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Buyers Guide: Mattresses


Compiled by Kayla Cloete

“No. Not happening. Not a chance,” my mother replied, cutting my father off mid-sentence.

He was proposing that we extend our usual two-night, weekend camping trip into a glorious five-night, six-day vacation.

My mother was having none of his argument. “If you think I’m going to have you snoring in my ear on a deflated jumping castle disguised as a mattress for more than two nights, you are sorely mistaken.”

Whether my mother’s objection was directed towards the sleeping equipment, or towards the snoring hulk that was to sleep snugly beside her, remained beyond the grasp of my six-year-old mind.

Whichever bugged her more, the point still remained – a bad night’s sleep would ruin whatever fun a trip away had to offer.

Choosing the best-suited mattress for your off-road adventures can mean the difference between a trip you will never forget and a trip you hope never to remember. Before you make an impulse-buy, take some time to consider your options.

For starters, what types of trips will you be using your mattress for? Different mattresses will have different insulation values (i.e. different levels of resilience to hot/cold conditions), so it’s important to know what type of climates you’ll be putting your mattress up against. Air mattresses, for example, are notoriously bad insulators and ought to be avoided in cold climates.

Some of the mattresses better suited for extreme conditions will provide a quantifiable measure of their insulation by providing you with an R-value. These values range from 0-10, with the higher values being the better insulated mattresses.

Another reality to consider is the fact that it is impossible to sleep like a queen and to pack like a peasant. There’s something I like to call comfort-to-pack-size ratio. The smaller the mattress packs away, the less comfortable the mattress will be.

A good comfort-to-pack-size ratio will mean that the mattress offers a fair amount of comfort in comparison to how much space it takes when packed.

You’ll need to decide beforehand whether comfort or a compact packsize is more important in your camping requirements. For example, weight and pack-size are more important factors when you’re using the mattress for hiking trips or for tightly-packed getaways, and comfort is more important if you have back problems or are planning to be away for longer.

One last, seemingly obvious, thing to consider is the size of your mattress. Check the dimensions of the mattress against the dimensions of your tent before you make your purchase.

Some tents are more compact than you realise, and the last thing you want is to have your mattress poking out of your tent. Also, keep in mind that the higher the mattress, the closer you’ll be to inhaling your tent inner.

Mattress types

Inflatable Air Mattress

Inflatable air mattresses are one of the most popular options because of their decent comfort-to-pack-size ratio. They are the closest one can get to the comfort and size of a normal mattress while still being able to collapse into something that can fit into a carry bag.

However, sleeping on these mattresses can be a wobbly and uncomfortable experience.

Most air mattresses tend to leak air overnight, leaving you either flat on the ground or with an aching back in the morning. You might opt for a double height mattress to slow this process.

Keep in mind that these are unlikely to fit into most average-sized tents, and you’ll still have to re-inflate them after a night’s sleep to ensure maximum comfort.

Air mattresses are also notoriously bad insulators. Air mattresses transform into ice-blocks at night because your body heat isn’t enough to warm up the mass of icy air beneath you. Instead, all of the cold from the ground seeps into the air below you and leaves you to shiver off your dinner calories.

To avoid this, try layering a thick comforter beneath you to help insulate yourself against the cold, or purchase a decent sleeping bag that is designed for chilly conditions.

Most air mattresses are not sold with an air pump included, so be sure to add an extra R200-R500 to the budget when considering this option. You’ll want a hand-held pump if your campsite isn’t within easy reach of your car.

Some pumps will have an AC plug-in (which means you’ll be able to power it from a standard electrical outlet, if available), and others will have a DC plug-in (which connects to your car’s 12V outlet).

Knowing where you’re likely to camp will help you to decide which pump is best. Manual pumps are nice to have if you’d like to top-up your mattress in the middle of the night without waking up the entire campsite.

Durability and longevity are the biggest problems facing air mattresses.

Most come with a puncture repair kit, but, once a mattress is punctured, it’ll never offer the support it gave before.

If you’re a regular camper and want a mattress that lasts, then I wouldn’t suggest an air mattress. These mattresses are also ill-suited to hardcore adventurers who camp in extreme weather conditions.

However, if you’re the type who enjoys the odd weekend getaway, then an air mattress is the ideal solution: it is easy-to-use, reasonably priced, and doesn’t take up too much packing space.

Fold-up/roll-up foam mattresses

These mattresses might not be able to pack away quite as compactly as their air-mattress rivals, but they’re quicker (and less noisy) to set up, and you don’t have to spend hours trying to shove them back into a bag that is two sizes too small. On the downside, this means that storage is often an issue.

