How much padding do you want? The standard thickness for yoga mats is 1/8 inch, though travel mats are as thin as 1/16 inch and some extra-plus mats may be up to ¼ inch thick. Some people like feeling closer to the floor while others like plenty of cushioning. Think about how much cushioning you’ll need to keep your knees comfortable in certain poses, or keeping your arms and head feeling good in a headstand.
Keep in mind that thicker mats will be slightly more cumbersome to transport to class. Another reason that you may want a thinner mat is to move between poses more easily. Hatha yoga, which flows through different movements, is easier on thinner mats.
The standard size for mats is 172 inches, so you’re most likely to find this length. There are longer lengths available from many brands, which are ideal for taller people who may need more mat space for some poses. Just like with thicker mats, longer mats will not be as compact for traveling as a standard sized mat when they’re rolled up.
You need a mat that will stick to the floor so that it won’t go sliding around. If you’re doing hot yoga or any yoga where you might get sweaty, you need to make sure that you won’t go sliding around on the mat. Mats made of PVC or rubber tend to be extra grippy, or a cotton yoga rug will provide the ultimate in grip (see below for more information on materials.)
Some mats have a raised pattern for more grip, but these require extra cleaning for all of the dirt, sweat, and bacteria that can get trapped in the design. If you are doing Hatha yoga with its smooth transitions, you’ll want less grip for easier movement between poses.
Some mats are more eco-friendly than others. If you want to help the environment, look for descriptions like PVC-free or materials like natural rubber, cork, or jute. The Sassi Yogi warns that cork, though natural, can wear quickly if used frequently. For hot, or Bikram yoga, some people use cotton rugs to really stay in place. Talk to your instructor if you think you may need a yoga rug instead of a more common mat.
There is a huge price difference between mats. If you’re just starting out, an inexpensive mat could work for you until you figure out all of your needs. Inexpensive mats may not last as long, have the same quality of materials, or include all of the features of the more expensive mats, but a higher price doesn’t necessarily guarantee a higher quality mat. If possible, go to a store to see if you can try out the mat before you buy it so you can judge the quality before you drop big bucks.