Yoga mats are just rectangles of raw material. Which yoga mat RAW MATERIAL is best for you? The three major raw materials on the market are:
1. Plastic PVC ($10-15 retail)
2. Plastic TPE ($35-45 retail)
3. Natural rubber sapped from rubber trees ($55-75 retail)
WHICH YOGA MAT LAYS FLAT?
Let’s first look at plastic yoga mats. The video shown above is a bit exaggerated. This is a TPE mat that has been rolled up for weeks. But the point remains. All of the plastics I am familiar with exhibit what is called aptly “plastic memory.” This plastic memory causes those frustrating curl ups at the end of your mat when you are trying to lay it out at the studio to begin your practice.
Now let’s look at a natural rubber yoga mat. Rubber is heavier and natural rubber is sapped from rubber trees. One of the nice functional benefits of rubber is rubber tends to lay flat when you roll it out. Please note, there will SOMETIMES be little curl ups and crinkles if you leave a yoga mat rolled up for a long time but in general they tend to lay much flatter than plastic. Watch the ripples in slow motion as the rubber mat is rolled out. This rippling effect says a lot.
A QUICK INTERLUDE TO INTRODUCE THE AUTHOR
Before we get into the other videos and experiments I just wanted to introduce myself as you must be wondering “is the author credible?”, “why does he claim to know so much about yoga mats?”…
My name is Rob. I am the owner of a yoga mat company called Tomuno which for a couple years was the #1 rated yoga mat on Amazon (please see screen shot to prove this below). Tomuno is NO LONGER IN BUSINESS and no longer sells yoga mats.
(Please note: even though Tomuno is no longer in business, going forward, I will always still do my best to honor any warranty/guarantee claims by customers in the future. I tried to run Tomuno in an ethical way to the best of my ability and the business closure does not change that.)
Since I am NOT in the business anymore, I am hopeful I can provide an informed “behind the scenes” but more importantly unbiased recommendation on which of my competitors you should buy. I hope this helps!
Also, please note this yoga mat review is for the yogi who practices in an unheated room. For thoughts on what is best for hot yoga please visit my blog post on hot yoga!
WHICH YOGA MAT CUSHIONS THE BEST?
Answer: The best yoga mat cushion is offered by rubber yoga mats followed by TPE yoga mats and the worst were PVC yoga mats.
Many customers would ask me, “Rob, what is the difference between a plastic mat that is 5mm thick and a rubber yoga mat that is 5mm thick. Since they are both 5mm thick don’t they provide the same cushion?”
The answer to this question has to do with the DENSITY of the material not the THICKNESS of the material.
To demonstrate how different materials cushion your knees and wrists in different ways I conducted an experiment. I stacked 40.6 pounds of books onto 3 ballpoint pens. Then I placed three different yoga mats underneath this ‘book/pen’ compression simulation press.
First let’s look at a $12 PVC mat bought at a discount superstore. Notice how the pen almost sinks into the wood table. Imagine the pen is your knee. Or if you have a nerve condition or bone spurs, imagine this pen is your bone spur grinding up against the wood table.
Now let’s look at a $38 plastic TPE mat bought at a specialty sporting goods retail shop in Boston. Notice how the pen does not sink as much into the material.
Now let’s look at a $70 natural rubber mat. The rubber looks like it barely even notices it has close to 40 pounds of books on top of it.
As an addendum to this analysis we now take a look at some videos of a yogi standing on her mat. If the mat provides adequate cushion you won’t see footprints when she steps away from her mat. Why? If you see footprints it shows the mat material was highly compressed under her weight and hence unable to maintain a cushioned buffer between her joints and the hardwood floor…
First the $12 PVC mat…
Second the $38 TPE mat …
Third the $70 rubber mat…
WHAT YOGA MAT GRIPS THE BEST?
Rubber was the grippiest with a relative score of 100%
TPE was second grippiest with a relative score of 79%
PVC was the least grippy with a relative score of 71%
When performing this analysis I was reminded why in real science, scientists submit their experiments to ‘peer review,’ i.e., they allow other scientists to attempt to reproduce their results.
I apologize but this analysis is the one that I feel most unsure about. The reason for this is I do not think I had the right equipment and hence I had to use some judgement and make some assumptions. If anyone has suggestions for how to do this analysis better I’d welcome your feedback in the comments section?
