If you are new to the world of sleeping outside, then not having the a good camping air mattress can be a huge deal breaker. If you sleep badly on your first night due to discomfort or cold, you’re not going to come away dying to get out camping again – a disastrous outcome. We want everyone to love camping as much as we do! And for most of you, that may mean that you spend a little extra on a quality air mattress that feels as good as your bed at home. The more campers there are, the happier and healthier we all are!
I’m not going to lie, there are a heck of a lot of camping mattresses and sleeping pads out there. Many of which will do just fine for a weekend of uncomfortable summer camping here and there. But for something that will go the distance and provide you with many years of comfortable and satisfying sleeps, you’re going to need to get the best air mattress for camping that there is.
Skip ahead to read about the best air mattresses or read on to get a better understanding of the different types of air mattresses that are available, and what to look for if you are looking to buy the best air mattress for camping.
|Product||Type of air mattress||Size||Best suited to||Cost|
|REI Relax Air bed||Air bed||79 x 56 x 6 in (200 x 142 x 15cm)||Car camping in the summer||$$|
|Lightspeed Outdoors 2-Person Air Bed||Air bed||79 x 55 x 6.25 in (200 x 140 x 17cm)||Car camping in the summer||$|
|SoundAsleep Camping Series Air Mattress||Air bed||78 x 60 x 9 in (198 x 152 x 23cm)||Car camping in the summer||$$|
|Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D Camp Mattress||Self-inflating||77 x 25 x 4 in (196 x 64 x 10cm)||Car camping in the winter||$$$|
|Exped Mega Mat 10||Self-inflating||77.6 x 30.3 x 3.9 in (197 x 77 x 10cm)||Car camping in the winter||$$$|
|Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Mattress||Self-inflating||72 x 20 x 3 in (183 x 51 x 8 cm)||Car camping and short backpacking trips||$$|
Different types of air mattress for camping
On the face of it, camping air mattresses are most like your bed at home. They look luxurious, usually come in double or queen size, and place a good 5+ inches between you and the ground. But unlike your bed at home, air beds can be unstable and bouncy to sleep on, and they don’t do a very good job of protecting you from the cold. The air that fills the mattress chambers remains as cold as the air outside, and only protects you from the cold of the ground.
If you tend to only camp in warm summer conditions and you like to be raised off the floor a little, then air beds are a great option. They also double as an extra bed at home if you have a houseful of guests, making them the best air mattress for everyday use.
Air beds are usually made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), which is the more environmentally friendly of the two, and you will need a pump to inflate an air bed, although some come with one built-in. They can be heavy when deflated, but they tend to pack down to a reasonable size.
Self-inflating insulated air mattresses
The light insulation inside self-inflating mattresses solves a couple of problems that arise with air beds. Firstly, the combo of air and insulation provides greater levels of stability and minimises any unwanted bounce when moving around on your mattress. And secondly, self-inflating mattresses provide much greater protection against the cold, so are the best option for winter camping or camping in areas where the temperature significantly drops at night.
To state the obvious, you don’t need a pump to inflate a self-inflating mattress, but you will need a little bit of puff in your lungs to top up the air to a level that suits your snoozing preferences. They tend to be bigger than air beds when packed down but you save space by not needing a pump.
Backpacking sleeping pads
These are designed specifically with low weight and packability in mind, with comfort not featuring as highly. However in recent years, there have been some huge progress made in lightweight sleeping pad design, with pads such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite providing almost as much comfort as you would expect from a more luxurious car camping mattress. So if you dabble in backpacking but love a bit of car camping, and only want one camping mattress in your life, then check out our guide to the best sleeping pads for backpacking.
What to look for in a camping air mattress
The beauty of car camping above backpacking is that you can pack just about anything, providing it fits in your car with space for passengers. So within reason, you can embrace the decadent habits of our glamping cousins and go for pure luxury and comfort, and not worry too much about weight and size. But before you go investing in a $200 three foot high air mattress, there are a few more things to consider when choosing the best air mattress for camping.
How warm is your air mattress?
Insulated mattresses are rated with an R-Value to give an indication of the temperatures in which they will provide warmth. The higher the R-Value, the warmer your camping mattress will keep you. Here’s a guide:
- 0-1 – only really suitable for warm summer conditions.
- 1-3 – this will be fine for most 3-season camping trips.
- 3-5 – ideal for winter camping in sub-zero temperatures.
- 5+ – a must for camping on snow.
