Trying to find the perfect camping mattress is hard work and comparing different mats is a bit of a minefield. Here is a list of some of the popular mats on the market in 2019 and some stats to help you compare the different mats. If you want a mat adding to the list add a comment at the bottom of the page and I will add it to the the list!
See the information below the table for explanations of what the stats mean.
R Val – What do R-Values mean? The measure of how well the mat insulated the user against the floor. This is the US data for R Values. The chart below will give you an estimated minimum comfortable temperature for an average adult male.
WPW – Warmth per Weight(Higher the better)
How much insulation you are getting versus the amount of weight you have to carry.
WPC – Warmth per Cost (Higher is better)
How much warmth you are getting versus the cost of the mat at the time of cost.
LPC – Lightness per Cost (Higher is better)
How light the mat is versus the cost of the mat at time of publishing. Useful is you are trying to go ultralight on a budget.
Here’s how I calculated the ratings. I just made these metrics up , using the multipliers to give sensible values to compare.
We had a late start on day 1, largely due to a killer hangover from partying too much in Fort William the day before, and so we only set off paddling from Neptune’s Staircase at about 11:30 am.
After unloading all our gear from the car-park at Banavie on the Northern Western side of the Canal, we slowly set about pumping up our boats and performing last minute gear checks. While we had a backup vehicle available in an emergency, we were determined to complete the route unassisted, so we made sure that we have everything we needed and that all our gear was fully watertight.
Next to us a father-daughter team were doing the same, they also have an inflatable boat but it wasn’t a packraft – it was a far heavier (16kg+) Advanced Elements inflatable canoe – far more stable, with better tracking, but not carryable over any kind of distance.
Neptune’s staircase is an impressive feat of engineering, as a series of locks that raise boats 20 metres up from sea level in Loch Linnie, onto the first 10km stretch of the Caledonian canal.
The journey usually takes boats 90 minutes from start to finish, but as we were carrying our pack-rafts on our shoulders it took a mere 5 minutes of huffing and puffing to portage up to our first paddling point, about 20 metres beyond the top lock.
We set about putting our boats into the water, next to a youth group that were on an organised canoe tour. The group had hard open top canoes that were clearly faster than our own boats so we knew would have little chance keeping up with them on the canal.
By now the wind had picked up and the rain had set in (for the day!), but it made little difference as we were out on the water anyhow, protected by our army surplus Goretex jackets. The wind was blowing was gusting from the south west, which turned out perfect for us. Even without our little round sails raised(they aren’t allowed on the canal sections) we were given a 2-3km per hour speed boost!
Over the next 2 hours we made steady progress along the first canal section of the route. The were few boats travelling along this section and generally were on our own, with the exception of the occasional Canadian canoe groups who passed us with ease.
By mid afternoon the winds had dropped and we paddle the final 2kms unaided. We reached the second portage of the trip at Gairlochy, where the canal connected with our first loch of the trip Loch Lochy.
The loch was dead calm as we rounded the corner above the canal and caught sight of the small lighthouse which marked the start of the loch.
Given the favourable wind conditions we were more than eager to test out our canoe sails – small round sails that attach to the front of the canoe. The sails offer the opportunity to take a rest from rowing when a good tail wind (8mph+) is blowing and you can also travel crosswind if you use your oar as a makeshift rudder / keel whilst sailing, something I had practiced with limited success a couple of weeks earlier on Thirlmere.
We had decided earlier in the day to travel up the northern edge of the loch, as it seemed that there would be more opportunity for wild camping. This did however present us with our first difficult decision of the trip – whether to follow the coast round a large bay that opened up about 1 km along the lake, or whether to cut across the lake, saving us about a half a mile of extra rowing.
Mark was eager to make progress and rightly pointed out that the conditions were ideal for the journey. I had some reservations about the hop. The wind had shifted slightly and was now blowing straight from the west, meaning if we capsized we would be blown out into the middle of the loch rather than over to the other side of the bay.
After some head scratching we agreed to risk it and we set off, sails raised into the bay. As we headed into the bay the wind rose steadily and soon we were making excellent progress, 500 metres out from shore, with spirits high. The winds continued to rise however, and within a few short minutes we were firmly in the grip of a brutal squall.
The winds whipped up the waves and soon my boat was being tossed around violently in the swell. I tried to drop the sail and paddle my way towards the shoreline but it soon became clear that I would exhaust myself or capsize long before I reached shore. The side wind was tossing water onto my bow, threatening to swamp the boat every time a wave crossed the boat.