Methodology and Concerns
The goal of my experiment was to determine the grip of PVC, TPE, and Rubber on a ’relative’ basis… not absolute basis. In other words I was seeking to determine what percent more grippy PVC is than TPE for example. I was not attempting to say that PVC exhibits X grippiness in terms of force (measured in grams) required to move mass Y. A reproducible absolute analysis would require equipment much more advanced than what I had.
The setup of my experiment was as follows:
- On a wooden table I laid down the mat weighted down by books to keep it stable.
- I used a tubular spring scale (please see videos to see what they look like). These are not Thermo Scientific quality instruments. But I do feel they get the job done and are commonly used in school science classes.
- I attempted to measure the force required to budge a small stack of books.
- I performed multiple experiments, took the average of each set of trials, and randomized the order each yoga mat was measured to account for spring fatigue.
The main complication I ran into is the PVC mat is so soft, the books sank into the mat creating a trench which the books had to climb out of to move. I attempted to correct for this complication by reducing the load and increasing the surface area of the book object but my observations definitely were more difficult in the case of PVC hence my uncertainty.
Please note: this yoga mat review is for yogis who practice yoga in a room temperature studio. For my thoughts on what to buy for hot yoga please read my blog post here!
WHICH MAT STICKS TO THE FLOOR
This next evidence is at best a tiny step above anecdotal. It is not very scientific, not very reproducible, and the construction of the experiment is obviously vulnerable to sleight of hand and unconscious bias.
With all that said, I do think it acts as a nice non-scientific illustration of my grip experiment detailed elsewhere.
Has your mat ever stretched on the floor during downward dog, shifted when you changed pose, left you feeling unstable during your yoga practice? The reason why is the mat did not stick well to the floor. As simple as that.
First, the $12 PVC mat…
Second, the $38 TPE mat …
And finally, the $70 natural rubber mat …
What really is the best yoga mat?
Are you confused about which yoga mat to buy? Some cost $10 others $100…
When I was running my yoga mat company which for a couple years was the #1 rated yoga mat on Amazon, our smartest yoga studio partners offered sample mats so yogis could try PVC, TPE, and rubber yoga mats before they bought.
The purpose of the above videos and experiments is to help you ‘virtually’ find out everything you would have found out on your own testing the mats for yourself.
In the yoga mat business there are several key performance measures:
Flatness (The mat does not rollback when you roll it out.)
Ease of maintenance
The tricky thing is each yogi prefers different combinations of these performance measures. For example,
1) Restorative yoga practitioners sometimes care more about cushion and don’t really want or need to pay for extra grip.
2) City yogis sometimes want grip but are unwilling to carry heavy mats (the grippiest mats tend to be heavy), etc…
So which yoga mat is the best yoga mat for you? In the chart below I have ranked each type of mat by performance measure. Why not take a look and find the right mat for you?
If you want personal advice please leave a comment and I can do my best to answer your questions!
Yoga Mat Raw Material Performance
(1= Bad, 10 = Good)
WHICH BRAND TO BUY?
Rubber Mat Recommendation
If you are interested in rubber mats I’d recommend Jade Yoga. But please peruse Jade’s Amazon reviews and ask yourself, ‘how long are these Amazon reviewers saying Jade Yoga rubber mats last?’ I found that many yogis did not realize that rubber mats are natural and hence wear down (like rubber shoe soles or rubber erasers). Many yogis expected rubber to last for a lifetime like some plastic mats and were duly disappointed. I just want yogis to go in ‘eyes wide open’ and understand that rubber mats wear down. You can buy Jade Yoga mats on Amazon by clicking here: Amazon/JadeYoga
I apologize but I really do not recommend TPE.
I recommend Gaiam. You can purchase Gaiam yoga mats on Amazon here: Amazon/Gaiam PVC Mat
Disclosure: Please note these above links are “Amazon Affiliate” links. Amazon provides us a referral fee when goods are purchased on Amazon using these links. I just wanted to make sure readers understand this.
Want me to test a different mat? Want me to perform a different experiment on all the mats? Leave a comment and and tell me what you are looking for! I’ll do my best to help.
Disagree with my analysis? Leave a comment please! I anticipate over time I will have to redo experiments to make them more rigorous and reproducible. Your criticism, advice, notes would be much appreciated.