Our hatha and hot-yoga instructors downward-dogged, vinyasa-flowed, and shavasanaed on 10 of the best yoga mats available, and the mat that came out on top: Lululemon’s The Reversible Mat 5mm. Its dual textured sides, firm-yet-supportive rubber construction, and ample size have you covered, no matter what style of yoga you practice.
Lululemon’s The Reversible Mat 5mm scored high marks on all nine attributes our professional testers rated, including stickiness, weight, thickness, durability, and even feel. Lululemon’s mat has two sides, a smooth “sticky” polyurethane side that literally makes your hands and feet adhere to the mat, and a spongy natural rubber “grippy” side that instead provides traction via a textured surface. That lets you dial in how much traction you need whether you’re doing hot yoga, restorative yoga, or are just someone who might sweat a lot. The 5-millimeter-thick natural rubber is supportive, so sensitive knees and elbows won’t sink through to the floor. It’s slightly oversized—3 inches longer and 2 inches wider than a standard mat—which gives you some breathing room but doesn’t take up tons of space in a cramped class. If you need even more real estate, the Reversible (Big) Mat is literally the size of a door. These mats are on the heavy side and the surface tends to show dust, dirt, and smudges that are hard to clean, but overall quibbles are minor.
The JadeYoga Harmony Mat is made from 100 percent rubber, and this offers some advantages, because it absorbs a lot of moisture and helps maintain traction in sweaty situations—possibly too much for some people, as it can be hard to pivot your feet or slide your hands when flowing from one pose to another. It’s slightly thinner than our top pick, at 3/16 inch (4¾ millimeters) thick, but still provides a spongy-yet-supportive feel under hand, foot, and knee. It comes in five sizes, including two in the XW (extra-wide) line, but know that the bigger size you choose, the heavier it gets—and rubber isn’t light to start with. This mat has a strong rubber smell, at least for a while, which not everyone loves, and rubber also contains latex. If you have a latex allergy, try our rubber-free recommendation below.
For those whose skin is sensitive to latex or whose nose is sensitive to that rubbery stench, the Gaiam Athletic Duramat is a good alternative. Again, at 5 millimeters thick, it pads and supports the body and is sufficiently sticky, and its extra-long and extra-wide dimensions provide ample space to spread out in shavasana. Many in the yoga community are concerned by the use of PVC and the phthalates it contains, but the science behind these issues isn’t conclusive. If you have little ones who want to practice with you, the PVC Gaiam uses is free of the six phthalates that were banned by Congress for use in children’s products.
Not everyone wants to get all spendy for their yoga habit. Still, it’s prudent to have your own mat (rather than use the germy ones at the studio or gym), which is where a PVC foam cheapie is appealing. In a world where these foam mats are a dime a dozen, Yoga Accessories has produced a low-cost option of value. Its PVC foam is a lofty ¼ inches (6.2 millimeters) thick and it’s generously cut at 6 inches longer than standard length, and available in 29 vivid colors. Still, it’s less dense than the Gaiam, so very sensitive knees may feel the floor beneath.
We recruited two accomplished NYC-based yoga instructors, hatha/vinyasa specialist Juan Pablo Gomez and hot-yoga practitioner Arden Goll of The Yoga Room to practice on and carefully evaluate the mats.
To better understand mats’ environmental claims, we talked to Michael S. Brown, PhD of Brown and Wilmanns Environmental, a consulting firm that specializes in advising product manufacturers on how to make their products and practices more sustainable.
We also talked to germs expert Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona, and interviewed Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, to learn if a dirty yoga mat could make you sick.
As for me, I’m a certified personal trainer and long-time amateur yogi with extremely discerning tastes when it comes to yoga mats, and indeed, nearly everything I buy. I spent almost 5 years as the staff writer for the Good Housekeeping Institute, where I got a serious education in how to objectively review products both for their attributes and against their manufacturer claims.
Though yoga has been around for centuries, the number of practitioners in the US has grown by over 50 percent in just the last four years, according to a Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance survey. What’s more, people are spending more than $16 billion on clothing and accessories to outfit them for all that flowing. Our goal is to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth, whether you’re a newbie or serious yogi.
