Sleeping in the back of your car used to be stigmatized as something that only drifters and down-and-outs did.
Nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly popular as a form of camping, offering unique freedom when it comes to exploring the great outdoors.
There are loads of advantages to car camping.
You don’t need a tent for a start.
And it’s much more comfortable than you might think – because it’s not just about putting the driver’s seat back and trying to get some shut-eye in an awkward position.
Take a look here at some of the best sleeping pads for car camping, and take your vehicle camping experience to the next level.
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- TOP 16 Best Sleeping Pads for Car Camping 2021
- Intex Classic Downy Airbed Set with 2 Pillows
- Coleman Self-Inflating Camping Pad with Pillow
- AlphaBeing Camping Sleeping Pad
- Ryno Tuff Sleeping Pad Set
- Legit Camping Sleeping Pad
- Freeland Camping Sleeping Pad
- KingCamp Ultralight Comfortable Sleeping Pad
- Olee Sleep Tri-Folding Memory Foam Topper
- Lightspeed Outdoors Self Inflating Sleep Pad
- KingCamp Deluxe Series Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
- Klymit Static V2 Ultralight Sleeping Pad
- Wellax UltraThick FlexFoam Sleeping Pad
- Hikenture Double Sleeping Pad
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Ultralight Air Mattress
- BetterHabitat Sleep Ready Memory Foam Mattress
- Exped Megamat 10 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
- Choosing the Best Sleeping Pads for Car Camping
Disclaimer – it’s probably advisable that you’re using an SUV or station wagon. A Smart car isn’t going to cut it.
Buyer’s guide and FAQ section to follow.
TOP 16 Best Sleeping Pads for Car Camping 2021
Intex Classic Downy Airbed Set with 2 Pillows
Review: At the budget end of the scale is this queen-sized airbed from Intex that is a great option because of its versatility. You can easily use this as a guest bed in the home when visitors come over.
It comes with two inflatable pillows and a hand pump, with a waterproof flocked top that is really easy to clean.
The two-in-one valve makes inflation and deflation fast and easy, while the bed has a large weight capacity of 600 lbs. Folds down to a travel-friendly compact size when you’re on the go.
- Great price.
- Versatile use.
- Pillows included.
- Very basic.
- Will sag with two people.
Coleman Self-Inflating Camping Pad with Pillow
Review: A trusted name when it comes to camping, Coleman has been producing budget-friendly but top-quality outdoor gear and kit for decades.
This self-inflating camping pad is ideal for extra comfort in the back of your vehicle without the need to pack any kind of pump.
It has a durable, polyester shell and a soft, tufted design for added comfort.
Compression straps force air out of the pad for super-fast deflation when required. The built-in pillow is a nice touch as it’s one less thing to carry.
- Great price.
- Name you can trust.
- Built-in pillow.
- It won’t last as long as more expensive pads.
AlphaBeing Camping Sleeping Pad
Review: Weighing just 17 oz and packing down into next to nothing, this camping mat offers excellent portability and comfort at the same time.
It incorporates over 120 individual air-sacs for added insulation and anti-deflation technology to ensure that the mat will stay fully inflated over several days.
It requires between 9-15 breaths to inflate, while it’s built from tear-resistant, rip-stop nylon that reflects heat back to help keep you warm.
- Highly portable.
- Super lightweight.
- Good price.
- Choice of colors.
- Manual inflation.
Ryno Tuff Sleeping Pad Set
Review: This self-inflating, two inch thick sleeping pad set comes with a separate pillow and is made with foam insulation covered by 75 denier polyester. The pillow is made with similar 210T ripstop polyester.
It packs down into its own stuff sack and weighs just under 4 lbs. The really cool feature with this sleeping pad is the fact that you can link it to additional mats, forming a double or more sleeping area for you and your family or friends.
Compression straps assist with the deflation, and you can top it up with the special valve if you need a bit more lift.
- Snap-together feature.
- Pillow included.
- Environmentally conscious company.
- A little on the bulky/heavy side.
Legit Camping Sleeping Pad
Review: This pad from Legit Camping also takes around 10-15 breaths to inflate with no pump required. It weighs just 1 lb and is made from upgraded 40 denier rip-stop nylon with a TPU layer.
It’s durable and weatherproof, easy to inflate and deflate, and it packs down into its own stuff-sac for excellent portability.
The pad is just under two inches thick when fully inflated, and it offers a great value-for-money/comfort ratio that will give you a great night’s sleep in the back of your motor.
- Great portability.
- Good price.
- Choice of colors.
- Manual inflation.
Freeland Camping Sleeping Pad
Review: This Freeland camping pad is a self-inflating, super-lightweight yet comfortable option to use in the back of your car. It too has a popper system where you can link it together with other pads to form a larger sleeping area.
