How to Choose a Yoga Mat: A Guide to Material, Size, and Type


How to Choose a Yoga Mat: A Guide to Material, Size, and Type

Whether you’re purchasing your first yoga mat or replacing your twentieth, any yogi could use a refresher course in the significant factors that contribute to a high-quality yoga mat. You become very spiritually connected to that thin piece of rubber and will require a mat that is balanced in thickness, eco-friendless, and support for your joints. As the only barrier between you and the solid earth, you’ll want to make sure that you’re looking beyond prints and patterns when choosing your next yoga mat.

This comprehensive guide to choosing a yoga mat will cover: 

  • Factors to Consider Before Buying 
  • Health Concerns to Be Aware of Before Buying 
  • Guide to Thickness 
    • Is a Thicker Yoga Mat Better? 
  • Guide to Material
  • Guide to Size
  • Guide to Type of Yoga and Best Suited Mats to Each
  • Our Recommendations

Working on the wrong yoga mat can be frustrating, health-concerning, and lead to injury. With some mats even being linked to toxicity and increased risk of cancer, it is more important than ever before to understand the products you are using and where they come from. Use this comprehensive guide to understand everything about yoga mats to find the best options for your lifestyle, budget, and body type. 

How to Choose a Yoga Mat 

If you’ve tried to do yoga without the proper mat, you’ve probably slipped around like an ice skater on knee-skates. Your choice of yoga mat can make or break your yoga experience. If you want to be successful, gain flexibility, and not risk injuring yourself, you must prioritize the functionality behind a mat.

Before we dive in, it’s important to state that everyone’s body is unique. What works for one yogi may not work for you, and that is okay. The most crucial step will be to identify your body type and understand your body’s needs.

The balance will be between finding a yoga mat that is soft enough for weaker joints, such as your knees, to feel supported, while also not selecting a mat that is too soft or thick, therefore, causing you to struggle with balance.

Factors to Consider of Before Buying 

As with many practices, the answer to the ideal yoga mat will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Before you begin shopping, considering the usage and requirements from your ideal yoga mat will assist you in finding the best one for you. 

Considerations to make and questions to ask yourself are:

Body Type

  • What is my body type? You should ask yourself:
    • Do I have weak knees?
    • Do I experience joint pain?
    • Am I tall and require a longer yoga mat?
    • Am I shorter and require a shorter yoga mat? 
  • Do I have any past injuries that could benefit from additional padding?

Commitment & Frequency 

  • How active will I be in yoga class? 
  • What level of yoga am I at? (Beginner, intermediate, expert)
  • Where will I be practicing yoga? (At home, yoga studio, gym facility) 
    • Will this be small enough to tote around?
    • Will this be lightweight enough for me to carry and store easily? 

Type of Yoga Being Practiced 

  • What type of yoga do I prefer? With practices such as hot yoga, you will tend to sweat more, and the risk for slipping increases without the proper mat.
  • The type of yoga you practice should also be considered concerning past injuries.
  • How sticky do I prefer a yoga mat?
    • Do I sweat a lot?
    • Do I slip a lot? 

Quality & Budget

  • Should I invest in a higher-quality mat that will last longer?
  • Am I okay with spending more to have a safer, eco-friendly mat? 

Basic Preferences

  • In the most basic sense – Do I prefer a softer yoga mat or a thinner one that allows me to feel the firmness of the ground?

If you’re brand new to yoga, we would recommend starting with a mat around $20-30. You don’t need to invest a ton upfront, especially before you have determined how committed you are to this meditative practice. You may find out that yoga is not for you, so wait to purchase expensive equipment until you are sure. 

Health Concerns to Be Aware of Before Buying 

Another preface of essential information is based on your health. You may think that every yoga mat is just a simple piece of rubber that can’t hurt you. Although that should be the case, it isn’t always that simple.

In the early 2000s and everything beforehand, most yoga mats were made out of PVCs. Still today, this is the most common ingredient used in cheaper, standard yoga mats.

