Dear Spright: I just started going to yoga and am ready to commit to buying my own mat for the first time. I haven’t had too many complaints about the ones I rent from my favorite studio, but they’re a little thin. I’m ready to spend what it takes to get a mat that I will use for years in studios and at home, but what should I look for in a mat?
A: Starting out with yoga, it comes down to you, your breath, and your mat. Picking a mat can seem a little daunting, but in the end there are really only a few criteria that seasoned yogis look for. Your mat can be your sanctuary and also — being totally honest — your biggest place of frustration, so you might as well figure out which one you’re most comfortable on.
I’ve been practicing three or four times a week for seven years, almost exclusively in heated vinyasa power flow classes. To answer this question, I dipped into my own experience, that of our two Spright editors, Heather and Jackelyn, who have done their 200-hour yoga teacher training, and the wealth of online reviews about yoga mats.
The factors to take into account when picking a yoga mat are thickness, stickiness, portability, material, and size.
Thickness: The standard yoga mat thickness is 1/8 inch, though some get up to 1/4 inch thick. There are travel mats that are 1/16 inch, but we would only recommend those if you are actually trying to pack it into a small space. We suggest going for an 1/8 inch mat. You can still get lots of support and cushioning with those without adding the bulk of a thicker mat. Plus, some experts say the thicker mats make it harder to connect with the floor in standing poses, therefore making you more wobbly during practice.
Stickiness: I know that at first, you might not think you want a sticky mat, but sticky doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, it’s crucial to help you feel the connection between the mat and your hands and feet. As you work up the confidence and strength to try new poses, having the trust in your mat’s power to hold onto you becomes even more important. Naturally, mats lose their stickiness over the years, but thanks to newer mat technology many of them are able to stay pleasantly grippy for a long time.
Portability: Are you practicing at home? Throwing your mat in the car? Or strapping it to your back for a long walk to and from the studio? Some mats are (a lot) heavier than others, so take your regular commute into account when reading about mats.
Material: There are now tons of options of eco-friendly yoga mats made from recycled rubber materials. If you’d like to stay on the eco-friendlier side, steer clear of mats with PVC. Though, choosing a mat you’re planning on using and loving for years and years is a sustainable practice in and of itself.
Size: Most mats are a standardized size, but some do come in longer variations for particularly tall men and women.
If you’re looking to start a regular yoga habit, we think it’s worthwhile to spend between $50–100 on your mat. There are mats with wild and fun designs, but in my testing experience you sacrifice quality when you start going down that road. The upside is that any mat worth its muster should be able to last for many years with proper care and cleaning.
These are the mats we considered — and as usual, most of these are available for substantially less on Amazon (as linked below):
- lululemon’s The Mat ($68)
- Jade Harmony Professional ($70)
- Manduka Pro ($90)
- Gaiam Athletic Yoga Series 2gripMAT ($75)
- YogaAccessories Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat ($26)
- Nike Fundamental 3mm Yoga Mat ($30)
The contender: lululemon’s The Mat ($68)
The bottom line: This mat’s patented technology seems to live up to its claims, offering cushion and stickiness even through the hottest classes without the need for a towel.
Your feelings toward lululemon as a brand may have been tarnished a bit by their multiple negative PR situations recently, but they’ve done their work with this yoga mat (and with trying to repair their reputation). lululemon has gone all in with this one, calling it quite simply The Mat. Wirecutter initially recommended this as their top yoga mat pick, saying, “It was the clear favorite for keeping our panel of three professional yoga instructors in place during even the hottest and sweatiest of classes. In fact, the wetter it gets, the grippier it gets—a feature that none of the other competitors has.” They have since swapped in a Gaiam mat as their favorite, but lululemon’s option still gets high marks. MindBodyGreen agrees, also pointing out that The Mat is reversible, providing you with two different textures to choose from. One of our resident yogis, Heather, prefers this mat, loving it because it’s got a “non-slip material that works wonders in hot yoga, is a great weight with a nice little cushion, easy to clean, and the corners never roll up.” This mat is also designed to not need a towel during heated or strenuous (read: sweaty) classes.
The contender: Jade Harmony Professional ($70)
The bottom line: Beloved for years by many yogis (including this author), this eco-friendly mat is durable and reliable.
