Updated June 2017
Car camping is in full swing for the spring and summer, and we updated this review to continue to bring you the best. Our Editors' Choice Award winner received an update this year. After purchasing and testing the new version, we are stoked to say that Exped made an excellent product even better! Newcomers to our review in 2017 also proved intriguing, as the MondoKing scored great all around and the Intex is a valuable option for tight budgets.
Exped MegaMat 10
Lay down on the MegaMat 10
and you will struggle to remember this is a mattress for camping. For multiple years, this mat has won our expert testers over, and the updates incorporated into the 2017 model improve on an already very good thing. The mega
comfort and warmth offered from this mattress remains as incredible as ever, and the larger deflate valve makes rolling it up faster than its predecessor. We also loved the new stuff sack for its easy loading from the side, extra space for extra bedding, and the shoulder strap for transportation. This mat is expensive, but the quality matches the price in this product. If you car camp more than a few weeks per year, or even want an excellent household mat for overnight guests, this one is worth it. If you want the same benefits, but for two people, check out the Duo version below.
Read full review: Exped Megamat 10
Best Overall Value
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 Award-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. While it is sort of a pain to roll up, and doesn't pack down small, these are minor complaints compared to the incredible value that you get when purchasing this mattress for only $129.
Read full review: REI Camp Bed 3.5
Best 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! With prices so low, it's hard to think of a reason why NOT to have one of these laying around, just in case.
Read full review: Intex Classic Downy
Top Pick for Couples
Exped MegaMat Duo 10
The Duo received the same updates as our Editors' Choice Award winner from Exped. We highlight the differences between the 2016 and 2017 models in the individual review of this mat.
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 their Editors' Choice Award- winning MegaMat in Duo size, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10
. This mattress has the same excellent features and construction of our favorite mat, the Exped MegaMat 10
, but is a full 52 inches wide rather than the standard 30 inches of most single person XL sized mattresses we tested. This queen size mattress fits perfectly
in the back of pickup truck or minivan, making it the unparalleled choice for your road-tripping rig. Move over cheap memory foam, there is a much better option for live-in-a-vehicle comfort.
Read full review: Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Top Pick For Convenience
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream
Want a mattress that is quick and easy to use and packs down smaller than the others without compromising on comfort? Check out the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
, the most convenient mattress for car camping that you can buy. While there is one other mattress that we rated higher (see our Editors' Choice Award winner above), there is no doubt that it is very large, heavy, and takes some time and effort to deflate. In comparison, this mattress works like a Dream. Its zip open construction reveals that it is made of a combination of an inflatable Therm-a-rest pad with soft foam on top, all covered by a plush velvety top. The versatility of this mattress is a strength, as its small size makes it easy to pack around, and it easily joins with others of its kind to create a double wide. For the most convenient choice among these contenders, we recommend the NeoAir Dream.
Read full review: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Best Comfort and Size Combo
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Love the Exped MegaMat
, but just can't fit it into your tent? Us either - try the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
instead. Nearly the MegaMat's equal in comfort and cost, the MondoKing is a full 5 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 back to your old uncomfortable sleeping pad just because you've got a tent buddy!
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 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 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 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. 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).
Sleeping like a dream on the NeoAir Dream. Worth noting is how much of this two-person backpacking tent one of these XL pads takes up. Not much room for other people!
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 Megamat Duo perfectly fits in the back of a pickup truck, making for a wonderful night's sleep in a wonderful location!
The Exped Megamat 10
was the most comfortable. The Exped MegaMat Duo 10
, which is 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, 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 good night's 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 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 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 better analyze the nuances between each one.
The Relax Airbed comes with a manual pump somewhat similar to a rafting pump. After inserting it into the smaller inflate valve, many, many pumps are needed to inflate the entire bed.
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 NeoAir Dream
was very simple to roll out, 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 easy to set up and take down. 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 fully do its job. The manual mini-pump included required a bit of time to inflate these behemoth pads. The 2016 versions of these pads were challenging to deflate and roll up, but the larger deflate valves on the 2017 models make them much easier to deflate in our experience, contributing to faster pack up times with less struggle than their predecessors.
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 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 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 easily into a 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 a compact, lightweight, backpacking sleeping pad. It also has some qualities that other mattresses don't, like straps designed 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.
The inflated backpacking mattress is inserted into the Sleeping Giant foam mattress cover, and then zipped closed. This system is the most versatile in the test and adds crucial warmth to the lightweight mattress.
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 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 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).
The nine camping mattresses arranged in order from smallest on the left to biggest when looking at their packed size. Left to right: Lightspeed 2-person, Thermarest NeoAir Dream, Alps Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed, REI Relax Airbed, Big Agnes Sleeping Giant, Exped Megamat 10, Thermarest Luxury MAP, REI Camp Bed 3.5, and on the bottom the Exped Megamat Duo.
As you can see by the photo, 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 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.
Comparison testing the row of five single-person mattresses in this review, one after the other. Tested in exclusion for a whole night's sleep, we thought all of these mattresses were very comfortable. Only when laid out like this could we get very picky about which ones were truly the best.
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.
Taking a nap among nature is quick and simple with the Relax Airbed. Many people even use air mattresses like these as their primary bed in their homes.