To find the best camping mattress, we bought the 15 most promising models you can get today. This comes on top of the 30 models we have purchased and tested over the last 8 years. Next, we put each sleeping pad through extensive side-by-side testing. There is quite a range of options: mats that inflate fast with battery-powered motors, pads that use small hand pumps and pads that, to some extent, inflate all by themselves. It's also important to know how well a mat will deflate to a reasonably small size. When these factors meet your needs, at a price that works for you, your night under the stars gets a whole lot better. A promising venture to the outdoors can turn into a bummer if the new air mattress you brought kept you awake all night. To head off that problem GearLab has done the testing for you.
Best Camping Sleeping Pads & Mattresses
Best Overall Camping Mattress
REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL
This camping mattress is worthy of your attention for the value alone, and fortunately for anyone who sleeps at night, it also offers comfort, warmth, and so much more. The REI Co-op Dreamer XL is a huge 11"x70" plush platform for one that puts a sweet, insulating, four inch barrier between you and the ground. Inflation is made easy with a big foam pump (that doubles as a comfy pillow) and a one-way valve that flips around for deflation. The glamping package is completed with an easy tote for packing and carrying around.
The only downside to this big guy is its size. It's only available in extra-large, and there are plenty of single-person tents out there that can't accommodate it, not to mention two-person tents that won't be able to fit two. (If you're sleeping on the Dreamer and you camp with your significant other, you're going to need two. Trust us.) This pad offers similar features and equal comfort to mats that cost much more, making it a shoo-in for our top honors.
Read review: REI Co-op Dreamer XL
Best for Couples
Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Want the very best mattress for car camping that money can buy, but don't want to separate at night from your honey (aka your cold-weather bed heater)? Luckily for you, Exped makes one of our favorite overall mattresses in a double-wide size, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. This mattress has the same excellent features and construction of the single MegaMat but in a 52-inch wide version. This is not quite as wide as two singles pushed together (30 inches each), but it fits perfectly in the back of pickup truck or minivan, and also in most bigger two-person tents. Even when deflated, it's still relatively comfy to sleep on, which is good puncture insurance.
There is no denying, however, that it is unwieldy. Packing it up can be a bit of a pain, and it's twice the size of the next smallest mat. However, if you were going to take two mats anyways, then this is no big deal. Same with the price. It's expensive but still less than buying two of the single MegaMats separately. The Duo is an excellent choice for families with small children as well, or even for a single individual who likes a lot of space.
Read review: Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Best Bang for the Buck
ALPS Mountaineering Outback
Want the biggest, best mattress you can afford but don't want to spend that much to own it? Look no further than the ALPS Mountaineering Outback. For its price, you can have a comfortable, super-wide, and long pad underneath you that is guaranteed to induce sweet dreams. While four inches of padding may not sound like a lot compared to the six to eight inches of support offered by the numerous air beds, there is no way your body will be resting on the ground through this amazing mattress. It was one of the biggest pads we tested for anyone that wants maximum space to spread out. It is also incredibly comfortable.
However, it's a bit of a pain to roll up. Even when we squeeze as much air out of it as possible, it's still a massive package. If you have a smaller car or a limited amount of space in which to stow your camping gear, you may want to look elsewhere. All in all, these are minor complaints compared to the incredible value that you get.
Read review: ALPS Mountaineering Outback
Best for Self-Inflating Comfort
While many of these mattress manufacturers claim that their mats are self-inflating, most take at least half an hour to inflate, with lots of pumping to get them fully inflated. The NEMO Roamer, however, self-inflates in about five minutes and takes fewer than ten breaths to finish the inflation. It's dual valve system also makes deflation a breeze, and it packs up into a squat little package that is about half the size of many of the other mattresses, and significantly lighter. While still heavy for most backpacking trips, we did pack it in with us on a three mile hike and set up camp in the backcountry, having one of the most comfortable night's sleep ever while backpacking.
