Easter is in the rearview mirror now, and camping season is well and truly upon us, but the evenings and nights are still decidedly chilly, and if you don’t have the best sleeping bag, best tent and best camping pad for this shoulder season, you may well find yourself feeling the freeze when it comes to climbing into bed.
Lying wide awake in the dark, quivering and shivering with the cold, is no fun at all. In fact, it can take sap the enjoyment right out of a camping experience. Imagine, though, if you had the outdoor equivalent of an electric blanket to take the chill off your sleeping bag when you get into it at night or to warm your feet in the morning. Well, that’s exactly the role British camping brand Vango have designed their Radiate Heat Mat to fulfil.
But does it work? To find out, I tested a Radiate Heat mat out long before winter came to an end, spending two nights camping out in a tent in sub-zero conditions.
Vango Radiate Heat Mat review: specifications
- Weight: 220g
- Dimensions: 18 x 9cm
- Inclusions: Mat and carry sack (power pack not included)
- Compatibility: Works in any sleeping bag, with a range of portable power packs
Vango Radiate Heat Mat review: price and availability
The Vango Radiate Heat Mat is available to buy now directly from Vango UK for a recommended retail price of £60 (approx. $74/AU$111). The mat is currently only available in Europe; US/AU availability is TBC. Vango sells a range of outdoor hoods, including tents, backpacks, sleeping accessories, awnings, furniture and more.
Pat on the mat
Most people generally avoid camping during the colder months, between November and March, and as a result, even many outdoorsy types don’t own a proper 4-season or full-on winter sleeping bag and tent or a camping mat with an especially high R-value (which indicates how much insulation and thermal protection the pad offers). Most will make do with a 3-season sleeping bag, a standard camping pad and a 3-season shelter, which can be fine – but if that kit is at the lower end of the market, you might still feel the cold overnight well into spring.
For the purposes of this test, I was using an Alpkit Pipedream 400 ultralight down 3-season sleeping bag, an Alpkit Whisper insulated camping mat and an Alpkit Soloist 1-person backpacking tent, all of which are designed for 3-season use. They’re definitely not at the lower end of the market and will keep you warm from early spring through to late autumn, but I was conducting the test in January when temperatures were far below the recommended levels for this kit, so I was relying on the Radiate Heat Mat to keep me properly warm.
Working on the same principle as the Vango Radiate DLX camping chair, the mat incorporates a flexible Graphene element, which is heated via a power pack (not included).
A range of small, portable power banks can be used, and once plugged in, you can choose between four settings by pressing a button on the mat. When the button glows red, it’s on the warmest setting, but as you toggle down through the colour-linked settings, from red to purple, green and lastly blue, you get slightly less heat each time, but the supply last longer.
The heat settings range from 45°C to 36.6°C. You can place it anywhere in your sleeping bag, according to where you feel the cold most keenly.
Vango Radiate Heat Mat review: verdict
It’s quite a nice idea this, albeit a bit of a luxury item if you’re backpacking. For car camping outings, though, it’s a good thing to have to hand if you hate the cold, or have children who get chilly easily.
During my shivery winter sleepouts I very much appreciated the Radiate mat for taking the cold shock out of the experience of undressing and climbing into my sleeping bag. Placed at the bottom of the bag, the warmth definitely permeates through, and it made me feel relatively toasty.
In winter, I had it set to red initially, to warm the bag as much as possible before I got into it, and then toggled down the settings before settling don to sleep, so I could get some heat for longer. This did work, but despite using a couple of different sized power banks, including one relatively large one, the power ran out before dawn, so I still woke up feeling chilly.
You only seem to get about four hours use from the mat. There are a couple of ways around this: the first is to use the mat to warm your sleeping bag before getting into it at bedtime, before turning it off before going to sleep so you can reactivate it if you wake up cold in the early hours. The second is to have another power bank as a back up. Obviously, both of these involve a predawn interruption to your beauty sleep, but that tends to be a feature of camping anyway – if the pre-sunrise chill doesn’t wake you, the dawn chorus supplied by the birds usually will.
The other option, of course, is to invest in a warmer sleeping bag and a camping mat with a higher R value.