PVCs

According to the Department of Human Services and Office for Prevention of Developmental Disabilities:

Phthalates harm children’s health and development by interfering with natural hormone functioning and have been linked to birth defects in baby boys, testicular cancer, liver problems, and early onset of puberty in girls – which is a risk factor for later-life breast cancer.”

PVCs are linked to:

  • Congenital disabilities
  • Nerve damage
  • Obesity
  • Cancer 
  • Neurological issues
  • Fertility issues 

Most mats are created using:

  • PVCs (Polyvinyl Chloride, which is a source of phthalates; phthalates being a dangerous plastic softener that is used in cleaning products, children’s toys, and most standard yoga mats). 
  • Chlorine
  • Mercury
  • And countless other toxic chemicals used in the production of millions of yoga mats worldwide 

PVCs are also made increasingly durable by adding lead. 

VOCs

You should also be aware of mats that smell intensely of rubber. Sometimes, this is simply the rubber’s odor. However, frequently this signifies that VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) have been utilized in the manufacturing of these products.

VOCs are the ‘paint smell’ that you smell when you add a fresh coat of paint around the room. They are also found in glues, cigarettes, paint thinners, and craft items (such as the dye on your yoga mat). 

VOCs are linked to:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Visual difficulty
  • Damage to liver and kidneys 
  • Highly dangerous to the central nervous system
  • Linked to cancer, as stated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) 

There are more significant decisions at stake than deciding between the red mat or the blue mat. With so many carcinogens, toxins, and chemicals linked to cancer, you cannot merely grab the prettiest yoga mat on the shelf. 

Now that you understand the essential questions to ask, and health risks to avoid, let’s cover logistics! 

Guide to Thickness 

Since yoga mats are available in so many versatile sizes and levels of thickness, you may need to experiment with a few different mats before investing in a top-quality one.

The problematic thing about the thickness of your yoga mat is that:

  • Some poses will be more comfortable on a thicker mat
  • Some poses will be more comfortable on a thinner mat 

So you probably won’t win 100% of the time since the poses each target such different aspects of the body. 

When you’re doing a pose on your knees that feels nicer with a thicker mat as a cushion, this can also throw you off your balance. It’s a tricky dance, and harmony must be achieved for physical balance. Since we each have different body types and levels of athleticism, that synchronization will look different for each yogi. 

The main selections on the market regarding yoga mat thickness include your options of:

¼-inch (6mm) Thickness – This is one of the two most popular sizes that you will typically see on the shelves. 

Pros to ¼-inch to 6mmCons to ¼-inch to 6mm
⚈ Works for most body types
⚈ Offers a moderate level of cushion
⚈ Is not too soft
⚈ Is considered durable enough not to fall apart or easily tatter 
⚈ Can end up quite heavy, sometimes up to 10-pounds!
⚈ Transporting this each day without a car, or to the gym, etc. can be quite a commitment.
⚈ May not fit in yoga bags 

1/8th-inch (3mm) Thickness – This will be about half the thickness of the 1/4th standard. Also very popularly seen on shelves, this is the thinner option that is preferred by many experts.

Pros to 1/8th-inch (3mm) ThicknessCons to 1/8th-inch (3mm) Thickness
⚈ Great support 
⚈ Still known for typically being durable 
⚈ More lightweight than your standard mat
⚈ Easily portable which can encourage more commitment to yoga practice outside of the home
⚈ Will fit in most yoga bags
⚈ Typically cheaper than 1/4th- inch mats
⚈ Although these are known for being durable, it will still be more susceptible to wear-and-tear than a thicker mat
⚈ May not last as long, but also usually much cheaper for this reason 

1/16-inch (2mm) Thickness – You may not even come into contact with a yoga mat that is this thin, as they are the least typical. 