Some testers felt it had slightly less motion-dampening than some of the other deluxe mats, making for some bounciness when they moved in their sleep, but all agreed that it is still very comfortable. Nemo does not provide an R-value for this pad but claims it will insulate to -30 F. Fortunately, we were not out in temperatures that cold, but we did sleep on it when the night was well below freezing, around 20 degrees F, and the Roamer played a big part in keeping us toasty.
Read Review: NEMO Roamer
Best for Comfort and Size Combo
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Love the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL, but can't fit it into your tent? Try the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D instead. The MondoKing is a full five inches narrower, meaning it's so much easier to fit into that 2-person tent you already have. With the insane comfort and convenient width of the MondoKing, you and your partner can lounge on mattresses fit for royalty when the two of you go camping together. No need to revert to your old uncomfortable sleeping pad just because you've got a tent buddy!
It can be a little tricky to dial in the firmness that you want - once the foam core is filled with air, it is challenging to get it out, so don't go crazy when inflating it. We also recommend that you inflate it once or twice at home first, as the initial inflation process took hours. Other than that, the MondoKing has a lot to offer and is an excellent option for those who need a narrower mat.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Best Buy on a Lean Budget
Intex Classic Downy
Need something to camp on just once, or for your unexpected guest to crash on for the weekend? Then the Intex Classic is for you. While it's not going to give you the comfort and style of most of the other mattresses in this review, it'll get the job done on a very low budget. You can purchase this queen-sized mattress with two inflatable pillows and a small hand pump for a fraction of even the inexpensive options.
While it does have a durable vinyl bottom, there is no insulation on the Classic, so if you're using it in cold conditions, it'll feel like you're sleeping on top of an icebox. This is a warm-weather or indoor option only. But, with the price so low, it might be worth it to have one of these laying around, just in case.
Read review: Intex Classic Downy
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by a Dream Team of OutdoorGearLab contributors Laurel Hunter, Matt Bento, Maggie Brandenburg, and Andy Wellman. Laurel Hunter lives in Central Oregon and is a car camping aficionado. She, her husband, and two pups have crisscrossed the American West (and Canada) multiple times in their pickup, finding mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking, and camping adventures. As a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue and as a traveling rock climber, Matt Bento has spent many a night on air mattresses and understands all of the finer points about them. Maggie joins the team with myriad experiences guiding people on trips as diverse as whitewater rafting to backpacking in Ecuador to snow camping. Rounding out the team is lifelong climber Andy Wellman. From publishing climbing and bouldering guides to the southwest, to climbing long mixed routes in Peru, he's been around the block and can appreciate the value of a solid night's sleep.
We began this quest for camping comfort by combing through all of the available options before deciding on the mats that are discussed here. After purchasing them and throwing them in the back of the car, we took them out on camping trip after camping trip. We used them in our houses when we had company over, and we lent them out to friends and family for their feedback. Finally, we lined them all up side-by-side and measured inflation and deflation times, laying on them one after another to solidify our impressions from camping into a consensus of opinion. Throughout the testing process, we paid attention to things like insulation value, packed size, and ease of use, in addition to comfort.
Analysis and Test Results
Car camping mattresses are generally much more comfortable than your average sleeping pad. While sleeping pads for backpacking are designed to be small and lightweight, providing just enough padding to help you sleep without adding too much weight to your pack, the mattresses in this review are designed for maximum comfort. After all, if you only have to carry it from the car to the tent, why would you want just the basics? These contenders are the pinnacle of inflatable luxury.
If you live in your vehicle (#vanlifer), then this level of comfort is worth its weight in gold. For committed car campers, reluctant campers, or those that are of advanced years and wisdom who appreciate that better recovery happens with a comfortable night of sleep, these are essential equipment. Unexpected guests? Pull one of these mats out of the closet, and they'll get an unexpectedly great night's sleep. One of our testers brought one of these contenders on a wildland fire assignment, and he felt the good sleep he got every night for over two weeks was worth every penny.
