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Best Camping Mattress of 2021

The deluxe camping mattress got a night out in the backcountry.
Photo: Laurel Hunter
Monday February 15, 2021
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Over the last eight years, our experts have purchased and tested over 40 of the best camping mattresses. For this update, we bought 15 promising models and put them through extensive side-by-side testing. We included a range of models in our review, from mats that inflate quickly with battery-powered motors, to pads that use small hand pumps, and pads that, to some extent, inflate all by themselves. When these factors meet your needs, at a price that works for you, your night under the stars gets a whole lot better. A promising outing to the outdoors can turn into a bummer if the new air mattress you brought kept you awake all night. To head off that problem, we've done the testing for you.

Related: Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2021

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Top Pick Award Top Pick Award    
Price $149.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$230 List$145.60 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$129.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$119.73 at REI
Overall Score
78
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66
Star Rating
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Pros Very packable, lightweight, warm enough for three season usePacks to half the size of similar mattresses, easy to use, warm, comfortableLightweight, packable, great valueComfortable, easy to use, warmSmall packed size, lightweight
Cons Bouncy, a little noisy, not warm enough for winterSlight bounciness, heavyNot as comfortable as foam core camping mattressesSofter foam means not as protective to underneath objects, large packed sizeThin, not super warm
Bottom Line Comfortable enough for car camping and backpacking, this is a versatile and packable mattressFoam car camping comfort that packs into a smaller and lighter package than its peersLightweight and packable, this mat is a great choice for traveling couplesThis self-inflator is a decent scorer, while still missing the mark set by our Editors' Choice winnerDecently warm and comfortable two-person mattress, for those who want a small packed size
Rating Categories Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe NEMO Roamer Klymit Insulated Double V Therm-a-Rest Luxury Map NEMO Cosmo Insulated
Comfort (40%)
7
9
6
7
6
Ease Of Use (20%)
9
8
9
7
7
Warmth (20%)
6
8
7
8
6
Versatility (10%)  
10
8
8
7
7
Packed Size (10%)
10
7
9
5
9
Specs Therm-a-Rest... NEMO Roamer Klymit Insulated... Therm-a-Rest... NEMO Cosmo Insulated
Dimensions 77 x 30 x 4 in 80 x 30 x 4 in 74 x 47 x 3 in 77" x 30" x 3" 76 x 50 x 3.5 in
R Value 3.7 6 4.4 6 3.3
Test Model XLarge XL Wide 2 person Deep Blue XL 50L
Length 77 in 80 in 74 in 77 in 76 in
Width 30 in 30 in 47 in 30 in 50 in
Thickness 4 in 4 in 3 in 3 in 3.5 in
Weight 2.34 lbs 5.25 lbs 3.6 lbs 5.13 lbs 4.36 lbs
Type Pump inflation Self inflating Pump inflation Self-Inflating Pump inflation
Packed Size (inches) 12 x 6 in 10.5 x 15 in 7 x 12 in 7 in x 31 in 14 x 8 in
Storage Stuff sack Stuff sack Stuff sack Stuff Sack Stuff sack
Bed Material Polyester 50D stretch 75D Polyester 50D Polyester 75D polyester
Valves TwinLock Zero profile Flush Flat 2 Valves LayLow
Accessories Stuff sack, pump, pump sack Stuff sack Inflation bag/stuff sack N/A Stuff sack, pump, pump sack
Breaths to Inflate N/A N/A N/A 24 N/A

Best Overall Camping Mattress


Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D


Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Editors' Choice Award

$209.95
at Backcountry
See It

89
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 10
  • Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Warmth - 20% 9
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Packed Size - 10% 6
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Pump inflation
Included stuff sack doubles as a pump
Very easy inflation and deflation
High level of comfort
Warm enough for all-season use
Large packed size

The updated Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D, like other self-inflating camping mats in this review, is comprised of four inches of luxurious foam comfort. This model matches the warmth and comfort of the plushest mattresses in the test, allowing for some of the deepest sleeping we've ever had outdoors. What nudged it into the top spot for us is the updated dual-valve system. It is incredibly easy to inflate by attaching the stuff sack to the inflation valve and using the sack as a pump. The deflation valve is huge, meaning that air dumps out of it faster, making it easier to roll up the mattress and pack it away.

