Tested: The Best Sleeping Pads for Camping of 2021

Bring comfort from home to the campground with these six sleeping pads.

24 reviews with an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars
A camper gets his tent set up with the REI Co-op Camp Bed sleeping pad.

We’ve come a long way from the days when campers laid out bedrolls on pine boughs. The sleeping pads lining shelves today are thick, cushy, warm and downright palatial compared to the mats of yore. Frankly, many are nicer than what college kids sleep on.

The best part about it is that when your vehicle does the heavy lifting—whether you’re car camping or overlanding—almost any sleeping pad is yours for the taking. You simply need to decide what type of pad you want, then factor in personal preferences like dimensions and price. There are a ton of options available to you, dear sleeper, and we bet there’s one for you in this list.

 

Test Results

Find our quick recommendations here or read on for the full breakdown of our year-long field test of the best sleeping pads for camping.

 

Other Top Performers

 

NEMO Roamer – XL Wide

Best All-Around Sleeping Pad & Editors’ Choice Award Winner

Score: 98

NEMO Roamer - XL Wide

  • Pad type: Self-inflating
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • R-value: 6.0
  • Dimensions: 78 x 30 x 4 in.
  • Weight: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Price: $249.95

Test Results: Behold, the sleeping pad by which we evaluate all others: the NEMO Roamer. It’s comfy, it’s warm, it’s durable, it’s easy to set up, and—perhaps best of all—it easily fits in your car trunk. That’s the picture of perfection when it comes to camping, so if you read just one review in this gear guide, let it be this.

It starts with the sort of comfort that makes you forget you’re outside in the first place. The Roamer is 4 inches thick and does a good impression of memory foam when side sleepers dig their hips in. It also has the most generous dimensions in this lineup—78 inches long and 30 inches wide—so larger campers and thrashers can spread out. One tester even deemed it broad enough for sharing with her 3-year-old.

But if there’s a truism with sleeping pads, it’s that the cushier the mat, the harder it is to set up—and fit in your car. By such laws of physics, the Roamer should fail miserably in both areas, but it doesn’t. Thanks to dual valves (one for inflation and the other for deflation) and NEMO’s proprietary foam-lined, internal air channels (called Flow Core™ construction), you don’t need superhero lungs to blow up this pad. It self-inflates in about five minutes, then top it off with a few lungfuls, and it’s good to go.

When it’s time to pack up and head home, release the deflation valve, then squish the Roamer into its included storage bag. All said, it packs down to the size of a throw pillow, thanks to its diagonal air channels, which collapse smaller than standard vertical and horizontal chambers. That helped our testers find small nooks for it in storage between camping trips and, because it weighs just 5 and a half pounds, easily toss it in the car and haul it to the tent. Note: That Flow Core™ construction does make the Roamer slightly bouncier than other foam pads, but our testers thought it hit the sweet spot between comfort and function.

Our favorite feature? The Roamer has a toggle system along the side of the pad, so couples or groups looking to create the ultimate cuddle puddle can secure two pads together to make a seamless, queen-size backcountry bed. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Supreme comfort, generous dimensions and surprising packability make the NEMO Roamer – XL Wide our top selection for any camping adventure.

 

Testing stats:

  • Nights out: 42
  • Testing states: California, Colorado and Utah
  • Best testing story: Here’s another gold star to the Roamer for versatility. “I know this has nothing to do with camping,” a Colorado-based tester sheepishly notes, “but the Roamer is so darn comfortable that my 65-year-old mother chooses to sleep on it when she visits.”

 

Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D

Best Sleeping Pad for Family Camping

Score: 92

Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D

  • Pad type: Self-inflating
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • R-value: 7.0
  • Dimensions: 77 x 25 x 4.25 in.
  • Weight: 4 lbs. 6 oz.
  • Price: $209.95

Test Results: Goldilocks, meet the MondoKing 3D. This family-friendly pad does everything just right: Its oversize dimensions make it comfy, but it’s compact enough to fit neatly inside smaller tents. Its 7.0 R-value makes it warm enough for shoulder-season endeavors, but it still weighs under 4 and a half pounds. Its materials and construction scream “premium,” but the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D still costs less than others on this list.

The secret to the MondoKing 3D’s just-right makeup is in its foam. Like tire tread, the foam sheet is ribbed with thicker sections (Therm-a-Rest calls it StrataCore™), which gives the pad extra warmth and cush while still allowing campers to crush it down and easily roll it up between uses. StrataCore™ construction makes the MondoKing 3D a little firmer than other pads, but it’s still more than 4 inches thick and plenty plush for side sleepers.

Since the MondoKing 3D is only 25 inches wide, it’s a great choice for folks intending to pack a bunch of sleepers in a single tent. Other boons for families? The MondoKing 3D has a supple stretch fabric on top which makes it both quiet and durable enough for bouncing and dog claws.

