The Standard: For years, the unquestioned king of good snoozing has been the self-inflating, foam-filled mattress. The best are comfortable, durable, warm, and easy to fill. Recently, though, variations on the old-fashioned air mattress have been making serious inroads, bringing improvements in cushion, durability, and price. For as little as half the price of a standard self-inflater, you can get an air mattress that blows up twice as thick, albeit with less insulation (usually) and lots more effort.
Closed-cell foams mats still have fans–mainly ultralighters who cut them to hip length and even use them to cushion unpadded backpacks.
|You sleep…||You should buy…|
|Like a rock||Why carry extra? Go for a short, thin closed-cell pad like the Z-Rest.|
|Like a princess||For three-season camping, choose a full-length air mattress that inflates to 3 inches thick. For colder conditions, get the same thing with insulation or a (slightly warmer) 1.5-inch-thick self-inflater. Thicker self-inflaters are available, but are too heavy and bulky for backpacking.|
|Warm||Short air mattress.|
|Cold||Try either of the cold-weather princess options, plus a short closed-cell pad to layer under your torso for extra insulation.|
|In the snow||Go with a full-length self-inflater and full-length closed-cell pad; even insulated air mattresses have a hard time in deep cold due to the seams between chambers. Put extra clothes under your bag and your backpack under your legs for maximum warmth.|