We tested the XL versions of the leading manufacturers' high-end mattresses, because if we're looking for luxury, why would we choose anything less? Most of them were enormous! The typical dimensions are around 77 inches long by 30 inches wide for a single (6.5 feet by 2.5 feet) and inflated, they range from three to eight inches thick. Some of these mats are even big enough for two to sleep on. With their giant size also comes a high weight. While the lightest mattress is around three pounds, the heaviest is close to ten, but if you're only carrying it from your car to your tent, then who cares about weight? With so much surface area, keep in mind the size of your tent, since many tents are too small to accommodate two mats of this style. In the rest of this review, we'll discuss the different metrics that we used to test and score the products and what to look for when purchasing on a budget.
If you're in the market for a dedicated camping mattress, it's probably because you've decided that you want something more comfortable than a lightweight backpacking pad or a blow-up air mattress. The next question is, how much are you willing to spend? We can help you find high-performing models that don't cost an arm and a leg. Those that lie to the right (higher performance score) but towards the bottom (lower retail price) are the best value. The Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Memory Foam, and our Best Buy winner, the ALPS Mountaineering Outback, are both great options and will save you a lot of money compared to the Exped MegaMat. Our favorite mats all hover somewhere between $150 and $200, including the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer.
To test for comfort, we used each product while car camping, either in the back of a van, truck, or in a tent, and also loaned them out to as many different testers as we could find. We rotated pads through the Tuolumne Meadows SAR site, where great sleep is essential for the job, and sore muscles make for very discerning sleepers. One avid tester strapped one onto his backpack for a short hike into the backcountry.
We also had house guests sleep on them, inside, on the living room floor, to get more opinions on which mattress is the most comfortable. Lastly, we lined all of the models up side-by-side and spent an afternoon rolling around from pad to pad, carefully comparing the merits and detractions of each to make sure we got the ratings correct.
If a mattress isn't comfortable, why would you even consider it? With this question in mind, we rated comfort as the most critical metric in our tests, and it accounts for 40 percent of the overall score. Comfort is a subjective thing; some people like a very firm sleeping surface, while others want a fluffy down pillow top to rest on. We made sure that it was possible to adjust the firmness of every mattress, and that is was possible to inflate them until firm enough. Some of the foam core mats are still comfortable, even when they're barely inflated. Besides simply sleeping on them for a night and then deciding whether it felt comfortable or not, we also thought about whether each mattress felt good in all body positions: lying on our back, front, and sides. We evaluated whether they held their air all night or deflated a bit with time and whether there was ever any chance of pressuring through to the ground. Some of the thicker mats like the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI seemed to lose air in the night, but we chalk that up to temperature differences between the evening and the morning.
The REI Co-op Dreamer, Exped Megamat 10, NEMO Roamer, Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, and Alps Mountaineering Outback are the most comfortable. Each has a similar thickness, a foam core, and a similar soft polyester topper. None of these models felt sticky, even on warmer nights. The Exped MegaMat Duo 10, which is the same mat as the MegaMat but twice as wide, is also quite comfortable. Just behind was the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D. We put all of these in a special category of "supreme comfort" that rivals your home mattress.
Most other pads are comfortable, just not exceptional. Least comfortable, compared to the other products in the test, were the bouncy air core mats like the Intex Classic Downy, the Nemo Nomad, and the Klymit Insulated Double V. Keep in mind that any of these mats will be more comfortable than a lightweight backpacker's pad. Air mats or mats with sticky, plastic surfaces can be improved with a nice sheet, but for our review, we considered the bare surfaces of these mats alone for comfort.
Ease of Use
We considered ease of use to be the second most important metric behind comfort and weighted it 20 percent of a product's final score. Who wants to wrestle with deflating and packing up a massive mattress when all you want to do is get out of camp and have fun? Likewise, nobody wants to spend an hour blowing up a large mattress with the power of their lungs.