Air beds perform least well in the cold as they are generally not insulated and aren’t given an R-Value at all. Whilst self-inflating mattresses will keep you much warmer despite being closer to the ground.
What do you look for in a comfortable bed?
Everyone has different requirements when it comes to comfort. So when choosing an air mattress think about what’s great about your bed at home. Are you are a back or side sleeper? Do you wake up in the same position that you fell asleep in? Or are you a wriggler? Do you star fish or curl up?
Side sleepers will usually prefer a camping mattress that is at least 3 inches thick, whilst back sleepers might prefer something slightly wider so that their arms don’t hang over the edges.
Do you prefer a firm or soft bed? Most air mattresses can be adjusted to your preference. Usually air beds become unstable when deflated slightly, whereas self-inflating mattresses keep their form due to the internal foam insulation.
Does it fit in your tent?
Car camping air mattresses can be bulky once they are fully inflated, especially air beds. So to prevent cramming your new camping pad into a space that it’s just not made for, it’s a good idea to do a trial run at home. Even if the measurements work on paper, you’ll want to make sure you have space in your tent for the rest of your stuff.
Does it pack down to a reasonable size?
Although it’s not a deal breaker if your camping mattress doesn’t pack down very small, it’s still a consideration. If you are packing a car for a family camping trip, you are going to be short on space from the get go. Choosing something that isn’t huge when packed down will help this.
Does it inflate easily and quickly?
Again, not so important when you are car camping, but you at least need your pump to do the job within 5 minutes and not take up all your energy to make that happen. Most air mattress pumps are fairly efficient and easy to use.
How durable is your air mattress?
This is important from a financial and environmental point of view. There’s just no point in buying a cheap mattress that will give up on you after one summer of use. These bad boys should last for decades if you look after them, giving your pocket an easier time of it in the long run, not to mention the lack of waste. So look for mattresses with welded seams and a thicker bottom with a higher D (Denier).
How versatile is it?
Although air beds have their merits and are great as a back-up bed at home, they are no good at keeping the cold out in chillier conditions. Likewise, a well insulated mattress, if only used during the summer, might be an unnecessary expense. So consider when and where you will be using your air mattress.
The 6 best air mattresses for camping
Size: Small queen
Best for: Summer car camping
Other info: Also available as a single air bed
This luxurious 2 person air bed is probably the best air mattress for camping of this style, with the Lightspeed Outdoors coming in at a very close second place. At 79 x 56 x 6 in (200 x 142 x 15cm), it is not quite queen sized, but is most certainly big enough for a couple and their dog, or a small family to snuggle up on. Made from PVC-free TPU, the welded seams do a great job at preventing air from slowly leaking out, as tends to be the case with many lower quality air mattresses. And the top surface of the mattress has a soft finish for next-to-skin comfort.
The REI Relax is as easy to inflate as it is to deflate and although the hand pump that it comes with is a little on the large side, the mattress itself packs down easily to a tidy 8.5 x 16 in (21 x 40cm).
For the ultimate family camping set up, the REI Relax Air Bed fits nicely inside the REI Kingdom 6 which won the Cool of the Wild All-rounder Award in the family tents category.
The Relax has no insulation to keep you warm if the temperature drops, making it an unsuitable option for anything but fair weather camping. But if it’s a reliable, firm and stable air bed you are after, that you won’t need to replace after one summer of camping, then only the Lightspeed will compete when it comes to quality and price.
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Size: Small queen
Best for: Budget car camping or beginner campers
Other info: Comes with a battery powered pump
This is another really excellent air bed option for summer campers looking for a little bit of home-from-home luxury, and is the cheapest car camping mattress in this review. Like the REI Relax, the Lightspeed Outdoors 2-person air bed is made with TPU instead of PVC, making it more durable than the SoundAsleep air mattress. It also features a patented stabiliser system that allows the firmness of the bed to be adjusted. At 18.4 x 9.2 x 9.2 in (47 x 23 x 23 cm) it packs down a little bigger than the Relax and is slightly heavier too. But it is much lighter than the SoundAsleep and more compact when packed.
A battery powered pump is included which is easy to use, but if you prefer a super firm mattress for your wilderness sleeps then you will struggle to get anything better than the REI Relax. The two are very similar in size and performance, and the Lightspeed does a great job of staying well inflated, is easy to inflate and deflate and is the best air mattress for camping on a budget.