If there is a downside to the MondoKing, it is simply the enormous packed size. It is not the biggest on our test, but it is close. If you camp with a significant other, you are going to need two. Trust us. That takes up a lot of real estate in the back of the car and in the gear closet. We tested the XXL version for extra-deluxe sprawling pleasure, though it is available in a smaller size, meaning you might be able to fit two in your tent. The MondoKing is lighter than other mattresses of this type, but you aren't going to take it into the backcountry unless you have a packhorse. However, for car camping adventures, this is our favorite.

Read review: Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D

An Exceptionally Comfortable Mat


Exped MegaMat 10


Exped MegaMat 10
Editors' Choice Award

$199.00
(17% off)
at REI
See It

86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 10
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Warmth - 20% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 5
  • Packed Size - 10% 5
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Pump inflation
More comfortable than most of our beds at home
Inflates easily with the included foot pump
Roll-top carrying sack makes for easy packing
Expensive
May not fit inside some single person tents

The Exped MegaMat 10 provides comfort equal to and sometimes exceeding our beds at home. Really, you can't ask for much more from a rollout inflatable foam mat. The top has a soft, comfortable feel that doesn't get sticky or sweaty, even without a sheet. The one-flutter valve allows for easy adjustment of mattress firmness. Even the most fickle testers could dial in the perfect PSI for their ultimate night under the stars. This pad inflates easily with a compact foam foot pump and comes with a generously sized carrying sack, complete with shoulder straps.

Keep in mind that the MegaMat 10 is 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 usually camp with a significant other, check out the MegaMat 10 Duo below, which offers equal comfort on a two-person scale. This mat is on the expensive side, but the quality matches the price. If you car camp more than a few nights per year or even want an excellent spare mattress for overnight guests, this one is worth it, and your body will thank you.

Read review: Exped Megamat 10

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL


REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL
Best Buy Award

$179.00
at REI
See It

87
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 10
  • Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Warmth - 20% 9
  • Versatility - 10% 6
  • Packed Size - 10% 5
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Pump inflation
Included foam pump doubles as a pillow
Tons of space to roll around
Large, stretchy stuff sack
Inexpensive
Too big for many single-person tents

This camping mattress is worthy of your attention for the value alone, and fortunately for anyone who likes a good night's sleep, it also offers a high level of comfort and warmth. The REI Co-op Dreamer XL is a huge 11 by 70-inch plush sleeping surface that puts a very insulating, four-inch barrier between you and the ground. Inflation is easy enough with a big foam pump (that doubles as a pillow, in a pinch) and a one-way valve that flips around for deflation. The glamping package is completed with an easy tote for packing and carrying around.

The main downside to this big guy is its size. It's only available in extra-large, and there are plenty of single-person tents out there that can't accommodate it, not to mention two-person tents that won't be able to fit two. It is truly huge, even when packed. We also have some reservations about the rotating valve, which did not fail us but seems a tad flimsy. This pad offers similar features (though it is slightly less insulating) and equal comfort to mats that cost much more, making it a shoo-in as the mattress that is the best bang for your buck.

Read review: REI Co-op Dreamer XL

Best for Two


Exped MegaMat Duo 10


Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Top Pick Award

$299.00
(14% off)
at Backcountry
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 10
  • Ease of Use - 20% 5
  • Warmth - 20% 10
  • Versatility - 10% 5
  • Packed Size - 10% 3
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Self-inflating
Huge
Super toasty R-value of 8.1
Comfortably sleeps two
Large packed size
Takes a lot of effort to pack away
Expensive

Want the very best mattress for car camping that money can buy with room for two? Exped makes their super comfortable and plush mattress in a double-wide size, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. This mattress has the same excellent features and construction as the single MegaMat but 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 a 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.

There is no denying, however, that it is awkwardly large. 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. 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 whole lot of space.

Read review: Exped MegaMat Duo 10

Best for Self-Inflating Comfort


NEMO Roamer


NEMO Roamer
Top Pick Award

$230 List
List Price
See It

83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 9
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Warmth - 20% 8
  • Versatility - 10% 8
  • Packed Size - 10% 7
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Self-inflating
Warm
Easy inflation & deflation
Smaller packed size
Slightly bouncier than other models

While many of these mattress manufacturers claim that their mats are self-inflating, most take at least half an hour for the foam to expand, with a fair amount of additional pumping to get them fully inflated. The NEMO Roamer, however, self-inflates in about five minutes and takes fewer than ten breaths to finish the inflation. Its dual-valve system also makes deflation a breeze, and it packs up into a squat little package that is about half the size of many of the other mattresses and significantly lighter. While still heavy for most backpacking trips, we did pack it in with us on a three-mile hike and set up camp in the backcountry, having one of the most comfortable night's sleep ever while backpacking.

