Best camping mats for the whole family
None of us like the feeling of waking up on a flat air mattress in the middle of the night. We can tough it out, but it still makes for a cruddy night. Sleep is universally accepted to be important, right? Many folks number one fear of camping is being unable to sleep. They have good reason! Camping in a tent never quite feels the same as our comfy beds at home, even if you are camping on a flat spot.
Having a fantastic mat or pad to sleep on can make a world of difference in the overall quality of the entire camping trip. For real. Your entire camping trip can go better if everyone can sleep well through the night.
This post will help guide you through our favorite camping pad options, with budget options and super posh options. First, lets go over a few basic guidelines. You’ll note below that we interchangeably use the term “sleeping pad” and “sleeping mat” – both are used!
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Camping Pad Basics
- The older the person, the nicer the pad they need. Young children tend to sleep better than adults.
- Always bring a patch kit along
- Remove sticks, rocks, and pine cones from under your tent.
- R-Value refers to the level of insulation the pad provides from the ground. If you live somewhere where it is below 60 at night, you want an R-value of at least 2 to be comfortable, even on summer nights.
Camping Pad Types
Self Inflating Pads
Self inflating mats are basically a hybrid between and air pad and a foam pad. Generally, these types of pads are made with a shell filled with a varying thickens foam core and a valve. The valve opens and closes to allow air to be drawn into the pad. You can usually help inflate them with a few extra breaths as well. We like them because even if they get a hole, the foam instead prevents the pad from sinking all the way to the ground. The foam also provides insulation from the cold ground.
An air mattress gets its primary source of support from blowing air into it. There are the classic, large and thick air mattresses as well as lower profile ones designed to be lightweight. Air mattresses have great support but are often colder to sleep on. They also are VERY uncomfortable if they get a leak in the middle of the night.
Foam mats are made out of a dense foam material. They fold or roll up for storage or transportation. They provide great insulation from the ground. They can range from comfy to very thin and unsupportive. They are stable, which makes them easier for kids to stay on compared to an air filled pad. Usually they are pretty cheap.
Best Self-Inflating Mats for Camping
The Exped MegaMat is a huge crowd favorite among the Tales of a Mountain Mama team. It provides a comfortable, bed like sleeping experience for adults that is hard to rival. The pad has a thick, self-inflating foam core that expands into a mattress that it 4 inches thick. That is pretty cushy by car camping standards!
Pros: Comfortable, good insulation from ground, thick enough to hide roots and rocks, durable, soft, quiet exterior.
Cons: Large, heavy, expensive
The Fillmatic Mat from UST also earns high marks for comfort. It is filled with a self-inflating foam, and inflates easily with a clever two way valve. We have one of these mats and it is design to both inflate and deflate easily. It inflates to a cushy 4 inches. The exterior fabric has a soft, non-slippery feel.
The Fillmatic was designed with clips at each corner to allow you to tether two mats together. This idea works great because it keeps the mats from shifting, but lets each person move around in the night without disrupting someone else’s sleep.
Pros: Comfortable, thick, good insulation, easy to inflate
Cons: Heavy, expensive, bulky
The Camp Bed Mat from REI earns high marks for its price point and over all comfort in a smaller package. It is 2.5 inches thick when fully inflated, so it is less bulky than the Exped or UST mats when rolled up. Because it is made with a dense foam, it is still comfortable for most folks. This is an ideal mat for good sleepers or kids. Adults who need the ultimate mat should stick with the Exped or UST mats. This mat comes in a regular and extra wide size.
Pros: Packs into a smaller space than the ultra premium mats. Durable exterior. Price,
Cons: Not as thick as the Exped or UST
This pad from REI is designed just for kids! It has a short, yet relatively wide design to help kids from rolling off in the middle of the night. It is only 1.5 inches thick when inflated, but because children have less mass than adults, they don’t need as thick of a pad until they are 10+. The great feature of this pad is that its smaller size takes up less room in the vehicle and the tent.
Pros: Kid sized, durable
Cons: Will not “grow” with your child; too short for adults
Best Air Mats for Camping
If vehicle space is at a premium for your family, the Klymit Insulated Pad is the way to go. This is an air-filled pad that inflates with 10-20 breaths This pad packs down into a space smaller than a Nalgene bottle. The unique v-shaped pattern of the pad helps relieve pressure points and discomfort. This is my 13 year old daughter’s favorite pad. The mat inflates to 2.5 inches, and because of the design of the baffles it feels thicker than that.