This Jade Harmony Mat ($70) is generally listed as the best eco-friendly mat. If that’s what you’re looking for, great, but that’s on top of it simply being a fantastic yoga mat. It’s Spright approved and ours has held up over many years and hundreds of hours of strenuous, fast-paced heated vinyasa flow. The mat comes in a variety of colors, too. The Wirecutter writes, “People like this mat for its stickiness and low profile, but they also like JadeYoga for its devotion to making environmentally-friendly mats and their involvement in various charitable causes (including, again, planting a tree for every mat sold).” It’s a nice weight, striking the balance between being substantial enough to have adequate cushioning, but not so heavy it becomes prohibitive to carry around. It gets softer over the years but maintains a good stickiness for a long time.
This mat is also Outside Magazine’s top pick, writing it “hit the sweet spot between grip, cushion, and quality.” Yoga Consumer Reports agrees, but does bring up the one recurring complaint about this mat: the initial rubbery smell. “Made of natural rubber, it is slip resistant, cushiony and thick enough to lay flat. It’s also reversible, so it lasts longer. Some yogis are bothered by the initial rubber smell, but it wears off after airing the mat out for a few days.” (Editor disclosure: I’ve been using these mats forever and never noticed a smell.)
The contender: Manduka Pro ($90)
The bottom lne: This heavy, bulky mat is not the most portable, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee that makes it worth the price tag for many.
The Manduka Pro Mat ($90) has a higher price point and is referred to by Yoga Consumer Reports as the “Rolls Royce of yoga mats.” It’s also a lot heavier and bulkier than the other mats on this list, to the point where we would definitely not recommend this one if you have a long walk to and from your studio, but if you’re practicing at home or driving to practice, that should be less of a deterrent. The Manduka also comes in an 85-inch version (that’s slightly over 7 feet) for extra-tall folks or those just wanting more room to stretch out.
Most of the reviewers on Amazon rave about the Manduka Pro and it certainly ranks high on the stickiness and comfort factors. The Manduka mats also come with a lifetime guarantee, so if you love it, this will be the only mat you ever need to buy.
The contender: Gaiam Athletic Yoga Series 2gripMAT ($75)
The bottom line: The foam backing and extra-large size make this a very comfortable mat for any practice, but you might not be the most popular person in class.
Gaiam is an extremely trusted name in yoga products and apparel, and across the board their mats score solid reviews. This Gaiam Athletic Yoga Series 2gripMAT ($75) model recently usurped the lululemon mat as The Sweethome/Wirecutter pick for best yoga mat. They wrote, “In sweaty yoga classes, hands and feet stuck like they were glued to its sweat-absorbing polyurethane top layer. In restorative classes, the 5 millimeters of soft PVC foam backing material felt more cushioned and comfortable than other mats of a similar thickness. In crowded classes, the latex-free mat’s large size—almost 3 square feet larger than average—staked out more than enough territory to breathe and bend.” Yes, this mat is bigger than average — 10″ longer and 2″ wider than standard mats, to be exact. If you know your class is extremely popular or hard to get into, choosing a bigger might might not be the most respectful move to the other yogis, but if there is more breathing room between spaces there’s no reason not to have a little more room to practice. Despite the size, it is a few pounds lighter than the Manduka mat to carry.
The contender: YogaAccessories Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat ($26)
The bottom line: Similar to a lot of mats you’ll rent in studios, this less-expensive version is durable and good enough to get the job done.
We know not everyone wants to (or is able to) spend almost $100 on a yoga mat, especially if you’re still figuring out whether yoga is something you love. The YogaAccessories Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat ($26) comes in just about every color under the sun and is similar to, if not exactly the same as, any mat you’ll rent from your local studio. This mat is a bit thicker at 1/4 inch (there is also an 1/8 inch version that’s good for travel), but the material is not as dense so the extra cushion doesn’t feel like much. With over 1,300 reviews averaging out above four stars on Amazon, it’s safe to say this is a very trusted yoga mat. These mats don’t fare quite as well when it comes to stickiness, and if you’re headed to a heated or power yoga class, you will probably find yourself wanting a grippy towel.
The contender: Nike Fundamental 3mm Yoga Mat ($30)
The bottom line: Editors enjoy the two-sided aspect of this mat, which also comes in at a lower price point.
Nike is not usually known for being the most affordable option, but this yoga mat comes in at only $30, making it a nice option for people looking to spend less. You can practice on either side of the mat, which one Spright editor noted as a plus when she has used it — some versions even have different textures for different grips on the two sides, though the current model uses the same pattern on both. This mat is extremely portable and comes with a strap, so it’s a useful option for storing at your office or in the back of the car in case you make a last-minute decision to hit up a class.