It’s made from a durable, weather-resistant 190T polyester pongee fabric, with internal open-cell foam offering excellent insulation and comfort.
A built-in pillow can be manually inflated to the required level, while it includes a one-patch kit just in case you happen to puncture it accidentally.
- Stylish design.
- Built-in, adjustable pillow.
- Patch kit.
- Linking popper system.
- Choice of colors.
- On the bulky side when packed down.
- Might be a little thin on the ground for some. It might not be the best car camping sleeping pad for side sleepers.
KingCamp Ultralight Comfortable Sleeping Pad
Review: Kingcamp are known to produce some excellent camping gear and kit, so it’s no surprise they make it into my review here.
It weighs in at 2.9 lbs, with an attached, U-shaped pillow section that supports your neck and limits body roll-around.
It’s manually inflated with 10-15 breaths and is made from 50D oxford TPU coating offering excellent comfort and insulation. The car sleeping pad is skin-friendly, nearly four inches thick and is waterproof.
A patch kit is included if you do happen to damage it.
- Ergonomic design for excellent support.
- Good thickness.
- Fast deflation.
- Manual inflation – takes more breaths they advertised.
Olee Sleep Tri-Folding Memory Foam Topper
Review: This tri-fold, memory foam mattress is perfectly suited to car camping, but it is versatile enough to be utilized in a variety of different situations in and around the home. It’s made from a comfortable polyester, with a washable, removable cover and zipper system.
It’s great for throwing into the back of your vehicle for car camping expeditions – but it’s equally useful as a guest bed when friends or family invite themselves over.
The tri-fold design means it can also double as a box seat or as a lounger.
- More comfortable than an air mattress.
- Super easy to set up.
- Versatile design.
- Not that portable.
Lightspeed Outdoors Self Inflating Sleep Pad
Review: A self-inflating sleeping pad that promises not to bottom out, this Lightspeed Outdoors mattress offers a built-in pillow to keep you centered, oversized valves for easy inflation and deflation, and lightweight, PVC-free construction that reduces plastic odor and noise.
It’ll inflate to three inches thick, and with contoured padding throughout it will keep you warm and insulated from colder surfaces.
It includes an oversized carry bag for easy packing and storage.
- PVC free.
- Contoured design.
- R-Value of 8.7.
- Heavy for a portable pad.
KingCamp Deluxe Series Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
Review: We’re taking it up a notch here with this super comfortable, jet-stream foam, self-inflating air mattress.
It’s made from 100% Oxford 150 denier polyester, weighing just under 12 lbs, and offering 2.95 inches of thickness for two people.
It has durable brass valves for fast inflation and deflation, a waved surface design for improved stability and comfort, and elasticated straps to make it easy to pack up.
This is one of the best car camping sleeping pads of 2021, for sure.
- Super comfortable foam.
- Repair kit included.
- Quality construction all around.
- Choice of sizes available.
- A little on the heavy side.
Klymit Static V2 Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Review: Klymit are a well-known brand when it comes to sleeping pads so it was only a matter of time before they featured here. This is their V2, ultralight model that comes in at just over 16 ounces.
It’s made from 75 denier polyester bottom and a 30 denier top. It can pack down to the size of a soda can, making it an excellent option if you want to hike or backpack with a camping pad.
It’ll take ten breaths to inflate, while the sleeping area cradles the body for a superior night’s sleep. It’s hard to fault this one.
- Quality name and construction.
- Super lightweight.
- Tough and durable.
- Might be a little too narrow for larger users.
Wellax UltraThick FlexFoam Sleeping Pad
Review: A self-inflating pad that offers three-inches of comfort, the Wellax UltraThick mattress is made from memory foam and will support your back and neck to ensure a really good rest.
You can roll and sleep on your side with this product and it won’t ever bottom out. For warmth and insulation it has a terrific 9.5 R-Value, ensuring you’re nice and toasty in colder conditions.
It’s made from a laminated 20 denier ripstop nylon and TPU layer, ensuring it’s silent to use and doesn’t smell plasticky. An excellent, four-season camping pad option.
- Outstanding warmth and insulation.
- Solid construction.
- Very comfortable.
- Can be tough to pack into its pouch – a trade-off for the support offered.
Hikenture Double Sleeping Pad
Review: Offering nearly four inches of thickness with an easy inflate/deflate system, this double, self-inflating sleeping pad comes with an air sack to have it up and running between three to eight minutes.
It will provide enough support no matter your preferred sleeping position, and it’s made from polyester pongee with TPU lamination technology, ensuring it’s waterproof, durable, and wear-resistant.