Since most of these mattresses do not come with a pack bag, the cover material will have an effect on their longevity.

Fabrics with a higher denier number will be more durable and better insulated than fabrics with a lower denier number. Anywhere above 75D is a high quality fabric and should offer you decent durability and longevity.

Foam mattresses offer better insulation and comfort than air mattresses, and they hold zero risk of deflating overnight.

Generally speaking, the thicker the foam mattress, the more comfortable it will be. But a thicker mattress made of low-quality foam will be less comfortable than a thinner mattress of high-quality foam.

Many manufacturers don’t actually list the type of foam their mattress is made of, but it is worth enquiring about.

Foams are generally divided into three categories – high-, medium- and low density. Foam density refers to the weight of the foam in kilograms per cubic metre.

The higher the density, the more resilient the mattress will be – that is, it’s less likely to lose its shape/firmness over time − and the better support the mattress will offer.

Anything between 10-16kg/m3 is classified as low-density foam, anything between 18-25kg/m3 is classified as medium-density foam, and anything between 28-50kg/m3 is classified as high-density foam.

Then there are things like the hardness factor, which refers to how hard or soft the mattress feels. This is better experienced than explained, as it has less to do with quality and more to do with individual preferences. Test those in the local camping store before you buy.

If you’re a hiker, or somebody who has limited packing space, then a fold-up foam mattress isn’t best suited for you. Its compact cousin, the roll-up sleeping mat, is better suited for that type of trip.

This is the most compact option when it comes to camping mattresses, but it provides minimal comfort at best.

There are roll-up foam mattresses that (arguably) take up less space; but, in my opinion, a large circle is more cumbersome to pack than a large rectangle.

Self-inflating Mattresses

To me, self-inflating mattresses epitomise the compromise you reach after you’ve debated all your other mattress options.

They’re not quite as comfortable as foam or air mattresses, but they do have the best comfort-to-pack ratio, they’re more durable and better insulated than air mattresses, and they’re more convenient to store than foam mattresses.

A bonus is the ‘cool factor’. These mattresses literally inflate themselves, so you don’t have to fork out extra cash on an air pump.

These mattresses are in their natural state when they are unrolled.

By unplugging the air valve, you are able to press out the air that collects between the foam cells when the mattress is unrolled.

The downside to this mattress is rolling it up, which can be tricky until you get the hang of it. The mattress tries to re-inflate as soon as you release pressure.

Some patience and skill is required if you want to get the mattress packed away as tightly as possible.

If you’re keen to invest in a self-inflating mattress, then the things to look out for are the quality of the material it uses (as well as the quality of the foam), its pack size, and its thickness. As with foam mattresses, thickness does not guarantee comfort… but it does affect pack size.

The only way to reach the best compromise between size and comfort is if you actually go and feel the mattress for yourself before you make your purchase.

In general, the quality of the inner foam and covering material will determine the durability, longevity and insulation values of your mattress.

These self-inflating pads are generally best suited for regular, all-season campers, hikers, and those who like to rough it (i.e. when only the bare essentials will make the cut).

Hikers might opt for smaller, lighter versions, while all season campers might prefer the thicker, longer-lasting versions.

If you’re going to be out in the middle of nowhere for weeks at a time, be sure to get a durable self-inflating mattress.

If you get a puncture in some of these mattresses, you might as well sleep on the ground. Some do come with puncture-repair kits, but, like air mattresses, once the damage is done, they will never offer the same support as before.


Self-inflating mattresses


K-Way Sherpa Self-Inflating Mattress

K-Way Sherpa Self-Inflating Mattress

  • Size: 51cm x 183cm x 3.8cm
  • Rolled size: 29cm x 15cm
  • Weight capacity: 200kg
  • Pack weight: 755g
  • Covering: 75D honeycomb-embossed top, 75D non-slip bottom
  • Foam: Breatheable foam with vertical and horizontal holes.
  • Features: This lightweight, compact mattress is great if you need to pack light. It offers fair comfort for its size, and is made from quality material that ought to survive extreme conditions.
  • Best suited for: Hikers or light packers
  • Price: R 1099
  • Available: Cape Union Mart


Tentco Bundu Self-Inflating Matteress

Tentco Bundu Self-Inflating Mattress

  • Size: 63cm x 196cm x 5cm
  • Rolled size: 68cm x 23cm
  • Weight capacity: 150kg
  • Pack weight: 2.05kg
  • Covering material: Micro Suede Coated PVC top, 150D polyester oxford coated PVC bottom
  • Foam: Open cell foam
  • Features: This mattress is lightweight, which makes it well-suited for trips in which you change campsites frequently. Its non-slip bottom provides extra stability for sloped campsites. Velcro sides allow one to combine two to make a double mattress.
  • Best suited for: Regular campers who want a mattress that is comfortable and easy to store.
  • Price: R550
  • Available: Camp & Climb