Pros to 1/16-inch (2mm) ThicknessCons to 1/16-inch (2mm) Thickness
⚈ Very lightweight
⚈ Great for travel and portability
⚈ Will fit in tight spaces/easy storage
⚈ Typically cheaper
⚈ Typically for those without joint pain
⚈ Ideal for yoga on carpet or soft ground
⚈ Not ideal if you suffer joint pain
⚈ Won’t support the bones very much 
⚈ May feel almost directly on the solid ground so best for soft surfaces
⚈ Can wear-and-tear easy due to its thinness
⚈ Doesn’t have great traction

½-Inch (12mm) Thickness – This is the thickest mat on the market and also not as popularly seen.

Pros to ½-Inch (12mm) ThicknessCons to ½-Inch (12mm) Thickness
⚈ Thickest yoga mat – an entire half-inch of support
⚈ Great for Pilates
⚈ Great for those with joint pain
⚈ Great for those with knee issues
⚈ Tends to offer suitable traction and grip
⚈ Can offer less stability than thinner mats, leading you to lose balance more often
⚈ Too squishy and soft for many
⚈ Harder for poses such as warrior or one-legged poses
⚈ Bulkier for storage purposes
⚈ Can be heavier, and therefore, less portable

Is a Thicker Yoga Mat Better? 

There’s no wrong or right answer to this question, only what works best for you. A few notes about the thickness of your mat to keep in mind are:

  • If you do mostly sitting poses, this will feel best on a highly-cushioned mat.
  • If you do mostly standing poses, you will want a thinner mat for stability and balance.
  • If you’re unsure where to start, start with the most popular and favored size of thickness – the 1/4th-inch mat, which is the standard. 1/4th inch is considered too thick by many experts; however, it’s also ideal if you’re targeting areas such as:
    • Back support (with the spine digging into your mat)
    • Posture poses
    • Inversions
    • Core work 
  • If the 1/4th inch mat is too thick for you, find a happy medium between that and the 1/8th inch by settling with the compromise of 1/6th inch. 

Guide to Material

A breakdown of your major material options for yoga mat shopping are as follows:

  • PVCs –As described, most yoga mats that you find, especially the most affordable ones, are made using lead and PVCs. PVCs will not be the safest option for you or the environment because it is not biodegradable. 
    • The only real benefit of PVC products is that they are plastic-based, and, therefore, last for a long time. This will be the cheapest option and the least healthy for you long term. Avoid it if possible, and spend slightly more to get a non-toxic mat. 
  • Environmentally Friendly/Eco-Friendly – There are many options on the market that have yogi’s leaning into a ‘greener’ way of meditation. Since most yoga-fanatics tend to care about the earth, they want to lower their carbon footprint even while stretching. Some great options that are natural include:
    • Organic Cotton Mats – Described as a cotton blanket, these are very soft and natural. Ideal for seated poses and asanas that require less balance, these will be very therapeutic and comfortable. The benefits of this mat are:
      • Comfort
      • Eco-friendly options are known for offering less grip
      • The grip increases as you sweat
      • Easily machine washable
    • Jute – As a reasonably new creation, Jute has emerged in recent years as a healthier response to toxic options. Yoga experts wanted a natural fiber that would not be toxic while also not being too soft (such as cotton). The main perks of Jute are that it is:
      • Known for offering excellent grip and traction
      • Absorbs your sweat
      • Latex-free
      • Silicone-free
      • Natural and non-toxic
  • Rubber Mats (Natural is Best) – Very popular and considered a much safer option than PVCs. Yogis love rubber mats and have even created ‘natural rubber mats’ in recent years for an even greener option. These do tend to have a smell, but keep in mind that a noticeable fragrance does not always indicate VOCs are present. These tend to be:
    • Well-cushioned
    • Fragranced by rubber that dissipates in a few months
    • Not machine washable
    • Natural rubber will be safest but slightly more expensive
  • Foam – These are ideal for being lightweight and budget-friendly. Although this a synthetic material, the benefits of a foam mat are:
    • Comfort
    • Usually latex-free
    • Usually phthalate-free
    • Affordable
    • Long-lasting
  • TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) – This blend of plastic and rubber is known as being one step above PVCs, although some recyclable brands are emerging that are safer. TPE is characterized by the qualities of being:
    • A human-made blend of polymers (not natural)
    • Offered in recyclable alternatives 
    • Good traction against sweat
    • Highly-elastic 
    • Usually well-cushioned
    • Lightweight
  • Padded Yoga Mats – If you are suffering from joint pain or need extra support, purchase a mat with ‘extra padding.’ This will be distinct from ‘thickness’ because padded mats are divided into layers:
    • The interior which will nearly always be foam
    • An exterior layer of cloth for easy machine-washing 

