Many of us get to a point in our lives where we don’t want to rough it on a closed cell foam sleeping pad or lightweight air cushion at base camp. That means investing in a more luxurious sleeping system. Fortunately, several brands on the market offer ultra-soft car camping pillows that get you as close as possible to getting the same kind of sleep as you would at home. But luxury car camping mats can be all pricey. To that end, we pitted one of the most affordable pads in this category, the REI Co-op Camp Dreamer XL Self Inflating Deluxe Bed at one of the most expensive, the Exped MegaMat Max 15†
To set the tone, there are a few things that didn’t factor into our comparison. Both pillows have a very high R-value, or the degree of insulation of a sleeping pad, enough to keep you comfortable even in the snow. (For the record, the Exped has a significantly higher R-value of 10.6). The MegaMat is almost double the weight of the Camp Dreamer at just over 13 pounds, although both are heavy enough that you won’t want to carry them with backpacks. They pack down to almost the same size, with the MegaMat only 3 inches thicker when rolled up. With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
Mega Mat Max: Like many Exped pads, the MegaMat Max has both an inflation and deflation valve. The two-way inflation valve also allows you to slowly release air by pressing it, making tuning the firmness of your mattress incredibly easy and accurate. For inflation, Exped includes a comically little “Mini-Pump” that you can press or step on. Despite the fact that this pad is “self-inflating”, we never fully inflated the pad with the mini-pump, although we estimate it would take 5-10 minutes of continuous pumping. We would recommend to buy Exped’s USB Rechargeable Widget Pump ($49) or other powered or manual pump with a compatible connector.
Camp Dreamer: The Camp Dreamer comes with a creatively designed rotary valve, with one side providing inflation and the other side preventing air loss. To deflate, turn the valve half way and leave it slightly open for fine adjustment. (An idiot-proof diagram next to the valve shows how to operate it.) We found this valve system to be unnecessarily finicky, making it difficult to know when the valve is fully on the inflation side or on the sealed side. Once installed correctly, however, we had no problems with leakage. And while we’ve read anecdotal complaints about valve leaks, we assume it’s due to user error and not an actual manufacturing defect. On the plus side, the Camp Dreamer’s large foam-framed pump fills the cushion (also technically self-inflating) in a minute or two and functions as a very comfortable, adjustable cushion.
Winner: The camp dreamer. While REI’s valve design is tedious and imprecise, Exped’s underpowered pump left us frustrated, especially at its $330 price tag. Plus, buying an extra $49 battery-powered pump is a lot to swallow.
Mega Mat Max: An almost obscene 15cm Oeko-Tex polyurethane foam forms the core of this pad. Thanks to all that cushioning, we were able to under-inflate the pillow a little and get the feel of a real, snug-fitting memory foam mattress. Even inflated to maximum firmness, the thick cushioning kept our hips and shoulders from getting sore after a full night of sleep. A 50 denier tricot polyester finish on the top of the cushion is brushed and soft, almost like a jersey sheet, making it extra comfortable against the skin. Sturdy vertical sidewalls kept us from sinking or rolling away, even as we crawled to the end of the pillow in our sleep.
Camp Dreamer: Horizontal foam cores line the Camp Dreamer to provide structural support. The ridges that the cores create are noticeable, especially at full inflation. That doesn’t make these pads uncomfortable, and in fact they didn’t bother some testers at all. However, if you are a particularly sensitive sleeper, these ridges can be annoying. The 4-inch thick polyurethane foam still provides a nice sinking feeling, but you can’t partially inflate the pillow and achieve the same kind of swaying, memory foam mattress sensation that’s possible with the MegaMat Max. The 30 denier stretch polyester the outer fabric was soft and smooth and the integrity of the sidewalls remained strong even when sleeping on the edges.
Winner: MegaMat Max† True to its name, the maximum memory foam in Exped’s pad made it the most comfortable car camping mattress we’ve ever tested, allowing for versatility regardless of inflation level.
Both the Camp Dreamer and the MegaMat are extra long and extra wide. They are almost exactly the same length of 78 inches, although the Camp Dreamer is 2 inches wider with a diameter of 32 inches. Both allowed us to sleep comfortably in the stomach with our arms above our heads. Starfishing was a little more comfortable with the extra 2 inches of width, but both are generous enough for almost any sleeper. It is important to note that both pillows make it nearly impossible to fit two sleepers in a standard 2 person tent.
Winner: Tie. Although the Camp Dreamer is slightly wider, the size difference is almost imperceptible.
The Camp Dreamer and MegaMata both use 75 denier polyester as their bottom fabric. While we don’t know why you would treat an expensive pad so roughly, we dragged both mats over dirt and rock without creating a hole. For reference, an average backpacking sleeping pad may have a 30-denier polyester fabric.
Winner: Tie. Both mats use a heavyweight polyester fabric that can withstand almost any camping environment.
The Megamat has a suggested retail price of $330 – a good $100 more than comparable luxury foam pillows on the market. The Camp Dreamer costs $179, or just over half the cost of the Megamat. It is one of the lowest prices you will find for a mat in this category, even competing with off-brands and knock-offs in this price range.
Winner: The camp dreamer. It is one of the cheapest purchases in this category.
For most people, the REI Co-Op Camp Dreamer, which costs nearly half the Exped Megamat, offers more than enough comfort in this category. It has a solid amount of foam cushioning, is durable, inflates quickly and efficiently, and comes with a cushion. (Just mind that finicky valve). For particularly sensitive sleepers who want that true memory foam feel with the ability to fine-tune the firmness, the Megamat Max may be worth the splurge. A golden mean between the two, the Exped Megamat 10offers almost all the same luxuries and features of the Megmat Max 15, but with 4 inches of foam instead of 8. At $250 for the comparable long-extra wide version, we think it’s a worthy upgrade from the Camp Dreamer if the budget allows.