What's The Difference Between A Cheap Yoga Mat And An Expensive One?

Breaking down why some mats cost more than others and if they're really worth it.

I have long used a black yoga mat of unknown origin (probably from Target or somewhere similar) in my daily yoga practice. I do sun salutations every morning and go into my studio for hourlong classes of Bikram, barre, Vinyasa flow and Yin at least five days a week. That’s a big range of experience, from sweating buckets to mostly lying around and stretching with a blanket over me.

I’ve been in this consistent practice for about two years, and my trusty cheap mat has served me well through all of it. So I’ve often wondered, why do people spend so much money on high-end brands? Am I really missing out by not shelling out $100 or more for a “better” mat?

The answer, after a bit of research, seems to mostly be a yes.

It all comes down to the products used to make them. The majority of low-end yoga mats are made with polyvinyl chloride foam (PVC), a material that can lead to a lot of issues with your mat down the road.

Here’s why, along with a breakdown on what could make the investment worth it if you love yoga:

They’re more eco-friendly

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Since almost all low-end mats are made of PVC, they are very difficult to recycle. If I want to be practicing yoga decades from now, that’s likely going to mean dozens of mats ending up in landfills and thousands of dollars wasted if I don’t opt up to a better quality mat soon.

Many experts say PVC is a highly toxic plastic, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. For those who don’t want their yoga mats to take a toll on the planet, high-end mats often offer recycling programs or more eco-friendly options.

Manduka, for example, has its own recycling offer in which you can turn in your old mat when you purchase a new Manduka product (which can cost upwards of $120, but they do have more affordable options). The company also has a line of products that contain more environment-friendly materials. Brands like Hugger Mugger (which can cost $32 to $130) and Jade Yoga (which are marked at about $80 to up to $180) also have eco-friendly designs.

Michelle Horton, a 34-year-old from New York, has been a regular yoga practitioner for 12 years. She told HuffPost she loves that she always feels secure in her postures because of the high-grip, non-slip design of the Jade mats. She also appreciates that Jade’s mats are eco-friendly and non-toxic, qualities that can be hard to find in the yoga mat world.

They’re “sticky” so you don’t slip

Not only is PVC potentially damaging to the environment, it’s also slippery. That’s why one of the big draws of getting a good quality mat is “stickiness.”

Angela Leavens-Smith, a yoga instructor at Jai Pure Yoga in Montclair, New Jersey, said she relies on a Hugger Mugger mat in her practice. She added that it is the only mat she uses for both teaching and her personal yoga sessions, and she loves that it’s lightweight, sticky and reasonably priced for one of the higher-end yoga mats.

“I use the Tapas original and have tried everything under the sun ― Jade, Manduka, Lululemon, Gaiam, etc. ― and always came back to this one,” Leavens-Smith said.

The Hugger Mugger mats also offer some pretty nice advantages, such as a double-sided mat with one side designed for excellent stability in a traditional Vinyasa practice and a more woven fabric on the other side perfect for hot yoga. They also have a variety of eco-friendly mats and price points that will fit most budgets.

They’re more durable

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High-end mats are built to endure heavy use that can take you from a home practice, to the studio and even outdoors.

Take Manduka, for example. Most yoga instructors I have spoken with have owned a Manduka mat at some point in their practice. The mats are also antimicrobial for hot yoga practitioners (though they do recommend a yoga towel for those whose practice is mostly Bikram) and amply cushioned for those with joint issues.

Kirsten Ott-Palladino, 41, an Atlanta-based writer and editor who has been practicing yoga for five years, swears by her Manduka after making the investment about a year ago. “My Manduka mat is strong, supportive and non-slip. I love it,” she said. Manduka and similar companies also offer a lifetime guarantee.

They can take the heat

The B mat (about $60 to $100) is a relative newcomer to the yoga world, but it has a cult following for this exact reason. Instructors and practitioners alike touted the strong non-slip surface, the cushioned support, its antimicrobial properties (no smelly yoga mats here!) and the fact that it eliminated the need for a yoga towel.

Angie Fraley, a yoga teacher-trainer who has been an instructor in Reno, Nevada, for over a decade, said that the B mat is by far her favorite for a practice that includes many types of yoga.

“I hate yoga towels twisting under my feet, and this is the one mat that doesn’t get slick even in a Bikram class,” Fraley said. “My knees love it, and it can help you stick into poses that are more difficult with a more slippery mat.”

The downsides of high-end mats

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Like most things in life, high-end mats aren’t purely perfection. They’re a financial commitment, for starters, which isn’t something to dismiss.

Some can be on the thinner side. Jade mats, for example, aren’t as cushioned and can offer a lack of support for those with sensitive joints. And though Jade mats don’t get slippery, you definitely need to use a yoga towel if you take mostly heated classes.

For some other products, return policies may be pretty strict. Hugger Mugger, for example, doesn’t offer any sort of satisfaction guarantee, so there’s no trying it out and returning it.

And while the B mats are praised for their stickiness, that too can be a flaw. The extra stickiness of the mat means it’s not great if you like to practice outdoors. It also requires a small bit of care (no leaving it out in a super hot or cold car) to ensure its durability.

When all is said and done, there was no one mat that was universally loved and without its perceived flaws, but there do seem to be some very serious advantages to getting a good mat versus the cheap foam mats that you can buy at any large retailer.

When it comes to choosing a mat, Fraley said, the best thing to do is to take your practice into consideration. “There is no one-size-fits-all mat just like there is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice. Everyone has different priorities.”

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