To narrow the enormous field (seriously: searching “yoga mats” on Amazon yields nearly 10,000 results), we spent hours reading editorial reviews from the likes of Yoga Journal and Outside magazine and consumer reviews on Amazon and other sites. We put a lot of contenders’ pages through fakespot.com to verify the hype. We also talked to the big-name manufacturers to learn what was new in their lines. Not only did we select mats people reviewed well to test that, we aimed to find a wide variety of options in price, size, and material. We also looked at our previous yoga mat reviews to determine which products merited a second look. This left us with 10 solid contenders:
Next, my intrepid yoga instructors set out to practice on each mat, evaluating overall experience while carefully weighing each of the following nine attributes:
In the meantime, I talked to environmental expert Brown to better understand the eco and materials claims made by the manufacturers, and germ expert Gerba and dermatologist Dr. Shainhouse to find out how important it is to keep your mat clean. (Spoiler alert: It kind of is.)
Finally, after my pro yogis turned in their extensive notes, I practiced on each of the top picks to get a personal feel for what attributes made each mat worthy of our recommendation.
Lululemon The Reversible Mat 5mm aced our test for its impressive versatility. The mat has two sides—a “sticky” side and “grippy” side. Sticky means it actually sticks; grippy refers to traction, created by a texture. We’d love to tell you which to choose, but this is an eternal debate in yoga, and is based on how you practice—hot, cold, sweaty, dry—and what feels best against your body.
The sticky side is made of smooth polyurethane and has a lot of traction, even in the very sweaty conditions of a hot-yoga class; our instructor said it was the only mat that didn’t require her to put down a towel once things got really drippy. The opposite “grippy” side is made of rubber, and provided just as much traction, no matter the moisture conditions.
Getting the right padding in a yoga mat is a tricky balance. If it’s too squishy, pointy joints may sink too deep into it, and balancing on the surface becomes challenging because too much support is lost to the compression. Then again, if it’s too firm, you might as well practice directly on the floor. With a few exceptions, 5 millimeters (about ¼ inch) is fairly standard for yoga mats, and that’s exactly how padded the Lululemon mat is. The dual material makeup does the job well, though we found the rubber side to be even kinder to the knees.
The Lululemon mat also comes in two sizes to accommodate different body types and preferences. Most people will be more than satisfied with the regular 71 by 26 inch mat, which is 3 inches longer and 2 inches wider than a standard mat. It has ample space to keep you in its confines during a vigorous flow. The Big size is a monster: It measures 84 inches (that’s 7 feet) long and 29 inches wide, which prompted one of my trainer friends—a 6-foot-2, 350-pound bodybuilder—to light up with glee and remark, “That’s the size of a door!”
In most editorial reviews, Lululemon’s mat gets high marks. Outside magazine also gives it top honors, giving props to its well-roundedness and naming it the “All-Around MVP.” Yoga Journal’s review also cites its cushioning and stickiness as top attributes.
The Lululemon mats aren’t light to carry around, an issue if you’re walking or biking to class. The regular size weighs just under 5¼ pounds, and the Big mat is over 7 pounds. A strap (which Lululemon sells separately for $18) makes it less of a juggling act to get to and from class.
To address the odor issues inherent in a product designed to absorb sweat, Lululemon included a silver-based antimicrobial additive, made by a company called X-Static, that provides such coatings for outdoor and sports manufacturers, as well as health care providers. X-Static claims the coating lasts the life of the product, though that’s not something we were able to test for, and products like yoga mats may make health claims that aren’t regulated by the FDA, so those claims don’t need to be proven scientifically.
Finally, being more than half rubber in composition, there was a faint smell, though not nearly as strong as the JadeYoga mat or the odiferous Hugger Mugger. In fact, by the time I got to practice on the Lululemon mat, the scent had basically disappeared.
For those who prefer natural rubber, the JadeYoga Harmony Mat has the goods. Rubber is really grippy! The surface texture feels like a million tiny suction cups that glue to your skin at every contact point, which is particularly awesome when attempting to hold any sort of balance-heavy pose—you definitely aren’t going to lose it because your foot or hand slipped. In fact, I sometimes found pivoting movements, say, from a high lunge to a Warrior 2, a bit of a challenge because of all the friction!
It also comes in a bazillion sizes—well, five, which is at least three more than most mats. Just keep in mind that the bigger you go in area, the heavier the mat is to carry: The smallest is a reasonable 4½ pounds and the largest is a getting-awkward 6½ pounds.
