Camping in a van is incredibly fun. You don’t have to waste time to unpack all of your gear when you arrive at the site. The problem is that there are hundreds of mattresses on the market, but most of them aren’t the correct size and material for a van.
So, do you want to know how to choose the perfect mattress for camping in a van? If so, you’re in the right place. Start by picking out a mattress material, size, and a bed frame. You can also build a bed frame in a couple of hours. Don’t forget about blankets, sheets, and pillows.
Throughout this article, you’ll learn the following:
- How to pick out the correct material
- Choosing the right mattress size for your van
- Bed frame ideas and suggestions
- The best mattresses for van camping
- How to position your mattress in the vehicle
- Additional tips and bedding alternatives
Types Of Mattresses To Choose From
Even if you have the correct size, you can still have an uncomfortable mattress. The material and thickness are both essential components (we’ll dive into the latter in the next section).
There are five top-choice materials for mattresses these days:
- Memory foam
Memory foam mattresses are top-rated around the world. The breathability, comfort, and cushioning are as good as it gets.
Memory foam mattresses come in all sizes, and you can even buy toppers made of out of the material for your current mattress. And if you’re looking for customized support, memory foam is the way to go.
Gel mattresses are great at dispersing body heat throughout the surface. Rather than being hot and sticky throughout the night, you can stay nice and cool. Much like memory foam, this material molds to the shape of your body, providing excellent support and comfort.
One of the most prevalent types of mattresses in the world for many decades was the innerspring mattress.
Although they’re not as common these days, they’re still a viable option for your van. The support of an innerspring bed comes from multiple springs that compress when you move around on them. The only drawback with this type of mattress is that the springs can be uncomfortable after years of use.
Latex mattresses are made with natural materials, making them a popular choice in recent years. You’ll be able to choose from an array of firmness and plushness, depending on the brand purchased. It’s much less dense than other foam mattresses, and it also prevents excess heat from building up.
People typically use pillow-top mattresses to add a few inches to another mattress. Still, they’re also comfortable to use on their own: cotton, wool, and various other types of foam are the common materials used for pillow-tops. One of the most significant advantages of using a pillow-top mattress is the fact that they are machine washable.
Picking The Right Size
The material of your mattress is just as relevant as the size that you choose.
If you get a mattress that’s too small, you won’t be able to stretch out. However, a mattress that’s too large won’t fit in the van. Finding the best of both worlds is crucial for the perfect van mattress.
The first factor that you need to consider is whether you’ll get a twin, full, queen, or king-sized mattress.
To save you some time, most king-sized mattresses won’t fit in a van. Even if you manage to get it inside, there won’t be room for anything else. The same goes for queen-sized mattresses.
Thus, you’ll likely need to choose between a full or a twin mattress.
If you’re camping or traveling alone, then a twin bed will do just fine. Twin beds are about 38 by 75 inches, so consider your height. A person who’s 6 foot tall is 72 inches, which only leaves three inches left. With a pillow and some stretching room involved, a twin might be too small if you’re particularly tall.
Full-sized beds are usually 53 by 75 to 80 inches, which gives you a bit more wiggle room. They’re a perfect choice for one to two people who are sleeping in the van.
It’s safe to say that a twin bed is ideal for people who are solo and about 5 foot 8 inches or shorter, whereas a full-sized bed is perfect for people who are taller than 5 foot 9 inches.
You also need to think about the thickness of the mattress before you buy it. Three inches might seem okay, but bodyweight will drop it down right away.
Instead, try to find a mattress that’s at least five inches thick. You also need to take the height, width, and length of your mattress into your calculations when you add a bed frame into the van.
Should You Build A Bed Frame?
Once you get your mattress picked out (there will be options later in the article to look through), you’ll have three options for bed frames:
- Build your own
- Buy a premade bed frame at a store or online
- Go without a bed frame
Going without a bed frame isn’t recommended if you intend to do any long-term travel or camping. Not only does a frame elevate you off of the cold floor of the vehicle, but it also gives you plenty of storage space below. You can have kitchen utensils, clothes, sleeping bags, and everything else right under the bed.
