Camping is a pleasant activity and many people, of all ages, enjoy doing it regardless of the season. However, the most camping trips are made in late spring, summer, and up to mid-fall when the temperature is kinder with our bones. Not to mention, the landscapes are more majestic during these seasons and there are far fewer dangers to your health.
So, if you’re a happy camper, you’re probably all set up for the new season. But how about sleeping accommodations? Do you enjoy sleeping in the tent or the car, without a comfortable bed?
Sure, some of us use those big, inflated designs, but most of them are huge (too big for a backpack) and the oxygen gets awfully cold during the night (even if you’re in the car).
The mattress industry noticed this gap and filled it with comfy mattresses and pads that can be easily packed in compact carry-on bags that fit most backpacks. Furthermore, these are more comfortable and provide you with comfort and insulation so you won’t feel cold during the night.
Still, when you start looking for the best camping bed, you may feel a bit lost because there are lots of products from which to choose. So, we did a thorough market research and chose the high-grade products we believe will make you very happy. Also, we put together some tips on how to choose one for yourself so continue reading!
Camping Pad/Mattress Buying Guide
As we already mentioned, there are several types of camping sleeping surfaces on the market, you check out our complete camping air bed guide here, but the most common ones are as follows:
These models are a bit bulky and heavy for a hiking trip, but they go amazingly well when you drive to the camp site. Their construction is quite simple, as they are nothing more but a layer of foam trapped inside a shell that is airtight. Usually, there is one valve (but there can also be two for faster inflating) and when you open it, the foam sucks the oxygen in and the mattress expands.
When you want to roll it up (the best way to pack a self-inflating mat), all you have to do is open the valve and apply pressure to release the oxygen inside. Then you close the valve and the mat is ready to be packed away.
These designs are more durable when it comes to puncture and scratches, and they provide more comfort and better isolation that most other products in the niche.
In this case, the name says everything: this is a mattress you inflate with air. Usually, the inflating process is done with the help of a pump (manual or electric), but you can also use your own lungs if the pump is missing.
Now, depending on size and volume, the weight of such a mattress can vary. Still, they are easier to pack (in comparison to self-inflating mats) so you can take them on a hiking trip. Of course, they will also be amazing for sleeping in the car or simply for laying all day long under the clear sky.
But there are some downsides with these designs. First, if you place the mattress directly on the ground, the oxygen inside will get cold during the night because there’s nothing but a thin layer of PVC between it and the ground’s temperature. Also, the risk of puncture and scratch is higher.
Find out more about this type by reading: Complete Air Mattress Guide
These are amazing for hiking as they are lightweight and extremely durable (you can still use them even if the surface gets punctured or scratched). However, given they’re nothing more but a sheet of foam the level of comfort is not the same as with an inflated mattress or a self-inflating mat.
But, even though you may wake up stiff and with back pain, a foam pad is a fantastic insulator and some even have one side coated with an aluminum sheet, to keep you toasty during the night. You can also use them to build an insulating floor for an camping mattress, if you brought both with you.
Camping mats are also lightweight and very easy to pack (which makes them great for hiking), but they also come in a wide range of sizes and thickness. Usually designed out of a combination of polyurethane and rubber, the top-grade camping mats are durable and fantastic insulators (just like a foam pad).
They are great for sitting in the grass and chatting with your friends, or sitting around the fire while waiting for dinner. Still, if you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, you may need a bit of extra cushioning as camping mats are not thick enough to provide a pillowtop feeling.
Air Beds vs. Sleeping Mats vs. Cot
Because campers often get confused when they hear any of these three names, we decided to run a thorough comparison, showcasing the pros and cons of each.
These are inflatable mattresses that vary in thickness and overall size, but provide the sleeper with comfort and good back support. Also, they’re pretty cheap and if you know how to insulate the floor of your tent, you’ll definitely enjoy sleeping outside with all the comfort of your home bed.
Furthermore, the cool thing about these beds is that you can adjust the firmness (just open up the valve and your mattress will instantly get softer).
So, you can customize your camping bed to the maximum. Still, you should beware towards pointy things or pets with claws as an mattress is very sensitive in this aspect.
- Easy to pack up
- Extremely comfortable
- Adjustable firmness
- Big enough to accommodate several campers
- Great for sleeping in the car
- You don’t feel the ground underneath
- Bulky & heavy when packed up (impractical for hiking)
- It needs extra isolation
- Susceptible to punctures and scratches
- Requires a pump
This is a broad category, but you’ll usually find foam mats, with one side insulated by an aluminum sheet. These are lightweight and great for a hiking trip, and will keep campers safe from the cold ground. However, you’ll feel every bump and twig so it’s highly recommended to make sure you clean the area before placing the tent.