Carma Quip Rough-It Self-Inflating Mattress

Carma Quip Rough-it Self-Inflating Mattress

  • Size: 60cm x 190cm x 5cm
  • Rolled Size: 60cm x 19cm
  • Weight capacity: ±100kg
  • Pack weight: 2.9kg
  • Covering: 600D camouflage, waterproof heavy duty material top, 550g waterproof supported PVC, non-slip heavy-duty material bottom
  • Foam: High density foam
  • Features: This mattress comes with a four-year warranty, and promises you a comfortable night’s sleep for any extreme adventure. It is handmade by local manufacturers, so be sure to order in advance if you want your mattress ready in time for your trip.
  • Best suited for: Regular campers, hikers and bikers who are looking for a hard-wearing, long lasting mattress
  • Price: R750
  • Available:


Foam mattresses


Campmor Sleep Easy 3-Division Mattress

Campmor Sleep Easy 3-division Mattress

  • Size: 75cm x 195cm x 7cm
  • Weight capacity: 150kg
  • Pack weight: 3kg
  • Covering Material: Ripstop canvas
  • Foam: SABS Approved High Density foam
  • Features: We’ll admit that this is a bit of an expensive option, but it is constructed out of high-density foam and it uses high quality material to ensure its durability and longevity.
  • Best suited for: A frequent camper who wants to invest in something that is comfortable and will last.
  • Price: R865
  • Available: Outdoor Warehouse


Tentco 3-Division Fold-Up Mattress

Tentco 3-division Fold-up Mattress

  • Size: 70cm x 195cm x 6cm
  • Weight capacity: 150kg
  • Pack weight: 3.24kg
  • Covering material: 600D Heavy-duty waterproof oxford nylon
  • Foam: 23 Density foam (medium density)
  • Features: This is a great value-for-money option. It’s comfortable, and well constructed.
  • Best suited for: Regular, all-season campers.
  • Price: R370
  • Available: Camp & Climb


Natural Instincts Roll Up Mattress

Natural Instincts Roll Up Mat

  • Size: 70cm x 180cm x 6.5cm
  • Roll size: 66cm x 35cm x 31cm
  • Weight capacity: 120kg
  • Pack weight: 2.5kg
  • Covering: 200g Polyester Ripstop
  • Foam: 23 Density polyurethane foam (SABS approved).
  • Features: This mattress offers the same amount of comfort as does the Tentco mattress, and is covered in high-quality material which ought to guarantee its longevity.
  • Best suited for: Regular campers who prefer a roll-up mattress to a fold-up mattress.
  • Price: R675
  • Available: Outdoor Warehouse


Air mattresses


The quality of an air mattress is defined more by its brand than its size. We’ve decided to list the single-bed guises of the various brands in order to make it more possible to compare them.


Colemon Twin Airbed

COLEMAN Twin Airbed

  • Size: 99cm x 188cm x 13cm
  • Weight capacity: 136kg
  • Pack weight: 3kg
  • Features: This is a higher quality brand which is more durable and comfortable than entry level air mattresses. Its AirTight system prevents the mattress from leaking air overnight, which leads to comfortable, hassle free sleeping.
  • Best suited for: Occasional campers on a more accommodating budget.
  • Price: R479
  • Available: Makro


Intex Deluxe Single-High Airbed

Intex Deluxe Single-High Airbed

  • Size: 99cm x 191cm x 25cm
  • Weight capacity: 136kg
  • Pack weight: 2.69kg
  • Features: This mattress is a mid-level Intex model (Intex mattresses are available in entry-level options, too) which offers better support and is more durable than cheaper air mattresses. It uses Fibre-tech technology, which means that soft individual fibres (rather than harder PVC) support you.
  • Best suited for: Next-level-up campers.
  • Price: R350
  • Available: Outdoor Warehouse, Cape Union Mart


Bestway Air Mattress Flocked Single

BESTWAY Air Mattress Flocked Single

  • Size: 76cm x 185cm x 22cm
  • Weight capacity: 227kg
  • Pack weight: 2kg
  • Features: This is a quality entry-level brand with a quick inflation-and deflation valve which gives a quicker set-up.
  • Best suited for: Entry-level campers.
  • Price: R229
  • Available: Camp & Climb