What to Know Before You Buy a Yoga Mat

All Mats Are Not Created Equal

Yoga mat

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Yoga mats (also called sticky mats) are found in most yoga classes. They are used to provide cushioning and traction as you pose. While you can usually rent a mat at a yoga studio, it's a good idea to buy your own. The mat will quickly pay for itself, which means you don't have to wait and see if your yoga practice "sticks" before committing to mat ownership.

Your commitment to yoga doesn't need to influence your decision, but your feelings about other people's sweat and bodily fluids should. Shared mats can harbor bacteria, including staph, and fungus.

Even if you plan to do yoga at home instead of at a studio, there are other benefits of buying your own equipment. Here's what you need to know about yoga mats before you buy.

Yoga Mat Basics

A standard sized yoga mat is 24" x 68" (you can also get a longer mat if you're tall). You can get a basic mat for about $25, but prices can reach upwards of $140 for a deluxe mat.

The more expensive mats usually come by their price tags honestly. These mats are high quality and generally last longer than a budget mat. Another selling point is that they are usually manufactured with environmentally responsible production methods and materials.

It seems like there are many different kinds of yoga mats available, but a closer look reveals that most of the differences are superficial. You might be looking at a mat with a pretty design or cute tote bag, but what you really want to know is what the mat is made out of.

Yoga Mat Materials

Three materials dominate the yoga mat market: PVC, rubber, and TPE. 

Yoga Mat Materials
PVC Rubber TPE
Man-made, not biodegradable Natural and biodegradable Man-made but biodegradable
Thicker Heavier Lightweight
Take time to break in Harder surface Softer surface
Good traction Good traction Not very durable

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is a man-made material that is not biodegradable. It's the material of choice for low-end mats like the communal ones at your local yoga studio.

However, PVC doesn't always mean a cheap mat. The popular high-end Manduka PRO series mats (which are much thicker than your average mat and are virtually indestructible) are made from PVC.

PVC mats can take some time to wear in, but they provide good traction once they do.

Rubber

Natural, renewable, and biodegradable, rubber is a pretty straightforward material for yoga mat manufacturing. Rubber makes for a grippy—if somewhat hard—mat surface. 

Natural rubber will produce a heavier mat and can have a noticeable smell at first. Both these concerns are mitigated with the new rubber/polyurethane hybrid mats made by Liforme and Lululemon, which offer a superior practice surface and are highly absorbent.

The most popular rubber mats have been made by Jade Yoga for years. Cork and jute mats are other natural options, but they're less popular.

TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer)

TPE mats seem to solve many of the problems with other mat materials. TPE is biodegradable, odorless, incredibly lightweight, and very soft to practice on while still preventing slipping. A downside is that TPE mats are not especially durable.

Slip Sliding Away

Depending on the material, new mats can be a little slippery (PVC is the biggest culprit). The issue usually goes away as you wear the mat in over a few classes.

If your mat doesn't wear in and get less slippery after a few yoga sessions, try washing it gently (skip the soap) to accelerate the process, then hang it up to dry.

If your palms tend to get sweaty, using a product like the Yogitoes Skidless Towel to absorb moisture might help. Mat towels are ubiquitous in hot yoga classes where abundant sweat can make the mats very slippery.

Where to Shop

Most yoga studios carry mats that you can buy. Aside from supporting your local studio, buying a mat in-person gives you the opportunity to feel different kinds of mats and gather opinions on each type.

Yoga products are also commonplace at sporting goods stores and department stores like Target. If you have a mat picked out, you might get the best deal by shopping online.

When shopping for a yoga mat, consider the material it's made from, the thickness, and durability. All of these attributes will affect the price.

Carrying Your Mat

Some yoga studios will store your mat for you. If yours does not, it's handy to have a yoga mat bag or at least a strap that lets you throw it over your shoulder.

The kind of bag you need will depend on how you get to class and how much stuff you have to carry. A simple strap could suffice if you drive to the studio, but you will want something ampler if you'll be taking public transportation or heading straight to work after class.

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