The only time that you should consider laying a mattress in the van without a bed frame is if you use the vehicle for multiple purposes. If you don’t want to have a permanent camping configuration inside, then tossing in a mattress every time that you go camping isn’t such a bad option. Other than that, bed frames are the way to go.
Premade bed frames are perfect if you can find one that fits the dimensions that you need. The only problem with them is that you can’t customize it precisely as you’d like, nor can you drill into the side, in most cases. If you’re mounting a solar charge controller, an electrical outlet, or anything else to the frame, you’ll probably have to build one yourself.
Despite these issues, the convenience of a premade bed frame is unbeatable, as long as it doesn’t slide around. You can even make it easier by purchasing a collapsible frame to take out whenever you need to use the cargo space for something else.
While premade frames are convenient, building a DIY bed frame is the most common option for van campers.
To build a bed frame, you’ll need several feet of Douglas fir wood (or any other type of solid, reliable, mold-resistant material), screws, a drill, drill bits, and a 1″ thick sheet of wood to set on top of it. Always figure out the dimensions of the mattress that you’re getting before you build a bed frame.
Additional Bedding Choices
Remember that the mattress is only part of the whole bed setup. You can have a fantastic mattress and still not get a good night’s sleep if you don’t have a good set of sheets, blankets, and pillows. Just like mattresses, pillows come in several types of materials.
Down, cotton, wool, and memory foam are common materials used for most standard pillows.
- Down is very lightweight, and it offers a breathable cover that cools you down throughout the night.
- Cotton is also breathable, but it holds its form much better.
- Wool is warm, hence the fact that it’s popular for hiking gear.
- Finally, memory foam molds to your body shape and warms up throughout the night.
Blankets come in all sorts of materials, as do sheets and pillowcases. When you’re picking out the bedding for your van, it’s essential to keep the thread count in mind. Higher thread counts are softer and much more comfortable on your skin. Lower thread counts might breathe better, although that’s up for debate.
The point is that you shouldn’t only consider your mattress. Everything on, in, and around your mattress is part of the bed situation.
For a comfortable night of sleep, try to buy each piece to accommodate your personal preferences. You should also think about the time of the year that you’ll be camping in the van. Breathable fabric works for summer, and a heavier fabric is excellent for winter.
Best Mattresses For Van Camping
Linenspa 8 Inch Memory Foam and Innerspring Hybrid Mattress
If you want the undeniable support of an innerspring with the comfort of a memory foam mattress, then the Linenspa 8 inch Memory Foam and Innerspring Hybrid Mattress is the mattress for you. It’s considered a medium-firm bed that has a soft exterior lining to breathe with your movements.
Choosing to go with this mattress will allow you to pick from twin, twin XL, full, queen, king, and California king. They also sell it in 8 and 10 inches. If you want an entire setup, there’s an option to buy any of the sizes with a bed frame included. All of them come with tempered steel coils and a memory foam layer on top.
On top of those two layers is a thin woven memory foam cover. When you lay down on the bed, it pushes all of the warm air outwards to keep you cooled down throughout the night. Find the correct size for your van and enjoy long-lasting comfort.
- Comes in multiple sizes
- Made out of memory foam and innerspring coils
- Budget-friendly cost
Zinus Ultima Comfort Mattress
The Zinus Ultima Comfort Mattress is an excellent option that is made entirely out of memory foam. The standard full size is 75 x 54 inches, and it comes in four different thicknesses: 6, 8, 10, and 12 inches. You can also choose a bigger or smaller overall size.
The top 1.5 inches of this mattress is soft, breathable memory foam. The rest of the 4.5 inches is a high-density base foam to support your body weight. Unlike cheap memory foam mattresses that don’t have base support, you won’t have to worry about sinking down to the bed frame when you lay down.
One of the unique features of this mattress is that it’s topped with natural plant oil. You won’t feel it when you sleep, but the oil prevents the material from drying and cracking. The entire mattress is covered with a quilted sleeve for complete comfort.
