Amongst all of my gear is a piece of equipment that I carry with me everywhere when trekking, camping and travelling. A good friend of mine got me onto this idea.

Nowadays, there are many new fancy sleeping mats and pads available. If you are like me then you will probably prefer using something like a Thermarest pad rather than the old classic foam mats that look something like this:

Blue Mat

If so, you probably have a few spare old foam mats sitting around under the house going un-used. Why not put them to good use? When ever I go trekking or camping, I take a small rectangle of cut from my foam mat. It is one of the most useful pieces of “gear” that I have.


It has many uses:

  • Cushion for sitting on.   This is an obvious one. Need to take a break and sit down? Pull out your hand mat square and sit on it. Simple. Keeps your bum warm when sitting on concrete. Keeps your pants clean when sitting on the ground. Adds a bit of comfort to hard seats in buses, cafes, etc.


  • Knee protection. This has saved me on many long bus rides. In places such as India and South America, buses never seem to have enough leg room. Your legs always seem to be jammed against the hard back of the seat in front of you. Especially on bumpy rides, this makes for a very uncomfortable experience. This is when I pull out my blue mat and jam it between my knees and the seat in front. So much happier!


  • Backback padding. When travelling I often carry a small, foldable pack as well as my large backpack. While these are awesome for travelling light, they don’t always have padding against your back. This can be uncomfortable especially when carrying hard, heavy or pointed objects in the bag. I cut my mat to fit perfectly down the back of my small bag when folded in half – therefore providing some nice padding against your back. What’s more, you always have your mat handy for those times when you need to whip it out for a seat etc etc. 


  • Table. When camping I normally save on dishes by eating straight out of my Trangia pot, which is normally still steaming hot and/or covered in soot. I put my handy mat on my knees and can put the hot and dirty pot on top, making a nice table which saves my thighs from burning up.


  • Padding under sleeping mat. Sometimes you need just a bit of extra comfort when sleeping in a tent. When I go to bed I slip my bit of mat under my hip for some extra comfort.


  • Pillow. Similarly, the bit of mat can be used as a pillow. I sometimes put it under a pile of clothes to make a pillow when camping. When on long bus journeys, you can put the bit of mat against the window and rest your head against it.

pillow2       pillow1

  • Blister pad. Sometimes, blisters are unavoidable. I often get large blisters on my heel. I don’t normally like to pop them, so to take a bit of pressure off them I make a blister pad. If you have nothing else, a bit of your mat can make a blister pad. Cut out a donut shaped píece, with a hole in the middle big enough to fit around your blister. Tape the donut so that it sits in a way that it will take pressure off your blister.


  • Make-shift splint. In Touching the Void, mountaineer Joe Simpson describes how he used a bit of his foam mat to make a make-shift split to help his broken leg from moving around too much. I have never had to use my mat for this purpose – but maybe one day you will….. Wrap the mat around your limb (you could incorporate a rigid item such as a stick as well) and tie off tightly with your belt, straps, etc etc.


  • Protection for fragile items in my bag and keeping items such as documents flat. The mat can be wrapped around fragile items for added protection. When folded in half, slip documents down the middle to keep them flat in your pack. 

                                               8     3

  • Hat. Once I forgot my hat on a long trek and fashioned one out of my piece of mat by making two holes and attaching a string to go under my chin. Luckily we didn’t see anyone else on the trek (it was quite a sight), and the ‘hat’ did a good job of keeping the sun off my face.


  • Sit-up/yoga cushion. Use the mat under you bum when doing sit-ups, stretches or yoga moves on hard surfaces.


  • For laying items out on the ground. When unpacking my pack onto the ground, I first lay out my bit of mat and lay things out on this rather than on the dirt.



  • I wouldn’t cry if it got lost or stolen – I can easily cut myself a new one from the blue mats we have in the garage at home.
  • It weighs approximately nothing.
  • It doesn’t take up much space. I can stuff it in the outer pocket of my back. I normally use it folded in half. This way it gives more padding. However, when I use it on a dirty surface, it can be unfolded. When finished, the dirt normally brushes off relatively well, but if some remains I can fold it back in half and shove it back in my bag.

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