Mark had been blown too far ahead to be of any assistance if I did capsize and my wet suit would only offer token protection against the icy cold water – if I went in I was in real trouble.
Given the seriousness of the situation I decided that the only sensible course of action was to scream random obscenities and at the wind and get very angry with myself for choosing such a stupid course of action. I looked ahead and saw that Mark was still rowing against the wind, making little if any progress.
My only hope was to ride the storm and sail across the bay as planned. I hoisted the sail back up, which was instantly whipped towards the bow, somehow resisting efforts to snap the straps that we holding it vertical. If took out my oar and dug it into the water – partly to steer and partly to reduce the leeward drag that was pushed the raft towards the wrong shore.
The gusting gales still tossed the boat around but now I had a modicum of control – each time a large wave approached I could steer the stern of the boat to face it, minimising water ingress and reducing the possibility of capsizing. In the troughs between the waves I turned the bow to face the shore, allowing slow but steady progress.
For a long long time it seemed like my sailing tactic was a mistake, but gradually the shore grew larger in my view to the front. Dread and panic, slowly shifting to confidence and elation, fuelled by the adrenaline pumping through my system. I then realised that I had completely forgotten about Mark – I turned to see that he too hard chosen to sail through the maelstrom and was also approaching shore in parallel with me.
We crashed onto the beach, dragged our boats up out of the water and collapsed into a heap next to each other, both with shocked smiles on our faces. We had made it! Needless to say we had learned from experience and wouldn’t be taking the same chances again!
Our original plan was to continue along the loch for 3 more kilometres, but we quickly decided that we’d had enough of rowing for the day so we pitched up on the beach right where we were, using rocks to weigh down the pegs and guys.
I have wild camped twice on this qiuet fell, both times in winter and both times it snowed heavily! It makes an excellent winter camp because the access road is regularly gritted in winter and because the route up is easy to follow, even in poor conditions.
The route sets off from just down from Kirkby Stephen train station and heads due south over the fields. After a couple of miles through fields you arrive at the fell proper and begin the long gentle ascent up the shoulder of the mountain.
The final 100 metres or so is a bit of a lung buster but for the most part it’s pretty gentle!
Once you reach the summit it plateaus out and you can take your pick of locations, depending the strength and direction of the wind. If visibility is limited it would be recommended to stick away from the edge of The Nab!
OS Map Route
I mostly navigate using OS Maps and GPS on my phone, but I always carry a map and compass as a backup. GPS devices are incredibly useful but are prone to failure or malfunction, especially in cold conditions – as I found out all too well on my recent Pennine Way thru-hike.
Rather than carry a full 1:25,000 map of the area I print out and laminate A4 or A3 maps of the area instead. It’s far lighter, less clumsy to use, and waterproof!
2. Flint and Striker
Matches, lighters and built-in piezos are great for lighting gas stoves, but when the weather turns nasty they can all fail. A flint and striker will always work in any conditions!
3. Mini Tripod
One of my favourite part of wild camping is taking photos. While you can sometimes get away with asking a friend to take a photo or just resting your camera on the ground, it is much easier to bring a small tripod instead.
This lovely little tarn is possess all the qualities needed for a year-round wild camping spot near Coniston. Parking, navigation and access are all straightforward, even in inclement weather and the view over Coniston Water is more than worth the modest climb to 550m.
Torver has all the right attributes for a perfect wild camping parking location – busy enough but quiet enough. Your vehicle won’t be exposed and isolated over night(as it would if you parked at the Walna Scar car park) and the nearby pub means that you can grab a drink at the beginning or end of your trip.
The hike up to the tarn is worth the walk in itself, as it passes through a number of abandoned quarry works. The picturesque waterfall at Banishead Quarry makes a perfect rest stop on your climb up the hill. The waterfall itself only flows when the stream water level is high enough. The rest of the time the stream simply bypasses the quarry, heading straight down the mountain.
After the waterfall the path meets the Walna Scar road, a historic route linking the central lake district with the Duddon valley and Barrow-in-Furness
OS Map and Route
Credit: Ian Greig / A little tarn above Red Gill Head Moss / CC BY-SA 2.0
I discovered this beautiful wild camping location completely by accident. I was supervising a Duke of Edinburgh gold expedition and the group ran into trouble while ascending the Western flank of The Old Man of Coniston.
