Choosing a yoga mat is kind of like choosing a dog. You need to ask the same questions: How much do you travel? How much space do you have? How much are you willing to spend? The perfect yoga mat is the one that is best suited to your needs. There is no “one” yoga mat that is perfect for every person, in every way. Fortunately for you, this isn’t 1970, when you had more or less one choice for material: PVC. This is 2014, and you could spend the whole year researching the endless varieties of yoga mats that are now available. The important thing is to choose a mat and use it. The following guide will help you pick the perfect mat, whether you bike twenty miles to class or practice in the basement (if you’re in the latter category, feel right at home with this weekend at-home yoga retreat).
A Brief Overview
Let’s take a quick look at the factors that will ultimately help you make a decision.
- Material: Like I mentioned, the all-PVC mat, while still popular, is starting to become a thing of the past. Newer materials exist, ranging from cotton to recycled materials, with a strong emphasis on eco-friendliness (note: avoid natural rubber if you’re allergic to latex).
- Stickiness: For the most part, material determines stickiness. Obviously, a sticky mat helps you hold your pose. The reason PVC still survives is because it’s arguably the stickiest. But there are, of course, other options.
- Thickness: Thickness is all about comfort. If it’s too thin, you’re really going to feel some of those positions. But if it’s too thick, you could find yourself flailing for balance. Yoga mats usually range from 1/16” to ¼” thick. A 1/16” mat would probably fit in your briefcase, while a ¼” mat is best staying at home.
- Texture: i.e. traction. From slick to sandpaper, you can find any texture you desire. PVC, while sticky, is very smooth; conversely, rubber and cotton tend to be rougher, but as mentioned before, less smooth. In other words, if you like getting your traction from stickiness, PVC is the way to go; if you prefer to grip a raised surface, do yourself (and the world) a favor and go eco-friendly.
Spice up your mat routine with what is hands-down the best thera ball workout ever.
Best Beginner’s Mat
Let’s just get this out of the way. The best beginner’s mat, for the person who wants to dabble in everything, is the Hugger Mugger Original Tapas Mat. It is, truly, an average mat, but sometimes that’s the perfect choice. At only $30, you don’t have to make a serious investment to get into yoga. It has an average thickness of 1/8”, weights about 2.5lbs (light enough to travel with), and is made of traditional, latex-free PVC. The only negative is its lack of eco-friendliness, which can feel a bit hypocritical when you’re shooting for self-improvement.
Best Traveler’s Mat
Whether you have a long trek to class or like to do yoga in your hotel on business trips, the best traveler’s mat is the Lululemon Un Mat. It’s perfect in just about every way. To begin with, it’s made of natural rubber, so check eco-friendly off the list and let’s keep rolling. It measures a mere 1.5mm thick and weighs in at one pound—one! It’ll be like a pencil in your ear; you’ll forget it’s even there. And at $48, this is hands-down the best value. You can find cheaper mats, but they’ll likely weigh more and feature PVC construction.
Best For Sweat
Blame it on the Bikram, but anyone who sweats a lot or loves power yoga needs to check out the Barefoot Eco Mat. Rated $1 by The New York Times, the Eco Mat is, of course, incredibly eco-friendly, featuring natural rubber and jute fiber construction with no chemicals added. Add to that the fact that the Eco Mat is sleepy soft, with a unique texture that refuses to slip on skin or flooring. At 4.5lbs and $85, it is on the heavy and expensive side, but it lasts forever and you get what you pay for (and it’s definitely cheaper than an injury).
If you love to sweat, you’ll love this total hot-body yoga fitness workout.
Best for Home Practice (And Heavy Duty Use)
I recently read an article on NFL players readily adopting yoga, to help avoid injury and encourage durability. Needless to say, if you’re a big-boned professional or just like to practice in absolute home-comfort, 1/8” isn’t going to cut it, let alone 1/16”. Meet the Manduka Mat Pro. This thing is a beast. The 71” version weighs in at 7 lbs, while the 85” breaks the scales at 9 lbs! This thing would break you back if you try to go anywhere with it, but it will save your knees and elbows for years to come. For $100, you get a full ¼” of protection with a lifetime guarantee. That’s right, a lifetime guarantee. I don’t know how something that lasts so long is also eco-friendly, but it’s true. The Mandura Mat Pro is manufactured in a zero-waste, emission free process. And it just happens to be latex-free, too.
Best All-Around (On The Elite Side of the Scale)
The Jade (Key Lime) Yoga Mat is one of the best all-around mats on the market. At 3/16” thick, it’s the amalgamation of comfort, durability and lightness (4 lbs). At $75, it sits squarely in the price range of an intermediate to pro-level mat. And yes, the Jade Yoga Mat is made of natural rubber, with one of the best slip-resistant surfaces on the market. Plus, they plant a tree for every mat you buy, and that never hurts your Karma.
Like I said before, the important thing is to decide on a mat and actually practice yoga. Whatever your style or needs, there’s a mat out there for everyone. And if you’re just getting started, you should feel the same way about yoga. It’s not a competition. There is yoga and meditation for everyone.