The Great Car Camping Debate: Memory Foam Vs. Sleeping Pad Vs. Air Mattress

When car camping, or camping in general, arguably one of the most important pieces of gear that will keep you comfortable is whatever you choose to sleep on. I, for one, recently had to return a leaky sleeping pad to save my shoulders and back from rubbing rocks all night. Tough to dream of summits when you can't sleep. Honestly though, what pad doesn't leak? Please, tell me. I'll buy it.

Sure, overnight hikes are very different from car camping, but that doesn't mean your sleeping cushion situation isn't. For my first couple of go's in my car, I still used said sleeping pad above (yuck). For my car camping nights I've replaced yucky pad with cubed 3" memory pieces, but I'd like to review the other options, so let's do a good ol' pros-and-cons list.



  • Large and in charge
  • Works for both people
  • Adjustable firmness 
  • Can be used as a sled or boat in a pinch


  • Can be a hassle to inflate manually
  • Not cheap for a nice one
  • Annoying if not a decent fit (everyone ends up in the middle)



  • Cheap ($25 for a 2' x 7' x 3" strip)
  • Customizable for specific spaces (I used a dinner knife to cut my pieces)
  • Light
  • Easy to have as much as you need for your space (1 person / 2 persons)


  • If not cut into pieces, they take up a lot of space when not in use
  • If cut, can move during the night creating gaps
  • Not the best appearance (but wrap em up in a sheet and you've added some flavor!)



  • Easily packs away
  • Not quite a boat, but could be a canoe


  • Deflate
  • Inflating takes an annoying amount of effort
  • Limit you to a narrow space
  • Generally suck

So there you have it - at least my opinion. Depending on what you're doing, I think going with memory foam or an air mattress is a healthy debate. For my weekend warrior trips the quick and ease of just throwing around some memory foam makes more sense, right now, but I can see how on a longer road trip a super comfy mattress can make all the difference. 

Always fun to do some research. Brands I like and have nice options for the pad options above are:


BIG AGNES (on day of writing, this link went to a page where Mt. Stuart was the featured image - so that's cool)


REI  (the catch-all)









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