How to Decide Which Truck Bed Mattress is Right for You
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When we started considering truck camping as a means of budget overland travel, comfort was at the top of our list of concerns.
And we knew that selecting the right camping mattress would make or break our overall truck camping experience.
In this post we’ll discuss the 3 primary options, and arm you with the knowledge needed to decide which will be the best camping mattress for your truck bed camping, car camping, or vanlife adventures.
Using a Traditional Sleeping Pad as a Truck Bed Mattress
A simple high-density foam sleeping pad can be an inexpensive and durable option for adding some comfort to your truck camping, car camping, or camper van sleeping setup.
When we went truck camping as a family when I was a kid, a basic foam sleeping pad was rolled up and stored in my folks’ old blue Chevy and unrolled when we’d break camp.
It was simple, comfortable enough, and slept well.
You can customize these by simply cutting the sleeping pad down to fit your truck bed or sleeping platform design.
And because they’re so inexpensive, it won’t matter when the dirt and grime of adventure inevitably make its way in.
They’re also pretty compact when rolled or folded, which is always a plus.
Foam sleeping pads, primarily designed for backpacking and tent camping, tend to not be the most comfortable option. The older we get the less this option has proven conducive to a good night’s sleep, especially after a long day on the trail.
But if you’re young, single, or use it for your kids - this is a great option for truck camping!
Here are some great sleeping pad options we’ve used and recommend - just use two side-by-side for couples:
Using an Air Mattress as a Truck Bed Mattress
Some would argue the most comfortable, and certainly the most compact, an air mattress is a fantastic option for truck camping.
We seriously considered this option for our DIY truck bed camper, and likely would have gone this route if it weren’t for a few caveats.
But let’s start with why they’re great.
One of the main benefits of an air mattress is that you can store it deflated, and simply inflate it when you’re ready to break camp. This leaves more room for gear while traveling, and more usable interior space when packed away.
Another benefit to using an air mattress for truck camping, car camping, or in your camper van setup is that they’re widely considered a giant step forward in comfort compared to traditional foam sleeping pads.
For years we used Therm-a-rest and Big Agnes self-inflating pads and air mattresses while tent and car camping, so an air mattress was a natural option for us to gravitate towards.
But air mattresses suffer a few limitations when it comes to truck camping, that while not necessarily applicable to all models (because there are some AMAZING air mattresses for camping out there), may be a factor in your decision.
The first is low-insulation properties.
Though manufacturers offer insulated models to help with this, we’ve found that overall, air mattresses just feel colder. And this is largely due to the fact that the air inside the mattress actually absorbs and dissipates your body heat, rather than retaining it close to your skin.
If you do go with an air mattress, plan to lay a blanket underneath the mattress, not just on top of yourself!
Air mattresses are also generally less durable that foam sleeping pads or memory foam camping mattresses, primarily because of the threat of puncture while in use on the road or in the field.
Their susceptibility to punctures varies greatly depending on the manufacturer, materials used in construction, and really just plain luck. Though we never experienced a puncture with our old therm-a-rests, it was always in the back of our minds.
The real limitation with air mattresses with regards to truck camping is that they have fixed dimensions and are not modifiable or customizable.
For instance, our sleeping platform in our truck shell camper is 70” long. When looking for a mattress wide enough for our family, most of the brands whom we’d trust to purchase an air mattress from (Klymit, Big Agnes, Therm-a-rest) only make lengths 72” or greater.
Also, the need to inflate/deflate every time they’re needed - while not a huge deal - is a real annoyance while traveling and breaking camp frequently.
However, if your dimension restrictions are different in your truck camper, vehicle, or camper van, an air mattress may be the perfect solution for your needs.
Here are some great options we considered and recommend, and know that many sleeping bags have a pocket to insert an air mattress. So check your sleeping bag before buying to make sure the one you purchase fits!
For Couples or Families:
Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D Self-Inflating Foam Camping Mattress* (hybrid of foam and air) x2 laid side-by-side
Using a Memory Foam Camping Mattress as a Truck Bed Mattress
A memory foam camping mattress will completely change your truck bed camping experience. Seriously!
Though they can be cumbersome, and take up substantially more space, we’ve found the sacrifice is totally worth it!
Unlike an air mattress, memory foam camping mattresses are great insulators, and a well insulated camping mattress is key to a good night's sleep, especially when camping 4 seasons.
And there is no comparison to the comfort level of a memory foam sleeping pad.
When using the one we chose, we sleep just as well as we do at home - the value of this cannot be overstated. When you’re camping and travelling for extended periods of time, your body needs a chance to reset for the next day’s adventure.
Another huge benefit to a memory foam camping mattress is that you can customize them to fit your truck bed camper, car camper, SUV, or camper van build exactly as you need.
If you have basic sewing skills (or know a friend who does!) and a sharp knife, it’s a piece of cake to have a totally custom camping mattress.
We also highly recommend a tri-fold memory foam mattress, which allows you to easily fold the mattress up if needed - while also creating a pretty sweet couch space for relaxing or working while on the road.
But a memory foam camping mattress won’t be perfect for everyone.
They are bulky and the model we use and recommend, with it’s 6-inch thickness, monopolizes a large amount of space in our truck camper.
Like most things, it’s a trade-off. But one we certainly felt was worth it!
Another thing to consider if you’re a cold-weather camper is that memory foam becomes very stiff when it’s cold, and until it’s had time to absorb some of your body heat and soften, it may be a bit uncomfortable. This is really more of an annoyance than anything else, but still worth pointing out.
Depending on the model of memory foam mattress, they may be more susceptible to dirt and grim - and more difficult to clean compared to an air mattress or traditional sleeping pad.
Just make sure to look for a model that has a removable cover that can be taken off and washed when needed.
They come in a variety of lengths, widths, and thicknesses* to fit your truck camping, car camping, or camper van setup - and you could always modify it like we did by cutting the foam to fit your needs even better!
Whatever your choice, we hope this post was helpful in selecting a truck bed mattress or camping mattress that’s right for your next adventure.
If you have a favorite camping mattress or recommendation, drop a comment below - we’re always looking for good solutions!
And if you’re interested in more ways to stay comfortable while sleeping in your truck shell camper, check out our post about installing a vent fan.
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As always, thanks for reading!
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