Some testers noted that it has slightly less motion-dampening than some of the other deluxe mats, making for some bounciness when they moved in their sleep. This makes sense, as it has less foam, but all agreed that it is still very comfortable. The R-value for this pad is a 6, meaning it is plenty insulating for very cold nights. We weren't able to test it in the coldest extremes, but we did sleep on it when the temperature was around 20 degrees F, and the Roamer played a big part in keeping us toasty.

Read Review: NEMO Roamer

Best for Comfort and Packability Combo


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe
Top Pick Award

$149.95
at Backcountry
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 7
  • Ease of Use - 20% 9
  • Warmth - 20% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 10
  • Packed Size - 10% 10
Thickness: 4 inches | Type: Self-inflating
Incredibly packable for the level of comfort
Fast and easy inflation and deflation
Only for three-season use
Somewhat bouncy

For dedicated car camping, we are delighted by the plush luxury of foam mattresses. We can't deny their limitations, however, and if you are short on space, spend a lot of time backpacking, or only have a budget for one mattress, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe might be for you. It inflates to four inches high and provides a warm and comfortable night's sleep. It also packs down to about the size of a large water bottle and weighs only a bit over two pounds, meaning you can justify carrying it into the backcountry. This could easily be the most comfortable backpacking mattress you have ever slept on and it also makes a decent car camping mat.

Testers noticed that the NeoAir Topo Luxe made a bit of a crinkling sound when they moved around on it in the night. And, while it is comfortable, it is still an air mattress with the accompanying bounciness. This mat has an R-value of 3.7, meaning that it will insulate you through the shoulder seasons but will not be ideal in the colder months. However, if you spend more time hiking to camp than hanging out close to the car, this model provides a good deal of comfort and a ton of flexibility.

Read review: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe

Best on a Lean Budget


Intex Classic Downy


Intex Classic Downy
Top Pick Award

$32.32
(19% off)
at Amazon
See It

45
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 40% 4
  • Ease of Use - 20% 7
  • Warmth - 20% 2
  • Versatility - 10% 5
  • Packed Size - 10% 6
Thickness: 8.75 inches | Type: Air-mattress
Great for unexpected guests
Durable
Low R-value makes this model a poor choice for cold (even cool) weather
Slow inflation time
constructed from PVC

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 warmth of most of the other mattresses in this review, it will provide some cushion on a very low budget. You can purchase this queen-sized mattress with two inflatable pillows and a small hand pump for a fraction of even the inexpensive options.

While it does have a durable vinyl bottom, there is no insulation on the Classic, so if you're using it in cold or even cool conditions, it'll feel like you're sleeping on top of an icebox. This is a warm-weather or indoor option only. But, with the price so low, it might be worth it to have one of these lying around, just in case.

Read review: Intex Classic Downy


Four models out for a couple nights of testing.
Four models out for a couple nights of testing.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is brought to you by a Dream Team of OutdoorGearLab contributors Laurel Hunter and Matt Bento. Laurel Hunter lives in Central Oregon and is a car camping aficionado. She, her husband, and two pups have crisscrossed the American West (and Canadian West) multiple times in their pickup, finding mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking, and camping adventures. As a member of Yosemite Search and Rescue and a traveling rock climber, Matt Bento has spent many nights on air mattresses and understands all of the finer points about them, as well as the value of a good night's sleep.

We began this quest for camping comfort by combing through the range of available options before deciding on the mats discussed here. After purchasing them and throwing them in the back of the car, we took each of them out on numerous camping trips. They got used in our houses when we had overnight guests, packed into our luggage for flights across the country, and lent out to friends and family for their use and feedback. Finally, we lined them all up side-by-side and measured inflation and deflation times, laying on them one after another to solidify our impressions from camping into a consensus of opinion. Throughout the testing process, we paid attention to things like insulation value, packed size, and ease of use, in addition to the most crucial factor of all, comfort.

