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Van Camping 101: The Importance of choosing an Incredible Van Camping Mattress

Tonya Prater, Owner

When I first began researching van camping this past spring, I knew there was going to be one element that would make or break the experience. Could van camping be comfortable? I don’t consider myself overly fussy. After all, I still enjoy tent camping with my husband but now that I’m in my mid-40’s, the days of sleeping on the ground are over. I need a good van camping mattress, an air mattress just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

So our first step into creating our part-time Dodge Grand Caravan Camper was to hunt down a van mattress that would make sleeping in a minivan an enjoyable, and dare I say fun, experience?

A Van Camping Mattress that will give you a good night's sleep.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of van camping, check out our post Van Camping 101.  

This post contains affiliate links. 

Choosing a Van Camping Mattress

First, we asked ourselves, “what are our options when it comes to selecting a camper van mattress?”

I can’t say that we had a ton of options available to us but one of our concerns was the time it would take to set up camp. We ultimately wanted our minivan camper set up at all times so we could pull over and go to sleep with little to no effort and we wanted to be inconspicuous since we often sleep at rest stops or Walmart parking lots. We didn’t want anyone seeing us setting up our bed or mattress for the van.

One, we could skip the mattress and use a mattress pad with a sleeping bag but that didn’t sound appealing to someone who prefers to snuggle with her husband in comfort.

Two, we could purchase a foam mattress, like an egg crate foam topper, something like this that folds, or another foam mattress for our van but that wasn’t really what I had in mind either.

Three, we could buy an air mattress for a Dodge Caravan or similar vehicle.  This was the one we considered the most other than our final selection.

Sure, an air mattress has its benefits. Air mattresses:  

  • save space
  • are easily transported and portable
  • and are less expensive than a traditional mattress.

But the question is, are air mattresses comfortable?

That answer is debatable and a matter of personal preference.

In my experience camping, air mattresses have been okay but I often wake up with a stiff back eager for a better option.

Enter the solution to my problem.

The BEST Van Camping Mattress

This memory foam mattress is the perfect van camping mattress.

As I began to scour van camping forums (yes, there are other crazy people who want to do this) I found a nugget of pure gold. One of the participants claimed that a full size 6” memory foam mattress would easily fit in the back of a Dodge Grand Caravan minivan. I was thrilled since my husband and I bought a DGC Stow N Go specifically to use as our minivan camper.

I couldn’t even contain my excitement as I began perusing every online store I could think of that may carry a memory foam mattress, but is there a downside to this type of minivan camping mattress?

What’s the downside to a memory foam camper mattress?

  • More expensive
  • Not as light or portable as air mattresses
  • Not something you can roll out and set up easily at a campsite (which is actually a benefit to us).

What’s the benefit of this type of car camping mattress?

A memory foam mattress for the van would allow us the ability to pull over anywhere and sleep without the hassle of setting up “camp”.

Plus, the memory foam mattress would allow me to get an amazing night’s sleep and my back would thank me. And.That.Is.All.That.Matters.

Problem solved. Or was it?

I was convinced that if a 6” mattress would be comfortable, an 8” mattress would be heavenly. So, I began searching for an 8” memory foam mattress for as close to $200 or less as possible. I found what I was looking for at and as a bonus, I even managed to get a gel infused mattress. Isn’t that fancy?  Plus, I could place my order using money in my PayPal account and I qualified for free shipping.

And then I waited for my precious camping mattress to arrive much like a new mother anticipates the appearance of her child. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic but I want you to know HOW excited I was.

What to do when your mattress arrives

unrolling the van camping mattress

The mattress arrived and surprised me by how heavy it is. I was grateful that this was one time that my delivery man actually delivered the package directly to my front door instead of leaving it at the bottom of the steps. He even asked me if I wanted him to bring it inside for me. I declined, thinking how heavy could it be anyway? Boy, did I find out quickly! That box holding my mattress was like carrying a full-grown body. I managed to drag it into my living room where I released the vacuum packed, rolled up mattress from the box it was trapped in and rolled it out on the floor to allow it to expand.
van camping mattressIt’s very important that you don’t rush this step so the mattress expands fully. The instructions to my mattress required 48 hours but I left it out for a full week because I’m thorough like that.

decompressing the van camping mattress

Before it was fully rested and reached its full height

It was over a month later before we tested our mattress but someone dognapped on it every chance he got.

someone else enjoying the van camping mattress

After it was fully rested and reached its full 8″ height

My husband packed the mattress out of the house and positioned it in the van before we headed out on a road trip to test it. It did fit a bit snug but that could be because I opted for an 8” gel infused memory foam mattress vs a standard 6” memory foam mattress. I don’t mind if it’s a bit snug. The second I pulled my weary body from the driver’s seat and nestled into the mattress that felt like sleeping on clouds I was thankful for that extra 2”. I slept amazingly!