At 3/16 inch (4¾ millimeters) thick, the Harmony Mat has just enough cushion to pad, though it doesn’t feel quite as plush as the slightly thicker dual-material Lululemon mat. That said, given its durable material, you can give the JadeYoga a bath or even wash it in a front-loader washer on gentle—just be prepared for a long drying time, as this puppy really sucks up water. In fact, it did nearly as good a job at absorbing sweat and wicking it away as the Lululemon, making it a great pick for heated classes, too.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Like any natural rubber product, there’s that smell; it was more pungent than the Lululemon’s but less than the Hugger Mugger’s, which really reeked. Because it’s a rubber mat, it also contains latex, so it’s no bueno for latex-allergy sufferers. JadeYoga’s mats aren’t recyclable. Though many cities recycle car tires—which have rubber as a primary ingredient—facilities that take pure rubber products are harder to find; generally, we recommend repurposing a spent yoga mat.
If you’re allergic to latex or are put off by rubber odors, you’ll want to go for a rubber-free product. The Gaiam Athletic Duramat is composed entirely of compressed PVC, so it’s odor-free, won’t trigger latex allergies, and still offers comparable support, size options, and stickiness to our top rubber picks.
Like the Lululemon mat, it offers two different surface textures: a smooth, shiny side (sticky) and a textured grippier side (grippy). Both our yogis gave the Gaiam props for its impressive traction and for its excellent firm support. Indeed, it does feel a bit firmer than the two rubber-content mats, but no testers reported angry knees.
The area it covers is 26 by 78 inches long, both wider than a typical mat (by 2 inches) and longer (by 10 inches). Unless you’re very tall, this might even be overkill; both instructors noted that it can be kinda weird to be that person who stakes out a football field of personal space in a crowded class. It’s also on the heavy side, weighing 6 pounds.
Because it’s made of a type of plastic, the Duramat doesn’t absorb moisture at all, making it slick with pools of sweat in vigorous or heated classes; our hot-yoga instructor commented that she was often wiping it with a towel until she finally just put the towel down on top of the mat. On the other hand, this same attribute makes it a cinch to wipe clean with a damp cloth.
In PVC foam, phthalates are added to make your mat flexible (otherwise, it would be as stiff as PVC plumbing pipe.) Phthalates are found in hundreds of different products. You may have heard about them because there’s been some recent press about getting phthalates phased out of use in children’s toys. How exactly they affect human health, if at all, is not clear. They have caused harm to the reproductive systems of lab animals, but there haven’t been many human studies.
Sometimes, you just don’t want to get all spendy on your hobbies. That’s where the Yoga Accessories ¼″ Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat comes in. Its PVC foam is uncommonly lofty for its price, providing ¼ inch (6.2 millimeters) of material to support your body in any pose, and is made without those widely dreaded phthalates. Like many inexpensive mats, it compresses more than its denser, pricier cousins, but most people will find the support adequate.
More than adequate is its generous 74-inch length, a full 6 inches longer than some competitors, yet not so long that you’re taking up more than your fair share of floor space in class. Even with the extra size, it weighs an extremely portable 3.6 pounds.
The stickiness is fine under dry hands and feet, though particularly wobbly or sweaty yogis will definitely appreciate the stickiness of more-expensive models like the also-PVC Gaiam, or the sweat absorption of the rubber picks from Lululemon and JadeYoga. Our pro yogis also expressed concern about how durable Yoga Accessories’ mat would be over time; being PVC, you shouldn’t throw it away but instead recycle or upcycle it. For fashionable yogis, the Yoga Accessories mat comes in 29 colors. (We can’t even name 29 colors. Go ahead, try.)
How you clean and store your yoga mat will keep it in usable shape longer. All mats come with care instructions specific to the materials they’re made of, but generally you should wipe your mat clean after every use with a water-dampened cloth, a homemade diluted vinegar and/or tea tree oil solution, or a gentle mat wash, then allow to fully dry before storing.
In real-world terms, that means wiping and rolling up your mat after class, then laying it out to dry at home, possibly with another wipe-down on a second rollout. Lululemon’s care instructions suggest post-class cleaning with warm water and detergent or baking soda, and deeper cleaning by submerging it in a tub of the same for 15 minutes.
