Air mattress or foam mattress for car camping?

Air mattress or foam mattress for car camping?

Air mattress or memory foam mattress for car camping? It’s a heated and heavily divided question. Go to any Reddit thread about the topic and you’re likely to see the war rage on. 

In the end, there’s no “right” answer that someone can give you. The correct answer is what works best for your body, and your vehicle. If you’re someone who is just getting started sleeping in your car, or you’re about to take off on a road trip and want to make the most educated decision for yourself, here’s my opinion after 10 years of car camping. 

What are the benefits of using a memory foam camping mattress for sleeping in your car? 

  1. Body and spine alignment: Since memory foam conforms to your body shape, the wider parts of your body – like shoulders and hips if you’re a side-sleeper – can sink down into the mattress more giving better spine alignment. If you’re not in college anymore, protecting the lower back during sleep is likely factoring into your mattress decision. 
  2. Joint support: Memory foam is designed for pressure point relief. When getting your vehicle set up for car camping or road tripping, you’re already sleeping on a hard surface that wasn’t designed to be a bed. Having tried both air and foam mattresses, I think the memory foam gives a nice amount of support for the body. And that’s not just my opinion; memory foam was designed to distribute your body weight across more surface area which means there’s less pressure on individual body parts, like shoulders, hips and knees. This also means you’ll get better blood flow to your extremities, helping your muscles recover after a long day of driving, hiking, or adventuring, and help reduce the pins and needles in the morning.  
  3. Insulation: If you’re traveling and/or sleeping in your car during colder temps, insulation is an important part of your car camping design. Unlike air mattresses where the air inside is constantly circulating and does not warm much by your body, a memory foam mattress will take on and retain your body heat. If your [air] mattress is cold, your body is going to try to reach temperature equilibrium with the colder surface. The way to address this is with insulation of low conductivity material and our memory foam mattress offers this.
  4. Custom fit: While there are air mattresses on the market that are hourglass shaped with concave areas for wheel wells inside, all vehicle makes, models and generations are slightly different. Buy a standard 4-Runner mattress when you have a 2005 4Runner and the mattress isn’t going to fit right because of the variation in sizes between generations. The best way to get a custom-ft mattress for your individual vehicle is fitting it yourself. Memory foam mattresses allow you to cut and shape your mattress for your individual car camping setup without worrying about poking holes in the membrane, like with an air mattress. By creating a custom-fit mattress, you can prevent having an air mattress that doesn’t lay level in your vehicle or turns your sleeping area into a taco. 
  5. Noise: Because memory foam mattresses are made out of, well, foam, your sleeping surface is soft and relatively noise free, unlike a crunchy, chip-bag-sounding air mattress. 
  6. Set-up: Traveling is tiring. Nearly every day on the road, I get to bedtime and I’m struggling to stay away to set up my car bed. Personally, I prefer being able to unfold my CarCamp kit and pull my mattress overtop of it, a setup that takes three minutes, to standing and inflating an air mattress. As a female who has been solo-traveling for many years, I have tried to decrease my bed set up time as much as possible. For every minute you’re standing outside your car (especially if you’re running a loud air pump) you’re more of a target. The faster you can get set up and locked in your vehicle, the safer you’ll be on your trips.  
  7. Reliability: Personally, after having it happen once, I’m not willing to risk waking up in the middle of the night on a deflating air mattress in the middle of the National Forest 57 minutes from the closest store. When you’re sleeping on a memory foam mattress, you know your mattress will still be there – at the same thickness – in the morning. 

What are the cons of using a memory foam camping mattress for sleeping in your car? 

  1. Rigidity: Cold-weather camping and car camping are benefited by a mattress that warms to your body temperature. But, there’s also a drawback of memory foam in cold weather. Because most memory foam mattresses are meant to be used in climate-controlled homes, and when exposed to cold temperatures it often hardens. It does soften as exposed to your body heat, but the first few minutes on the mattress will be cold. The cold temperatures also make memory foam less pliable, so if you’re using a roll-up memory foam mattress, you may need to expose it to some heat to get it to take its normal shape. For some folks this is a deal breaker, but I much prefer a mattress that starts out cold and warms to my body, than a mattress that starts out cold and stays cold! 
  2. Storage: Depending on the memory foam and air mattress that you’re comparing, the air mattress may store considerably smaller than your memory foam air mattress. Depending on the length of your trip, the size of your car, and the amount of gear you have in your vehicle, this may be something to consider. If you’re using a collapsible sleeping platform, like a CarCamp kit, tri-fold, memory foam mattresses fit perfectly on top when the kit is closed in the cargo space, which makes storage nearly as easy as the air mattress. 

Different folks have different past experiences and varying travel goals, so you may find that a memory foam mattress works better than an air mattress for you, or vice versa. Whichever type of mattress you decide to use, the important thing is that you’re traveling! We weren’t meant to spend our lives at our desks, so let this be a sign to outfit your car for car camping!  

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