It’s hard to know where to the start when describing Sea to Summit’s out-of-this-world Sleeping Mats, but suffice to say: if our Summer Stuff series is about sharing summer discoveries that have become summer necessities, the UltraLight, Comfort Light and ComfortPlus Mats are all slam-dunks.IMG_0929

I didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family, so most of my childhood camping took place in Girl Scout bunkhouses with cots or bunk beds, rather than on the ground. The first few times I went camping as an adult, I was that person rolling up towels and folding blankets to create some kind of cushion underneath my sleeping bag. When I first saw somebody whip out a sleeping pad, I was blown away. What a concept! An item devoted to keeping the rocks and sticks and bumps out of your back, and insulating you from that cold, hard ground! Why had nobody ever told me such a thing existed?

But let’s be honest: sleeping pads can be a pain, too. They can be tricky to inflate, even harder to deflate and roll away, and add extra weight to your already-heavy pack. And they don’t always do the job they’re supposed to do. In the years after I first encountered the marvel that is the sleeping pad, I also discovered that sometimes that marvel didn’t always work the way it should: rocks and sticks and bumps sometimes get through and dig in, and strong insulation isn’t always a guarantee.

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Enter Sea to Summit.

We’ve already reviewed Sea to Summit’s incredible X-Series Dishware and Ultra Sil Day Pack, so I knew I was in for a treat when three of their sleeping mats — the UltraLight Mat, Comfort Light Insulated Mat, and Comfort Plus Insulated Mat — arrived in my mailbox. I had originally envisioned a sort of Goldilocks camping experiment: picture me flitting from mat to mat, seeking juuuust the right one — but as soon as I stretched out on the UltraLight Mat, I knew the game was over. If even the thinnest, lightest, smallest mat could make me feel like I was sleeping on a cloud, what more could I ask out of the other two?

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The secret, as you can already tell from the photo, is in the cells: Air Sprung Cells™, that is. In every Sea to Summit mat, there’s at least one — sometimes two — layers of these babies honeycombed together to create the perfect equilibrium of cushioned air. The sensation is almost eerie: you lie down, and there’s almost no give, and absolutely no breakthrough from any of that pesky stuff underneath. You’re literally sleeping on a mattress, a mattress that feels like a cloud, or a cream puff — a very supportive cream puff. My night on the UltraLight Mat was 100% the best night I have ever spent sleeping outdoors.

So what’s with the spectrum of UltraLight, Comfort Light, and Comfort Plus? Well, those Air Sprung Cells can be arranged differently, like so, to create variations on cushioning and insulation:

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I gave all three mats a try, and it’s clear that the Comfort Light and Comfort Plus mats are more cushioned and therefore comfier than the UltraLight: the two layers of cells work together to keep you better supported, no matter how much you shift and toss and roll. (It also means that if you somehow puncture a layer, the other layer stays firm! And each mat comes with a patching kit, too.) What’s more, in the Comfort Plus, the layers can be individually inflated using a fine tune valve, so the top layer can be adjusted to your personal comfort (are you a firm mattress or a squishy mattress sleeper?) while the bottom base layer stays high-pressure, supporting and protecting you from rough or uneven terrain.

I haven’t even touched on how incredibly simple these Sea to Summit sleeping mats are to use. Sea to Summit has designed an Air Stream Dry Sack Pump that does a brilliant job minimizing the huffing and puffing needed to blow up the mats, but truth be told, they inflate equally well the old-fashioned way, mouth to valve. And when they do, the sight is something to behold: those honeycombed cells crackle to life, puffing up instantaneously, giving the mat a firm, cozy shape that tapers at the toes.

None of the mats lost any inflation overnight, which only makes the decompression experience more astonishing: pull the valve, and POP! There is literally a pop and a whooshing sound, as though you have waved a magic wand — and the air swooshes right out. That’s right: there’s no on-your-hands-and-knees pushing and squishing and rolling tight to force the air out of these mats. They go instantly flat, and fold and roll up so tightly I was able to insert them back into their original packaging, not just their portable stuff sacks. It’s honest-to-goodness unbelievable.

But to say that the Comfort Light and Comfort Plus mats outdo the UltraLight is to say that more chocolate is better than only some chocolate. In other words: Duh. More layers, more insulation, more padding, all of these things are wonderful, and you can feel the difference, but the Ultra Light Mat already earns 5 out of 5 shining gold stars, especially compared to other sleeping pads I’ve used. The Comfort Light and Comfort Plus Mats are the sprinkles and the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae.

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So how do you choose? It comes down to size and weight. The UltraLight Sleeping Mat rolls up to impossibly small proportions. For the long-haul backpacker, or round-the-world traveler, this is your must-have. It takes up the same amount of space as a pair of thick socks, and weighs only slightly more. But for those who don’t have to worry so much about weight or size, or folks seeking that extra layer of insulation, opt for the Comfort Plus Insulated. Both of the insulated mats use special non-woven fabric to reflect radiant heat loss back to your body and Thermolite insulation to prevent heat loss between your body and the ground, but the Comfort Plus has extra cushioning that puts it ahead of the Comfort Light.

In other words, if you don’t need to go Ultra Light, and you’ve got room to spare in your pack, you might as well bump up to the Comfort Plus.

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That said, there is the question of cost. An UltraLight mat will run you between $129 and $149, depending on whether you buy a small or large. The Comfort Light and Comfort Plus Insulated mats run $169 and $199 in size small. These are not cheap. But holy moly, these mats are juuuuust right. If you are looking to invest in a sleeping pad that will ensures a sound sleep, and makes setting up and breaking camp a breeze, look no further. Sea to Summit has got you covered.

[divider] Summer Stuff 2016 [/divider]

This review is part of our gear series featuring summer discoveries that have quickly become summer necessities.