- Lightweight & easy to pack for a hiking trip
- Good insulators
- You can still use them even if the surface gets punctured
- Not very comfortable
- The surface is usually designed for one person
- You feel every bump on the ground
Cots are quite interesting as they are a sheet of thick cloth, stretched on a metallic frame (usually aluminum), with legs. When packed, they are compact, but depending on the type of frame and cloth, they can be rather heavy.
Still, a camping cot will provide a rather comfortable place to sleep outdoors, and will keep campers at a safe distance from the ground and humidity. However, it’s not as comfy.
- Compact when packed
- You’re not in direct contact with the ground
- Somewhat comfortable
- You’re protected from humidity
- Come in a diversity of designs
- Depending on design, they can be heavy
- Require a lot of tent space
- Can’t fit in a small car
- Somewhat expensive
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Perfect Camp Bed
The number one reason why we choose to buy a camp bed is comfort. After all, sleeping outdoors can be a lot of fun, but only if you’re cozy in the tent, away from the cold night and the humidity that gathers at ground level.
Now, there are different types of camping beds, for different levels of comfort. For instance, if you’re looking for a lightweight solution, that won’t take up too much space in the backpack, a simple sleeping mat or a foam pad, will do. However, if you are a side or a stomach sleeper, this choice may not sit with you all too well.
Thin products, such as mats and pads, are better fitted for back sleepers, because you don’t have too much between you and the ground. In this case, campers can opt for a self-inflating mattress, which is a bit more comfortable, due to the layer of foam at the core, but these are bulkier and heavier.
In our opinion, the highest quality choice for comfort is represented by oxygen beds, but only when you combine them with a mat or a pad to insulate the floor area. This is valid for both sleeping in a tent and in a car and it will accommodate all types of sleepers (back, side, and stomach). The secret with this surface is the adjustable firmness.
This feature is important for insulation and for the general level of comfort. For instance, if you sleep on a foam pad, you will be well insulated because the foam retains body heat and keeps humidity and coldness away.
However, because the mattress is not thick enough, you will feel every bump and twig underneath your tent, so unless you know you’ll find a flawless, straight area, it won’t be comfortable.
If you’re looking for a lightweight product, that can be packed easily, we recommend a self-inflating mattress. The foam in the mat is thick enough to protect you on mildly uneven terrain, but if you want optimal comfort, an oxygen bed is the top-rated choice.
The firmness is the feature that decides whether or not your back will be supported – too firm and you’ll wake up stiff, too soft and you’ll endure back pain. But when it comes to choosing a camping mattress, the only one that allows you to customize the level of firmness is the inflated bed.
All the other designs are built to provide medium-firmness, but if the sheet of foam is thin (like in the case of a pad or a mat) it’s difficult to tell. However, a self-inflating mattress is designed to accommodate most sleeping habits, and given that the foam is filled with air, the surface won’t be too firm.
Packaged Size & Weight
This aspect matters when you’re going on a hiking trip because you have to calculate your backpack’s space and the weight you can carry. However, if you’re going on a car camping trip, then the aspect loses in importance, if you have enough space available.
If you are going on foot, the best product to consider is either a pad, a mat, or a self-inflating mattress. While it’s true that the latter can be a bit bulkier and heavier, they usually come with special carry bags that allow you to simply hang it on the outside of the backpack or carry it in your hand.
All three options roll up but a pad can also be folded into a rectangular package if the design allows it.
An inflated bed, even though considered one of the most comfortable, is also the bulkiest and heaviest so we only recommend them if you drive to the camp site.
This factor is important because you need to make sure the product you buy will be with you, at least for the entire trip. Of course, ideally, a camping bed should be reliable enough to use for the entire camping season and beyond, but if you’re left without a reliable sleeping surface in the middle of nowhere, it will be uncomfortable.
Sadly, the most comfortable designs (oxygen mattresses) are also the least durable because a tiny puncture is enough to ruin your trip.
Yes, it’s true that there are designs built with inner-chambers so, in case of a puncture, the deflation is contained in just one area, you still have to deal with this situation. However, if you decided to get an inflated bed while camping, you must add a repair kit in your backpack.
While the kit won’t hold forever, it may help you save the day at the present moment.
The same goes for self-inflatable surfaces, but they are a bit more resistant to punctures and scratches. Still, if you want to be sure your mattress won’t bail, a mad or a pad are the highest rated products. Because they are made of foam, a puncture won’t affect their integrity, so you can rest assured you’ll have a bed for the entire trip.
When you sleep on the ground, it’s important to protect your body from the elements. This is why the tent is very important as it will keep you dry and away from the wind and cold. However, the floor of the tent is not designed to sleep directly on it, which is where products such as mats, pads, and self-inflating mattresses come along.