Thus, the ease of use ratings reflect how easy it is to set up the mat, get it inflated, and then deflate it and stow it away again in the morning. If you're only using your mat once a year, ease of packing might not be essential. For frequent campers (and our testers), a mat that's difficult to roll up and fit in its storage sleeve can be a significant headache. To test this metric, we used each of these mattresses in different situations, and then set them all up again at the same time, one after the other, to better analyze the nuances between each one.
The term "self-inflating" is a bit of a misnomer. At the very least, it sets unrealistic expectations. Most self-inflating models have foam inside that slowly expands and draws air in once the pad is unrolled. However, this process never fully inflates the pad. At best, it gets the pad 60-80% inflated, and then you have to do the rest. Also, this process takes at least ten minutes. Therefore, when you get to your camp spot, we recommend immediately unrolling your pad to start the self-inflating process. Depending on your pad, it might also help to prop open the inflation valve with the handle of a utensil or other blunt object. An exception to the rule is the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, which self-inflates in about five minutes and only requires five full breaths for firmness.
It was quickly apparent which mattresses are a breeze to inflate and deflate, and which other ones we literally (at times) spent ten minutes or more wrestling with. The Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime is very simple to roll out, inflate, and then deflate and roll up again. Likewise, the Lightspeed 2-person air bed, with its battery-operated inflation pump, is straightforward to set up and take down, but the loud whine of the motorized pump will surely detract from your wilderness experience and that of those around you. The Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI self-inflates more quickly than the other models. Our testers could stand and watch it promptly take shape before their eyes, and it only requires five or so breathes if you like a firm mattress. Similarly, the NEMO Roamer is a fairly fast self-inflater.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the two Exped MegaMat models. We had to wait more than ten minutes for the self-inflating feature to do its job. The included manual mini-pump also requires a bit of additional time to inflate these massive pads fully. The NEMO Nomad is six inches thick and consists of an integrated foam pump for inflation. This is handy since you'll never lose this essential pump, but if you're packing away and re-inflating the pad every night, all the pumping can be a chore. We were also impressed with the Klymit Insulated Double V's inflation system, which employs the stuff sack as a pump, inflating quickly and easily. Keep in mind that a battery-operated pump can make any of these pads fast and easy to inflate. Finally, the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL uses a foam pump like the Exped, but it is much larger and moves more air, making the pad inflate more quickly. The pump doubles as a comfy pillow.
With a goose down or synthetic insulated sleeping bag around you, one would assume that warmth will not be a concern. But what about underneath you, where your body weight crushes out the heat-trapping loft needed to keep you snuggly warm? Although often overlooked, the thermal properties of your sleeping pad play a large part in how warm or cold you will be when you sleep out in the wilderness. Not convinced? Try sleeping outside with eight inches of un-insulated 40-degree air under your body and see how it feels. For this review, we did, and it was cold.
To rate for warmth, we started with our anecdotal experiences like the one described above. But memories and feelings weren't quite enough to rate which mattresses were the warmest of all, so we relied on the manufacturers' stated R-values. With R-value, the larger the number, the greater the ability that material has to insulate against both heat and cold. The warmest and most insulated car camping mattresses are the Exped MegaMats and the Alps Mountaineering Outback. In the middle of the pack are the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL, the NEMO Roamer, the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, and the Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime.
The coldest, least insulated mattresses, which did cause us a bit of suffering outside in the mountains, even in summer, are the air beds —the NEMO Nomad, REI Relax Airbed, Lightspeed 2-person, and the Intex Classic Downy Queen. Foam core mattresses insulate much better than the mats that use air exclusively to maintain their shape. One thing to keep in mind is that unless you're camping in sub-freezing temperatures, a mat with an R-value of 9 isn't going to feel very different than a mat with an R-value of 6, but the warmer pad will have a larger packed size and is potentially more expensive.