The characteristics of this mat will be:

  • Best for joint pain 
  • Less ideal for grip than typical yoga mats
  • The exterior layer is machine washable
  • The foam layer usually is not machine washable 

Additional Notes Regarding Material

Don’t be afraid of a rubber mat, but lean into the ‘natural’ trend for options that are non-toxic and safer for the environment. 

If you are allergic to latex, avoid rubber mats (natural or not). You can opt for a different natural material option such as cotton or Jute. 

Consider:

  • The ingredients
  • Any allergies you have to latex or rubber
  • The reputation of that manufacturer
  • The country it was made in and how they prioritize environmental concerns, if the working conditions were ethical, and if it was created in a sweat-shop environment
  • The stickiness of your mat
  • The grip of your mat (both when dry and drenched with sweat)
  • The eco-friendliness of your mat

Always do your research to understand the credibility of a brand before purchasing from them. Read reviews, know your allergies, and, regarding ingredients, keep it simple. 

Guide to Size

You must also consider your height. A few rules of thumb for your yoga mats length and width are:

  • Your yoga mat should be at least 6-inches to 1-foot taller than you are lying down. You don’t want to lay in class with your feet handing far off the mat. You will want a mat that allows you to lay comfortably flat on any hard surface you may encounter. 
  • If you are taller, you can search for mats that call under the category of ‘extra-long,’ which will surpass 6-feet. 
  • If you have a wider build or broader shoulders, you can also seek out a mat that falls under the category of ‘extra-wide.’ 
  • If the mat is fitted to you correctly, you will be more inclined to pull it out and meditate lying down or stretching out. 
  • Select a mat that is wide and long enough, and you will probably use your yoga mat considerably more often.

Try out many mats in seated, standing, and laying flat positions to determine the ideal fit that is not too narrow or short. 

Guide to Type 

Types of yoga mats are typically categorized by their material (PVC mat, Rubber mat, etc.) Another way to look at the ‘types’ of yoga mats, is based on the different types of yoga.

Types of Yoga and Best Suited Mats to Each

The most popular varieties of yoga and the most-recommended mats for each are as follows:

Type of YogaNotes on StyleBest-Suited Mats
Ashtanga YogaThis is a very sophisticated style that will be quite demanding on the yogi. In addition to an anti-slip mat material with a good grip, you may also need a sweat towel.⚈ Natural Rubber
⚈ TPE (very resistant to slipping, even through sweat)
⚈ Any open-celled mat 
Bikram Yoga/Hot Yoga Although these are unique, they are often practiced together. Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 poses and breathing drills that are done for 90 minutes in a hot room of high humidity.
Hot yoga may not follow the same series of poses (offering more liberty to originality and creativity); however, it too will be practiced in a heated and humid room.
Both variations will exceed temperatures of 100-degrees Fahrenheit, and you should also bring a sweat towel.
⚈ Natural rubber mat
⚈ Mats that can be washed
⚈ Any mat labeled ‘non-slip’