It weighs 3.64 lbs, and packs down to a convenient pouch in its own stuff sack. Altogether a versatile sleeping option that you can use in your car, tent or in the home for guests.
- Durable, quality construction.
- Air-sack inflation.
- Optimal thickness.
- Takes a while to inflate compared to other models.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Ultralight Air Mattress
Review: Therm-a-Rest produce some outstanding quality air mattresses for all kinds of camping scenarios and are extremely popular as a result.
This NeoAir ultralight model (just 12 ounces) can pack down to the size of a water bottle.
It has an R-Value of 3.2, with a tapered design that improves warmth. Its non-slip fabric keeps you from sliding all over the place in your sleeping bag. It manually inflates in under two minutes to its 2.5-inch thickness, offering a comfortable sleep in double-quick time.
Just make sure you order the correct size for you!
- Super-lightweight and portable.
- Non-slip surface.
- Excellent comfort considering the size.
- Manual inflation.
BetterHabitat Sleep Ready Memory Foam Mattress
Review: Forget portability, this is simply an outstanding memory foam mattress that has plenty of uses in the home and elsewhere. You’re not going backpacking with it – but it’s perfect for car camping.
Simply unclip it and roll it out and you’re ready to go to sleep in seconds. No blowing anything up with either a pump or your lungs.
It has a fitted, waterproof cotton terry sheet and non-slip water-resistant bottom, while the three-inch foam will give you an unrivaled night’s sleep in your car.
The hypoallergenic cover also blocks dust mites, allergens, bacteria, mold and mildew – so that’s handy to know, too.
- Super-fast set up.
- Multiple uses.
- Superb comfort.
- Carry bag.
- Too large and bulky for anything other than in the home or car.
Exped Megamat 10 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
Review: This camping pad is on another level. Designed for four seasons, it has a stretch tricot top for extra comfort, with excellent insulation, a tiny mini-pump and an innovative carry-sack system.
It features 3D construction for an edge-to-edge sleep surface; Oeko-Tex 100 certified materials that are free from harmful chemicals; hydrolysis-resistant, polyester top and bottom with TPU laminate and a honeycomb-embossed top.
It looks quality, it feels quality and it will give you a quality night’s sleep whether you’re in the back of your car or not.
But for that price – anything less than Sleeping Beauty and you’d want your money back.
- Quality construction.
- 9.5 R-Value.
- Very expensive for what it is.
Choosing the Best Sleeping Pads for Car Camping
What should you be looking out for when it comes to choosing the right car camping sleeping pad for you?
Read on, and discover my buying guide and FAQ section to allay any of your fears or concerns.
Types of Camping Pads
You’ll no doubt notice that camping pads come in various styles made from different materials.
Inflatable Camping Pads
Made with reflective materials to improve insulation, inflatable camping pads require your lungs or a pump to fill to capacity.
Most manufacturers claim this can be done in three to four minutes with about 10-15 big breaths.
These types of pads are usually very portable, lightweight and easy to carry. They’re also budget-friendly.
However, they’re not as durable (or as comfortable) as the other types of camping pads that are available.
Self-Inflating Camping Pads
Sleeping pads in this class are usually made from open-cell foam with air-sacs throughout that can self-inflate via a built-in valve.
They take the effort out of blowing them up, and are a sort of half-way-house between air beds and foam mattresses.
They offer a nice balance of portability and comfort, but most of the time they’ll make you pay for it.
Foam/Memory Foam Mattress
For ultimate comfort but almost zero portability, using a foam mattress is like having your home bed with you.
They’re unrivaled when it comes to the quality of sleep they’ll provide – but really only ideal if you’re bringing a vehicle.
They’re the most durable of the three and usually the most expensive.
The vast majority of car sleeping pads will be either made from durable polyester, rip-stop nylon or a combination/hybrid of materials.
Before making your choice – check to see if that particular product’s construction will be comfortable on your skin.
Throughout the review, you might have seen the term ‘R-Value’ used. The letter ‘R’ followed by a number.
But what is R-Value?
This represents how well a specific type of insulation can resist heat flow. The higher the value, the more effective it will be at preventing heat transfer.
Basically, how well it will insulate your body while it’s lying on the ground.
Sleeping pads that are between R-0 to 2 on this scale will only be good for summer or warm weather excursions.
- R-3 to 4 pads are good for three-season trips.
- R-4 to 5 will be for use when the temperature drops to around freezing.
Anything else above that will be suitable for winter camping, mountaineering, or lying on the particularly cold ground.
While it might not matter too much if you’re camping out of the back of your car – it’s still a good idea to understand the R-value if you ever use your sleeping pad out of doors.
