Best Camping Mattresses and Deluxe Pads of 2017
To find the best car camping mattress, we researched 40 deluxe pads and bought 11 for side-by-side tests. Our expert testers then spend over 100 hours on road trips and in our lab to find out which pads are the most comfortable, most durable and warmest. After sleeping in cars, campgrounds, living rooms and backyards, we have found five award winners for specific uses and value. Unlike a backpacking sleeping pad, these model are big and luxurious. Who knows, some of these pads may be more comfortable than your bed. If you're a backpacker, check out our Sleeping Pad Review for more lightweight models.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
In the Spring of 2017, we added two new mattresses to our review. The MondoKing 3D came just shy of dethroning the Editors' Choice. We also added in a new super budget option by Intex. It's not great, but it works for the occasional outdoor excursion and costs $15.
Exped MegaMat 10
Read full review: Exped Megamat 10
Best Overall Value
REI Camp Bed 3.5
Read full review: REI Camp Bed 3.5
Best on a Lean Budget
Intex Classic Downy
Read full review: Intex Classic Downy
Top Pick for Couples
Exped SIM Mega Mat Duo
Read full review: Exped SIM Mega Mat Duo
Top Pick For Convenience
Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Read full review: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Best Comfort and Size Combo
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Read full review: Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Analysis and Test Results
Car camping mattresses are not your everyday sleeping pads. While sleeping pads for backpacking are designed to be small and lightweight, providing just enough comfort to keep you happy in your tent without being a pain to carry, these mattresses are designed for excess. After all, if you don't have to carry it anywhere, why would you want just the basics? These mattresses are huge, both regarding size and loft. In many cases they are nicer than what people use in their homes. These contenders are the pinnacle of inflatable luxury. This level of comfort is worth its weight in gold if you live in a vehicle, often camp in your car or close to it, or are over the age of 26, when perfect recovery just doesn't happen if you are lying in the dirt.
We mentioned these mattresses are huge. Indeed, we tested only the XL versions of the leading manufacturers' highest end mattresses, because if we're looking for luxury, why would we choose anything less? The mattresses we tested are around 77 inches long by 30 inches wide for a single (6.5 feet by 2.5 feet). Inflated, they range from three to eight inches thick. With their giant size also comes a relatively high weight. While the lightest mattress tested was around three pounds, the heaviest were pushing 10. It's evident that nothing was spared to make these mattresses as comfortable and rejuvenating as can be.
If a mattress isn't comfortable, why would you even consider using or buying it? With this question in mind, we rated comfort as the most important metric in our tests, weighting it 40 percent overall. Comfort is a subjective thing; some people like a very firm sleeping surface, while others want a fluffy down pillow top to rest on. With this in mind, we made sure that it was possible to adjust the firmness of every mattress, and it was, although a couple of them were difficult to inflate full enough that they felt very firm. 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 lying on the back and the 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 (there wasn't).
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 also had house guests sleep on them inside on the floor of the living room, to get more opinions on which mattress is truly the most comfortable. Lastly, we lined all of the mattresses up side-by-side and spent an afternoon rolling around from mattress to mattress, carefully comparing the merits and detractions of each so as to make sure we got the decisions correct.
The Exped Megamat 10 was the most comfortable. The Exped Megamat Duo, which is essentially the same mat but twice as wide, felt equally as comfortable. Just behind was the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D. We put both of those is a special category of "supreme comfort" that will rival your home mattress. Most other pads that were comfortable, were fine, just not exceptional. Least comfortable, compared to the other products in the test, was a tie between the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed and the Lightspeed 2-person, although they still provided a relatively good night sleep, much better than without the bed!
Ease of Use
We considered ease of use to be the second most important metric behind comfort, and weighted it 20 percent of the products' final score. Who wants to wrestle with deflating and packing up a huge mattress when all you want to do is get out of camp and have fun? Likewise, nobody wants to spend an hour manually blowing up a giant mattress with the power of their lungs — that is not an easy task! So ease of use is meant to rate how easy it is to set up the mat, get it inflated, and then deflate it and stow it away again in the morning. To test this metric, we simply used each of these mattresses some times in different situations, and then again set them all up at the same time, one after the other, to more carefully analyze the nuances between each one.