Avoid:Cotton and padded mats which lead to slipping
Hatha YogaMost often utilized by beginners, Hatha will be a calmer progression into more challenging poses.⚈ Foam
⚈ Natural rubber 
If taking a calmer class without much sweating involved, try:
Cotton, Jute, Padded 
Iyengar YogaUsed for alignment and balancing the body, this is a calmer breed of yoga that will not lead you to sweat very much. Since the point is not to get your heart rate up, you won’t need a very sticky or high-grip mat for this purpose.⚈ Cotton
⚈ Jute
⚈ TPE
⚈ Padded
⚈ Nearly any type will work
Always avoid POCs 
Restorative YogaThis is the most calming style of yoga taught in American classes. The movements are gentle and sweeping, taking their time and never forcing you to rush.Nearly any type will work, find what is most comfortable, and a thicker mat may be pleasant for the seated-poses of restorative yoga.
Flow YogaSlightly more complex, you will want a mat with more traction in this case.⚈ Foam
⚈ Natural rubber
⚈ TPE 
VinyasaA form of Hatha, you can have fun with the pace and flow of this style, finding what works best. Since this will be the faster version of Hatha, your heart rate is intended to rise as you flow between
poses smoothly. You will want a mat that can function under sweaty palms and feet while you’re doing many standing and one-legged poses that require concentrated balance.
⚈ Foam
⚈ Natural rubber
⚈ TPE 

Also, remember to consider the portability and weight of your yoga mat, along with material, height, and style of yoga.

Guide to Texture & Stickiness

The texture will influence the amount of traction and grip you have. A sticky-textured mat can cause you to remain in place instead of sliding all over, but you don’t want to get stuck to the mat while sweating. 

You can select:

  • A bumpy texture
  • A smooth texture

Tips on the materials and their texture are:

  • Jute tends to have a roughness
  • PVCs tend to be bumpy but smoothly abrasive; they also tend to be the stickiest
  • Rubber, Cotton, and Jute will typically have the most texture and grip (ideal for sweating)

You can also consider having:

  • A softer, more padded, and less sticky mat for seated-poses and meditation
  • A less soft, thinner, and stickier mat for hot yoga or intricate standing-poses

Always test the mat out before you buy it! 

Best Yoga Mats & Reputable Brands

According to yoga instructors, experts from around the globe, and those that have experimented with many disappointing brands before finding their favorite, the best yoga mat brands are:

These are brands you can trust for offering: Non-toxic, natural, and safe options! 

They also tend to be higher-quality, which means more expensive, but also longer-lasting.

The best yoga mats, as recommended by verified users, are:

Budget-FriendlyModerateHigh-Quality
Gruper TPE Yoga Mat Non-Slip Eco-Friendly

Yoga Mat Non-Slip SGS Certified 72 Inch by Iyoga Pro

Plyopic Sweat Grip Eco-Friendly Natural Cotton Yoga Mat
Jade Yoga Mat 68 Inches

Gaiam Premium Non-Slip Mat 6mm Extra Thick

IUGA Non-Slip Odorless and SGS Certified for Hot Yoga
Manduka PRO 6mm

Manduka PROLite Pilates Eco-Friendly

Yoloha Cork Mat Sustainable Made of Cork & Rubber

In Conclusion

Find a yoga mat that will grow with you. As you improve at yoga, your approach will evolve, and you will want a yoga mat that can withstand the tests of time.

Our final recommendation would be to spend a bit more to get a yoga mat that is:

  • Non-toxic
  • Recyclable 
  • Eco-friendly
  • Non-slip
  • Thick enough to resist wear-and-tear
  • Not too thick that your balance is impaired 
  • The proper texture and stickiness for your intended yoga-style (stickier for sweatier practices)
  • And lastly, able to grow along with your improvement, lasting for years to come!

Dakota Carroll

Yoga have been a part of Dakota's life for 10+ years. Her practice has helped her grow stronger, more flexible and fearless. Dakota encourages her students to be creative and challenge the body. She seeks to inspire every student to feel refreshed, nourished and balanced both on and off the mat.

Recent Posts