How To Choose a Mat for a Yoga Retreat


Yoga on the beach

“It is better to travel well, than arrive.” Buddha

Like the Buddha said, to travel well is an art and an end in itself.

If you are planning a yoga retreat to a warm, tropical or rain forest setting you will have special considerations in choosing your yoga mat and clothes.

These are some suggestions I learned from my last visit to Costa Rica. I stay on the Osa Peninsula, a place renowned for its beauty, lush tropical forest and hot, wet heat.

Depending on where you visit, you may also have weight restrictions for your baggage. Check with your airline if this is the case.

A standard yoga mat may weigh anywhere from three to 10 pounds. How much does yours weigh? You will want to know this before you decide if you need to purchase a travel mat.

The decision to bring your standard mat on a retreat depends on the following:

How important is your practice to your overall experience of the trip? If it is very important, you may want your mat. In my case, my practice is the MOST important thing, but this varies for individuals. Only you know if you would sacrifice a blow dryer for a yoga mat.

How important is it to bring other things in addition to your mat? If you would rather have multiple clothing options, or will be doing additional activities such as rock climbing or surfing, you may want the room.

Is your mat a closed-cell or an open-cell fabrication? An open-cell mat will absorb sweat and impurities from the environment. If you are practicing in a hut, sandy or jungle environment, your mat will get very dirty and an open-cell mat may not recover.

Are you traveling or hiking around once you arrive? If you plan to unpack and be settled in a resort, it may not matter if your bags are heavy. But if you are hiking and traveling in-country, going from place to place, you will want to travel light.

What are other options?

You can use the resort’s mats. However, I do not recommend this option. You have no idea how many visitors have used rental mats, or their condition. At a minimum, you should bring a yoga blanket or towel to form a barrier between a rental mat and yourself.

You could bring a travel mat. A travel mat is typically lightweight in form and will weigh less than two pounds. They can provide some non-slip resistance. However, they typically are not as slip-proof or as cushioning as a standard mat. You can use the travel mat over the resort’s rental mats to give yourself more cushioning in practice.

I recommend packing non-slip socks and possibly gloves. These are available from Gaiam, Toesox and other manufacturers. These socks and gloves have little sticky rubber things on the bottom to make your paws have pause. They will help you grip if the humidity makes your mat slippery.

A word on Yoga Clothes in the Tropics

While it does not matter what you wear to be enlightened, there are some things that will make you more comfortable in hot, humid climates.

Our typical yoga clothing of tight, elastic pants with Luon and Lycra, or organic cotton, are not terrific options. They will feel heavy, restrictive and like wearing a hot wet blanket.

I prefer to wear light, loose, technical fabrics. What is a technical fabric? Anything made to release sweat and dry quickly.

In my upcoming Costa Rica retreat, the afternoon practices will be focused on hip openers and meditation, so shorts are fine. Longer pants are only practical for the mornings where we will be arm balancing. Pack accordingly.

If you are not sure, try this: Work up a minimal sweat by exercising, then run a hot shower until your bathroom is steamy. While you are damp put on your yoga clothes. This is what it may be like for an afternoon practice in the jungle.

My Final Two Cents

Less is more. Bring only what you need. If you have a weight limit make every pound count for the majority of your
vacation. Pack what brings you joy, and leave the rest of your baggage at home.

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is a Columnist for Elephant Journal and a Contributing Editor for Mantra and Origin Magazines. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co. You can take her classes on, or

Michelle is leading a yoga retreat April 22 -27, 2014 to the beautiful Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. There is still time to join if you are interested.