. Not to mention that the yoga mat is usually not 2.5-3.5 inches thick. They only range from 1/8 inches thick up to about 1 inch in thickness. They’re made so that yogis can have good contact with the floor while staying on a clean, stable surface,

If you wanted something to lay underneath you in a car or truck a yoga mat could also work to give you some protection between you and the floor. A yoga mat can be a great option in a car combined with an air pad to make a bit of a bed for your car.

What About Using A Thick Yoga Mat In Camping?

A regular yoga mat wouldn’t work very well in the mountains during winter or any other cold season in your area. Although a yoga mat would be better than nothing, it wouldn’t do a very good job of insulating and preventing back pains. You could use a thick yoga mat, if that’s all you had, for a camping trip on smooth ground when it’s very warm outside. We used to use yoga mats on our youth camping trips to go under our sleeping bags during the hot June-July months in Georgia, and they worked well on the gravel lots or lawns that we camped on.

It really does depend on what kind of camping or hiking you plan on doing. If you want to go for a casual camping trip at a park or for a group activity, a yoga mat may be the best option for your budget and your trip. Yoga mats only run about $7-$20 while camping pads can run about $13-$80 depending on which type of pad you want to buy. If you’re planning on staying outdoors for a very long time, you’ll really want to consider getting a legitimate camping pad to sleep on.

Something important to note is that the difference between a foam sleeping mat like the ones we bought, and a yoga mat that you can pick up at your local supermarket is that those camping pads were built to be hard and stable to prevent rocks and sticks from creating a bump in your sleeping surface while you’re trying to get rested for the day ahead. While it’s true that you should try to remove all of those things before you set up your tent, it’s never going to be perfectly even or level when you get inside your tent to go to sleep, so, a proper camping pad is recommended. (Source)

What About Back Pain?

Young woman sitting on bed rubbing back feeling hurt ache morning discomfort lower lumbar muscular pain, upset female waking up with backache after night sleep on bad mattress, backpain concept

Special Conditions

A big concern for a lot of first-time hikers is back pain. There would be nothing worse to get back from your hike or campout feeling irritable and having bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep. For some, it’s very easy to sleep anywhere, but for others, it’s not that simple. Older campers, those with allergies, or certain health conditions like arthritis may find it irritating if not harmful to their joints, shoulders, hips, and back if they’re not properly cushioned. If you think you may need some extra cushioning while you sleep, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a self-inflatable pad or an air pad and foam pad to place under you while you sleep. (Source)

Firmer Mats May Do Your Back Well

While there may be some downsides to certain campers who have health conditions sleeping on a harder surface may actually provide some relief and support to your back as it does in the case of Japanese futons. There are many benefits to having contact with the earth, such as walking barefoot, or sleeping on or close to the ground, but sleeping on a harder surface may actually do your back well. A super-soft cushion can actually make your muscles sag and it will not support the lower back, creating tension that will compound and cause problems elsewhere in the body.

Relax and Destress In Nature

Lastly, much of the tension that you experience in your body is likely due to the stress of work, school, family, etc. Your body can hold and internalize stressors without your mind really being aware of them. Don’t be surprised if you end up with back and shoulder pains after hours of fighting traffic. Camping outside in nature tends to help reduce and relieve that stress. It’s something to consider when you’re weighing the costs of sleeping on the ground. You may find that you experience no difference between sleeping outside or sleeping at home because of the added benefit of being close to nature in a way that reduces tension in your body.

Young people tend to be able to sleep in places that would be uncomfortable to older stiffer bodies but is that all because of age, or does it also have something to do with the amount of stress that they have at that place in their lives. Perhaps it’s easier for them to let things go. It’s something to think about as you go on your camping or hiking adventure. Think about letting your stressors go, about remembering the good, soaking in the trees, the animals, and the water as you walk through nature and recharge your soul.

Being in nature has so many positive healthy side effects. It can help your mind and your body, so, as you decide on the best things to bring for your trip, don’t forget to factor in the added benefits that you’ll receive by just being outside. Take every opportunity to let go of your stressors and take in every moment of your trip so that you can recharge and come back refreshed. (Source)

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