Tired of getting lousy sleep on small uncomfortable air mattresses even though your just car camping? Take your next night under the stars to the next level with a comfortable deluxe camping mattress. You'll be spending somewhere between 7 and 9 hours a night on one of these plush mats, and we're here to help you choose wisely. We've rummaged through over 40 models and put the top 17 though some rigorous side-by-side testing to identify the best ones for your needs. Our selection includes mats that inflate quickly (and loudly) with battery-powered motors, pads that use packable hand pumps, and even pads that can inflate themselves. We've evaluated mats that will pack down to fit in your carry-on, as well as pads big enough for two. Looking for something small and light for a backpacking trip? Take a look at our sleeping pads review for a great selection of packable pads.
Best Camping Mattresses and Pads of 2018
As cool fall temperatures roll in, it's time to roll out a thick warm pad for your next night under the stars. The Exped Megamat 10 remains our all-time favorite thanks to its comfort, ease of inflation and its convenient roll-top storage bag. We've also added the The Sea to Summit Comfort Delux SI. This mat self-inflates more quickly than the rest of the competition while offering comfort comparable to our favorite pads.
Exped MegaMat 7.5
We mixed things up this season by testing the Exped MegaMat 7.5 LWX, the less insulated, thinner, slightly less expensive version of our all-time favorite MegaMat 10. We are happy to report that the less "heavy duty" 7.5 LWX is just as comfortable as the 10, and with an R-value of 6.4, it's plenty warm for all but the harshest environments, not the places you'll be car camping in any way. Thanks to the lower price and slightly reduced weight (about a half pound) over the 10, we recommend this version over the 10 for most folks, unless you have to have the four inches of thickness from the MegaMat 10. Both mats have a very similar feel and comfort level, and both include the foot pump that works ok (we prefer to use a USB-charged pump).
Keep in mind that the MegaMat 7.5 and 10 are a bit on the wide side for a single pad (which only adds to their comfort in our opinion), so if you're camping in a small tent, it takes up a lot of space and might crowd out your neighbor. If you're usually camping with a significant other, check out the MegaMat 10 Duo below instead. This mat is on the expensive side, but the quality matches the price. If you car camp for more than a few nights per year, or even want an excellent household mat for overnight guests, this one is worth it, and your body will thank you. A few of our testers felt the MegaMat is more comfortable than the mattresses on their beds at home. If you can't be bothered to operate of foot pump, the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI is worth a look. It inflates faster and feels just as comfy as our editor's choice award winner, though fails to unseat the Megamat because it's more difficult to pack away.
Read review: Exped Megamat 7.5
Top Pick for Couples
Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Want the very best mattress for car camping that money can buy, but don't want to separate at night from your honey (aka your cold weather bed heater)? Luckily for you, Exped makes our favorite overall mat in a double-wide size, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. This mattress has the same excellent features and construction of the single MegaMat in a 52-inch wide version. This is not quite as wide as two singles pushed together (30 inches each), but it fits perfectly in the back of pickup truck or minivan, and also in most bigger two-person tents. Even when deflated, it's still relatively comfy to sleep on which is good puncture insurance.
It's a bit unwieldy. Packing it up can be a bit of a pain, and it's twice the size of the next smallest mat. However, if you were going to take two mats anyways, then this is no big deal; same with the price. At $369, it's expensive but still less than buying two of the single MegaMats separately. The Duo is an excellent choice for families with small children as well, or even for a single individual who likes a lot of space. Looking to do some snuggling on your next backpacking trip? Check out the lightweight and packable Klymit Insulated Double V. While nowhere near as comfy as the MegaMat, it's also less than half the price. We didn't evaluate the double sized version of the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, but if it's as comfortable the single version, it makes another good option for $300.
Read review: Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Camp Bed 3.5
Want the best mattress you can afford but don't want to spend $229 to own it? Look no further than the REI Camp Bed 3.5. For $100 less than our Editors' Choice winner, you can have a comfortable, super-wide and long pad underneath you that is guaranteed to induce sweet dreams. While 3.5 inches of padding may not sound like a lot compared to the six to eight inches of support offered by the numerous air beds, there is no way your body will be resting on the ground through this amazing mattress. It was one of the quickest of the self-inflating mattresses to set up and required only a few breaths of air to get it to our desired firmness. The nice price lets you justify the comfort, even if you're only going to pull it out of the closet a few times a year.
