Ah, the great outdoors — the fresh smell of pine trees, majestic mountain views, flowing rivers and meandering dirt paths through lush forests. Endless adventure awaits at every turn. Once darkness rolls in though, a fitful toss-and-turn kinda night can really kill the vibe. If you love camping, but dread camp sleeping, having a high-quality camp mattress and sleeping bag and a good can make a world of difference.
What are the different types of camping mattresses?
Camping mattresses fall into three categories: foam pads, air-inflate pads and self-inflate pads. Foam pads are the most basic and least comfortable. These are your classic thin, single layer of closed-cell foam. Air-inflate pads tend to be the lightest and pack down the smallest, but they are also the least durable. Self-inflate pads are the most popular among car-campers and offer the most comfort and warmth. And unlike air mattresses for use in the home, self-inflate pads for camping don't need a wall outlet. If you are looking for something elevated from the ground we have also covered the best camping cots.
How to choose your mattress
To choose one, “start with its intended use,” suggests Jeff Moberg, Product Line Manager at Therm-a-Rest. “The main factors to consider are warmth, weight, comfort and packability.” Are you camping close to your car and have the luxury to go big? Or are you backpacking and need something small that fits in your pack? It's worth noting that warmth is measured in R-value, an insulation scale that ranges from less than 2 (barely insulated) to 5.5 or more (highly insulated). The R references resistance to heat loss.
“It is also important to understand which shape and size you will need,” he adds. “The width and thickness of the mattresses should factor in your sleeping style. A side sleeper may want a thicker and wider pad, especially if they flip sides throughout the night. This will offer more cushion and surface area and prevent the camper from pressing into the center of the mattress where the insulation layers tend to live.”
Regardless of what direction you face when you sleep, a high-quality camping mattress will make your nights more restful, your days more energetic and your whole adventure more enjoyable — not to mention safer. So, ditch that dated, musty-smelling mattress and upgrade to one of these. You won’t regret it.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better price-to-comfort car camping mattress. This self-inflating pad offers up a plush 2.5 inches of open cell foam for a cozy spot to rest your head. Soft, stretch polyester top fabric feels soothing against your skin, so you can just sleep directly on top with a sleeping bag. The pad self-inflates 90 percent of the way on its own, needing just a few puffs to get your desired firmness. Suited for the darkest and coldest winter nights, it’s impressive 7.6 R-value keeps you insulated from the ground. The pad comes in regular and extra-large, but we recommend going big. No one ever wishes they had less sleeping surface.
Size: 72" x 25" (Regular); 78" x 30" (XL)
Packed size: 5.5" x 26" (Regular); 8.5" x 30" (XL)
This two-part sleep system features a two-layer top pad that includes memory foam with a durable drop-stitch inflatable base (used in standup paddleboards) that’s waterproof. It's 7 inches think and has a huge R-value of 11.7. Setup and breakdown is just as easy, if not easier, than most air mattresses. It may be heavy, bulky and pricey, but there’s a pretty good chance it’s more comfortable than your bed at home. This is hands down the most comfortable portable bedding you can buy. Pair it with Hest's super comfortable packable camp pillow ($79) and sleep like backcountry royalty.
Size: 78" x 25"
Packed size: 16" x 28"
The issue with most budget inflatable mattresses is their questionable level of durability, because one small leak can wreck your camping trip. Thankfully, this self-inflating 3-season pad is the perfect blend of value and performance. Sea to Summit's Horizontal Delta coring process removes more than 40 percent of the foam in delta-shaped cores, without sacrificing comfort and quality. Need a little more space? Wide versions of the regular and large mattresses are also available. And rest assured (literally), you won’t wake up flat on the ground with a deflated pad.
Size: 72" x 20" (Regular); 78" x 25" (Large)
Packed size: 8" x 10.2" (Regular); 8.5" x 13" (Large)
If the thought of pitching a tent makes you cringe, but you’re not part of the van life crowd, Luno might be your new favorite brand. Designed to fit over 1,800 different vehicle models, this 4-inch double-pad has two independent air mattresses that connect via a top fabric layer. This allows each sleeper to adjust the firmness to their preferred desire. It includes base extenders that fill the footwells of your backseat so the main mattress can sit atop for additional length.
Size: Fits persons up to 6'2" tall, depending on your vehicle
Packed size: 16.5" X 29" (storage bag included)
Short of the pricey and bulky Hest Sleep System, the MondoKing is most likely to turn any tent into a cozy sleeping den. The brand's plushest pad comes in two sizes and is suitable for all four seasons. It features Therm-a-Rest’s StrataCore technology, which uses a continuous layer of thermal foam nestled between alternating ridges of air and foam. Bottom-line: no more sleepless camp nights with this thick, cozy mattress.
Size: 77" x 25" (Large); 80" x 30" (XL)
Packed size: 10.3" x 26" (Large); 10.3" x 31" (XL)
Go ahead, sprawl those limbs out knowing they’ll never hang off the edge. Measuring over 4 feet wide and 6 feet, 7 inches long, this mat is large enough for all but the tallest of basketball players. This oversized version of Sea to Summit’s most comfortable car camping mattress boasts 4 inches of plush foam wrapped with 30D stretch knit fabric on the upper surface. They say money can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a good night’s sleep with this rather pricey self-inflating mat.
Size: 80" x 51"
Packed size: N/A
When shorter weekend backpacking trips mean you have a little extra room in your pack, fill that space with this ultra-cozy packable self-inflating pad. Packed down it weighs less than two pounds and is roughly the size of a paper towel roll — the perfect blend of size and overnight comfort. The 3-inch-thick pad with stretch knit top and extra-thick built-in foam is far superior to any ultralight air-inflating backpacking pad.
Size: 72" x 25" x 2.5" (Regular); 72" x 30" x 2.5" (Large)
Packed size: 5.5" x 26" (Regular); 8.5" x 30" (Large)
When pack weight is counted in ounces, not pounds, the Therma-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad is sure to lighten the load. Similar in size to a 32oz Nalgene water bottle when packed, the small and regular size pads both come in under one pound. At 2.5 inches, it’s one of the thickest and most comfortable ultra-lightweight backpacking sleeping pads. Patent-pending, reflective ThermaCapture™ technology gives this pad an impressive 4.2 R-Value, making it suitable for all conditions, except arctic.
Size: 72" x 20" (Regular); 77" x 25" (Large)
Packed size: 9" x 4.1" (Regular); 11" x 4.6" (Large)
If you prefer a more intimate, close to the ground sleeping experience, the Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad is for you. This closed-cell single layer foam option is just shy of an inch thick and features a heat-reflecting film for an R-value of 2. It may not be as comfortable as its air-filled counterparts — and yes, it defies this guide's title — but for old-school single-layer foam diehards, it’s one of the best.
Size: 72" x 20"
Packed size: 20" x 5.5" x 5"
For those who like to cuddle up with their partner, this bed is the ticket. The 6-inch-thick mattress comes with a manual air pump with simple, 1-way inflation valve to keep air from leaking out during setup and a soft touch sleep surface. For such a big bed, it packs down quite well to roughly the size of a packed 2- or 3-person tent. Caveat: despite being called a queen, it measures 4 inches short on width and 1 inch in length from a true queen-sized mattress.
Size: 79" x 56"
Packed size: 10" x 20"
Instead of spending the money on an adult-sized mattress, assure your kids get the same quality mattress as you. REI’s kid-specific mattress has the same build and quality as their adult mattress, just smaller. At 1.5 inches thick and five feet long, it’s still plenty big enough for kids, tweens and some teens.
Size: 60" x 20"
Packed size: 5" x 12"