Related: How We Tested Camping Pads & Mattresses

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


Car camping mattresses are generally several steps higher on the comfort scale than the typical sleeping pad. Sleeping pads preferred for backpacking are lightweight and pack into very small bundles, providing just enough padding to help you sleep. The mattresses in this review are designed for maximum comfort. If you are only carrying it from the car to the tent, why settle for a thin mattress? Nothing beats a good night's sleep except a good night of sleep in the outdoors. Many of these options are the pinnacle of inflatable luxury that will have you looking forward to bedtime as much as you do your daytime adventuring.

If you live in your vehicle, then this level of comfort is worth its weight in gold. For committed car campers, reluctant campers, or those who appreciate that better recovery happens with a comfortable night of sleep, these are essential equipment. Unexpected guests? Many of these mattresses will allow them to sleep as well on your floor as they do in their own bed. One of these models was taken along on a wildland fire assignment, and the tester reported excellent sleep every night for over two weeks, making it worth every penny.

Related: Buying Advice for Camping Pads & Mattresses

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 than maximum real estate? Most of them were enormous! The typical dimensions are around 77 inches long by 30 inches wide for a single mattress (6.5 feet by 2.5 feet). With so much surface area, however, you will want to consider the size of your tent before making a purchase. Many one-person tents are too small to accommodate a mat of this style, and smaller two-person tents may not fit two. We also tested a handful that are big enough for two people, and these may be smaller than two individual mattresses. Some models, however, do come in more moderate dimensions. All of the mattresses in our test range from three to eight inches thick inflated. While car campers probably don't need to worry about the weight, the large size means that they do weigh more than standard sleeping pads. Read on to learn about the different metrics that we used to test and score the products and what to look for when purchasing on a budget.

From left to right: The Soundasleep Camping Series, the Klymit...
From left to right: The Soundasleep Camping Series, the Klymit Insulated Double V, The Exped Megamat 7.5 LWX, The Nemo Nomad, The Alps Mountaineering Outback, and the Therm-a-rest Dreamtime.
Photo: matt bento


Value


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. The next question is, how much are you willing to spend? We 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 ALPS Mountaineering Outback, and the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer, are both great options and will save you a lot of money compared to the Exped MegaMat. Our favorite mats all hover somewhere in the middle, including a high scorer, the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D.

Comfort


Comfort is the main reason to add one of these mattresses to your adventure kit. To test this all-important metric, we took each one car camping. We used them in the back of trucks and vans, in tents, and loaned them out to as many fellow campers as we could find. One person who was ready to give up on camping altogether changed his mind after a deep night's sleep on the Therm-A-Rest MondoKing. 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. One avid tester strapped one onto his backpack for a short hike into the wilderness.

Sleeping on a bouncy air mat might be ok for an occasional nap, but...
Sleeping on a bouncy air mat might be ok for an occasional nap, but for long nights of quality sleep, our testers prefer foam core mats.
Photo: Matt Bento

We had house guests sleep on them, inside, on the living room floor, to get more opinions on which mattress is 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 flaws of each to make sure we got the ratings correct.

4 inches of foam vs 18 inches of air. Foam wins for comfort and...
4 inches of foam vs 18 inches of air. Foam wins for comfort and warmth.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

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 evaluated whether each mattress could be adjusted from very firm to more cushioned. We also looked at how easy it was to make adjustments and if they impacted other aspects of mattress performance. Some of the self-inflating foam mattresses are still comfortable, even when minimally inflated. We also considered whether each mattress was comfortable for sleeping in different body positions: back, stomach, and sides.

Another aspect of comfort we considered was whether these models hold air all night or if they deflate over time. If they lost air, did it cause us to feel the ground below? Some of the thicker mats like the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI seemed to lose some air in the night, but we chalk that up to temperature differences between the evening and the morning.


The Exped MegaMat 10, Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D, REI Co-op Dreamer, NEMO Roamer, Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, and Alps Mountaineering Outback are 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 10 but twice as wide, is also notable for its high level of comfort. Just behind this group is the Exped DeepSleep 7.5, which features only three inches of foam and is not quite as plush. We put all of these in a special category of "supreme comfort" that rivals your home mattress.

