All of my most brutal backpacking trips stem from a cold or restless night’s sleep. Once I buckled down to do my research and invest in a quality inflatable camping and backpacking mattress, I began to jump at every opportunity to sleep in the dirt. Self-inflating mattresses keep you comfortable on uneven or rocky ground and insulate you from the cold. Because of this, selecting the right pad is as essential as bringing a quality sleeping bag or enough clothing layers. I’ve broken each mattress showcased into simple categories, so you can decide what’s best based on what adventures you have planned.
What to Consider
Before you start browsing for self-inflating mattresses, consider what types of adventures you have planned. Are you traveling/sleeping in your car throughout colder climates? Or, are you looking to find the lightest mattress for backpacking?
The two most important factors are a sleeping pad “R-value” and weight. The R-value is a numeric score given to assess how warm the mattress is. An R-value of 1.0-2.0 is typically good for summer use, 2.0-3.9 is great for three seasons, and anything 4.0+ is warm enough for four seasons (with an appropriate sleeping bag). The weight of your mattress matters if you’re planning to go backpacking, and want to keep your pack as light as possible.
How We Selected
In my years of car camping, backpacking, and thru-hiking experience I’ve found that a quality sleeping pad is much more important than a sleeping bag. Self-inflating mattresses are the best way to keep yourself warm, comfortable, and able to move throughout the night. These top picks include my personal favorites for the range of activities I do, as well as a few others that perform similarly in terms of quality and price.
- R-value: 7.6
- Weight: 3 pounds, 10 ounces
- Thickness: 2.5 inches
The REI Camp Bed Mattress hits the sweet spot of price, warmth, comfort, and ease of use. With 2.5 inches of thick insulation and an R-value of 7.6, this mattress is well suited for winter trips in the coldest of conditions. It comes in both a regular and an extra long version as well. The material used is a 150D polyester, which is extremely strong and tear-resistant.
The only downside is that it’s not light or packable enough for backpacking, but for its reasonable price it’s an excellent car camping staple.
- Extremely comfortable
- Warm enough for four-season use
- Too heavy for backpacking
- R-value: 2.6
- Weight: 1 pounds, 9 ounces
- Thickness: 1 inch
If you have summer backpacking trips planned, look no further. The Sea to Summit Ultralight SI pad is self-inflating, extremely lightweight, and still affordable. The regular version weighs in at just over a pound and packs down roughly to the size of a Nalgene water bottle. With an R-value of 2.6, it’s best for summer adventures and maybe some warm three-season use.
The self-inflation valve reverses when it’s time to pack it up, to prevent the annoyance of air seeping in while you’re trying to pack.
- Not warm enough for winter or cold three-season conditions
- R-value: 4.4
- Weight: 1 pounds, 13 ounces
- Thickness: 3 inches
Therm-a-rest has your winter needs dialed in with their trail pro self-inflating sleeping pad. With 3 inches of thickness and an R-value of 4.4, you’ll be well insulated from the ground even when camping in snow.
Many comparable winter pads carry a heftier weight penalty, so this is perfect for backpackers who want to stay warm without adding unnecessary weight.
- Warm enough for winter
- Somewhat expensive
- R-value: N/A
- Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Thickness: 2.5 inches
If you’re just dipping your toe into the camping world or need a mattress on a budget, the Coleman self-inflating pad is a great value pick. The mattress costs just under $40, and still has many of the features that I love in the other sleeping pads.
Though the manufacturer does not provide an R-value, based on reviews I estimate an R-value between 3 and 4 which is great for three-season use. With 2.5 inches of thickness, it also offers plenty of comfort while sleeping in a tent or backyard.
- Not packable
- R-value: 2.1
- Weight: 14.5 ounces
- Thickness: 2.2 inches
Backpacking kits quickly add up in cost. It’s so hard to decide which pieces of gear to splurge on, and where you can save some money. Though I still contend that quality sleeping pads are well worth the cost, this Sleepingo self-inflating mattress offers insulation and comfort at just $40.
Furthermore, it weighs just under a pound and packs down to the size of a water bottle. This mattress is best for summer adventures, as it does not offer sufficient insulation for colder temperatures.
- Extremely lightweight
- Packs down to the size of a water bottle
- Only suitable for warm weather
- Relatively thin
- R-value: 11.8
- Weight: 26 pounds
- Thickness: 7 inches
At $400, this mattress is a serious investment in your sleep quality while camping. But you’ll likely never buy another mattress again, and may even start using it at home.
The system has a unique two-layer foam construction that mimics quality home mattresses. The bottom is a tighter foam that supports alignment and support, while the top layer is an open-cell foam that conforms to your body and is extremely comfortable.
With 7 inches of thickness and an R-value of 11.8, you can’t get much warmer. Though it’s heavy, it comes with a transportation system that makes it easy to carry from your car to the campsite.
- Extremely warm
- Unique two-layer construction
- Requires separate pump