After an active day full of hiking, paddling, and enjoying the great outdoors, getting a good night’s sleep is essential on camping trips. However, the hard, uneven ground of a tent floor or rocky terrain in your camper van can make that challenging.
That’s why having the right camping mattress tailored to your needs is a worthwhile investment for quality rest. With options ranging from decadent inflatable air beds to ultralight sleeping pads, how do you determine which is best for your camping style?
In this guide, we’ll highlight the benefits of the top 5 camping mattress varieties and discuss what to look for when selecting your outdoor snooze-station:
- Air mattresses – Cushioning like your bed at home
- Self-inflating sleeping pads – Comfort meets portability
- Basic foam pads – Simple, ultralight, affordable
- Camping cots – Get off the hard ground
– Hammocks – Floating beds good for some
Let’s break down what each type offers so you can choose the perfect model for peaceful slumber under the stars. Sweet dreams ahead!
Air Mattresses – Deliver Cushy Comfort Right to Camp
Inflatable air mattresses provide the familiar comfort and feel of your bed at home transferred right to your campsite or vehicle. Today’s models are far more durable and advanced than the cheap plastic rafts of decades past too.
Benefits of air mattresses:
- Adjustable firmness based on your preference
- Various sizes from twin up to king
- Foam padding for extra comfort in many models
- Air leakage from punctures remains a risk
- Most require battery or manual air pump
- Bulkier and heavier than sleeping pads once packed
Leading brands like Coleman, Intex, and SoundAsleep utilize durable flocked PVC, coil interior baffling, and soft tops for excellent airbed quality perfect for car camping where packing bulk is not an issue. Just make sure to bring that pump!
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads – Convenient Comfort
Self-inflating sleeping pads offer a great solution balancing comfort, convenience, and reasonable pack size for car camping and backpacking. Built-in open cell foam in these pads expands when you open the valve to self-inflate, no pumping required.
Benefits of self-inflating mattresses:
- Comfortable cushioning from the ground
- Fairly lightweight and packable compared to bulkier air beds
- Insulation against cold ground; higher R-value is better
- Not as thick and deluxe feeling as air beds
- Can still be punctured and lose loft
Highly rated self-inflating camping pads from brands like Therm-A-Rest, REI, and Sea-to-Summit are constructed to strike an optimal balance between cushioning and compact pack size. Look for 2-3 inch thick models with R-values around 3-5 for all-around performance.
Foam Pads – Simple, Cheap, Ultralight
For minimalist campers who prioritize saving weight and space above all, basic foam sleeping pads can’t be beat for their simplicity and portability. From just 1/2 to 1 inch thick, these closed-cell foam pads provide a thin barrier between your sleeping bag and the ground.
Pros of foam pads:
- Very affordable option
- Extremely lightweight and packs tiny
- Durable closed-cell foam holds up well
- Minimal padding and insulation
- Can feel every bump beneath
Trusted brands like Therm-A-Rest make excellent lightweight foam pads perfect for backpacking, with ‘eggshell’ style mattresses that fold up conveniently. Pair them with adequately insulated sleeping bags for cold weather comfort.
While gaining popularity among ultralight hikers, foam pads work best for young, hardy backpackers happy to trade comfort for compact portability.
Camping Cots – Sleep Elevated Off the Ground
Love the idea of getting up off the lumpy, muddy, or sloped ground and sleeping on a raised tent cot? Camping cots provide impressive versatility and comfort for a relatively reasonable price point.
Benefits of camping cots:
- Get up out of the dirt perfect for wet climates
- Assembly and breakdown is quick
- More air circulation and views compared to ground
- Bulkier and heavier than sleeping pads when transporting
- Lack insulating properties of mattresses
Affordable cot tent beds from Coleman, TETON Sports, and other reputable brands offer excellent, rugged portable sleeping platforms perfect for family car camping where regular beds are desired. Look for cots rated to at least 300 lbs with bonus features like storage pockets or USB ports.
While cots make sense in some scenarios, also factor in the added work of packing bulkier cot frames rather than slim sleeping pads able to slide into crevices when optimizing car space.
Hammocks – Sway Gently in a Bed Suspended from Trees
For a truly unique camping sleeping experience, nothing beats stretching out in a suspended hammock bed swaying gently under the stars. Hammocks offer wonderful versatility and can be set up in all sorts of scenic locations… provided you have anchor points.
Pros of hammock camping beds:
- Swaying motion is a magical feeling
- Hang between trees or use freestanding frames
- Get up off wet or sloped terrain
Cons to consider:
- Require trees or stands; not always an option
- Offer minimal insulation without added pads
Reputable hammock brands like ENO, Wise Owl Outfitters, and Gold Armour make quality models including integrated mosquito netting, compression stuff sacks, and tree straps needed to hang them properly without damage.
While not for everyone, hammocks open up unique camping possibilities if you have setup points available in your desired destinations.
So there you have it – a breakdown of the camping mattress spectrum so you can zero in on what best suits your needs. Focus on comfort, insulation, portability, and weight as you evaluate options. Sweet dreams and rest up out there on the trails! Let us know if you have any other camping mattress questions.