Most other pads are comfortable, just not exceptional. Least comfortable, compared to the other products in the test, were the bouncy air core mats like the Intex Classic Downy, the Nemo Cosmo, Eureka Rio Grande, and the Klymit Insulated Double V. Keep in mind that any of these mats will provide more cushion than a lightweight backpacker's pad. Air mats or mats with sticky, plastic surfaces can be improved with a nice sheet, but for our review, we considered the bare surfaces of these mats alone for comfort.

Warm, comfortable, packable, lightweight! It&#039;s not foam, but it&#039;s...
Warm, comfortable, packable, lightweight! It's not foam, but it's pretty impressive.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

Ease of Use


We considered ease of use to be the second most important metric behind comfort and weighted it 20 percent of a product's final score. Who wants to wrestle with deflating and packing up a large 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 large mattress with the power of their lungs.

Dual one-way valves mean each one does a better job. Inflation-only...
Dual one-way valves mean each one does a better job. Inflation-only means you can take your time between pumps without losing air. Large deflation valves dump air quickly for ease in packing.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

The ease of use ratings reflect how easy a mattress is to set-up and inflate, as well as deflation and stowing away. If you're only using your mat occasionally, ease of packing might not be essential. For frequent campers, a mat that's awkward to roll up and difficult to fit in its storage sleeve can be a significant headache. To test this metric, we used each of these mattresses in different situations, from cold nights in the back of a truck to summer evenings in a spacious tent. We then created a test scenario where we set them all up at the same time in the same circumstances to better analyze the nuances between each one.


Why Doesn't a Self-inflating Mattress Self-Inflate?
The term "self-inflating" is a bit of a misnomer. Most self-inflating models have foam inside that slowly expands and draws air in once the pad is unrolled. However, this process never fully inflates the pad. Typically, it gets the pad 60-80% inflated, and then you complete the inflation with a pump or your lungs. Also, this self-inflation process takes at least ten minutes. Therefore, when you get to your camp spot, we recommend immediately unrolling your pad to allow the foam to expand. Depending on your pad, it might also help to prop open the inflation valve with the handle of a utensil or a blunt stick. Some come with a toggle for this purpose. An exception to the rule is the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, which self-inflates in about five minutes and only requires five full breaths for firmness.

It was quickly apparent which mattresses are a breeze to inflate and deflate and which other ones we literally (at times) spent ten minutes or more wrestling with. The Eureka Rio Grande air bed, with its battery-operated inflation pump, is straightforward to set up and take down, but the loud whine of the motorized pump may detract from the wilderness experience for you and everyone else. The Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI self-inflates more quickly than the other models. Our testers could stand and watch it take shape before their eyes, and it only requires five or so breathes if you like a firm mattress. Similarly, the NEMO Roamer is a fairly fast self-inflater.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the two Exped MegaMat models. We had to wait more than ten minutes for the self-inflating feature to do its job. The included manual mini-pump also requires a bit of additional time to inflate these massive pads fully. We were quite impressed with the Therm-a-Rest dual-valve inflation system on both the MondoKing 3D and the NeoAir Topo Luxe, which employ the stuff sack as a pump, allowing for quick and easy inflation. The REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL uses a foam pump like the Exped, but it is much larger and moves more air, making the pad inflate more quickly. The pump doubles as a debatably comfortable pillow. Any of these pads can be inflated with a battery-operated pump, as well.

The integrated foot pump makes inflation quick and easy!
The integrated foot pump makes inflation quick and easy!
Photo: Laurel Hunter

Warmth


You might assume that a warm sleeping bag will provide all the warmth you need for a night outside. 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 very large part in how warm or cold you will be when you sleep outside. 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.


To rate for warmth, we started with our anecdotal experiences like the one described above. But we all sleep comfortably at different temperatures, not to mention the differences in sleeping bags, so we relied on the manufacturers' stated R-values. With R-value, the larger the number, the greater the ability the material has to insulate against both heat and cold. The warmest and most insulated car camping mattresses are the Exped MegaMats, the Exped DeepSleep, and the Alps Mountaineering Outback. In the middle of the pack are the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL, the NEMO Roamer, the Sea-to-Summit Comfort Deluxe SI, and the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D.

