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I've been camping since I was a teenager in the scouts, and I've never really had a very comfortable night out. As an adult with a girlfriend, 20 years later, I'd like to just throw some money at the issue and be done with it and have ourselves a comfortable bed for car camping. ("Car camping" meaning we will have the car next to the campsite and don't care about weight or size much.)

This Memorial Day weekend, we went out with a few other couples, and I don't think a single person had a successful sleep. We brought a feather bed as an experiment and it was pretty terrible, feeling only slightly better than the ground (warm though). Other people spent 30-60 minutes fussing with getting their air beds inflated, and then they leaked or went flat by the morning. I've used self-inflating Thermarest pads and I'm sure those are the best for backpack camping but they aren't great and they get quite expensive once you start buying two of the XL ones.

Are there other choices I'm missing? Or is there an air mattress option that isn't fussy and frustrating?

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Your question kind of implies that cost is also a major concern. Is that the case? If so I can update my answer appropriately. (Though "Ultimate" and "Cheap" are usually mutually exclusive) –  Russell Steen May 29 '12 at 16:44
@RussellSteen It's just my cheap side showing through. I'm willing to spend money if it's worth it, although I do get a bit of sticker shock paying $200 for a Thermarest, and we would probably need two. zappos.com/therm-a-rest-dream-time-extra-large-n-a?zfcTest=fw:0 –  smackfu May 29 '12 at 17:25
If going that route I'd recommend this instead: rei.com/product/812011/exped-sim-comfort-10-lw-sleeping-pad –  Russell Steen May 29 '12 at 17:28
I have a rei.com/product/780367/exped-synmat-7-air-pad-with-pump and find it to work great both for backpacking and for car camping. –  whatsisname Feb 11 '13 at 4:39
The last time I tried this, I just laid the driver's seat back and slept like that. Add a makeshift pillow and a blanket and I bet you'd be more comfortable than I am usually tent-camping. –  theJollySin Feb 11 '13 at 16:55

6 Answers 6

  • ALWAYS bring a patch kit for an air mattress. If your airpad is going flat something is wrong (though perhaps the wrong part is just getting a cheap mattress).
  • Get a pump that you can plug into your car (you're car camping after all).
  • Buy memory foam to lay out on top of your pad.
  • Do not inflate your mattress to be completely taut. You want some give (unless you like sleeping on a rock).
  • Buy a mattress with a foam top (and yes, then slap more foam on top of it).
  • "Field Test" before camping. Buy it, inflate it at home, then leave a backpack on top of it overnight. If it's flat in the morning, return it.
  • For car camping, don't bother to shop for "camping" mattresses, just get a quality air mattress.
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When we car camp the night before a canoe-camping trip, we bring an extra comforter from home and put it on top of the Thermarests, under our sleeping bags. We also bring pillows. These combine to produce a luxurious sleep as far as we're concerned. I've also slept on my fair share of air mattresses, mostly in houses, and if they don't go flat they're fine. They shouldn't go flat - if they do, patch them.

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Since you're car camping and you don't have to worry about carrying things to the site, the general answer is to layer until you're sufficiently comfortable. If one foam pad isn't enough, lay down 2. If you're worried about the air mattress deflating, bring a patch kit as well as extra pillows and comforters just in case. Is it overkill? Perhaps. But at least you'll have peace of mind and enjoy your trip.

Also, since you mentioned "ultimate", you may want to look at Car Top Campers: http://www.cartopcamper.com/index_files/Page1309.htm


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I use two Coleman queen size air matress stacked on top of one another. Between I use an emergancy blanket to reflect heat to me and not the ground. With a few well placed strips of anti slip padding, and its like the Ritz of the outdoors. As for inflation for $30 you can get a powered inflator to run off your car lighter, just rembered to use a cupple of lung fillers just befor bed for fermness and your set for a total of $130 CDN It's tough to beat.

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Personally I love a good 4" memory foam mattress topper. I often prefer that to a bed even at home. If you sleep on your back, it's definitely the best option and I've tried air mattresses, cots, blankets, and all combinations of those. The topper will take a bit of room even when you compress it (use motorcycle tie downs), and it won't be the lightest option but if you're going to camp out of your car or near your car, you should try it. They can be found for ~100$ at Walmart.

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I've done this before, but I have some problems with it. In cooler weather, the memory foam gets cold and hard and is only comfortable once you wait for the foam to warm up directly underneath you. This isn't a huge deal, but it's not as comfortable as the same topper at room-temperature. In warmer weather, the memory foam loses its "memory" and just ends up being super squishy foam. Again, not as comfortable. Is your experience different from mine? Am I doing something wrong? Any recommendations? –  rinogo Mar 4 at 16:05

I agree with the above and recommend Therm-a-rest for anytime of camping provide its within your budget, there a little expensive but well worth the long-term investment if you intend to use them again.

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