Want to buy a car camping mattress that will protect you from anything on the ground, keep you warm, and ensure an exemplary nights sleep without paying well over $200? You are not alone! For people who want a mattress that is more comfortable than a backpacking sleeping pad but also have a tight budget, we recommend the REI Camp Bed 3.5. This self-inflating mattress is a breeze to set up, requiring only about five minutes of self-inflation time with nine to 11 breaths added in to fully top it off. It's 3.5 inches of horizontally oriented foam cushioning means there is no chance that any part of your body will be feeling the bumpy ground underneath you, regardless of how you sleep, and its R-value of 6.0 means that this pad is suitable for any season, even winter. While our testers did not enjoy it as much as our Editors' Choice Award-winning Exped MegaMat 10, this is a very comfortable and easy-to-use mattress for a fraction of the cost, which is why we recommend it as our Best Car Camping Mattress for a Tight Budget.
REI Camp Bed 3.5 Review
Cons: Hard to fit into stuff sack, potential durability issues
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Camp Bed 3.5 is a single person mattress that comes in Regular or XL sizes (we tested the XL). It is a self-inflating mattress that is very similar to the Therm-a-Rest Luxury MAP and the Exped MegaMat 10. Of the three single-person self-inflating mattresses that we tested, this one was ranked the lowest, although we still think it is very comfortable, easy to inflate, and most importantly, presents a great value with a price of only $129. It self-inflates much faster and more fully than any of the other self-inflating mattresses, requiring only nine breaths to top it off to completely full, and chances are you will want to release some air at that point to attain your optimal comfort level. The horizontal foam baffles inside the pad are very supportive and thick, ensuring there is no hope of touching the ground or feeling any rocks, unlike the Luxury MAP. While this mattress performed very well during our testing period, there are online customer reviews that complain of a short lifespan. REI does has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee policy, however they are now only permitting returns for the first year after pruchase.
We rated this product 7 out of 10 points when it came to comfort, roughly the same as the Therm-a-Rest Luxury MAP, its most similar competitor in our review, but not as high as the MegaMat 10, which was the most comfortable mattress.
This mattress uses very thick and supportive foam baffles that run across the width of the pad. These baffles both support your body, protect against any uneven surface you may be sleeping upon, and also do a fine job of insulating. The support is uniform throughout, which is not quite as nice as the variable patterned support of the Luxury MAP. But it makes up for it by being thicker and protecting from the ground better than its competitor. We also liked the softness of the stretchy polyester face fabric on the top, but did note that our grey testing model easily held dirt.
Ease of Use
The REI Camp Bed 3.5 is without a doubt the easiest of the self-inflating mattresses in our review to inflate. It does almost all of the work for you, and is a far cry from the laborious process of foot pumping the Exped MegaMat 10.
However, the foam cushioning inside is very dense and hard to compress when rolling this bed up. Overall the air beds like the REI Relax Airbed have proved to be easier to use when considering all facets. This mattress has two "quick-close" valves that allow for quicker inflation and deflation, but are still slightly trickier to manipulate than the standard screw valves of a Therm-a-Rest.
To inflate the mattress you simply open both valves and roll the pad out. An audible "shh," sound alerts you that the mattress is deeply inhaling, filling its "lung" as the compressible foam expands. After about five minutes it is mostly full and simply needs about nine breaths to top it off. Very quick and simple!
Deflation of this cushy pad takes more work, but gets easier with practice. Open both valves and begin squeezing the air out by folding the pad over in segments until it is mostly deflated. With both valves closed, so it doesn't inhale again, very tightly roll it from the end. The last little bit of air can be squeezed out at the end of the roll. This pad, more than any other, must be rolled super tight or it will not fit into its stuff sack and will need to be rolled again, a frustrating pain that we experienced more than once. To help it comes with dual Velcro cinch straps, but be careful not to lose them as they are not sewn to the pad. Overall we awarded 7 of 10 points for ease of use.
With an R-value of 6.0, the Camp Bed 3.5 is plenty insulated to keep you from getting a chill on cold nights or on frozen surfaces. In general, the higher the R-value, the better the material is at preventing heat, or cold, transfer through it. While this bed didn't have nearly the same R-value as the 9.5 rated MegaMat 10 or Exped MegaMat Duo 10, it was basically the same as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream, right in the middle of the selection. It is guaranteed to keep you far warmer at night than any of the inflatable air beds, such as the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Airbed. Another 7 out of 10 points.
For a giant, 3.5 inch thick by 30-inch wide car camping mattress, this one is relatively versatile. It is warm enough to use in cold climates, and while it doesn't pack down as small as the best in the review, it is still pretty reasonable, provided you get it stuffed into the stuff sack.
As long as you aren't the one carrying it, we could see this thing getting lugged into long-term base camp somewhere wild. That said, it is certainly not something we could carry on our own backs for an extended trip, and isn't adaptable like the Big Agnes Sleeping Giant.
When properly rolled and stuffed into its sack, this mattress fits right in with the group of single person self-inflating mattresses, which are all pretty much the same size.
The Therm-a-Rest Luxury MAP and Exped MegaMat 10, as well as the Camp Bed 3.5, are shaped like a long tube all rolled up. You can't expect something too small when talking about car camping mattresses, but at the same time, this pad is no Lightspeed 2-person, the smallest of the bunch. We gave it 5 out of 10 points.
This is a single person car camping mattress, so obviously it will work best in situations where only one person is sleeping on it. It is great for large tents or in the back of a Subaru, SUV, truck or van. Two of these 30-inch wide mattresses have a hard time fitting into a standard two-person backpacking tent. While we wouldn't want to carry it anywhere, it could easily get strapped to the outside of the donkey, or thrown on top of a porter load, and serve someone well in a high mountain base camp.
This mattress retails for $129, which is inexpensive enough for us to award it the Best Buy for a Tight Budget. It is a very nice and comfortable mattress for considerably less than our other favorite choices we tested. That said, we should alert you that a handful of customer reviews on REI.com point out that their pad didn't last very long, and may have some durability issues. We suffered no such fate while testing, but recommend that you review the REI's return policy, long known as one of the best in the industry, if you have concerns about the durability. We think this mattress is a fantastic value.
The REI Camp Bed 3.5 is our Best on a Tight Budget car camping mattress selection. Due to its comfort and warmth at a significantly lower price point than our Editors' Choice Award winner, we think that it presents those who look to spend less money a good value for a car camping mattress. It is the easiest of all the self-inflating mattresses to set up. We enjoyed many fine nights of sleeping on this mattress in the back of our van and in our tent, and think that you will, too.
— Andy Wellman