Camping Tips

Camping Mattress Choices: Never Wake Up Sore Again!

Putting a camping mat in a tent
Man Traveler with camping equipment mattress and tent outdoor Travel Lifestyle concept rocky mountains landscape on background Summer journey adventure vacations
There are many types of mattresses and pads to consider for tent camping. Here are some guidelines for helping you choose which one will work the best for you.

Not everyone likes the idea of sleeping cavemen style when they go camping or backpacking for the weekend. If you are planning on a camping trip, whether it be with a large group of people and tents or a small group of people with just backpacks, you are going to want to decide whether you will need a sleeping pad, cot, or mattress. Some individuals can go a few days sleeping on the ground whereas others cannot either due to age, injuries or general pain. In today’s article, we’re going to be talking about the different types of camping mattresses that are available, what their features are and what you should consider when looking to buy one. No matter what, you are going to need to find a style that fits your comfort needs and your camping setup. Overall, it’s always a good idea to bring some sort of pad with you as a sound sleep ensures you will be able to perform at your best the next day without an aching back. No one enjoys a cranky tent mate, even if all you are doing is enjoying the campfire!

The Different Types of Sleeping Options for Campers and Backpackers Alike!

There are many different types of sleeping options from foam pads that self inflate to air pads, to foam pads, to cots, hammocks and air mattresses. There are several factors that are going to determine which you go with though, so we are going to do a mini breakdown of what each of these offer in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Foam Pads: are made out of closed-cell foam which makes them both durable and dense. They have a low weight to them and are great for those who are going to be sleeping on snow-covered ground or sleeping when it is rather cold out. They do not puncture nearly as easily as an inflatable pad and they are inexpensive to buy. They have great insulation, but sadly they only provide modest cushioning and can be quite bulky.
  • Air Pads: are great if you are only looking for something that has a better than average cushion factor to it. Air pads are not made out of foam, require you to fill them up manually with air (lungs) and are rather low-weight. They do not provide much insulation and do require manual labor to get them to work for you.
  • Self-inflating Foam Pads: are common in the camping world because they are compressible, low-weight and automatically fill up when you twist the valve to the open position. They are made out of a foam housing with a waterproof nylon shell. These are fabulous for backpackers as they come in 1”-2” and even 2.5”-3” sizes that are easy to pack down and they are generally good insulators. You can also get some fitted sheets for some of them as well.
  • Air Mattresses: are considered a more luxurious way of sleeping when you are camping. They will not work for backpackers and require a foot or electric pump to fill them. They are heavy, bulky and are not a good insulator. They are familiar to children though, so they make a great addition to any family camping trip.
  • Cots: are great for those who have bad backs as they can sleep up off the ground and you can add a pad on top of it to boost how much cushioning you get. However, these are not all that great for regular camping or backpacking as they are bulky, take a lot of time to set up and are rather large.
  • Hammocks: are fabulous for backpackers and campers alike if they can get used to sleeping in them as they are sort of an acquired taste. They are lightweight but do not offer much insulation, so a pad may need to be used to boost this. They are useless if you cannot find the right spot to set them up.  You can get more information on camping hammocks in another article on this site, as well as information on High Hopes Hammocks and Tentsile Hammock Tents.

Now that we’ve gone over what types of sleeping options there are, we are going to lay out what we believe to be the top options for camping. The table will include: brand name, type of mattress, weight, R-value, dimensions, packed size and the price point.

Camping Mattress Comparison Table:

Brand Name Type Weight R-Value Dimensions Packed Size Price Features
Coleman Camp Pad Self-inflating 5lbs N/A 75 X 26 X 2.5 in 6 x 26in $47 Has a inflatable manual pillow, is comfortable, is thicker than other brands
Alps Mountaineering Comfort Series Self-inflating 4lbs. 1oz. 5.0 77 x 25 x 2in 6.5 x 26 in $55 Anti-slip fabric, Durable, Wave foam, long term durability.
Therm-a-Rest Basecamp AF Self-inflating 2lbs. 7oz. 1.7 77 x 25 x2.5in. 7.0 x 14.5 in $100 Compressible foam core, soft fabric, easy carry handle included.
REI Camp Bed 3.5 Self-inflating 4lbs. 9oz. 6.0 72 x 25 x 3.5in 6.25 x 26in $120 Soft polyester top, has stuff sack, quick-closing valves.
Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe Air mat 2lbs. 11oz 5.0 76 x 30 x 3in 5.5 xx 10in $130 Extra long and wide, 4-seasons, Great in cold weather.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper SV Air mat 2lbs. 5oz. 2.2 77 x 25 x 3in 6 x 10.3in $140 Extra-large valve for faster inflating and deflating.
Nemo Cosmo Insulated 25L Air mat 2lbs. 2oz. 10-20F 76 x 25 x 4in 6.5 x 9in $160 Built-in foot pump, raised baffle, packs all, inflates very quickly.
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D Self-inflating 5lbs. 8oz. 11.4 77 x 25 x 4in 7 x 26in $180 All-season warmth, Large usable sleep surface, dual valve system.
Exped Mega Mat 10 Self-inflating 5lbs. 11oz. 9.5 77 x 30 x 3.9in 10 x 31in $220 Air-cored foam, mini-pump included, soft top surface.
REI Kingdom Sleep System Airbed 15lbs. 11oz. None 79 x 56 x 6in 17 x 21 x 23in $240 Queen size mattress, insulated top quilt, attached top sheet, hand pump, inflatable headboard.

In addition to the table above, here are some honorable mentions: Coleman Queen Cot with airbed, the Stansport self-inflating air mattress, the Intex classic downy airbed set and the Sound Asleep dream series air mattress.

Considerations You Should Keep in Mind When Browsing!

If you are looking to buy an air mattress over any other type of sleeping option, then you will be faced with whether to buy one that is light or one that is heavier. Generally, if you are planning on camping closer to home (or have young children), you may want to go with the heavier, more comfortable choice. For those who like to hike to their camping ground or are travelling far away from home, you are going to want to go with the lighter option. In addition to this, you will be faced with whether to bring an electric pump or a hand/foot pump for your air mattress. If you need to walk into your campsite, then you will want to bring a hand/foot pump as they are lighter in weight. Keep in mind too, that if you do choose an electric pump, you will need to make sure you have access to electricity, so make sure to find one that suits your source. AC to plug into wall units and DC plugs into a car outlet.

Gray plastic camp air mattress
Gray plastic camp air mattress rolled in the back isolated on white background

Since our table primarily shows sleeping mats versus air beds, we’re going to outline what you should consider when trying to decide between the two types:

  • If the temperatures will be below 50-60 degrees (USD) then you will not want an air bed for camping as they will become drafty, rigid and be freezing even in conditions that are mild.
  • If the weather is warm, you can use an airbed so that it will get you off the ground and they are extremely user-friendly. But you can do pretty much the same with a cot.
  • Airbeds take up A LOT of room in your tent.
  • Sleeping bag mats that have foam within their construction are extremely comfortable and can be used in many different seasons. There are sleeping mats that combine an airbed with a mattress pad and a headboard.

Basically, stick with a sleeping bag mat unless you need a large sleeping surface and the weather is super warm.

Finally, here are some other quick tips that you should keep in mind while browsing for the right sleeping option:

  • Sizing: camping pads and mattresses have a large footprint (unless it is a backpacking version), which means they will extend anywhere from 75-85inches. If you have a pad that is 20-30inches, then this is a backpacking pad.
  • R-Value: if you are planning on camping in 3-season weather, you will want to get a pad that has at least an R-value of 3. If you are going to be sleeping on a cold ground or on snow, then you will want a rating that is above 5. The better insulation you have, the more warmth you will retain.
  • Weight and Packed Size: you will want to make note of how compressible your sleeping option needs to be and how small it packs down. There is nothing worse than needing to hike into your campground with a massive mattress that does not fold down very well. Keep in mind that this packed size contributes to how much you can carry.
  • Durability: if you want your pad or airbed to last longer, always buy one that has a thicker bottom fabric as this is the region that takes the most hits. You will want anything between a 50-150 Denier durability rating. The higher the rating, the more abuse it can take. For instance, a 75 rating pad could be placed straight onto the hard ground and be fine.
  • Valve Types: in most cases you will be using the twist valve on inflatable pads, but keep in mind that the cheaper the pad, the cheaper the valve’s construction will be which will affect how durable the pad is overall.

Overall, you mainly need to match what type of camping you are doing to the appropriate sleeping option. If you need a large surface area or have a bad back, then you may want to go with an inflatable airbed. If you are planning on camping during the winter months, then you are going to want a mattress pad (closed-cell foam) with a high R-value for insulation purposes. If you are doing 3-season camping, then a self-inflating pad may do the trick!

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