It is a bit of a pain to roll up. Even when we got as much air out of it as possible, we still struggled to get it back into its stuff sack. Once in there, it's on the bulky side, so if you have a smaller car or a limited amount of space in which to pack your camping gear, you may want to look elsewhere. All in all, these are minor complaints compared to the incredible value that you get from the REI Camp Bed 3.5.
Read review: REI Camp Bed 3.5
Best Buy on a Lean Budget
Intex Classic Downy
Need something to camp on just once, or for your unexpected guest to crash on for the weekend? Then the Intex Classic is for you. While it's not going to give you the comfort and style of most of the other mattresses in this review, it'll get the job done on a budget. You can purchase this queen-sized mattress with two inflatable pillows and a small hand pump for less than $30!
While it does have a durable vinyl bottom, there is no insulation on the Classic, so if you're using it in cold conditions, it'll feel like you're sleeping on top of an ice box. This is a warmer weather or indoor option only. But, with the price so low, it's hard to think of a reason why you wouldn't want to have one of these laying around, just in case.
Read review: Intex Classic Downy
Top Pick For Convenience
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream
The Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime is your express ticket to a good night's sleep. Simply unclip the buckles, open the valves, top it off with few breaths and lay down. The thick foam topper makes for a considerable packed size, but also offers incredible comfort comparable to our Editors' Choice award winner, the Exped MegaMat. At the end of your camping trip, the soft cover removes and can be thrown in the wash so you can have a fresh sleep spot for the next trip or your next overnight guest.
This big bulky pad rolls up quickly, but takes up a lot of space, especially if you're trying to outfit the whole family, but you can't beat the removable cover when it comes time to clean up after messy kids or a muddy camping trip.
Read review: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Top Pick for Comfort and Size Combo
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Love the Exped MegaMat, but can't fit it into your tent? Try the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D instead. Nearly the MegaMat's equal in comfort and cost, the MondoKing is a full five inches narrower, meaning it's so much easier to fit into that 2-person tent you already have. With the insane comfort and convenient width of the MondoKing, you and your partner can lounge on princess-worthy mattresses when the two of you go camping together. No need to revert to your old uncomfortable sleeping pad just because you've got a tent buddy!
It can be a little tricky to dial in the firmness that you want — once the foam core is filled with air it is challenging to get it out, so don't go crazy when inflating it. Speaking of which, make sure you inflate it once or twice at home first, as the initial inflation process took hours. Other than that, the MondoKing has a lot to offer and is an excellent option for those who need a narrower mat.
Read review: Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Top Pick for Self-Inflating Comfort
Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI
Lots of manufacturers claim that their mats are self-inflating, but most take at least half an hour to inflate, and the only previous option for quick inflation was a mat that uses an obnoxiously loud battery-powered motor. Enter the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI. Thanks to its think foam core, this pad springs into shape fast. Open the one-way valve, and you can hear the high-pitched wheeze of air rushing into the pad.
The foam core is punctuated with triangle shaped pockets that keep the pad packable while helping to create a powerful vacuum for quick inflation. When it comes to comfort, the Deluxe SI is no slouch, featuring a soft 30d polyester knit fabric on top that feels very similar to our Editor's Choice Award Winner. This pad is available in three sizes; regular wide, large wide for those looking for even more luxury, and a double size for couples (or those that like to starfish). This pad has an R-Value of 5.2, plenty of warmth for most outings in the lower 48.
Read Review: The Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI
Analysis and Test Results
Car camping mattresses generally much more comfortable than your average sleeping pad. 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 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 of advanced years and wisdom, when perfect recovery just doesn't happen if you are lying in the dirt. Additionally, it's much easier to get the reluctant campers in your life to get outside if you can offer comfort similar to their own bed at home. Unexpected guests? Pull one of these mats out of the closet, and they'll get an unexpectedly great night's sleep. One of our testers brought a mat on a wildland fire assignment, where he felt the good sleep he got every night after 16 days would be worth every penny.