Setup is also one of the easiest in test. Two separate valves—one for inflation, one for deflation—are clearly labeled and make quick work of getting it right. Let the thing self-inflate for 10 or 15 minutes, then attach the included pump sack to top it off. If you overfill, the intuitive dial on the deflation valve lets you fine-tune it to your desired firmness. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: The Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D is relatively lightweight and easy to inflate, putting it near the top of the list for folks looking for a versatile sleeping pad for year-round car camping.

 

Testing stats:

  • Nights out: 30
  • Testing states: Colorado and New York, plus Ottawa, Canada
  • Best testing story: One tester’s 4-year-old approves of the MondoKing 3D. “When he grew out of his travel crib, I put him on the MondoKing,” Dad explains. “He calls it his adventure bed—I don’t think I’m ever getting it back.”

 

Exped MegaMat 10

Best Sleeping Pad for Adventure Camping

Score: 94

Exped MegaMat 10

  • Versions: Unisex regular wide and long extra-wide
  • Pad type: Self-inflating
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • R-value: 8.1
  • Dimensions: 72.1 x 25.6 x 3.9 in. (regular wide), 77.6 x 30.3 x 3.9 in. (long extra-wide)
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 12 oz. (regular wide), 5 lbs. 9.6 oz. (long extra-wide)
  • Price: $199–$229

Test Results: Our testing samples of this mattress have seen a lot. We’ve thrown down on dirt and granite, to be sure, but also desert floors, truck beds and even a gravel parking lot. The pad was even included in a bounce-house-style melee among overeager testers confined to an REI Co-op Kingdom 6 during a Colorado squall that rendered other pads in need of repairs. And after all was said and done, the venerable Exped MegaMat 10 is no worse for the wear—the only perfect scorer in the durability department in our round-robin test.

The MegaMat 10 has a laminated top and bottom, making it far hardier than most inflatable pads. The 75-denier polyester bottom layer easily shrugs off dirt and other debris should you forgo the tent like one tester did on a rough-and-tumble night outside Moab, Utah. “There were cactuses everywhere, but my pad escaped unscathed,” she reports. Of course, all that armor does come with a size penalty; the MegaMat 10 packs down to the size of a bag of doggie kibble (2 feet and change by 8 inches, or nearly double the size of the packed-up NEMO Roamer).

Still, the MegaMat 10 is light for its size. It weighs less than 4 pounds—awesome for campers who might schlep it onto a raft, lift it overhead into a roof-top tent or haul it in and out of the car every day on longer road trips. Credit its horizontal air chambers for shaving the ounces without affecting comfort—the MegaMat 10 is still nearly 4 inches thick. “I’m a side sleeper, and this is the first pad that doesn’t make me wake up with a bruised hip,” one tester wrote on her feedback form. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: If you want to hit the dirt for an adventure without hindering your beauty sleep, grab the mega-hardy Exped MegaMat 10.

 

Testing stats:

  • Nights out: 48
  • Testing states: California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
  • Best testing anecdote: Our Utah crew rolled into Moab on a busy holiday without reservations or ideas as to where to set up a dispersed camp. After aimlessly cruising Bureau of Land Management wilderness after dark, the group called it. “It was after midnight and we were exhausted, so we pulled over on the side of the road and threw our stuff into the dirt,” says our tester. “I got a good night’s sleep on the MegaMat, but I was less than thrilled in the morning when I awoke to a shrub in my face on one side and a cow on the other.”

 

HEST Sleep System

Best Sleeping Pad for Glamping

Score: 91

HEST Sleep System

  • Pad type: Hybrid
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • R-value: 11.8 (not a typo)
  • Dimensions: 78 x 25 x 7 in.
  • Weight: 26 lbs. (also not a typo)
  • Price: $399

Test Results: Put simply: This sleep system is for campers with an insatiable appetite for comfort. And if you make the investment, stratospheric comfort is exactly what HEST delivers. One tester put it this way: “Hands down: This is the best sleep of my life.”

Your soft tactile experience starts with the 7-inch-thick home-mattress portion of the sleep system, which has a layer of memory foam on top of a firmer, more stable polyurethane foam substrate. It’s all covered with a stretchy, wicking nylon fabric that makes the whole package a likely step up from what you’re sleeping on at home. (Nice touch: The cover zips off for washing.)

The air-filled base is as close to an indestructible air pad as you can find at REI, thanks to the beefy casing and drop-stitch construction borrowed from inflatable SUPs. The other advantage to this technique, where thousands of tightly packed high-tensile threads connect the top and bottom of the air-filled base, is the rigidity it provides. Short of bringing your platform bed to the campground, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more luxurious setup.

Getting the HEST ready for a night under the stars is easy on the lungs, too. The Sleep System comes with a foot pump. It’s easy to fill, and deflation is simple: Pop the valve on the air pad and let it flow. At nearly $400 and more than 25 pounds, however, this isn’t the sleep system for everyone. But if a decadently comfortable night’s rest is what you’re after, this is it. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Campers wanting to live in the lap of luxury regardless of cost or weight will love the unmatched comfort and thoughtful design of the HEST Sleep System.