The coldest, least insulated mattresses, which did cause us a bit of suffering outside in the mountains, even in summer, are the air beds — the Eureka Rio Grande and the Intex Classic Downy Queen. Insulated air mattresses had a broader range of comfort, especially the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir. However, foam core mattresses insulate much better than mats that use air to maintain their shape. One thing to keep in mind is that unless you're camping in sub-freezing temperatures, 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.

A thick comfortable pad is essential for a luxurious camping...
A thick comfortable pad is essential for a luxurious camping experience.
Photo: Matt Bento

The truth is, we didn't realize how essential the insulating properties of our sleeping pad was until we camped out for a weekend in the mountains in near-freezing temperatures. The first night we slept on un-insulated inflatable air beds, and despite being cocooned in 800-fill goose down sleeping bags, we were awake and cold all night long. The next night we changed mattresses, choosing those with an R-value of 6, and it made all the difference. We slept well and felt incredibly cozy. That is the difference that insulation can make, and that is why we assigned warmth as 20 percent of a product's final score.

Photo: Brandon Lampley

Versatility


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, packable, and comfortable Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe is a breeze to inflate and can even be tucked into an airplane carry-on bag, making it an excellent option for traveling, backpacking, or camping. With an R-value of 3.7, it will provide ample insulation for three-season camping.


From the above description of what a very versatile mattress offers, you can imagine what the opposite end of the spectrum looks like: heavy, bulky, difficult to use, cold to sleep on, etc. These are the kinds of things that mean you have to carefully consider the weather and other conditions before packing up your car camping mattress. The reality is that most of us only want one mattress that will work pretty much all of the 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. Should the system fail (or if you don't want to bother your camping neighbors with the sound of a motor), it would be a large task blowing up one of these babies with just your lungs.

Their total lack of insulation was also a large part of this assessment, meaning they have a limited temperature window for use. Additionally, more than a few of these pads are too big to fit in a one-person tent, and some are too big to fit in a standard truck bed. Overall, we weighted versatility as 10 percent of a product's final score.

Pairing a Big Agnes Sleeping Giant with a sleeping pad that you...
Pairing a Big Agnes Sleeping Giant with a sleeping pad that you already own can make for a versatile system
Photo: Laurel Hunter

Packed Size


The final metric that we assessed each of these products for is packed size. Even in your car, there is a limited amount of room for lugging all the camping gear around, especially if you have a family.

A smaller mattress will typically be more versatile, if you find one...
A smaller mattress will typically be more versatile, if you find one that also provides enough comfort.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

None of these mats come close to the compactness of a backpacking sleeping pad, with the possible exception of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe, but the 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. The NEMO Roamer, however, has a neat trick of packing into half the height without being twice the width, making it much more maneuverable into small spaces.


The Exped MegaMat Duo 10 is far and away the largest packed up mattress, almost so big as to seem untenable. It is pretty much double the size of the next most substantial packed mattress, though it is big enough to sleep two. The most packable models are the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Topo Luxe, the Nemo Cosmo, and the REI Camp Dreamer Insulated Air. None of these mats are the most comfortable in our review, but 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 Cosmo is one of the trickier mattresses to fold correctly for it to fit in the stuff sack. Fortunately, the manufacturer made a video to help with that. The Exped MegaMat features a side-opening carrying bag, which is great for sloppy packing, and it also holds extra bedding. The Alps Mountaineering Outback takes a bit of finagling to get back into its carrying sleeve.

Our favorite stuff sack! It is forgiving if you roll up the pad...
Our favorite stuff sack! It is forgiving if you roll up the pad less-than-perfectly and can also hold some extra bedding.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

Conclusion


Easy setup and stowage make a camping mattress that much better.
Easy setup and stowage make a camping mattress that much better.
Photo: Laurel Hunter

There are several things to keep in mind when you choose a car camping mattress, and with all the models available, it can be a challenge knowing how to begin. Fortunately, there are some great options available. Once you know whether you prefer a single or double mattress, ask yourself how many nights you plan on camping each year. Similar to a mattress for your bed at home, some of the camping mats we reviewed can be pricey. But remember, if you are playing hard outdoors, you will want to recover well with a great night's sleep.

A really comfortable mattress will help you sleep as well on the road as you do at home. If you spend a lot of time camping and playing hard outside, the extra expense seems well worth it. We hope that this review has helped you narrow down the selection to choose what is best for you.

Laurel Hunter & Matt Bento