Making sure you have one of the best sleeping pads for car camping can make or break your trip. Nobody wants to get stuck using a pad that’s uncomfortable and wind up with a bad night’s rest. Luckily there are tons of camping mat options with a variety of constructions, insulation levels (aka R-values), and sizes to suit all kinds of sleepers.
What Criteria To Consider
Types Of Sleeping Pad For Camping
There are tons of different types of sleeping pads, but the ones best suited for car camping are inflatable pads and self-inflating pads, since they’re generally the most comfortable and readily available — especially since weight and compressed size are less important than with backpacking. Some kinds of foam pads will also be great specifically for car camping though. More on that below:
- Inflatable pads are exactly what they sound like and are filled with air, keeping you elevated off the ground. As you’re largely suspended in inflatable mats, they can be very comfortable. I can personally attest that as a side-sleeper, I usually sleep more comfortably on an inflatable pad than a self-inflating one. They’re generally also light and pack down to a small size, which is nice if you don’t have much room in your car or want your car camping sleeping pad to work double-duty as a sleeping pad for backpacking. The trade-off is the possibility of them popping, leaving you with no cushion at all. To combat this, look for an inflatable pad that comes with a patch kit.
- Self-inflating pads are a bit of a misnomer. Filled with both open-cell foam and air, these mats blow up mainly on their own by being rolled out and allowing the foam to expand. However, you do need to top them off with extra air to get them to the right firmness level for you. They’re often heavier and bulkier than an inflatable one, which isn’t much of an issue for car camping, but it will likely prevent them from also being an option for lighter-weight trips. They’re often made of more durable material and are less likely to pop than inflatable pads — and even if they do spring a leak, the foam should still provide some comfort.
- Foam pads can be suitable for car camping, depending on the type of foam. Closed-cell foam pads are extremely cost-effective and common but can be uncomfortable on the joints, and their benefit of being lightweight isn’t super necessary when car camping so there aren’t any included in this list. But specialty foam mats like memory foam pads can serve as a super comfortable mattress-like sleeping pad for anyone who doesn’t mind traveling with a bit more bulk.
R-Value Of Sleeping Pads
Another important consideration when choosing a sleeping mat is its R-value, or how much insulation it provides. A pad with an R-value between 1 and 2.5 is only insulating enough for camping in the heat of summer, while a pad with an R-value between 2.5 and 4 is considered a “three-season” option comfortable for summer, spring, and fall. This will likely suffice for most casual campers, but if you’re planning on doing some winter camping, going somewhere cold or with an especially high elevation, know you run cold when sleeping, or are planning on using a thinner sleeping bag or no sleeping bag at all, opt for a mat with an R-value above 4.
Here are some of the best sleeping pads for car camping, ready to help you slumber comfortably on your next venture into the great outdoors. Weights and prices reflect that of “regular”-sized pads where applicable, though many come in different length and width options, too.
An Inflatable Three-Season Pad For Car Camping Or Backpacking
- Light, small & can be used for backpacking
- Comfortable for side sleepers
- Not suited for winter camping
- Patch kit isn’t included
I adore Big Agnes sleeping pads and find their inflatable models to be some of the most comfortable that I’ve tried, especially since I’m a side sleeper. The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad is insulated with Thermolite insulation and have a 4.5 R-value. Plus, the long baffles are a quarter inch thicker on the outside than the inside to keep you cradled in the pad all night. This mat would be perfect to use while backpacking because it’s so light but can, of course, be used for camping trips as well. In short, it’s versatile. It comes with a stuff sack, patch kit, replacement valve seal, and inflation sack, but I find that blowing up Big Agnes pads with breath takes minimal time and effort.
One reviewer wrote: “I have avoided ‘tent camping’ my entire adult life because I can never get comfortable on the ground. I don’t have much ‘padding’ and I’m a side sleeper, so my hips and shoulders always hurt after a restless night on the ground. Anyways, this air mattress is compact, inflates rather quickly, and keeps my body floating on a cushion of air. Definitely recommend.”
Type of pad: Inflatable pad | R-Value: 4.5 | Thickness: 3.25 inches | Sizes: Petite (20” x 66”), Regular (20” x 72”), Wide Regular (25” x 72”), Wide Long (25” x 78”), Double Wide (40” x 72”) | Material: Rip-Stop nylon with TPU lamination and PrimaLoft silver insulation | Weight: 1.4 pounds | Inflation Method: Breath or included inflation sack
A Self-Inflating Pad That’s Designed To Inflate Quickly
- Super fast inflation with less work for you
- Warm enough for year-round camping
- Might not be as comfy for side sleepers as an inflatable pad
Therm-a-Rest is a brand well-known for their excellent sleeping pads, and this self-inflating pad is no exception. It’s equipped with a special Winglock valve that makes finishing inflation after it self-inflates three times faster — perfect for anyone who wants a pad that will deflate and roll up but wants to do as little inflating as possible. It also comes with a stuff sack but no patch kit. (So it might be smart to bring a small roll of duct tape for a scrappy patch job, just in case.)