 

Testing stats:

  • Nights out: 27
  • Testing states: Colorado, Montana and Utah
  • Best testing anecdote: One tester with a history of back problems called the HEST “the best solution not prescribed by a doctor.” Have your partner load it into the car and unload it at the campground, she advises, then enjoy pain-free sleep like she has, most recently at Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area in Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana.

 

Other Top Performers

 

REI Co-op Camp Bed

Score: 90

REI Co-op Camp Bed

  • Versions: Unisex regular and extra-large
  • Pad type: Self-inflating
  • Insulation: Open-cell foam
  • R-value: 7.6
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 10 oz. (regular), 5 lbs. 4 oz. (extra-large)
  • Price: $99.95–$119

Test Results: Looking for a sleeping pad that will save a few dollars and still keep you pretty cozy at night? Look no further. Belying its relatively affordable price, the REI Co-op Camp Bed boasts 2.5 inches of foam, plus a T-shirt-soft cover on top. It still rolls up tight (one tester compared the regular size to that of a jumbo Wiffle Ball bat), though, making it a great option for folks considering toting it along on occasional backpacking trips. Bonus: The 150-denier polyester is toughest in test. Buy here.

 

Helinox Cot Max Convertible

Score: 89

Helinox Cot Max Convertible

  • Pad type: Cot
  • Insulation: None
  • R-value: None
  • Weight: 6 lbs.
  • Price: $429.95

Test Results: Get off the ground with the Helinox Cot Max Convertible, the only cot in this guide. The benefits of a cot like this are many: For starters, its canvas trampoline-style top cradles your joints and curves more uniformly than a traditional sleeping pad. It also has significant ground clearance (more than 6 inches), which makes it easier to get in and out of and conserves storage space in the tent (you can stuff your belongings underneath it). It may be obvious, but you also don’t have to waste any breath inflating it. As for the downsides, the Cot Max Convertible won’t keep you as warm as an insulated pad, and nailing the setup takes a few practice rounds. Buy here.

 

Shop All Sleeping Pads 

 

Camping Sleeping Pad Buying Advice

If you’re looking for a car-camping sleeping pad, your motorized packhorse is doing the heavy lifting, so just pick the warmest, cushiest, most durable pad you can afford, taking into account your space. Your unfurled sleeping pad needs to fit inside your tent, and your packed-up sleeping pad needs to fit in your vehicle and wherever you’d like to store it when not in use.

 

Types of Pads

You have three main sleeping-pad styles to choose from: air pads, self-inflating foam pads and closed-cell foam pads.

Most car-camping sleeping pads are of the self-inflating foam variety. That means they have open-cell foam insulation for warmth and padding, plus air inflation to enhance cushioning. To inflate one, you open a valve to let the outside air pressure plump up the pad. (This typically takes five to 10 minutes.) To get it fully inflated to your liking, though, you’ll have to blow a few lungfuls in, too. (Some pads come with a pump.)

Self-inflating pads’ warmth comes from the open-cell foam inside. Compared to air pads, they are heavier and bulkier to pack, and because they’re inflated, you need to take care not to puncture them and should carry a field-repair patch kit on your trips.

 

Pad R-Values

R-value measures a pad’s resistance to heat flowing through it (hence the “R”). Higher R-values are warmer. Below are rough guidelines about temperature conditions for different R-value ranges:

  • R-value less than 2.0: Warm-weather pads
  • R-value 2.0 to 3.9: Cool-weather pads
  • R-value 4.0 to 5.4: Cold-weather pads
  • R-value 5.5 and greater: Extreme-cold-weather pads

 

How to Choose a Sleeping Pad 

 

Methodology

We distributed the best sleeping pads intended for car camping that are currently available at REI among a team of 12 testers. Over the past year, these co-op members logged more than 250 nights on these mattresses. They  camped beneath the Milky Way in Utah, sweltered through Nevada’s hottest evenings in Red Rock Canyon and entertained babies during whipping winds outside Ottawa, Canada.

At the end of the testing session, we asked our team to evaluate each sleeping pad used on its comfort, warmth, durability, ease of setup and packability. We then took those scores, found the averages, and presented our top picks to you in this guide.

The top overall scorer is the NEMO Roamer – XL Wide (98), which we’ve also awarded an REI Co-op Editors’ Choice Award. Following the Roamer, the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D (92), Exped MegaMat 10 (94) and HEST Sleep System (91) scored high in most—but not all—categories. The REI Co-op Camp Bed (90) and Helinox Cot Max Convertible (89), which scored high in some categories, are good choices for specific users.


Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort, with additional reporting by Ken Knapp. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. Her organization WildKind educates and empowers families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.

Ken Knapp has been an REI Co-op writer for a quarter-century and a member longer than that. He’s a father of daughters (thriving) and monitor of marmots (threatened). Ken is a big fan of sustainability and sharing the ball.