The Best Car Camping Mattress

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The Paco Grande with the Marmot Plasma. Hilleberg Nallo 2 and Nammatj 3 GT in rear.
Credit: Max Neale
Which camping mattress is the best? We enrolled six of the best car camping mattresses in a rigorous testing regime that evaluated the following three categories: warmth, comfort, and durability. Our testing, which involved two years of tenting in campgrounds across North America, identifies the best all-purpose car camping pad, the most durable pad, and the best value pad.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara and Max Neale February 26, 2014

Top Ranked Camping Pads & Mattresses Displaying 6 - 5 of 5 << Previous | View All | Next >>
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Weighted Scores
Warmth - 33%
Comfort - 33%
Durability - 33%
Product Specs
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Packed Volume (liter)
Weight (lb)
Length (in)
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

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Product Selection and Criteria for Evaluation
We tested six car camping mattresses that prioritize comfort over weight savings and packability. These pads are, on average, five inches wider and six inches longer than their lightweight Regular size counterparts. They’re also stuffed with thick, dense foam that makes them more stable and warmer than a ultra cheap air mattress. Although we ultimately plan to include such air mattresses in this review, our initial impression is that they’re bouncier and less comfortable than the pads tested here. Size is another factor – the pads tested here are will fit in any tent where a queen sized air mattress will only fit in giant car camping tents.

Comfort is king with car camping mattresses. The main feature that separates these from their lighter and more compact counterparts is foam. The pads we tested here have thicker and denser foams, which make them more stable, softer, and warmer than ultralight pads with thin foam or no foam. Also important, their larger dimensions provide more surface area, which also makes them more comfortable, The most luxurious car camping mattress is Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream, which boasts a 2.5” thick self-inflating foam pad topped with one inch of memory foam and a washable microfiber cover. The DreamTime is so comfortable you might want to use it at home. The least comfortable but cheapest pad tested was the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar, a .75” thick closed cell foam pad.

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The Therm-a-Rest DreamTime (right) is more comfortable and 6" longer than the Jack's Plastic Welding Paco Grande (left).
Credit: Max Neale
Packed Size
The Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime, with a packed volume of 45 liters, is the largest pad tested here. Though both narrower and shorter, the REI Trekker 1.75 is the most compact car camping pad we tested.

Weighing a mere 19 oz., the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar is the lightest pad tested in this category. At 13 lb., the Paco Grande is heaviest.

Durability is another important factor when choosing a car camping mattress. Although all products tested here are more durable than the average pad in our Sleeping Pad Review, some are more durable than others. The title of “most durable” goes either to the Therm-a-Rest DreamTime, which has a thick nylon bottom that’s removable and replaceable, or to the Jack’s Plastic Welding Paco Grande, which is made of a bombproof PVC material used in river rafts.

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The Paco Grande's inflation valves are disappointingly hard to use, but the PVC material is bombproof.
Credit: Max Neale
All of the pads we tested are easily capable of three-season use and most make excellent winter pads. The Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime is the warmest pad we tested.

Bottom Line
Our Editors' Choice award goes to the Therm-a-Rest DreamTime, the ultimate in car camping comfort. With its three-piece construction, the DreamTime offers the restless a cushy 2.5” thick self-inflating foam pad, an inch of memory foam, and a machine washable cover with a durable nylon bottom and soft microfiber top. This modular system provides a customizable sleeping experience: choose from super soft and squishy or firm and supportive. The DreamTime is also the only pad tested that can easily and comfortably be mated to another. Snaps on the sides of the pad quickly turn two DreamTimes into a luxurious two-person bed.

Our Best Buy award goes to the Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar, a thicker and warmer version of its tried and true, thinner predecessor. We also highly recommend the Jack’s Plastic Welding Paco Grande, the most durable self-inflating foam pad we’ve ever tested. The Paco Grande is best for extended road trips, truck beds, or anyone who’s hard on their gear and wants the toughest mattress available.

For more of our camping favorites see our Dream Camping Gear List.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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