The Best Car Camping Mattress
Which camping mattress is the best? We enrolled seven 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.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Car Camping Mattress
Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Camp Bed 3.5
Top Pick for Comfort and Warmth
Exped MegaMat 10
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Analysis and Test Results
We tested seven 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 product 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 Dream is so comfortable you might want to use it at home.
Arguably just as comfortable, if not more so, than the Dream is the Exped MegaMat 10. Both the Dream and MegaMat are 4 inches thick. However, the dream uses a 2.5" mattress with a 1.5" piece of foam where the Exped just gives you 4 inches of inflatable mattress (with the foam inside). The MegaMat is easier to get adjusted to the right firmness, and therefore many tester preferred it. If you add a fitted flannel twin bottom sheet to the Exped, it's arguably just as cozy as the Dream. While the Dream gets our pick as the most comfortable, the real winner is which one best fits your sleeping firmness preference.
Weight and Packed Size
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. Most of the pads tested were in the 4-5 pound range. Again, weight was not a big factor here where you are usually camping so close to the car. All the pads tested are pretty big and bulky, (they are intended for camping near the car, after all).
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 Dream, 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. One easy, light and inexpensive way to increase the durability of your mattress is to put down Tyvek underneath it.
All of the pads we tested are easily capable of three-season use and most make excellent winter pads. The Mondo King was the warmest with an R-value of 11.4 followed by the MegaMat 10 with an R-value of 9.5. Most other pads had an R-value of 6 or 7.
Ease of Inflating
None of the pads tested are that easy to inflate with your breath but the 4-inch thick pads definitely took the longest and the NeoAir dream was the easiest. We recommend a 3-step process to inflating all these pads.
1) - unroll the pad completely and open the inflation valve. Most of these pads should self inflate at least 20-50 percent of their volume
2) - use a hand pump like the Kwik Tek Airhead Hand Pump or an electric pump that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter adapter like the Kwik Tek Airhead 12V Air Pump. You can usually get the pad 90-95 percent inflated this way, depending on how firm you want the pad to be and how well the pump fits with your pad's inflation valve.
3) - use your breath to get the last 5-10 percent of the pad inflated and achieve just the right firmness. The MegaMat comes with its own hand pump for this purpose.
Seat Kits-Converting your sleeping pad into a place to sit while camping can be both comfortable and convenient. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Jembe Seat turns any NeoAir mattress into a comfortable camp stool. The Therm-a-Rest Compack Chair turns almost any pad (from any manufacturer) into a comfortable camp chair with back support.
Coupler Kit- When camping with your partner it can be hard to keep camping mats together, especially if you are sharing a sleeping quilt like the ZPacks Twinn Quilt 20. We recommend checking out Therm-a-Rest's Universal Couple Kit or Exped's Coupler Kit.
Buying Advice article as well.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Table of Contents
Helpful Buying Tips
Car Camping Mattress Buying Advice
by Brandon Lampley