We tested the XL versions of the leading manufacturers' high-end mattresses, because if we're looking for luxury, why would we choose anything less? Most of them were enormous! The typical dimensions were around 77 inches long by 30 inches wide for a single (6.5 feet by 2.5 feet), and inflated, they ranged from three to eight inches thick. Some of these mats are even big enough for two. With their giant size also comes a high weight. While the lightest mattress was around three pounds, the heaviest was close to ten, but if you're only carrying it from your car to your tent, then who cares about weight? In the rest of this review, we'll discuss the different metrics that we used to test and score the products, and what to look for when purchasing on a budget.
If you're in the market for a dedicated camping mattress, it's probably because you've decided that you want something more comfortable than a lightweight backpacking pad or a blow-up air mattress. If you're already invested in making this purchase, the next question is how much are you willing to spend? Our Editors' Choice winner, the Exped MegaMat 7.5 LWX, retails for $200 and is a fantastic product. If that doesn't quite fit into your budget, check out our Price vs. Performance chart below. This can help you find high-performing models that don't cost an arm and a leg. Those that lie to the right (higher performance score) but towards the bottom (lower retail price) are the best value. The Big Agnes Sleeping Giant Memory Foam ($120), and our Best Buy winner, the REI Co-op Camp Bed 3.5 ($130), are both great options and will save you a lot of money compared to the MegaMat. Our favorite mats all hover somewhere between $150 and $200.
If a mattress isn't comfortable, why would you even consider it? With this question in mind, we rated comfort as the most important metric in our tests, and it accounted for 40 percent of the overall score. Comfort is a subjective thing; some people like a very firm sleeping surface, while others want a fluffy down pillow top to rest on. 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. Some of the foam core mats are still comfortable, even when they're barely inflated. 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). Some of the thicker mats like the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI seemed to lose air in the night, but we chalk that up to temperature differences between the evening and the morning.
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 rotated pads through the Tuolumne Meadows SAR site, where great sleep is essential for the job, and sore muscles make for very discerning sleepers.
We also had house guests sleep on them inside on the floor of the living room, to get more opinions on which mattress the most comfortable. Lastly, we lined all of the models up side-by-side and spent an afternoon rolling around from pad to pad, carefully comparing the merits and detractions of each to make sure we got the decisions correct.
The Exped Megamat 10, the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI and the Alps Mountaineering Outback were the most comfortable. Each has a similar thickness, a foam core, and a similar soft polyester topper. None of these models felt sticky, even on warmer nights. The Exped MegaMat Duo 10, which is the same mat as the MegaMat but twice as wide, felt 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, just not exceptional. Least comfortable, compared to the other products in the test, were the bouncy air core mats like the Soundasleep Camping Series, the Intex Classic Downy, The Nemo Nomad, and the Klymit Insulated Double V. Keep in mind that any of these mats are more comfortable options than a lightweight backpacker's pad. Air mats or mats with sticky, plasticy surfaces can be improved with a nice sheet, but for our review, we considered the bare surfaces of these mats alone for comfort.
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 blowing up a giant mattress with the power of their lungs.
Thus, 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. If you're only using your mat once a year, ease of packing might not be very important. For frequent travelers (and our testers), a mat that's difficult to roll up and fit in its storage sleeve can be a major headache. To test this metric, we used each of these mattresses sometimes in different situations, and then again set them all up at the same time, one after the other, to better analyze the nuances between each one.
It was quickly apparent which mattresses were a breeze to inflate and deflate, and which other ones we literally (at times) spent 10 minutes or more wrestling with. The Therm-a-Rest Dreamtime was very simple to roll out, inflate, and then deflate and roll up again. Likewise, the Lightspeed 2-person air bed and the Soundasleep Camping Series, with their battery operated inflation pumps, were straightforward to set up and take down, but the loud whine of their motorized pumps will surely detract from your wilderness experience and that of those around you. The Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI self-inflates more quickly than the other models. Our testers could stand and watch it promptly take shape before their eyes, and it only requires 5 or so breathes if you like a firm mattress.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were the two Exped MegaMat models. They didn't self-inflate quickly - you have to wait more than 10 minutes for the self-inflating feature to do its job. The manual mini-pump included required a bit of time to inflate these behemoth pads. The Nemo Nomad is six inches thick and consists of an integrated foam pump for inflation. This is handy since you'll never lose this essential pump, but if you're packing away and re-inflating the pad every night, all the pumping can be a chore. We were also impressed with the Klymit Insulated Double V's inflation system, which employs the stuff sack as a pump, inflating quickly and easily. Keep in mind that a battery-operated pump can make any of these pads fast and easy to inflate. We prefer the USB charged models.
