Trying to get to sleep on the cold, hard ground can be a challenge even for the most fervid nature lover. If you have issues like a bad back or joint pain, those can be exacerbated by a too-hard surface. But that doesn't mean you have to give up what you love.
For serious backpackers and campers, we recommend the Therm-A-Rest Basecamp (Est. $60 to $80) sleeping pad. This self-inflating air mattress gets a lot of love for its light weight, extreme durability and ease of use. It comes in three sizes, regular, large and extra-large. To inflate, you merely unroll the mattress, open a valve and allow it to self-inflate. Inflation comes courtesy of an expanding foam core. Most say they unroll this sleeping pad as soon as they hit camp because it can take a while to get full inflation, but some say they speed things up by adding a few lungfuls of air. In addition, some users say that the more you use it, the quicker and more consistently the Basecamp works.
You can see a complete list of the Basecamp sleeping pad's specs on the Therm-A-Rest website, but it's notable that despite being only two inches thick, users say it provides a surprisingly cushy level of protection. Back sleepers are particularly pleased; most side sleepers are as well, but some of the latter say that it's not quite thick enough for them. The Basecamp is made from 75-denier (denier is a thickness measurement used for threads and fabrics) polyester and is so durable that the manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty.
Many users say that the Therm-A-Rest Basecamp is plenty light enough to be used for backpacking, but there are others who prefer to pack lighter and say this sleep pad is best for car camping. For those who are hiking for the long haul, we recommend another Therm-A-Rest sleep pad, the Therm-A-Rest ProLite (Est. $50 and up). This air mattress is also self-inflating and comes in four sizes, extra-small, small, regular and large. All are extremely lightweight at 9 ounces (extra-small), 12 ounces (small), 1.2 pounds (regular) and 1.8 pounds (large).
Users rave about how small and light the ProLite feels in a pack and are surprised that it can be so comfortable, even though it's only one inch thick. However, that thin of a pad is not for everyone; and some say they use it more for insulation than for comfort.
Not everyone needs a serious backpacking sleep pad, and for those who just want a basic air mattress for their tent or cabin, the Coleman Quickbed (Est. $35 and up) is a popular, affordable option. It also comes in a twin, full and queen sizes.
Coleman air mattresses have been around for many years and are beloved by casual campers who say that these super-inexpensive mattress are an amazing value: comfortable, easy to inflate and deflate, and very good at retaining air. They also like the built-in carrier, which makes it easier to transport the mattress. One major caveat is that this mattress doesn't come with a pump. Coleman offers several compatible models -- including the Coleman QuickPump (Est. $25), but adding one will almost double the cost of the mattress. The other downside of this mattress is durability; reviews indicate that its typical lifespan is three months to a year. The mattress does have a one-year warranty, but shipping costs aren't covered. Most owners say they just discard it when it stops inflating and that, for the price, it's not a big deal to just buy a new one.
Another popular Quickbed option is the versatile Coleman 4-in-1 Quickbed (Est. $50). This air mattress can be used as two separate twin beds, zipped together to make one king-size mattress, or stacked and snapped together for one double-high twin mattress. Like the Coleman Queen Quickbed, it comes with a built-in carrying bag but does not include a pump. Users find this mattress comfortable and easy to inflate, and they say it holds its air well. As we see with other Coleman mattress, its chief problem is durability. Many reviews say that one of the two twin mattresses either had a leak when purchased or developed one soon afterward.