One reviewer wrote: “Best thing ever. Owned many Therm-a-Rest products over the years. This, by far, is the most comfortable one yet for car tenting. Too heavy for backpacking but spent 2 weeks car camping and this was amazing!”
Type of pad: Self-inflating pad | Inflation Method: Self-inflating foam with additional breath inflation via Winglock valve | R-Value: 4.4 | Thickness: 3 inches | Sizes: Regular (20 x 72 inches), Regular Wide (25 x 72 inches), Large (25 x 77 inches) | Material: 50D polyester knit and foam | Weight: 1.8 pounds
A Fan-Favorite Warm-Weather Sleeping Pad Under $40
- Budget-friendly and well-reviewed
- Lightweight and versatile
- Comfortable for side sleepers
If you’re ready to try an inflatable pad but aren’t looking to spend a whole lot, try this budget-friendly one from Sleepingo, which comes in at just under $40 and has a 4.5-star overall rating from 30,000 ratings and counting. It does have a rather low R-value of 2.1, but as long as you’re planning on only taking warm-weather car camping trips, it should serve you well. It comes with a stuff sack and patch kit.
One reviewer wrote: “Grew up being in boyscouts and in my adult years have put on a bit of weight and do a lot of car camping now. I’m a side sleeper and 210 lbs and have struggled to find a pad to support me on my side but still staying portable and easy to lug around. This pad is truly perfect. I do not bottom out when laying on my side and stayed perfectly inflated the whole night. I’ve tried a lot of pads over the years and am never satisfied but this one is amazing and the price is extremely attractive as well. I didn’t wake up feeling like I got dragged behind a tractor all night and got excellent rest. I recommend this pad to anyone, but especially anyone heavyset looking for a pad that isn’t going to sink.”
Type of pad: Inflatable pad | Inflation method: Breath | R-Value: 2.1 | Thickness: 2.2 inches | Sizes: One Size (25 x 75 inches) | Material: 20D rip-stop nylon | Weight: 14 ounces
A 6-Inch-Thick Inflatable Pad With A Built-In Foot Pump & Pillow
- Super thick and comfortable
- Built-in pillow
- Built-in inflation method
- No specified R-value
- Doesn’t come with a patch kit
This is in many ways a quintessential car camping mat with lots of little built-in amenities. It’s super thick, has an included foot pump for easy inflation, and best of all a built-in pillow to slightly elevate your head. It comes with a stuff sack, but be aware that it doesn’t come with a patch kit. It doesn’t have a specified R-value, so I would recommend avoiding use in very cold temperatures just to be safe.
One reviewer wrote: “I got this as I am a larger person and this is perfect. I’ve slept on it several times and it performed as I hoped. I had to top it up every couple of days but not bad at all. Packs up pretty big. It’s never going back in the bag it came in. I motorcycle camp so not that much of an issue for me. I can’t attest to it being insulated or not but it did fine in temperate conditions.”
Type of pad: Inflatable pad | Inflation method: Built-in foot pump | R-Value: Not specified | Thickness: 6 inches | Sizes: One Size (28 x 75 inches) | Material: 40D Nylon | Weight: 2.36 pounds
A Memory Foam Sleeping Pad With A Washable Cover
- Made with comfortable memory foam
- Doesn’t require inflation
- Comes with a washable cover
- Heavy and bulky to travel with
- No specified R-Value
Though bringing this memory foam sleeping pad along will take a bit more effort considering its size, you’ll be rewarded handsomely with a wildly comfortable place to rest at the end of a long day. It has a nonslip, water-resistant bottom and a removable, machine-washable cover so you can get it nice and clean after every trip. It also comes with a carrying bag. It doesn’t have a specified R-value, but since it’s made of 3 inches of foam it should be rather insulating.
One reviewer wrote: “I have been looking for this my whole life. Absolutely perfect for car camping. It’s really easy to roll up, it’s easy to take cover on/off for washing. It’s easy to get into the bag. Doesn’t take up too much space and it’s super comfortable to sleep on.”
Type of pad: Memory foam pad | Inflation method: N/A | R-Value: Not specified | Thickness: 3 inches | Sizes: Single (25 x 75 inches), Twin (36 x 75 inches) | Material: Memory foam | Weight: 13.7 pounds
A Large Self-Inflating Pad For Year-Round Use
- Thick and comfortable
- Suitable for four-season camping
- Made of durable material
- Doesn’t require much inflation
Therm-a-Rest’s MondoKing self-inflating pad is 4.25 inches thick and ready to give you a great night’s rest in nearly any weather. Even side sleepers have reported that this self-inflating pad is comfortable, aided by its height. It’s high R-value will keep you nice and insulated even in winter, and its large size allows you to spread out. It comes with a patch kit and a stuff sack that can also be used as an inflation sack.