The term "self-inflating" is a bit of a misnomer. Or, at the very least, it sets unrealistic expectations. Most self-inflating models have foam inside that once your pad is unrolled, slowly expands and draws air in. However, this process never fully inflates the pad. At best, it gets the pad 60-80% inflated, and you then have to do the rest. Also, this process takes at least 10 minutes. Therefore, when you get to your camp spot, we recommend immediately unrolling your pad and starting the self-inflating process. Depending on your pad, it might also help to prop open the inflation valve with the handle of a utensil or other blunt object. An exception to the rule is the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI which self-inflates in about 5 minutes and only requires five full breathes for firmness.
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 often 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 how essential 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 it made a huge 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 rate which mattresses were the warmest of all, so we relied 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 Alps Mountaineering Outback. In the middle of the pack are the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI and the Thermarest DreamtimeThe coldest, least insulated mattresses, which did indeed cause us a bit of suffering outside in the mountains, even in summer, were the air beds —the Soundasleep Camping Series, Nemo Nomad, REI Relax Airbed, the Lightspeed 2-person, and the Intex Classic Downy Queen. The foam core mattresses generally insulate much better than the mats that use air exclusively to maintain their shape. Unless you're doing some a lot of camping in sub-freezing temperatures, consider that a mat with an R-value of 9 isn't going to feel very different than a mat with an R-value of 6, but the warmer pad will have a larger packed size and is potentially more expensive.
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? The light and packable Nemo Nomad has an integrated foot pump and can even be crammed into air carry-on, making it a great choice for traveling, but not for cold weather camping, plus it can connect with another mat to make a queen. Our Top Pick for Convenience, the Therm-a-Rest DreamTime is also very versatile since you can trim it down by removing the foam topper (unfortunately reducing its comfort level) and easily clean it by just throwing the cover in the washing machine. The Dreamtime also has two permanently attached compression straps and a carrying strap, so you won't lose these important features during the hustle of travel.
From the above description of what a very versatile mattress has, you can imagine what the opposite end of the spectrum looks like. Heavy, bulky, difficult, un-insulated, etc. causing one to carefully consider weather conditions and activities that 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 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. Additionally, consider the size of your tent. More than a few of these pads are too big to fit in a one person tent, and some may even be too big to fit in a standard truck bed. 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.
None of these mats come close to the compactness of a backpacking sleeping pad, but packed size is still a consideration when selecting a camping mattress. For that reason, we lined all the models in their stuff sacks up side-by-side and rated them based on what was the largest (lowest score) and smallest (highest score). The emerging pattern is clear; The thicker, more comfortable foam core mats have a larger packed size, while the less comfortable air mats can stowaway in smaller spaces.
As you can see by the photo below, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10 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 most substantial packed mattress. The most packable models were the Nemo Nomad and the Klymit Insulated Double V. While both these mats weren't the most comfortable in our review, they pack down small enough to fit in your luggage, and won't take up too much space in the minivan if you need mattresses for the whole family. The Exped Megamat Series features a roll top carrying bag, which makes it great for folks on the move that may have to pack their mat away every day, while the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, the Thermarest Dreamtime, and the Alps Mountaineering Outback took a bit of finagling to get back into their carrying sleeves.
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 crucial aspect of playing hard is recovery. 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? Some of our testers are full-time dirtbag climbers and skiers, sleeping on these types of mats most of the year, and hey can attest to the importance of a comfortable camping mattress. 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.
— Matt Bento, Maggie Brandenburg, Andy Wellman