What a maze it is to buy your first yoga mat! A few yoga quotees are embarking on this and whereas when you come to Yoga Quota I provide mats- you obviously will want a mat eventually for your home practice too.
The three key things in mats are:
2) Environmental impact
In my mind at least! I've got options for you too at the bottom if style or coolness is more of your thing!
Let's talk grip. This is paramount. If you can't rely on your feet in down dog, are wary about your groin in trikonasana or worse are worried you'll skid on your sweat you will never push your practice or get to a comfortable seat.
If you see a mat which is plastic (often PVC) with square patterns with squares thy come out like little quilting...this is the one to avoid like the plague! So incredibly skiddy, especially if a drop of sweat gets involved. Find this culprit in Tescos or Argos for £4 and do not purchase!
If you find a mat which is seemingly grippy, quite stiff plastic with little dibbles this will also disappoint. Ok in the main but in down dog it will not stand up to it (unless you happen to be a waif). You find this sort of mat in Reebok or other posher sports shops. They are often quite hard to roll up tied with a strap and thick. Don't go there. The £40 odd quid is a rip off.
When you're buying plastics or natural rubber from Yoga Matters and the like look out for a floppy heavy material, often with square waffling which goes inwards not outwards like the cheap ones. These are good for grip. These sort are often mid range of price under £20. My first yoga mat lasted me 4-5 years of this kind (unfortunatley out of production now) and it even lasted a few washing machine runs! Until the last and now it sticks to my hands and feet like selotape. But that's my fault not the mat's I think it put bleach or something else in there with it. RIP (!)
Finally for good grip, liforme is equally as good although it looks like a flat sheet- but it's the natural rubber that does it. But as you'll see later this sort looses on price.
Toe socks are an option too- don't rule it out! As long as you have little toe holes so your foot doesn't slip out of the sock (Pilates and barre socks don't cut it!)
On the one hand as long as you are not ploughing through your mats as fast as clean socks then you could argue that it matter less. But then again plastic- lots of badness for the environment in production, rubber- probably same or similar, made en masse in probably China, shipped across the world for cutting, shipped elsewhere for wholesale, shipped to you (or even via your street shop) so....may as well do your best to reduce this?
On materials.... PVC is the original material since replace with better for the environment TPE. If on the label there is Latex free, Oeko-Tex, or natural rubber or jute you're into more of a winner.
On distribution...this is harder. I found Ecoyoga which makes in the UK so that is an option. This is tough though. I trie to go back a couple of stages in the supply chain before setting up Yoga Quota for our mats. And at tiny production orders of 25 the cost is ridiculous (3rd priority)
So in conclusion look at the label, and try and source locally to reduce the distribution. Fingers crossed natural jute and rubber are not produced by culling large swathes of forest or something. Just avoid PVC.
Ah price! So mats are the rarest of rare things that you don't have to pay an arm and leg for the quality. Yey!
I really wouldn't pay more than £20. It used to be £15 but now Ecoyoga mats are £20. Go to a little trip to your local TK Maxx to luck into a Eco friendly mat with square indented grip. Or order online from Yoga Matters or Ecoyoga.
It's like chocolate. Cheap chocolate like the kind in hot chocolate melts is gross. Mid range price great. Posh shop chocolate (hotel chocolate) same just packaged nicer. Same with mats ok?
Finally I have to accept that you may not have my bias against Hotel Chocolat or posh expensive yoga mats alike in that they are more excellence in marketing than excellence in substance. So...
For the coolest mat in the industry at the moment go for the liforme mat. Actually there is substance here. I tried my friend's and it grips brilliantly and it is allegedly Eco friendly too. It's just the £100!!!!!!!! That puts me off when you can get the same quality for the tenth of the price. But it comes in so many colours..... Be tempted up to you!
And for your personal style... Yogamatic.com is a service that would print your own photos and designs on your mat. I can't vouch for their grip or environmental impact but if you fancy doing down dog on top of your own reflection (photo of) or gazing at your favourite sunset in down dog then this is an option! Great for gifts I guess!