The truth is, we didn't realize how essential the insulating properties of our sleeping pad was until we camped out on two early fall nights in near-freezing temperatures at high altitudes. The first night we slept on an un-insulated inflatable air bed, and despite being cocooned in 800-fill goose down sleeping bags, we were awake and cold all night long. The next night we changed mattresses, choosing one with an R-value of 6, and it made a massive difference. We slept like a dream that night and understood by morning the difference that insulation can make. With this experience in mind, we assigned warmth as 20 percent of a product's final score.
Versatility is a metric that takes a lot of different factors into consideration, including some of the other things we rated for. In a nutshell, the most versatile mattresses are the ones that best answer this question: Can I use this pad right now, no matter what the activity or season? The light and packable NEMO Nomad has an integrated foot pump and can even be crammed into an airplane carry-on, making it a great choice for traveling, though not for cold weather camping. It can also connect with another mat to make a queen. Our Top Pick for Convenience, the Therm-a-Rest DreamTime, is also very versatile since you can trim it down by removing the foam topper (unfortunately reducing its comfort level) and easily clean it by throwing the cover in the washing machine. The Dreamtime also has two permanently attached compression straps and a carrying strap so you won't lose these important features during the hustle of travel.
From the above description of what a very versatile mattress has, you can imagine what the opposite end of the spectrum looks like. Heavy, bulky, difficult, un-insulated, etc., causing one to carefully consider weather conditions and activities that are appropriate for bringing the car camping mattress. And the reality is that most of us only want one mattress that will work pretty much all of the time. The least versatile car-camping mattresses, compared to all the others that we tested, were the trio of air beds, in part because they depended on their various methods of battery, mechanical, or electrical inflation systems. We can't imagine having to blow one of those babies up with our lungs alone. Their total lack of insulation was also a large part of this assessment. Additionally, consider the size of your tent. More than a few of these pads are too big to fit in a one-person tent, and some may even be too big to fit in a standard truck bed. Overall, we weighted versatility as 10 percent of a product's final score.
The final metric that we assessed each of these products for is packed size. Even in your car, there is only a limited amount of room for lugging all the camping gear around, especially if you have a family.
None of these mats come close to the compactness of a backpacking sleeping pad, but the packed size is still a consideration when selecting a camping mattress. For that reason, we lined all the models in their stuff sacks up side-by-side and rated them based on what was the largest (lowest score) and smallest (highest score). The emerging pattern is clear; The thicker, more comfortable foam core mats have a larger packed size, while the less comfortable air mats can stowaway in smaller spaces. The NEMO Roamer, however, has a neat trick of packing into half the height without being twice the width, making it much more maneuverable into small spaces.
As you can see in the photo below, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10 is far and away the largest packed up mattress, almost so big as to seem preposterous. It is pretty much double the size of the next most substantial packed mattress. The most packable models are the NEMO Nomad and the Klymit Insulated Double V. While both these mats aren't the most comfortable in our review, they pack down small enough to fit in your luggage, and won't take up too much space in the minivan if you need mattresses for the whole family. The Exped MegaMat Series features a roll-top carrying bag, which makes it great for folks on the move that may have to pack their mat away every day, while the Big Agnes Sleeping Giant, the Thermarest Dreamtime, and the Alps Mountaineering Outback take a bit of finagling to get back into their carrying sleeves.
Choosing the right car camping mattress for your needs can be challenging, and there are many things to consider. Luckily there are a lot of great options to choose from! After deciding whether you prefer a single or double mattress, the most challenging decision may revolve around how much you would like to (or are willing to) spend on your bed away from home. Like real mattresses, some of the choices described here can be pricey. But keep this in mind: a crucial part of playing hard is recovering well. A decadently comfortable mattress will help you get the best night's sleep you can while on the road, and help ensure that you wake up refreshed enough to go at it again the next day. With this in mind, isn't a little added expense worth it? We hope that this review has helped you narrow down the selection to choose what is best for you.
— Laurel Hunter, Matt Bento, & Andy Wellman