One reviewer wrote: “We spent 7 extremely restful and comfortable nights on the MondoKing mattresses. Yes, they are a bit large when rolled up, compared to backpacking mattresses and the Thermarest classic. But SO worth it for car camping, and the weight is quite reasonable – you don’t need to lug along a pump or batteries. I would not hesitate to offer it as a spare guest bed inside, even on a hardwood floor. We found that between 2 and 3 breaths was all that was needed for our ideal comfort.”
Type of pad: Self-inflating pad | Inflation method: Self-inflating foam with additional inflation from breath or included inflation sack | R-Value: 7.0 | Thickness: 4.25 inches | Sizes: Large (25 x 77 inches), XX-Large (30 x 80 inches) | Material: 50D polyester knit | Weight: 4.4 pounds
An Inflatable Sleeping Pad For Two People
- Budget-friendly if using for two people
- Thick and comfortable
- Option to use a foot pump
Planning on going car camping with a partner or close pal? Consider getting an inflatable sleeping pad for two. It’s nice and thick and has two size options. Additionally you can choose to get a version that utilizes a pump sack or one with a built-in foot pump that allows you to simply step on the bottom of the pad to easily inflate it. Both versions come with a stuff sack and should only be used during warm-weather camping.
One reviewer wrote: “Excellent mattress for camping. We have a Dodge Grand Caravan and purchased this mattress for van camping vs sleeping in a tent. We put all of the middle and back row seats down and the mattress fit perfectly! My husband put a piece of plywood, the size of the mattress down first, and wrapped the plywood with a moving blanket. We laid the mattress on top and slept comfortably! It’s approximately 4 inches thick, when blown up. I was very surprised at how comfortable it was…and no getting bit by mosquitoes in the van! We’re looking forward to using it again!”
Type of pad: Inflatable pad | Inflation method: Choice of pump sack or foot pump | R-Value: 1.3 | Thickness: 3.75 inches | Sizes: Medium (47.5 x 78.7 inches), Large (55 x 79 inches) | Material: Polyester | Weight: 3.64 pounds
A Thick & All-Around Great Three-Season Pad That Comes In 4 Sizes
- Comes in a wide range of sizes
- Made of durable material
- Not suitable for winter camping
This inflatable Therm-a-Rest pad is perfect for car camping — it takes advantage of you not needing to hike with it by adding some optional extra space and length as well as being made of heavier, thick polyester for durability. But it also maintains a low-profile when deflated and rolled up for easy transport, as well as an R-value rated for three seasons. It comes with a repair kit, stuff sack, and inflation sack.
One reviewer wrote: “I love camping but I hate sleeping on the ground. Well with this pad I sleep like I was back home in my bed. Do not waste money trying cheaper pads that are out there this item is worth every penny. The R rating is excellent I slept comfortably in 26 degree weather with just this pad and a down bag. Its not ultralight but what good is ultralight if you cant sleep?”
Type of pad: Inflatable pad | Inflation method: Breath or included inflation sack | Thickness: 4 in| R-Value: 3.7 | Sizes: Regular (20 x 72 inches), Regular Wide (25 x 72 inches), Large (25 x 77 inches), X-Large (30 x 77 inches) | Material: 50D polyester knit | Weight: 1.44 pounds
A Self-Inflating Pad Made Of Extremely Durable Nylon
- Available in tapered or rectangular shapes
- Very durable fabric
- Might be less comfortable for side sleepers
Sea to Summit is a trusted brand for camping gear and accessories. This self-inflating sleeping pad is a workhorse made of 75 denier polyester, aka, a super durable material that is less likely to snag or wear. Not only does it come with some patches and stuff sack, it also has attachment points for Sea to Summit pillows if you’d like to add one on to your sleep setup.
One reviewer wrote: “I honestly wasn’t too sure how much warmer a pad would make me. I was so wrong. It was the warmest night of winter camping I’ve ever had. We were close to zero degrees F. It made an obvious difference to past experiences. Easy to inflate and easy enough to deflate, the valve design is really nice.”
Type of pad: Self-inflating pad | Inflation method: Self-inflating foam and breath | R-Value: 4.2 | Thickness: 1.5 inches | Sizes: Tapered Regular (20 x 72 inches), Rectangular Regular (25 x 72 inches), Tapered Large (25 x 78 inches), Rectangular Large (25 x 79 inches) | Material: 75D polyester and foam | Weight: 2.4 pounds
About The Recommender:
Rachel Dunkel has been a commerce writer since 2018, specializing in product reviews across all categories with a particular love for gear and outdoor products. While she grew up car camping on family vacations, she’s found a new love for the outdoors in recent years, testing gear while section hiking the Appalachian Trail and backpacking closer to home in Michigan.
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