Seeking the ultimate in car camping mattresses? To identify the right model for you, we evaluated 40 top mats and tested the best 11 for months. Our testing experts spent 100+ hours on road trips and in our lab to figure out which products provide the most comfort, warmth, and are built to last. After sleeping in cars, campsites, living rooms, and backyards, we found five award winners and a notable mention 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
Exped MegaMat 10
Read review: Exped Megamat 10
Best Overall Value
REI Camp Bed 3.5
Read review: REI Camp Bed 3.5
Best on a Lean Budget
Intex Classic Downy
Read 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 review: Exped MegaMat Duo 10
Top Pick For Convenience
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream
Read review: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Dream
Best Comfort and Size Combo
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D
Read 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 enormous. 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 pushed 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).
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 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 was the most comfortable. The Exped MegaMat Duo 10, which is the same mat 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, 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 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 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 do its job fully. 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.
Why Doesn't a Self-inflating Mattress Self-Inflate?
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.
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 realizehow 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 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 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 can 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.
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).
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.
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? 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
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.