Your Feet Will Thank You - Finding the Perfect Yoga Mat

Do yoga anytime, anywhere with the best from Jade, Gaiam, and more! Learn what makes a mat thicker, better, and more eco-friendly for your practice.

Yoga mats improve the comfort and balance of your practice, but some mats are better than others

If you’ve ever done yoga on a hardwood floor, you know how much a little padding helps. Yoga mats are light, portable, and can instantly transform any surface, from carpet to tile, into a great place to stretch and work out. They come in a huge range of styles, colors, and materials – some of this makes a practical difference, but a lot of it doesn’t. We’ll cover the important features, compare the top brands, and look at what you need in picking the right mat for your practice. 

What REALLY Matters in a Yoga Mat?

We’ll get into thickness, eco-friendly materials, and mats based on style, but really a good yoga mat needs to do three things: 

  • Keep You Comfortable (padding) - a yoga mat should provide good padding against the floor and help your feet, hands, and knees feel less pressure during long holds and hard poses. 
  • Keep You In Place (stickiness) - yoga mats should make your practice safer by improving your grip on the floor and making it easier to balance in a yoga flow. 
  • Go Where You Need it to Go - the right mat for you should fit where you most do your yoga. This could mean a light, compact mat for travel, or a spacious thick mat to cover your tile floor at home. It really depends on your space and practice. 

As long as your yoga mat does those things, it can be a good mat for you, and the best mat is the mat the gets you doing yoga.

So What is the Best Yoga Mat?

It depends! The mat you need can change based on where you want to stretch, how much padding you need, and your personal style. If you just want the top options, these are some of the most versatile yoga mats that will give you the best bang for your buck. If you want to learn more, and find what makes a really great yoga mat, keep reading below!

This is a good starter mat at a great price. If you want a solid mat that’s under $15, BalanceFrom is a nice option.

It’s a large, super-lightweight mat that wicks moisture and provides extra traction and padding for all types of  yoga.

Gaia Guy uses all-natural, sustainable materials to create a thicker, more comfortable cork yoga mat. 

Yoga Mat Standard Sizes

How big is a yoga mat? There are actually no official dimensions, but they tend to run in two common sizes. Most mats will be about 24” x 68”, with XL mats hitting 26” x 72”. Either size works fine, but the smaller mats will fit better in a travel bag, and the larger ones give more room for a home or studio practice. Taller people may also want to go for a longer mat so there’s more room to stretch out.

Thickness can be a little more confusing – descriptions often alternate between millimeters and fractions of an inch, but in general:

  • Thin mat: 1/16 of an inch, or about 1.5mm
  • Normal mat: About ⅛ of an inch, or about 3-4mm
  • Thick mat: ¼ inch or 5-6mm

Thin mats can be fine for travel (especially if you’re going to be throwing them over a hotel carpet), but won’t provide enough comfort or support for most people for normal use. If you do lots of yin and restorative yoga, you may enjoy the extra padding that a thick mat provides. They can also be great for people with more sensitive joints, or who just like a little more softness in general. For most yoga asanas, a normal mat will work just fine.

Yoga Mat Materials

There’s no universal right answer for the type of mat material you should use. The texture, weight, and “stickiness” matters based on where and how you use your mat and what type of yoga you usually do. If you do a lot of yin and restorative yoga, look for lots of padding. For vinyasa and hot yoga, stickiness and the mat’s ability to wick moisture from sweat will probably be bigger factors. 

PVC Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

If you see a mat advertised as “non-slip,” or just advertised without listing the material in the title, it’s probably made of PVC. The material, which stands for “polyvinyl chloride,” is a type of treated vinyl that’s sticky, soft, and inexpensive to produce. Most yoga mats are PVC, and it’s probably what you’ll end up with if you’re not going out of your way for an alternative.  

PVC Pros

It’s cheap, it works really well for a variety of yoga styles, and it can be thin or thick without adding too much extra weight to your yoga bag. If you’re looking for a mat that’s versatile, relatively inexpensive, and can last a long time, PVC is a good option.

PVC Cons

If you’re researching PVC mats, you’ll probably see a lot of hype around “leaching toxins” and “dangerous plastics.” The truth is, the type of vinyl used in these mats is pretty much everywhere, from car interiors, to shower curtains, to roofing materials, and there’s no evidence to support that it’s harmful in the levels you’d be exposed to doing yoga. What PVC is though is really, really bad for the environment in its production, and it leaves behind products that break down very slowly and are not recyclable at the end of their use. If this is a concern for you, and it’s in your budget, there are some great newer materials that will give you the same benefits and are much more earth-friendly.

PVC mats also come with a smell when they’re unpacked – this unpleasant odor usually dissipates in an hour to a day, but it means you’ll want to let your mat sit out a little while before use.  

TPE Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

Mats made from TPE, or “thermoplastic elastomers,” are a blend of rubber and plastic that’s designed to be both sturdy and flexible. It’s a newer mat material that has a number of benefits over traditional PVC foam, though the newness of the material means that TPE mats tend to be more expensive and come in a smaller range of designs.

IUGA’s Pro mat is one of the more versatile mats out there. It has a thin layer of polyurethane on top of the TPE base that makes it super sticky and moisture absorbent, while still providing 5mm of padding. At 2.5 lbs, it’s also exceptionally light for a full size mat.  

This textured non-slip mat is printed with hand and foot alignment guides to help you stay even and accurate during your home or studio practice. Great for beginners and balance practice, but a little slippery for hot yoga. 

