There’s a lot to be said for a good mattress. While there are those people who somehow manage to fall asleep while lying on what is comparable to a bed of Lego, mattress technology is at a point where no one has to. Mattresses offer more than just a cushion between you and the ground though, especially in colder whether, a mattress adds an indispensable layer of insulation to your sleeping arrangement.
Types of Mattresses
Camping mattresses these days come in two main variants, most notably foam mattresses and inflatable mattresses. Both have their own sub-groups and own lists of pros and cons. While other options, such as hammocks and stretchers exist, mattresses or pads usually offer the most flexible option, without the need for much setup.
Foam Mattresses are exactly what you think. Hearkening back to the early ages of camping and backpacking, the simplest and most inexpensive mattress you’ll find is a roll-up foam mattress. Cheap and durable, they offer little in the way of comfort, but will cover over some pesky stones, and a valuable layer of insulation. At the very least it helps keeps your sleeping bag clean.
More expensive options will either fold or roll up, but offer more in the way of comfort. This is coupled with an increase in weight and size, although some are able to compress to a more manageable size. If you’re car camping this is certainly an option, but if you’re backpacking, you’d be better off with something else.
Inflatable sleeping pads are extremely popular. Everything from the household Lilo to miniature self-inflating pads. Your main choice here is whether you need to backpack with this or not. If not, there are any number of choices, with different size options, all offering similar performance. Note that you generally want a pump for these mattresses, as they have very large volumes, requiring a lot of air.
On the hiker’s side of things though, you pay for weight and compressibility. Made with lightweight materials, and often held together by a piece of foam, these mattresses compress down to bundles smaller than many sleeping bags, and weighing much less. The foam often provides a ‘self-inflating’ ability to a mattress, requiring you to only add half the required air.
Best Foam Camping Mattress
The old-faithful. Ever seen photos from hiking expeditions of the past. This is what they used. Cheap, durable, good enough. If you don’t mind the space that one of these mattresses take up, go for it. But don’t expect anything special. The mattress evens out a couple bumps, and will keep you warm, but that’s where it ends.
This particular model comes in a camo-green or gray variant, with several different sizes both in length and thickness. Depending on what size you’re looking for, it might actually be cheaper to choose an alternative. You may find many people purchasing this mattress to put down below another mattress or pad, to act as a protector.
Therm-a-Rest have been making sleeping pads for decades. They’re the trusted name, and this is their entry level product. The regular mattress is 6′ long and 20″ wide, available in a standard gray.
While a bit more advanced than a plane piece of foam, the Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest has a unique design with supportive peaks and heat-trapping valleys which provide a more comfortable sleeping experience over your typical pad. Made in the USA, we’d pick it over the ALPS.
When it comes to closed-cell foam sleeping pads, this is where it ends. The accordion style folding makes packing a breeze, and brings the overall size down from a 6′ long, 20″ wide mattress into a small 20″ long by 5×5.5″ package. What’s more it weights just 14oz, putting it well below even the inflatable mattresses on option.
Nearly indestructible, you can lay these pads down on any surface. What’s more they have a special reflective ThermaCapture coating, which increases overall warmth. The foam is further developed to be denser on the bottom for durability and insulation, but thinner on top to provide a more comfortable sleep. A great option for the hard-core outdoorist.
Best Inflatable Camping Mattress
Cheap and bulky. Not something you’d take hiking, but for chucking in your trunk and doubling as a spare mattress at home, you can’t really go wrong. Available in a slim twin and queen size, the top has a plush velvet covering which prevents squeaks and discomfort, with a durable rubber base.
The mattresses packs easily with their Wrap ‘n Roll built-in-storage system and you’re guaranteed not to end up on the floor the next morning, thanks to the factory-tested AirTight system.
If you’re heading to the mountains on a budget, this self-inflating mattress from TNH is a solid contender. Weighing just two pounds, the mattress is 6′ long, by 22″ wides. Rolled up it fits into a package 11″ wide with a 7″ diameter.
The pad offers a comfortable alternative to straight foam mattresses, while still being easy to inflate thanks to its fast rising design. The product is further made appealing with the addition of a 75D polyester outer shell which adds strength and durability, ensuring you don’t get punctures, regardless of your surface.
While more expensive than the TNH alternative, Therm-a-Rest has a long history of well-made products in the outdoor range. The ProLite Plus mattress comes in three different sizes. Their regular size measuring 6′ long by 20″. The amazing thing is that it comes in at just 670g, noticeably lighter than the TNH pad.
Besides that, Therm-a-Rest mattresses are made in the USA, offer superior self-inflating abilities and the same foam that insulates and inflates has boosted compression for easy packing.
Being avid hikers ourselves, we’ve had the opportunity to test out different mattresses over the years. If you’re concerned about your pack weight, and willing to pay a bit extra, we’d go for the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus any day. If you’re wanting to spare a bit of cash, the TNH Outdoors pad offers a strong alternative. Whatever you pay over the cost of a standard foam mattress is well worth it.