Getting your mat clean is important, not just for appearance’s sake or the fact that embedded dirt can deteriorate the material. Any surface that is touched often and gets wet is a potential breeding ground for germs. For this reason, we asked our science editor if there was a better way, but most cleaning options are give-and-take:
“Vinegar is for bacteria and germ killing, although it’s only marginally effective at this. Soap, water, and rubbing is probably the best bet, although that can be a serious pain. Other compounds, such as bleach or alcohols can be used to kill germs, although either (particularly bleach) is going to deteriorate the mat … although so will vinegar.”
Though you can wash most yoga mats in a machine, the stretching and tumbling can easily tear a PVC or nonrubber mat. Rubber mats do well in the washer, but suck up a ton of moisture, and can take forever to dry.
The goodish news is that you can’t get sick from your own germs, if, for example, you practiced a week ago when you had a cold, says microbiologist Gerba. However, it is possible for the germs from a yoga studio floor to transfer to your mat. And a number of skin ailments can also retransfer, says dermatologist Dr. Shainhouse. For these reasons, the vinegar and/or tea tree oil solutions are important for their effective-but-gentle germ-killing attributes. A somewhat regular deeper cleaning may also be in order.
Another maintenance issue for many mats is that both natural rubber and many plastic foams degrade when exposed to UV light. That means no drying wet mats in the sun, and possibly no al fresco classes; of our picks, JadeYoga and Gaiam specifically caution against prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Yoga mat materials can be a thicket of concerns for many yogis—rubber seems like a more “natural” source because it comes from trees, but those trees’ sap can be sourced from environmentally delicate areas like the Amazon, and rubber itself is not recyclable. PVC is manufactured in part from petroleum and natural gas, as are most plastics, but in many places it can be recycled. Many companies that make yoga mats try to appeal to the environmentally sensitive nature of their audience—for instance, JadeYoga says it does not source its rubber mats from Amazon trees. Another company we considered has a closed-loop recycling system where it is able to recycle mats … but the mat can’t be recycled through just a normal municipal recycling system.
Maintaining a sense of personal responsibility and sustainability in light of so many complicated factors can be hard, so if you want to use one of these mats but worry about the impact, focus on what happens to the mat when you’re done using it. Either ensure your product is recycled, or find a second use for it after it’s too worn out for yoga—perhaps as furniture cushioning, making an antislip surface, or as portable seating, padding, or lining material.
We were interested in testing the Hugger Mugger Para Mat, which did well in our last review, when we learned that a new XLXW version measuring 28 inches wide and 78 inches long was launching. Though our yogis enjoyed practicing on the extremely grippy, luxuriously thick (¼ inch/6.2 millimeter) natural rubber mat, they found it very heavy to haul around (8 pounds) and extremely pungent (our hot-yoga instructor described it as smelling like a tire factory, which even bothered her neighbor in class).
Yoga Rat RatMat Pro had split reviews from our pros. The hatha instructor found its spongy, cushiony texture to have great grip, and he adored how light it was to carry around (just 2½ pounds). The hot-yoga instructor, however, wasn’t impressed. She wanted to like it, but ultimately found it far too slippery when things got wet. Its TPE material is photodegradable, so you can’t leave it in the sun.
The most unique offering that we considered, the Yoga Design Lab Combo Yoga Mat is a towel-fused rubber mat that’s designed specifically for hot yoga—you can even machine wash it. However, both yoga instructors struggled with its lack of stickiness when dry and wet.
The Aurorae Yoga Classic Thick Yoga Mat, made of PER foam, also had divided results. The hatha instructor was generally impressed with its cushiony padding and stickiness, and particularly liked the included rosin bag, which helped him get his grip when his hands got sweaty. Our hot-yoga instructor agreed that the rosin helped, but only to a point—toward the end of class, she resorted to layering up with her yoga towel.
In the words of our hot-yoga instructor: “Amazon makes yoga mats?” The AmazonBasics ¼-Inch Yoga and Exercise Mat with Carrying Strap didn’t really impress her (aside from the included carrying strap, which she appreciated) or the hatha instructor, who used “decent” and “generic” to describe it. Both found the PER material slippery whether dry or wet.
We didn’t test the Manduka Pro this time, because our testers in the last go-round felt it required an extensive breaking-in period before maximum stickiness was achieved, a process that most people wouldn’t want to wait for after dropping almost $100 for a mat.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)