TPE Pros

TPE is a versatile, light material that can make full-size yoga mats that are still very easy to carry.  As a plastic blend, the manufacturing process for TPE still isn’t the best, but the mats are fully recyclable, which a huge plus over PVC. With coating and texturing techniques available to TPE mats, it can do everything PVC does well, while being more eco friendly, lighter, and less smelly out of the box.

TPE Cons

TPE by itself is not particularly sticky or gripping, so if you’re getting a TEP mat, make sure that it’s textured or coated. TPE is also more expensive than PVC, while still being a conventional foam mat.

PER Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

Polymer Environmental Resin, or PER, is a decent, inexpensive alternative to PVC if you’re looking for a traditional foam mat. In terms of safety and eco-friendliness, PER and PVC are pretty much the same material, but PER uses a safer ingredient to hold the mat together (acetyl tributyl citrate instead of a phthalate-based chemical, if you’re interested). This switch should also make PER decompose more quickly, but this hasn’t been thoroughly tested. To sum up, PER is a small step up from PVC for the environment, but still pretty similar in look, feel, and general impact.

PER Pros

PER is a little bit better for the environment than PVC for around the same price. It’s an easy material to work with, so PER mats tend to have more dynamic colors and designs available than some of the newer materials.

PER Cons

Like PVC, a lot of PER mats don’t advertise their material up front, so it takes some digging to find a mat that’s PER instead of PVC (look for “phthalate-free” on the label). It’s also a less sticky material, making it harder to work with for vinyasa, hot yoga, and other intense practices. PER mats tend to get better over time, and the grip should improve with use, but that’s still a disadvantage over mats that are consistent from your first practice to your 100th.

Jute Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

First and foremost, jute is a strong, tough plant fiber commonly used in burlap, carpets and other fabrics that need to be heavy and durable. It is more functional than comfortable, and because of this, the overwhelming majority of mats sold as “jute” are mostly just PER or PVC with some jute fibers mixed in. The more expensive “jute” mats will have more fibers and higher quality binding materials, the less expensive will basically just be PER with some fiber-like texture printed on top. This isn’t altogether a bad thing – natural jute is slippery, rough, and provides virtually no padding – not exactly what you want from a yoga mat! Overall, adding jute does nothing useful, but does amp up the price of the mat.

Actual Jute

Beautiful, natural, also slippery and completely impractical for yoga

"Jute" Yoga Mats

There’s jute in there, but the “fiber” texture is printed and painted on PER, and the jute doesn’t really do much. 

Jute Pros

Jute itself is pretty eco-friendly. Some of the printed textures look nice and some of the jute-blend mats are still really good, but be aware that you’re paying a premium on the normal mat material and not getting a tangible benefit.

Jute Cons

By itself, jute makes a pretty terrible yoga mat, and there isn’t much point to adding it. The beautiful, woven-look jute mats are just a print and paint job, and the marketing doesn’t usually make that clear.

Cork Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

Keep in mind when buying that “cork mat” means cork-layer top over rubber, so it’s not the bulk of the material, but it does actually make a difference in the mat’s function. Unlike many materials, cork is a truly sustainable, genuinely eco-friendly bark that’s especially good for intense, sweaty classes! 

Most mat cork comes from one of two places; recycled material, which is inherently less resource-heavy, or harvested bark. Unlike chopping wood, harvesting cork doesn’t kill the tree – it’s actually more like shearing a sheep than making a table. To gather cork, the outer layer of bark is stripped off a mature cork tree with special tools; this starts when a tree is about 25 years old, and can be done every 9 years, at least 16 times per tree (about 150 years of harvesting!). In between the harvesting sessions, the layer of cork bark regrows, leaving the tree undamaged.

Cork Pros

Cork is sustainable, attractive, and comfortable. Unlike foam, cork actually grips better if it’s a little bit wet, so sweat and hot yoga classes aren’t a problem. It also does well in the sun, so if you’re doing yoga outside you won’t damage your mat or burn your hands. Almost all cork mats are paired with natural rubber as a backing (see below), so they stay put and provide ample padding, no matter the type of practice (for people with latex allergies, we’ve also provided a foam-backed option). When choosing a cork mat, we recommend picking a brand that’s heat-bonded to the back rather than glued for extra durability during your workout.

Cork Cons

Cork is on the more expensive end, even for basic mats. It’s also heavier than a lot of other mat materials, especially when paired with natural rubber, which can be a pain if you’re traveling (a full size cork and rubber mat is over 6 pounds, versus 2.5 pounds for TPE).

Natural Rubber Yoga Mats

Cost

Stickiness

Wicking

Padding

Eco-Safe

Natural rubber is a sustainable tree sap that can be collected without seriously damaging the plant. It’s harvested by “tapping” the tree – basically making an incision in the side and allowing the liquid latex to run off into a bucket. It’s also what a lot of the premium brands use as their main material (e.g. Jade Yoga uses natural rubber for pretty much all of their mats).

Natural Rubber Pros

This is a solid, durable material with a good grip that will last you a long time with proper care. It’s sun-sensitive and should be stored in a cool, dark place, but is otherwise easy to clean and comfortable to use.

Natural Rubber Cons

Natural rubber is heavy, which makes it annoying for travel. There’s a pretty distinct smell that goes with any rubber, which may or may not bother you – it fades with time, but lingers more than a material like PVC. Also, if you have a latex allergy, natural rubber mats are not the best option for you.

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