And it’s worth considering a versatile pad just for that purpose.
Some sleeping pads in this review can pack down to the size of a soda can.
Others barely pack down at all.
Some weight next to nothing.
While others you might need a bit of help to lift.
But it’s just worth bearing in mind if you’re ever going to be using it for anything else – such as hiking, trekking or backpacking.
Size and Shape
First of all, you need to make sure that you actually fit onto your chosen sleeping pad.
It’s no good to you if you’re hanging over the edges of it, or you’re going to roll off the thing in the middle of the night.
Likewise, a pad’s thickness needs to be taken into consideration, as well as the weight capacity if you’re opting for an inflatable pad.
You’ll hear the term “bottoming out,” which is something you don’t want a good sleeping pad to be doing – sinking down or leaking air and putting you in contact with the floor.
Make sure your chosen product is going to handle your size and weight with its own size and weight capacity.
Try looking at some of these cool sleeping pads for hammocks which can be ideal if you’re short on space. If they can fit into a hammock, they can fit into your vehicle.
Read the measurements carefully – and take some measurements of your own if you’re in any doubt.
Some have them, some don’t.
You need to ask yourself how important is this feature to you?
If I’m going car camping, I’m most likely going to bring the pillow from my own bed with me. I want to be as comfortable as possible and I don’t need to carry it anywhere, anyway.
However, if you’re on the go, this isn’t going to be possible, so it might be a good idea to choose a sleeping pad that has the pillow incorporated.
It’s one less thing to worry about after all.
Failing that, you should take a look at the best camping pillows and really up your comfort game when you’re out there in the wilderness.
Sleeping pads for car camping can vary wildly in cost, with the budget end coming in at less than twenty bucks going all the way up into the hundreds.
If you’re serious about car camping (or any camping for that matter) and you do it on a regular basis, I would advise you to invest in something that’s a little more expensive but a lot better quality.
Spending the money now will save you cash in the long run when your chosen pad is with you for a long time without the need to replace it.
Is Sleeping in My Car Actually Safe?
If you’re parking your vehicle in a recognized campsite, then camping in your car is perfectly safe.
Outside of this, however, you need to make sure you take one or two precautions before getting your head down for the night.
First, find out if you’re parking somewhere safe. If you’re in the middle of nowhere, this shouldn’t really be a problem.
If you’re in a city or built-up area, you need to make sure you have the right permits where required. Car camping is illegal in many places. Park your vehicle somewhere you will not get a ticket or be bothered by anyone.
Also, park somewhere that you’re not going to be blocking a thoroughfare or any potential traffic in the morning.
I could write several articles on this subject alone, but instead, check out this really useful video below for how to stay safe when sleeping in your car alone.
And for even more information, check out this article on road trip safety for some awesome tips and tricks when you’re car camping.
Do I Really Need a Sleeping Pad in My Car?
The difference between sleeping in your car without a sleeping pad and with a sleeping pad is enormous.
In short – no, you don’t need a sleeping pad in your car.
You’re more than welcome to just crash on the seats, on top of your sleeping bag or however you’re happy doing it.
You’re just going to be really, really uncomfortable.
Even if you just get a cheap, thin pad it’ll make a world of difference.
And if you go all out and put a memory foam mattress in the back, well – it’ll just be like sleeping in your bed at home.
Should I Choose Foam or Air or a Combination Sleeping Pad?
Have a think about what kind of camping you’ll most likely be doing.
If it’s just car camping – actually in your car or with a car as support, you can easily use a foam mattress.
If you’re hiking, trekking or backpacking distances and you’re on the go – then you need a portable air pad.
Consider the self-inflating hybrid beds if you’re likely to be doing a bit of both.
There is another option, however – get one of each!
Then you can use the right sleeping pad for the right occasion, every time.
How Do I Clean a Sleeping Pad?
Most pads you can clean with a mild detergent and warm water.
Just simply wipe them down and hang them up to dry.
Foam mattresses might need to be specially cleaned by a pro.
Some have removable covers you can put in a washing machine.
But always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you don’t do any lasting damage to your sleeping pad and you keep it in optimal condition for years to come.
All of these things come together. And knowing how to clean, store and protect your sleeping pad, will pay off in the long run.
What Else Do I Need or Car Camping?
Again, a whole article could be written about what to pack for camping in your car. Try the video below for some great advice to get you started.
I hope this selection of the best sleeping pads for car camping has given you some food for thought when it comes to choosing the right product for you.
Tell me your car camping experiences in the comments below.
Perhaps it has inspired you to try this really exciting form of camping which marries creature comforts with total freedom and a zest for the open road.
Good luck, stay safe out there and happy car camping!
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