It does not have a foam core like the self-inflating mats, so if it gets punctured, you are on the ground. We like the insulated version instead of the non-insulated because our camping trips involve cool evenings. If you were camping in a hot climate, the un-insulated version would be fine.
Pros: Super lightweight, space saving, often on sale
Cons: Bouncy, more delicate fabric
Several members of the Mountain Mama Team have this air pad and like it for their families. They have found it durable and comfortable for both car camping and backpacking. This pad inflates with your breath using the included inflation sack to 3.5 inches–lots of cushion from the ground below! The pad is designed with thicker rails on outer edges which helps to keep kiddos on their mats in the middle of the night.
Pros: Lightweight, thick cushion, included inflation sack
Cons: “Bouncy” compared to a self-inflating mat,
Best Foam Pads for Camping
Both of the pads we recommend here are made of closed cell foam. With a closed cell foam pad, that individual pockets of air are permanently trapped and so the pad doesn’t “squish” by taking in or releasing air. Closed cell foam is firmer than open cell foam, but also more durable. The density of the closed cell foam allows it to be shaped with bumps or egg shell patterns which provides pressure relief and a lot of cushion for the size of the pad.
This camping mat is a workhorse for both car campers and backpackers. It folds up compactly, and because of its reflective layer, it also keeps you warm. It has an eggshell-like texture to help avoid pressure points. Pads like this are great to have as an extra padding layer under a thin pad, or as a primary layer for young kids.
Pros: Cheap, easy to store, good R-value
Cons: Thin, narrow, prone to damage if caught on branches
The Nemo Switchback is a very basic, workhorse mat. We have used it backpacking, car camping, on its own, and layered with another pad. It has an excellent R-value for its weight. It folds up and stores easily. Because of its egg-shell type design it lays flat. It is a bit slippery with certain sleeping bags but we haven’t been too bothered.
Pros: Ultra lightweight, good insulation, comfortable for kids, hard to roll off of
Cons: Narrow, less comfortable for some adults
Double sleeping pads for family camping
Sometimes throwing a couple double sleeping pads in the tent means less cracks for kids to fall down. If you live in an area that gets cool at night, sleeping pads verses inflatable air mattresses will keep you much warmer. These are the ones we recommend. Note that double sleeping pads are expensive, but the comfort trade-off is worth it.
This self-inflating double pad is a great option for comfortable camping without having to really rough it or haul your whole bed with you. At just over 7 pounds, it’s not light, but the comfort makes up for it if you prefer to get a really good night of rest in your tent.
Pros: Easy to inflate, large and comfortable.
This double pad is definitely the lightest option, but it is also the most fragile. Bring a patch kit and be aware of sticks or rocks that could potentially put holes in it.
Pros: Light and folds small
Cons: More fragile
As mentioned about the single Exped above, this one is a crowd favorite for good reason. It is very comfortable and warm, but heavy.
Pros: Extremely comfortable, high R-value (8.1) and
Cons: Expensive, hard to store (supposed to lay flat for storage), and heavy.
Other Camping Mat Options
This list we have here is not exhaustive, nor do you have to buy a pad to get a good night’s sleep. This list is a gathering of all of our favorite mats, so we can share our experiences with you.
You don’t have to run out and purchase a pad! I know folks who sleep awesomely when they camp because they bring a memory foam mattress with them! We have never had room for that, but if you did, it would be a great, cheap option.
If you have a lot of blankets and sleeping bags, but not many camping mats, you can always layer a bunch of bedding to make a cozy sleeping nest for you kiddos.
The best sleeping mat option is ultimately the one that you sleep well on and you can afford. Because sleep is so critical for my husband and I, we tend to buy a cheaper tent but splurge on the camping mat. Whatever you decide to buy, make sure you test it out at home before departure!
At the end of the day, every body needs to sleep. Here is hoping you find some options that help provide the foundation for a good night’s sleep for your next camping trip.
- Best sleeping bags for kids
- Family Camping Hacks
- 3-Day Free Camping Meal Plan
- How to set up a camp kitchen
Best sleeping pads for car camping
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