Provisional* overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Sleeping mats are not all the same, and the difference in price between entry-level and top-end sleeping mats can be eye-watering. Generally, sleeping mats fall into three categories:
1) Inflatable mats,
2) Self-inflating mats, and
3) Closed-cell foam mats
*A provisional rating, as I’ve yet to test this mat in sub-zero conditions.
Sleeping mat R-ratings explained
Additionally, sleeping mats have an R-rating, which is an indication of what thermal protection against ground cold you can expect from it. Typically, a sleeping mat used only for summer camping can have an R-rating of up to 2, but if winter camping in England, you’ll ideally want 3.5 or higher. If camping in arctic temperatures, you’ll want at least an R-rating of 5.
Self-inflating mats tend to have a higher R-rating, for the simple reason that inside them there’s also foam, which offers further thermal protection.
The thickness of a mat can make a big difference too, especially if you tend to sleep on your side. This is because your hip bone will squish the mat down a lot, and if you flatten it completely, expect to feel the ground cold!
The Valehowl sleeping mat
The mat is marketed as “self-inflating”, but it isn’t. Instead, at the foot end of the mat, it contains a non-return valve, and a foam insert. By repeatedly stomping on the foam insert, you can inflate the mat. It also has another valve, in the integrated pillow, and you can blow to inflate the mat quicker. However, to get it fully inflated, you’ll have to rely on the integrated pump.
The Valehowl is sold as having an R-rating of 3, meaning you should be able to use it in quite cold weather, but this is not the sleeping mat for going camping inside the arctic circle in winter!
It’s 200cm long, which is generous, though as you inflate it that length will shrink slightly. It’s 70cm wide, but again that is when measured fully deflated, and it is a bit less when inflated. Deflated and rolled up, it’s claimed to be as small as 30cm x 13cm, and those dimensions seem reasonable to me. Importantly, when fully inflated, it’s about 5cm thick.
It’s fairly light, weighing only 800g, but is far from the lightest on the market. However, the price is an unbelievably low £36!
Especially for winter camping, it’s vital that you test your kit before heading off into the wild. Because of this, I pitched my tent in the garden, and inflated the sleeping mat. When winter camping, you need to be able to trust your kit, and to me that means testing it thoroughly first.
Ordinarily, I’d use a closed-cell foam mat underneath the sleeping mat, as my previous self-inflating mat really only was meant for summer usage. Combined, it was fine for winter camping.
However, I wanted to see what this mat would be like on its own, so I didn’t use the foam mat underneath.
It was wet and very windy both nights that I tested the sleeping mat. Lots of rain over the past few weeks meant the ground was already saturated. However, with the jet-stream becoming increasingly unstable, the UK (and indeed most of Europe) had a very mild December.
During both nights, the outside air temperature didn’t once drop below 6 Celsius. I will test this sleeping mat again in sub-zero temperatures, once we have such weather, and I’ll update this review accordingly.
Some of the reviews stated that the sleeping mat doesn’t remain inflated. The first night I used it, I experienced the same, and it was noticeably deflating, within the first two hours. That was my fault and not the fault of the sleeping mat!
The valve in the integrated pillow needs to be firmly pressed down to close, and I failed to do that at first. After I corrected this mistake, the sleeping mat remained inflated all night, with no loss of pressure that I was able to detect.
I’m a side-sleeper, and that makes it easy for my hip to squish a sleeping mat enough for me to be affected by ground cold. With the mat fully inflated, I had no issues with that at all. Because it’s fairly wide, when lying on my back, both my arms can rest either side of my body, and still remain on the mat. That’s a big bonus.
The mat is rectangular, and along the side has some press-studs. These allow you to join two (or more) of these mats together.
Not everything is great with the Valehowl sleeping mat though. For starters, using the integrated pump assumes you can stand up – inside a cramped tent, it’s far trickier to operate. Also, the pump causes a large “bubble” to form at the foot of the mat, which can be annoying.
Finally, the integrated pillow is too big, and too high for my preferences, but you may feel different. After all, pillow preferences is a very personal thing.
Overall, so far I’m happy with this sleeping mat. The test I apply to kit is always the same – I ask one simple question: Knowing what I know now about the product, before purchasing it, would I still have bought it?
With the Valehowl sleeping mat, the answer is a straightforward yes. After all, where else can you get an inflatable sleeping mat, with an R-value of 3, that’s 5cm thick when inflated, for under £40? If you’re in the market for a sleeping mat, you can get one of these here.