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Best for: Summer car camping
Other info: 9 inches (23cm) deep
At 9 lb (4.1kg) this is by far the heaviest camping mattress in this review, and the most expensive of the air beds. It is made from PVC which many prefer not to choose above TPU mattresses. But what the SoundAsleep Camping Series Air Mattress offers that none of the others do, is a whopping 9 inches (23cm) of luxurious comfort to sleep on top of! And to add to the luxury, the extra thick waterproof flocked top provides a velvety puncture-resistant layer for sound sleeps in the outdoors.
The Camping Series is SoundAsleeps first foray into the world of wilderness nighttime comfort, and adds a Sure-Grip bottom to prevent the bed from sliding around on your tent floor. They also include an external rechargeable pump that can be charged from your car as well as at home.
For those who prefer to sleep a little higher off the ground when summer car camping, this air mattress is for you. At 78 x 60 x 9in (198 x 152 x 23cm), the queen sized options is, from a size point of view, the best camping mattress for couples. Just make sure you have a very spacious tent to house it! But for something more streamlined that packs down smaller, you are better off choosing either the REI Relax or the Lightspeed Outdoors.
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Best for: Winter car camping
Other info: Super high R-Value of 11.4
The MondoKing 3D is the biggest mattress that Therm-a-Rest have ever made. It is also one of the warmest sleeping mattresses full stop, with an exceptional R-Value of 11.4. If luxury winter camping is your thing then you can stop looking for the perfect winter camping mattress right now. The MondoKing 3D excels at providing warmth when camping on snow and in temperatures well below zero, and although the Exped MegaMat also takes the same conditions in its stride, the MondoKing 3D has the edge. At 7 x 26in (18 x 66cm), this mat also packs down a fair bit smaller than the MegaMat due to its narrower design. For a wider and longer (and pricier) option, choose the XXL.
With a foam core for exceptional insulation and really great stability, the MondoKing 3D is a very similar car camping mattress to the MegaMat, making it a tough choice as to which is the best air mattress for camping overall. The Therm-a-Rest lifetime warranty might just put the MondoKing 3D in pole position.
A well designed feature of this mat is the dual valves that are positioned on the top corners of the 4 inch vertical walls. This placement enables you to easily adjust the softness of the mat by letting out a little air whilst you are lying on the mat.
An exceedingly comfortable and warm four season car camping mattress.
Size: Wide single
Best for: Winter car camping
Other info: 30.3 inches (77cm) wide
This may be the most expensive mattress in this review but if you are serious about getting the very best air mattress for camping, then this is definitely one to consider. This self-inflating foam mattress relies on PU insulation to provide incredible warmth at an R-Value of 9.5. And although it doesn’t sleep as warm as the MondoKing 3D, at 30.3 inches (77cm) wide this single mattress gives an extra 5 inches of width for nighttime wrigglers and back sleepers alike to find comfort.
The extra tough 75D polyester bottom adds to the durability of this mattress and the TPU film laminate provides hydrolysis resistance – ideal for winter conditions or sleeping out under the stars. To add to the decadence, the tricot top adds a velvety finish that you just can’t resist snuggling up on.
Much like the MondoKing 3D, the MegaMat is more like your mattress at home than an air mattress. And to control that firmness and also the stability of the mattress, a mini pump is included and is used through a separate inflation valve to the deflation valve.
For all its comfort and warmth, it can be a struggle to roll up and is also one of the largest mattresses once packed down (31.1 x 9.8in (79 x 25cm)). A small price to pay for one of the best air mattresses for camping that you will ever get to lay your weary head on.
Best for: Winter car camping and short backpacking trips
Other info: Available in L and XL
Another top of the range single camping mattress from Therm-a-Rest is the LuxuryMap Mattress. This is one versatile mat that, although designed for car camping, is semi-packable and just about light enough (3.26 lb (1.5kg)) for a short overnight backpacking trip. And with an R-Value of 6 it will be well worth carrying it for a warm insulated and highly luxurious sleep.
What sets the 3 inch high LuxuryMap apart from other winter sleeping pads is the unique pressure mapping foam that provides more support in certain areas with higher density foam. And in other areas, lower density foam ensures the hips and shoulders have a more soft and forgiving place to snuggle into.
This is a self-inflating air mattress that will need a little extra air to top it up to your preferred firmness. As air is let in, the foam inside expands. So it pays to leave the mattress to fully self-inflate for a good half hour or so.
At almost half the price of both the MegaMat and MondoKing 3D, the LuxuryMap is a superb option for those looking to keep costs down, despite it being on the narrow side (72 x 20 in / 183 x 51cm). But if you really want maximise on your wilderness comfort then the XL is almost as big as the MegaMat.
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