The weather conditions were deteriorating, group morale had taken a hit and they needed some encouragement. I intercepted the group, gave everybody Jelly Babies, and then accompanied the group down the technical descent along the Prison Band ridge.
Once down onto a gentler path I let the group get on their way and decided to descend to Coniston via Wetherlam, on the grounds that it sounded a bit like Weathertop a fictional location featured in the first of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
After rounding the summit I began to descend along the South shoulder and stumbled upon this lovely little Tarn!
OS Map & Route
There’s nothing wrong with wild camping on summits, it’s awesome!
…most of the time!
Mountain summits are often the go-to location for wild campers and it’s no surprise given that you will often experience jaw-dropping sunsets and sunrises, together with panoramic views – if the weather conditions are favourable…
If the weather isn’t playing ball, a summit camp might not provide the most rewarding wild camping experience – as I discovered on my thru hike of Pennine Way. There are a number of factors you should be aware of and be prepared to adjust your plan as appropriate.
1. Strong Winds on the top
Wild Camping on the top of a mountain offers an uninterrupted panorama, but it also provides little wind protection. Wind speeds at the top of mountains are often higher than lower down the mountain. Also gale force winds can arrive with little warning.
Forecast speeds of 20 MPH or higher are likely to result in a restless night’s sleep and speeds over 40 MPH can start to cause real problems, depending on your style of tent and how firmly the ground will hold your pegs.
Always ensure that you check the wind speed and direction using the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) Website. If the high winds are forecast then you should consider pitching lower down in a sheltered spot. At the very least take extra pegs, guy lines and a set of ear plugs!
2. Visibility may vary depending on altitude
One of the most important tasks when wild camping is taking photos to post online and make everybody at home really envious! Unfortunately if the cloud ceiling is forecast to be low it is quite likely that you will wake up to a panoramic view of white nothingness.
Conversely if the weather conditions are right you might wake up to find that a blanket fog has formed in the valley below, revealing a spectacular photo opportunity!
Often mountain tops go hand in hand with cliffs or steep scree slopes. If the weather conditions are un-favourable or you expect to be arriving after dark then you might want to consider leaving the technical climbs until the morning when you are fresh and it is light.
Make sure you check the map before you head to see if there are any particularly technical sections that might cause delays or problems and plan accordingly.
4. You might be alone, you might not…
We all long for escaping to an evening of solitude on the top of a mountain fell but in many cases you won’t be on your own if you pick a popular peak like Kinder Scout or Scafell.
Often it is better to pick a lower peak away from the footpath or head to a more isolated area. The Howgills in the Eastern Lake District and Pillar, above Wasdale are two great examples.
5. Water may be difficult to find
Many Lakeland fells have no standing or running water near the summit. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a reason not to camp at the summit, it is important that you keep an eye on how much water you have left and know where the last refill point is before the summit.
On a multi-day hike through the lakes I once had to cook using boiled water from a pool with sheep poo floating in it because I neglected to fill up often enough.
It is always advisable to bring a method of purification with you when camping so that you can collect water safely from streams. Water purification tablets and water filters are both highly effective in killing pathogenic bacteria.
6. It may turn colder than you expect
As a general rule the temperature drops by 1 degree for every 100 meter climbed, so make sure that you pack accordingly. This, combined with the wind chill factor on the summit can mean a cold, miserable night shivering in your bag!
Alternatives to summit camps
When scouting out locations it is always important to look for alternative backup camps in more sheltered locations. These areas are likely to be quieter, more sheltered and have access to water.
Glacial Corrie Lakes
These bowl shaped depressions are often found within 20 minutes of the summit of lakeland fells and offer excellent wind protection.
Shoulders and Ridges
These often offer far superior photo opportunities, especially when you frame your shot with ridge-line zigzagging into the distance.
Cliff bottoms and Rock Formations
These are located at all altitudes and can be easily found with the help of a 1:25,000 OS map. The are especially useful in windy conditions.
Plan for the worst, hope for the best
The majority of the time most of the issues above aren’t a factor, especially if you are flexible with dates. Many wild campers only venture out when they know conditions are likely to be favourable, but even then it pays to be prepared when up on the fells.
Your backup camp can be used as a fall back if the weather conditions take a turn for the worse or if members of that party are starting to get tired.
I hope you like the article, if you have anything to contribute then add a comment below!