Comfy on the van camping mattress

Where to purchase your van camping mattress:

I purchased this mattress. Just imagine it in a van as the best car camping mattress ever.

Aveline 8-inch Gel Infused Memory Foam CertiPUR-US Full-size Mattress

The Aveline full size 8″ memory foam mattress offers a medium-firm feel for those that aren’t a fan of the overly soft and squishy. also sells other memory foam mattresses in several sizes and many are eligible for FREE Prime Shipping. Just remember, for the Dodge Grand Caravan Stow n Go, we’ve found the full-size mattress to be the best fit if sleeping two people. 

Whichever mattress you choose, make sure you have a waterproof mattress cover for whatever mattress you choose because the foam will soak up anything that’s spilled on it. The last thing you want is your van camping mattress getting ruined from mildew- which can happen very quickly in hot humid weather.

Have you tried van camping? I’d love to hear about your experience. And stay tuned! In the next installation of Van Camping 101, I share these easy to make privacy curtains for your van that install in seconds.

Here are a few more posts you’ll enjoy:

Easy DIY Backyard Glamping

The Best Portable Wireless Speaker for Road Trips

Van Camping: What you want to know but were Afraid to Ask

Some Surprising Benefits of Van Camping

Van Camping with Thirty-One Gifts

Jane Weagant

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Thanks for the info. Did you have to cut the mattress to fit between the wheel Wells?

Tonya Prater

Monday 30th of August 2021

Hi Jane, No, we didn't cut the mattress it fit a little snug but not terrible.

Larry Reed

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

I've enjoyed reading and viewing the things you have learned. By trial and error and a few u-tube videos I have fitted out our Grand Caravan "Cargo Van" version (no seats to deal with) with a platform made of what I call removable crates with lids. Camping gear and suitcases/ duffels can go in the crates, sleep on top, kayak paddles and other long things down the middle below the sleep deck. I'm still experimenting with the mattress. I have slept well on 4" thick lounge chair pads with sunbrella fabric for easy cleaning. My wife has found that a bit too thin though. (we are past 65!) Next up is trying a standard sized futon pad, the heavy kind with cotton and wool batting and upholstery fabric. We'll see, jury is out. I hope to make a version of your privacy shades, but maybe have the Velcro dot sewn to the felt with a few loops instead of stapling though. I was thinking of different dark color felts for left versus right side to make it easier to get them sorted when they come out of "storage". Appreciate you help!


Friday 28th of February 2020

I use an air mattress so that you can't feel the metal seat tabs or feel the folded seats beneath you. Using an automatic pump that plugs into a 12V outlet allows the mattress to inflate quickly. Merely opening the valve in the morning deflates the mattress--without me pushing the air out. Check Walmart for inexpensive mattress in the camping area.

Dave Trent

Sunday 26th of April 2020

What size air mattress did you go with? I have a Grand Caravan too. =)


Saturday 4th of May 2019

hi, we are also looking at buying a dodge caravan with that same idea. Spontaneous road trips etc. Did a full size fit ok?

Tonya Prater

Saturday 4th of May 2019

The full-size memory foam mattress fits perfectly in our 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan. It is tight but the mattress gives to adjust. I have a Facebook live video with the set up that my husband and I used for a two-week van camping trip. I'll link to it and you can see how it fits. The audio cut out on some of the video but you'll get the idea. Let me know if you have any other questions.[0]=68.ARBRq1Drxd0SbobGzUG0StNTH09h0sl9OfVciHyZrkjas948q-jgv4UFweKOZ2mziujzqybp2DJ4m4Q0p9ZhmLDcR1ZiPZYfRsvWytv2aUWj242a6kghD2W7ZTeut_PGpB8Dn2BtODgxMgTEPzaehnUEX5mdZvPNV5dOQhPclgVcMLS8fe1WgzW-9b3iidkGvKCQ4Ud_oZrIb_JIA_w25kOQhB-LzH8zAtid1mE9gkiLxtIn3nOoPTDn91RH9NrRdSp2YjnP-wGFL32CbttSWSrTFR1OfVd5aTe8eamAV2fSBhrqnzTfzOnE_7aB0IR_HCFrJ3Ft7H5ihSyU&__tn__=-R

Minah king

Wednesday 24th of October 2018

Did you place mattress on floor of van or place on platform for under bed storage? ???

Tonya Prater

Thursday 29th of November 2018

It is directly on the floor of the van. Our seats fold flush into the floor so we were able to place our mattress flat on the floor which allows plenty of headspace. We found that we have plenty of room for our gear in the very back. Protection Status
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