- Comes with two layers to keep you supported
- Available in multiple sizes and shapes
- Includes a non-drying natural oil
Ashley Furniture Signature Design Memory Foam Mattress
Are you tired of waking up with an aching back and shoulders? If so, the Ashley Furniture Signature Design Memory Foam Mattress is an excellent choice. The mattress molds itself to the shape of your body as soon as you lay on it, and it continues to hold the same position throughout the night. No more tossing and turning.
All of the materials used in this mattress are hypoallergenic and constructed with the softest thread counts. Much like the previous mattress, you get to enjoy a cushioned top layer with a dense base layer.
This mattress arrives in a box. All you need to do is open it (be sure not to use any sharp objects to keep yourself from cutting into the bed), and let it set out on a flat surface for up to 72 hours. After three days, it’ll expand to the full size that you purchased.
- Forms to your body right away
- Holds it shape throughout the night
- Hypoallergenic materials
Olee Sleep 10 inch Omega Hybrid Gel Infused Memory Foam and Pocket Spring Mattress
The Olee Sleep 10 inch Omega Hybrid Gel Infused Memory Foam, and Pocket Spring Mattress is ideal for people who want more support than a traditional memory foam mattress provides.
It combines the breathability of gel, the cushion of memory foam, and the top-notch support that comes with spring mattresses to make the ultimate bed. It currently comes in twin, full, queen, and king sizes.
All in all, five layers make up this complex mattress. From bottom to top, you can enjoy Dura HD foam, Dura spring coils, more HD foam, gel foam, a fiber padding, and a polyester cover to wrap it all.
The only downside is that it’s a little bit heavy. If you plan to remove and replace it into your van often, you might want to get a memory foam or gel mattress. However, if you’re going to leave it in there for months or years in a row, then you’ll absolutely love this bed.
- Made with several layers
- Uses gel, coils, and memory foam
- Flexible materials
Tuft & Needle Full Mattress
The Tuft & Needle Full Mattress offers a 100-night trial warranty to anyone who’s on the fence about it. This bulky mattress is 10 inches thick, making it perfect for high-top vans and multiple people. You’ll never have to worry about it compressing too much to the point where you’re touching the bed frame.
Cooling gel and graphite are the two layers that make this mattress one of the most popular choices. The setup process is virtually as easy as it gets. Just remove it from the box and wait for a few days until it expands all the way.
Another reason that makes this full-sized mattress an ideal selection for vans is that you don’t need to set it on a bed frame. Although it works best with a frame, the support provided from this mattress alone is more than enough.
- 10 inches of cooling, supportive comfort
- Thousands of positive customer reviews
- 100 night trial period
- No need for a bed frame
D & D Futon Furniture Folding Foam Bed
This bed alternative is one that you might not have thought of. It is actually a folding chair that you can unfold to use as a bed. It is perfect for one person, or you can buy two and use them side by side.
The chair/bed is made with high-density foam that is six inches thick, and it is 70 inches long and 24 inches wide. Since it is made with high-density foam, it is very firm when sleeping on it, and you don’t sag down into the foam.
When it is folded flat to use as a bed, the chair’s back turns into a pillow. This bed is perfect for a camper van. It is surprisingly comfortable when used as a bed; however, it doesn’t work quite as well when used as a chair, though. The seat section is a little too long, and the back is too low.
The chair/bed will work just unfolded on a van floor or on top of a built-in bed platform. It has velcro fasteners to help hold it together when used as a chair.
- It can be used as a chair or a bed.
- Reasonably priced (less than $150)
- It is the right size for one person.
- No need for a bed frame.
If you are wondering how many people can sleep in a van, check out our post to learn more.
Keeping your bedding clean is the best way to prevent yourself from having to buy a new mattress too soon. Most mattresses last between five to ten years before they start to wear down and get uncomfortable. Follow these suggestions to get the most out of your van’s bedding:
Wash the sheets, pillowcases, and blankets once a week. Bacteria and dust build up over time, which can be unhealthy and cause offensive smells. You can spot clean the mattress with soap, water, and essential oils to keep it fresh throughout the month.
