Top Tips for Picking a Camping Mattress

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I prefer a good hike over a walk in the city any day because it keeps me in touch with nature and gives me time to think and put my thoughts in order. After all, for me, there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching the top of the hill and admiring the view.

But, since I’m in love with the great outdoors, I usually want more than just a nature walk. And this is how I got to do a lot of camping in various seasons. In my trips, I’m accompanied by Roger, my trusted Labrador, or my friends, but there were times when I went alone. It’s scary the first few times, but you get used to the silence and the noises around.

Still, the secret to a wonderful camping trip is not the company, is the way you spend your time. There are plenty of activities to keep busy during the day, but the most important aspect is the way you equip your tent. Even if you’re camping under the stars, there’s no need to uncomfortable when you put your head down for the night. After all, a good night sleep breathing fresh air will recharge your batteries to the maximum.

This is also the reason why today I chose to talk to you about camping mattresses and how to find the perfect one.

Features to Consider

The great secret to finding the perfect camping mattress is that there is no one perfect camping mattress. Confused already? Let me explain: the perfect sleeping surface depends on where and when you decide to go camping. It also depends if you’re with a car or on foot.

As you see, according to the circumstances, the type of mattress to buy for camping changes. But, I had a chat with various experts, in both outdoors and sleep, and I managed to find several common traits to look for when you start your shopping.

But before we start talking about each feature in particular here is a video that explains why you have to be picky with your camping mattress:

Winter or Summer

This is important to consider because you’ll have to use different camping mattresses according to the temperature outside. If it’s cold, it’s best to find a mattress that doesn’t inflate – something made of foam or another type of material that doesn’t contain air. This is because the air in inflatable mattresses gets cold when the mattress is on the ground so you may feel like sleeping on a glacier (which is not nice). There are ways to keep warm, but it’s still uncomfortable.

In the summer, an air pad will be the best choice specifically for the reason mentioned above. Not to mention, it doesn’t occupy that much space as a foam mattress.To make it easier for campers, producers offer the R-Value as guidance. This specifies the thermal resistance of the mattress and usually, there are 5 values. From R1 to R3 the mattress is great for summer, spring, and fall, while values starting with R4 and R5 are for winter.

Pro tip: If you like extremes and want to go camping in the dead of winter, try combining a closed-cell mattress with an air mattress. It may take a bit more space in your backpack, but you’ll be warm at night.

Car or Hike

If you’re the kind of person who grabs their hiking shoes and the backpack and leaves home, you will definitely need a mattress that’s lightweight and doesn’t take too much space. In this case a sleeping pad seems like the best solution because it can be rolled up tight (about the size of a 1L water bottle) and it keeps you warm and comfy.

But, if you want to go camping with your car, there are several options to consider since you can actually sleep in the car (if it’s big enough). For instance, a self-inflating mattress goes amazing with car camping but so do air beds. Even more, there is a type of mattress that can be used for both situations called adaptable mattress.

This type of mattress is made with two elements: a sleeping pad and a memory foam protective cover. The cover can be removed so you can only take the pad when you go backpacking. Otherwise, if you take the car, the cover will provide extra insulation and comfort. The best products of this kind that come to mind right now are Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream and Big Agnes.


Most camping mattresses are rectangular, but you’ll also find mummy-shaped mattresses (like the sleeping bag). The difference is not just in style, it’s also important for each type of camper. For instance, a hiker should choose a mummy-shaped mattress because it is lighter (less material) and fits better in a small tent. It also packs tighter and saves space in your backpack.

Car campers can buy a regular, rectangular mattress as they have plenty of space in the car and in their big tent.


When you consider the size, you have to think about the room you want to occupy with the mattress in your tent. If you have the space, you should get a mattress that accommodates your entire body length, but there’s also the option of getting a smaller mattress, and rest your legs on your backpack.

Another aspect to consider here is the width. If you’re going to sleep with someone else in the tent, you should get a two-person mattress, but it’s always best that each person has its own mattress (unless you’re driving to the camping place). This way, everyone carries their own mattress.

In terms of width, you should make sure your body fits on the surface comfortably. You don’t want to roll off the mattress while sleeping.

Types of Camping Mattresses

Now that you know what to look for in a mattress, let’s discuss the different types you can find on the market. I think it’s best you know before you start the shopping because it can get a bit confusing with so many designs and models.

Air Mattresses or Air Pads

They are usually referred to as pads because they are thinner than air mattresses you can use in the house. Still, the concept is basically the same as they inflate with air and they may require a pump for this. According to the design, the pump can be included in the mattress or separate.

Modern air pads are lighter now and they usually include reflective materials to maintain the warmth at a constant level. Simpler designs need to be inflated with your breath, but some advanced ones have a built-in hand pump. There are also designs that come with a separate bag-style pump that is also lightweight.


  • Super comfortable and lightweight
  • Compact packing
  • You can customize the firmness by releasing or adding air


  • Most air pads have an R3 thermal rating
  • The price is quite high for thin, lightweight mattresses
  • Punctures happen often
  • Tend to deflate overnight

Self-Inflating Pads

This type of camping mattress is a combination of air and open-cell foam. They inflate when you open the valve as the air is sucked in automatically. Until this point, self-inflating pads seem like a dream come true, right? Well, that depends on your hiking trip – because of the foam, these pads are not as compact as air pads. Some are designed to be rolled up, but most are a fit for a car camping trip.

Overall, they are comfy and keep you warm, but because of the space problem, many backpackers avoid them.


  • Comfortable and offer excellent insulation
  • They are durable
  • They don’t deflate over night


  • Heavier than foam pads and more expensive
  • They can still be ripped and punctured

Closed-Cell Foam Pads

This is more a pad than a mattress as it’s thin and doesn’t inflate. Made of dense foam with tiny closed air cells inside, these pads can be rolled up or folded and they don’t take too much space in your backpack.

Overall, this type of pads is lightweight so they make amazing choices for backpacking trips. Even more, because of the closed-cell structure, the pad offers good insulation but I don’t recommend using it in the winter.

Again, due to the inner structure, you don’t have to worry about punctures, rips, or leaks. So, you can use it both outside the tent and inside without worrying a twig may puncture the surface.


  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Amazing for backpacking


  • Not for winter use
  • Not as comfortable as the other two options
  • The structure is stiff so they are not as compact.

Which one to Choose?

I think that you now have all the necessary information to make an informed decision on the type of camping mattress that works best for you. Actually, if you’re an all-season camper, I think you’re going to choose at least two different products.

Overall, the idea is for you to be comfortable and keep away from the ground. Insulation is very important when you’re out in nature, so make sure the mattress you choose keeps you safe, warm, and cozy.

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About the author


Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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