The biggest danger is represented by the cold, humid ground so you have to make sure you stay as far away from it or at least that you sit on a mattress that will keep you toasty all night long. The products that will keep you warm and safe, are either a foam pad or a self-inflating mattress because they have foam in their construction. An inflated mattress is not that great, even if it’s thicker than the rest, because the air inside gets cold if the bed is in direct contact with the ground.
What is R-value of an Outdoor Camping Bed
If you’re looking for a camping sleeping surface, you’ll find a lot of references to a number called R-value. This is a way manufacturers describe the power of insulation their product provides; put in layman terms, is the product’s resistance to heat flow (hence the ‘R’).
Basically, the bigger the R-value, the toastier you will be on your new sleeping surface. However, it’s important to understand that there is no standard way of testing this value, so each brand does its own testing. The conclusion is that you shouldn’t compare the R-value in between brands, as they may use different testing methods and so the difference may be irrelevant.
It’s also good to understand that everything over 3.0 is designed to be used in the winter, but you shouldn’t consider buying anything under 1.5 in R-value. Anything under this number will drain the heat out of you, leaving you cold and grim.
The idea is that it’s best to go higher than to be cold; a sleeping pad or mattress is not a bag so you don’t run the risk of overheating. If somehow this happens, you can just unzip a bit of your front tent panel or a vent, and you’ll regulate the temperature in no time.
Our 3 Highest Rated Camping Mattresses
Exped MegaMat 10 – Campers Favorite
- 5 R-value
- Lightweight and compact
- Easy to inflate
Our Ratings: 9.7/10
This mat will fit in any medium-sized tent, due to its compact size (72.1 x 25.6 x 3.9 inches), but it will also fit most backpacks as it only measures 31.1 by 9.8 inches when packed. It’s also lightweight (60.3 oz.) and it can be used for various purposes besides sleeping (like lying in the grass all day or using it as a seating bench at the camp site).
The material is durable and the mat provides the sleeper with comfort and warmth (it can be used in temperatures down to -54 degrees F). It’s also perfect for using in the car and it features a 3D construction so it will provide support from edge-to-edge. It’s also self-inflating, which comes in handy after an entire day of hiking.
Overall, this is one of the best camping mats to own, especially if we consider the fact that it comes with a special carry-on sack.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream – Best Value
- Comes equipped with a pump
- Plush fleece cover for extra warmth & softness
- Fantastic insulation
Our Ratings: 9.4/10
If you’re looking for the top-grade mattress for a luxurious camping experience, this is it! With a unique 3-layer construction, this camping bed will keep you comfy and toasty all-night-long and it can be used in various camping scenarios.
The mattress is 4 inches thick, with a 3-inch core filled with oxygen and 1-inch fleece cover for the pillowtop feeling. But, if you’re packing extra-light, you can always leave the cover at home and only take the core. This way, even if you won’t get the most luxurious experience, you’ll still be well insulated from the ground and still be comfortable. Unlike most mattresses, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream does not get cold during the night even though it’s not thick or bulky- this is due to the Therma Capture Technology
Furthermore, the package is delivered with a repair kit, a pump, and a handy carry sack with handle so you can hang it from your backpack or simply carry it around.
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D – Amazing for Camp site
- Extremely comfortable
- Self-inflating mattress
- Compact and lightweight
Our Ratings: 9.1/10
This is one of the best sleeping pad products when you try to fit comfort into a small package that is also lightweight. The cool thing about this product is its 3D build and the fact that it can be paired with other 3D designs, even ones from a different brand. This way, each person can carry their own sleeping pad and unite them into a bigger bed at the destination.
The fact that it is a self-inflating mattress is also important as it saves you from the annoyance of inflating the pad using a manual pump or your breath. For improved durability and faster inflate/deflate action, there are two valves.
The overall amazing level of comfort is ensured by the spongy foam core (the pad is 4-inches thick) which is a fantastic insulator. Not to mention, it will protect you from any rocks or bumps on the ground!
Our Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, a camping mattress makes the adventure a bit more comfortable and fun. Furthermore, if you go on the trip with the entire family, the kids will definitely love to have all the comfort they get at home and still be outdoors!
Sleeping surfaces that fit in a tent or in the back of a van are very popular nowadays, and unless you really like the raw adventure, you will have to choose one pretty soon. For this, our comprehensive mattress camping guide is easy to follow and you even have several interesting examples of the best products you can purchase in today’s market.
Overall, the prices are affordable with most products and the features are quite interesting starting with the pad and the mat, and moving up to a luxurious camping mattress.