When you wash everything, try to move the mattress to a different location for an hour or so to let it air out a bit. Moisture from the condensation caused by exhaling starts to find its way under a mattress, which causes mold rather quickly. Prop the mattress against the front seats for the best results.
Some of the mattresses listed above you can flip over. If you purchase one like that, then turn it to the other side every month to keep it feeling new. Beds start to get indented and uncomfortable if you keep sleeping in the same spot.
As challenging and limiting as it is, try not to bring snacks or drinks onto the mattress. Foam is very absorbent, which means every spill and crumb gets trapped in the porous material. The result could be bugs and mold living in the foam.
Lastly, don’t use sheets that are too small for the bed. When sheets constrict the mattress, it starts to fold and crack throughout the course of a few months. The sheets should tuck under all four corners without lifting any of them at all.
Longways vs. Sideways: Which Is Better?
The first question that you have to ask yourself when you’re putting a mattress into your van is whether you’ll place it longways or sideways. To figure this out, you’ll have to measure the interior dimensions of the vehicle and the bed.
If your van’s dimensions give you the freedom of choice, then there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Let’s review everything in detail below:
Pros of Longways Beds
You can typically pick a bigger mattress when you’re placing it longways. Since there’s more length than width in a van, it opens up endless possibilities. It’s also a perfect setup if you have three or more people camping in the vehicle.
People who sleep longways in a van often claim that it’s easier and quicker to jump right into the driver’s seat if they need to. While it’s not a huge advantage, it’s definitely convenient for emergencies.
If there’s a side door on your van, you can roll right out of bed and open the door. Everything’s close in a small area, but why not get even closer?
Pros of Sideways Beds
When you position a bed sideways in a van, there’s much more open space behind the seats. You’ll be able to put sinks, nightstands, and other essentials into the vehicle without being too limited.
If you put the bed near the back door, you can roll out of bed through the back. It all relies on where you want to enter and exit the vehicle. Campers who have a stove in the back find this position to be the most convenient.
You can fit a wide bed in a van if it’s sideways. The width is only limited to how long your van is. As long as the bed is short enough to fit sideways, there’s no limit to the width.
Other Bed Choices
If you’re determined to leave your mattress at home, you can still choose one of the four other types of bed options: Cots, air beds, water beds, and, worst of all, the floor.
Cots are great if you’re solo camping. You can throw a sleeping bag on top of a cot and relax throughout the weekend. Anything longer than that might end up hurting your back or causing aches around your body. Cots are convenient, but they’re not known to be super comfortable.
Air beds are fantastic if you can keep a pump with you. They tend to deflate a little bit each night. The nice thing about using an air bed is that they’re soft, but they don’t form to your body as a traditional mattress does. There’s also the issue that they will pop if anything sharp touches them.
Water beds are also a great choice if you can fill it up at home. Much like an air mattress, a water bed won’t form to your body shape. The sound of water sloshing around makes it impossible for some people to sleep, but it doesn’t bother everyone. Both water beds and air mattresses aren’t a viable long-term solution for vanlifers and road trippers.
Now that you’ve seen all of the bed options that you can enjoy while camping in a van, you’re better prepared to make the best decision for you. Choose the material, size, covers, and more.
Hopefully, this guide has made everything much easier for you. Here are a few of the key takeaways:
- There are five types of mattresses to use in your van
- Full and twin beds are ideal sizes, but queen and king beds are usually too big
- Don’t forget to consider the pros and cons of sideways vs. longways beds
- You’re not forced to use a traditional mattress; there are many other choices
- Wash your sheets, pillowcases, and blankets to preserve the mattress
- Make sure you use the correct size for your sheets to prevent constriction
- If you leave foam mattresses exposed for too long, they’ll dry out and crack
- Before you pick a mattress, consider how many people will sleep in the van
- If you prefer multiple materials, try out a hybrid bed from the list above
- Bed frames are equally as important as a mattress