It was quickly apparent what mattresses were a total breeze to inflate and deflate, and which other ones we literally (at times) spent 10 minutes or more wrestling with. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream was very simple to roll out, quickly inflate, and then deflate and roll up again. Likewise, the Lightspeed 2-person air bed and the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed, with their battery operated inflation pumps, were very simple to set up and take down. On the opposite end of the spectrum were the two Exped Megamat mattresses. They didn't self-inflate quickly: you have to wait more than 10 minutes for the self-inflating feature to fully do it's job. The manual mini-pump included required a lot of time to fully inflate these behemoth pads. But setup is a breeze compared to the battle needed to get them deflated and rolled up properly, especially in the case of the Megamat Duo.
With a goose down or synthetic insulated sleeping bag around you, warmth should not be any concern. But what about underneath you, where your body weight crushes out the heat-trapping loft needed to keep you snuggly warm? Although easily overlooked, the thermal properties of your sleeping pad play a large part in how warm, or cold, you will be sleeping 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!
The truth is, we didn't realize just how important the insulating properties of our sleeping pad was until two particular early fall nights camping 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, we were awake and cold all night long. The next night we shifted beds and chose a mattress with an R-value of 6, and boy did it make a 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.
To rate for warmth, we started with our anecdotal experiences like the one described above. But memories and feelings weren't quite enough to truly rate which mattresses were the warmest of all, so we relied heavily on the manufacturers' stated R-values. R-values are described in greater detail in our Buying Advice, but suffice it to say that the larger the number, the greater ability that material has to insulate against both heat and cold. The warmest, and most insulated car camping mattresses were the Exped Megamats and the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D. The coldest, least insulated mattresses, which did indeed cause us a bit of suffering outside in the mountains, even in summer, were the four air beds — ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed, REI Relax Airbed, the Lightspeed 2-person, and the Intex Classic Downy Queen.
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? Our Top Pick for Convenience, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream, makes an excellent case for always answering that question with a yes. It packs down very easily into a relatively small bag, making it easy to carry around. Its setup and take down is very simple, it has good insulating properties, and it has the ability to separate into solely a compact, lightweight, backpacking sleeping pad. It also has some qualities that other mattresses don't, like straps designed specifically to help marry two single pads together to form one. The Big Agnes Sleeping Giant system, paired with a QCore SLX backpacking air mattress, proved to have the same level of versatility.
From the above description of what a very versatile mattress has, you can probably imagine what the opposite end of the spectrum looks like. Heavy, bulky, difficult, un-insulated, etc. causing one to carefully consider whether conditions and activities are appropriate for bringing the car camping mattress. And the reality is you only want one mattress, so you don't want to think, "Maybe I can't use it this 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 absolutely 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. Overall, we weighted versatility as 10 percent of a product's final score — a nice boost for those products with extra advantages, but not too punishing for those without.
The last and 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. While it is reasonable to expect that the pinnacle of luxury is not going to pack down to the size of peanut butter jar, a person has to be practical when considering how large of a camping mattress they can bring with them. For that reason, we lined all the mattresses in their stuff sacks up side-by-side and rated them based on what was the largest (lowest score) and smallest (highest score).
As you can see by the photo, the Exped Megamat Duo was 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 largest packed mattress. The smallest was the Lightspeed 2-person Airbed, and considering its double width, that is the right size to sleeping comfort ratio. We weighted Packed Size as 10 percent of a product's final score.
Choosing the right car camping mattress for your needs can be challenging, and there are many things to consider. After deciding whether you prefer a single or double mattress, the most difficult 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 in mind: you like to play hard (otherwise you wouldn't be browsing this site), and the most important aspect of playing hard is being able to recover. A decadently comfortable mattress will help you get the best night sleep you can while on the road, and assist in ensuring 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, and we encourage you to check out our Buying Advice Article for more in-depth information about the buying process or these products in general.
— Andy Wellman and Maggie Brandenburg
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