Compared to other fitness activities, yoga requires minimal gear to get started. While most studios provide everything a beginner needs, investing in your own personal mat, yoga-specific clothes and a few other items can make your experience with yoga even more enjoyable.
Wherever you practice, a proper yoga mat is essential. Working on a rug, slippery towel or overly-soft gym cushion can lead to injury and frustration. Most studios and gyms offer mats for public use, but owning your own can be a more hygienic alternative.
While there are many options available, the vast majority of yoga mats work perfectly well for any style of yoga. Often, your choice will come down to personal preference. That said, understanding the differences will help you select a mat that fits your personal needs.
Thinner mats can help increase stability for styles of yoga with more active poses or balanced, focused poses. Look for mats with textured surfaces to maintain better grip when the poses get more strenuous.
Thicker mats provide extra cushioning and are best for more therapeutic practices. If you enjoy restorative yoga, a style with fewer poses that you hold longer, for example, you may prefer a softer, more cushioned mat. Thicker mats are also more comfortable for forearm and kneeling poses and for yogis with tender knees or achy joints. But they can be more difficult to balance on during standing poses.
Coverage: While most comfortable fitness clothing will suffice for yoga, keep in mind that you may be upside down or wide-legged during poses. Form-fitting yoga pants and tops keep you from exposing more of yourself than you expect. They also allow greater ease of movement and prevent sleeves or pant legs from getting caught in twists or underfoot. Read more on How to choose Yoga Clothes.
How they work: Most mat towels feature grippy nubs on the underside to keep the towel in place on your mat. Unlike a typical cotton bath towel, yoga towels are quick-drying and built to absorb moisture without sacrificing grip and stability during practice.
Establishing proper alignment early is critical to getting the most out of your yoga practice. Straps and blocks help newcomers who have limited flexibility achieve better alignment. Most studios have them on hand, and testing them with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor will help you assess what works best for your needs.
While certainly not required, a yoga bag or simple lightweight sling keeps your mat from unrolling at inopportune times and lets you keep your hands free on the way to class (so you can ride your bike, carry your latte, etc.). A yoga bag can also protect your mat from rain, snow and dirt during transport, enhancing its longevity.
We recruited two accomplished NYC-based yoga instructors, hatha/vinyasa specialist Juan Pablo Gomez and hot-yoga practitioner Arden Goll, to practice on and carefully evaluate yoga mats for the 2016 rewrite of this guide.
We also talked to 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.
Amy Roberts is a certified personal trainer and long-time amateur yogi with extremely discerning tastes when it comes to yoga mats, and nearly everything she buys. She has reviewed all manner of fitness products for Wirecutter, including resistance bands, foam rollers, and pull-up bars.
Wirecutter senior staff writer Ingrid Skjong is a certified personal trainer and off-and-on yoga enthusiast. She has taken numerous yoga classes (including prenatal yoga) and knows when a yoga mat feels right and performs well. She has delved into other fitness-related reviews, for running shoes, treadmills, connected indoor-cycling bikes, and GPS running watches.
Both of our yoga instructors praised the Voyager highly for its portability and traction, selecting it as either their favorite or second-favorite travel mat. Depending on the style of yoga you practice or your preferences, though, you may need to make a few adjustments. Our hot yoga instructor noted that the rubber felt almost too grippy and somewhat coarse on her skin and she had to put down a towel to absorb sweat near the end of class. Still, she preferred it over most of the travel competitors, which could become slippery during a heated session.
Although you can wash most yoga mats in a machine, the stretching and tumbling can easily tear a PVC or non-rubber mat. Rubber mats may fare better in the washer but suck up a ton of moisture and can take forever to dry.
Yoga mat materials can create a thicket of concerns for many yogis, and many companies that make yoga mats try to appeal to the environmentally sensitive nature of their audience. JadeYoga says it does not source the rubber for its mats from Amazon trees. Manduka will take your old mat (for a $10 fee on top of a new mat purchase) and have it downcycled.
We were interested in testing the Hugger Mugger Para Mat, which did well in a previous 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 ( inch or 6.2 millimeters) natural-rubber mat, they found it very heavy to haul around (nearly 10 pounds) and extremely pungent (our hot-yoga instructor described it as smelling like a tire factory, which even bothered her neighbor in class).
The Kulae tpECOmat Ultra mat is made of a TPE material with an extra-plush 8-millimeter (5/16-inch) thickness. The hatha instructor and Amy were big fans of the lightweight yet densely cushioned material, which Amy particularly enjoyed in restorative yoga practice during long-held floor poses. Our hot yoga instructor found it slippery and commented that the material stretched a bit underfoot. Its thickness makes this mat a bit unwieldy to carry when rolled up, despite its 4-pound weight.
The microfiber top surface of the Toplus 1/16 Inch Travel Yoga Mat has a nice feel, and the mat comes in a tidy plastic sleeve for storage. But our hatha instructor was not impressed with the traction; and though our hot yoga instructor thought it was decent on her trial run, she preferred the JadeYoga Voyager.
We also considered YogaPaws, a set of padded gloves and socks that could easily be the most portable mat-replacement option for traveling yogis. Unfortunately, neither yoga instructor nor Amy much liked practicing in them. Even the thinner version feels thick under your hands and feet, and the socks have a tendency to shift around as you practice.
Designed to help peacefully ground its user with soft, 100% mulesing-free merino wool, this option works for gentle exercises like yin yoga and yoga nidra. Even with its grippy base, it can be machine-washed and air-dried. Plus, its coordinating mediation pillow has a removable, washable cover made of the same wool from grazing sheep.
A yoga mat and a towel, this promises to get even grippier as it gets wet. Made from nontoxic materials like organic cotton with cushy design, these mats work for tall yogis, travelers, and hot yoga enthusiasts. Plus, it can be tossed in the washer after extra-active sessions of Ashtanga and Bikram.
Ashleigh is the director of commerce for the Health Group at Dotdash Meredith where she oversees health, fitness, family, and mind content. She has covered the health and wellness space through a variety of lifestyle lenses for more than 10 years. She is also a certified barre instructor teaching at a boutique studio.
A quality yoga mat will typically cost between $20-$150. Cheaper options may be tempting and could work if you're not looking for a long-term investment or if you don't plan on using your yoga mat very often. But they tend to be less durable than pricier mats. A dedicated yogi who practices yoga daily might want to invest in a more expensive mat that's made to last.
A yoga mat is typically thinner than an exercise mat, with a textured surface for helpful grip. Yoga mats also have a medium firmness for support, comfort, and grounding. Meanwhile, an exercise mat tends to be much thicker and is either very firm to support heavy gym equipment, like a rowing machine, or very cushioned to keep you comfortable during bodyweight exercises.
One of the thickest mats tested, this one is ideal if you're looking for plenty of comfy cushioning. Lightweight with a bumpy texture, it had fantastic grip when tested with yoga and high intensity exercise, as well as with shoes on or off.
Our expert said it lay flat on the floor instantly when rolled out (nothing like tripping over curled-up edges to ruin your flow) and was robust enough to withstand a weighty dropped barbell, while also proving super comfy for yoga. The eyelets were a nice touch for hanging in our home gym, too.
Lighter and easier to roll out than traditional yoga mats, this travel mat is ideal for taking on holiday (poolside yoga anyone). The bag with a shoulder pad is a particularly nice touch, making keeping fit on the go stress free.
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