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 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.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Camping Pads & Mattresses Displaying 6 - 7 of 7 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #6 #7
Product Name
Jack's Plastic Welding Paco Grande
Jack's Plastic Welding Paco Grande
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Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar
Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar
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Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award   
Street Price $275
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$40
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Overall Score 
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63
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1 rating
Pros Very comfortable, very warm, very durable.Light, durable, easy to set up, comfortable, warm
Cons Short for people over six feet tall, difficult to make firm, inflation valves are hard to use, can be uncomfortable in hot weather.Very bulky, grooves collect dirt
Best Uses River rafting, long road trips.Car camping
Date Reviewed Feb 05, 2012Feb 05, 2012
Weighted Scores Jack's Plastic Welding Paco Grande Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar
Warmth - 33%
10
0
9
10
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4
Comfort - 33%
10
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7
10
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5
Ease Of Use - 33%
10
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5
10
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10
Product Specs Jack's Plastic Welding Paco Grande Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar
R Value unknown 3.5
Packed Volume (liter) 39 19
Weight (lb) 13 lb. 1 lb. 3 oz.
Length (in) 72 72
Width (in) 27 20
Thickness (in.) 3 0.75

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Product Selection and Criteria for Evaluation
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
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 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.

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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

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
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.

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The Paco Grande's inflation valves are disappointingly hard to use, but the PVC material is bombproof.
Credit: Max Neale
Warmth
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.

Editor's Choice Award: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream
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Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream Camping Mattress
Credit: Therm-a-rest
Our Editors' Choice award goes to the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream, the ultimate in car camping comfort. With its three-piece construction, the Dream 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 Dream 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 Dreams into a luxurious two-person bed.

Best Buy Award: REI Camp Bed 3.5
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Credit: REI
Our Best Buy award goes to the REI Camp Bed 3.5. It performed as well or just behind the Luxury Map and Mondo King but costs much less. It doesn't have a cozy top or any fancy features, but it's very comfortable and, with REI's amazing warranty program, you should have no problem keeping this for decades. It also scored very well for warmth and has one of the smaller packed volumes. The Therm-a-Rest Ridge Rest Solar is even less expensive and is very light, but it is not nearly in the same comfort zone as the Camp Bed.

Top Pick Award for Comfort and Warmth: Exped MegaMat 10
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Credit: Exped
The Exped MegaMat 10 had the best combo of warmth and comfort. Depending on what firmness you prefer, the MegaMat may be more comfortable than the Dream. It also has a much higher R-value than the Dream and was the second warmest pad overall. Lastly, the Dream has a cozy top, but it gets dirty fast. By contrast, the MegaMat has a cozyish top that is easy to keep clean and you can always add a twin fitted sheet.

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

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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