Choosing the Right Caravan Mattress

Robyn Pitman-Williams — 2 February 2023
Certain compromises on comfort must be made in a caravan. However, the luxury of a comfortable mattress is not one of these

Peak caravanning season is upon us, which means droves of holidaymakers will soon be hitting the road in their homes on wheels. While venturing to faraway places can bring fun, relaxation and a much-needed change in perspective, long days of driving and sightseeing can take their toll. After a busy day, or even after a day of pure relaxation, there’s nothing better than collapsing into a warm, comfortable bed.

Unfortunately, caravan mattresses are not synonymous with comfort. Jump on any caravan internet forum and you’ll find a wide variety of complaints. Mattresses are too soft, too hard, too thin, too lumpy, not compliant with standard linen sizes … the list goes on. When you’re spending anything from $40,000 to $200,000 on a caravan, the mattress seems like a minor issue. However, restorative sleep is important and in this day and age there is no reason to tolerate discomfort.

A history lesson

Before we take an in-depth look at caravan mattresses, let’s explore the history of the mattress in general. Early mattresses contained horsehair, straw or even feathers. Straw mattresses required refilling regularly and bugs were a problem. In fact, centuries ago, soldiers used to carry a ‘tick’ (a cloth mattress-sized bag) that they’d fill with straw and leaves at each destination. Fun fact, you can still buy straw mattresses, though I’m sure they’ve come a long way since the 16th century!

In 1857, the coil spring mattress was officially patented. From the 1950s, mattresses commonly had an innerspring core and cotton filling. Other types of mattresses included the waterbed mattress, which was highly popular in the 1980s. Foam mattresses also rose in popularity, along with memory foam pillows. These days, the flavour of the month seems to be the mattress in a box.

Mattresses have definitely come a long way since the days of straw and horsehair. So why is there so much chatter about caravan mattresses? And what is the solution?

The choices

Caravan World’s talented team of reviewers take the time to consider all the elements of a caravan, including the mattress and orientation of the bed. Sleep is a vital part of health, and a holiday in which your back hurts and you’re tired doesn’t sound like much fun.

Our first caravan was a dream in so many ways. But the mattresses were terrible, and it wasn’t something we considered or realised until we hit the road for our first trip. By the end of our first weekend, I was hunched over, my husband was grumpy and the kids were exhausted from sleeping on glorified gym mats. This was at least a decade ago, and the choices now are far more plentiful and varied.

A simple Google search reveals that many companies now specialise in caravan mattresses. In fact, some even promise that their products are as comfortable as standard mattresses, with the corners cut to fit certain caravan interiors. 

Inner spring, foam and slim-line innerspring mattresses are now all viable options for caravanners. As with most luxury offerings, the higher-end options come with a significantly higher price tag. You can spend anything from hundreds to thousands on the perfect sleeping solution, and everyone’s requirements and opinions differ.

The design of some makes and models of caravans also means a compromise on mattress comfort. The popular Jayco Expanda, in which the beds fold up at either end, have mattresses divided into two sections to enable this to occur. The original Expanda mattresses were made of thick foam and the divide or fold was located about one third of the way along its width. This meant someone always had to sleep on the crease which, after a few nights, became very uncomfortable.

The new iterations of the Expanda have improved. The mattresses are now inner-spring and thinner and the fold/crease is in the middle – so no more sleeping on the crease for one unlucky person.

The topper solution

Many travellers who are unhappy with their caravan mattress opt for a topper. Toppers are padded ‘mini mattresses’ that are placed on top of the mattress for extra comfort and softness. A common solution suggested in caravan forums is to purchase a topper. However, the responses are mixed. Some claim that toppers do little to improve the comfort level of a terrible mattress, while others praise toppers as miracle solutions.

This all comes down to finding the topper that’s right for you and assessing whether your existing mattress is beyond the point of improvement. If you find your mattress completely uncomfortable or you experience back or neck pain as a result of poor sleep, a topper is unlikely to be the best solution. In this case, it’s probably better to cut your losses and invest in a new mattress.

However, if the discomfort is mild, a topper might be right for you. New memory foam-style toppers have received positive reviews, but there are a few caravanners who do not rate them highly. A common complaint seems to be that the foam forms too closely to the sleeper, placing them in a ‘divot’ that is difficult to roll out from.

Many people assume that the thicker a topper is, the more comfort it will provide. This is not necessarily true. Thick toppers have their pros and cons, but like most things, it is the quality that counts, not the thickness. A cheap thick topper is unlikely to match the comfort that a thinner, higher quality topper will provide. Also, a common complaint about thick toppers is that they make the bed quite bulky, making it difficult for conventionally sized linen to fit the mattress. This seems like a minor complaint, but there’s nothing worse that waking up with the sheet tangled in your feet or under your back after pinging out during the night.

An unconventional solution is to use the topper (it must be a thick one) under the mattress, in the fashion of a box spring base. It is difficult to see how this solution would work, but there are several reviewers who swear by it! 

Choosing a mattress

If your current mattress is beyond a topper solution, it is important to invest effort in selecting your upgrade. You spend a third of your day, sometimes more if you enjoy a sleep in, snoozing, so it is vital to choose a supportive and comfortable mattress.

First, explore all your options. Go to stores and road test innerspring, foam, latex and hybrids to determine which feels best for you. Foam and innerspring are usually the most budget-friendly offerings but keep your eye out for sales. Comfort is subjective and there are no hard and fast rules on which type of mattress is best. Health factors, age, weight and sleeping position all affect overall comfort.

Next, establish the ‘firmness’ level that you desire. Most mattress manufacturers have guides to firmness levels that consider weight and sleeping position, but other factors can affect this choice. When testing various firmness levels, try to remain on the bed for at least 10 minutes. Jumping from bed to bed in a display centre in a matter of minutes will not give you a true indication of your needs.

Finally, once you’ve set your criteria, consider the various brands and price levels to make your final decision. While budget is certainly an important factor, it is worth remembering that you will spend a third of your day on this mattress, so if you can divert funds away from another aspect of your caravan, it will be money well spent.

Sweet dreams

Choosing a mattress or topper for your caravan is a huge decision. It may seem minor but poor sleep can have a major impact on your holiday, or your health if you’re a full-time caravanner. Look carefully into your mattress options at the time of your purchase. Or, if you’re buying a preloved caravan or upgrading your existing caravan mattresses, take the time to try different types of mattresses and various levels of firmness.

There is no shortcut or hard-and-fast rules about the ‘perfect’ mattress. Comfort is subjective and heavily reliant on personal factors, such as health conditions, age, weight and sleeping position. While there are vague guidelines that give some advice (e.g., people who sleep on their back usually require a firmer mattress for proper lower back support), the best way to choose a mattress is to visit displays and road test the goods. 

Comfortable nights make for happy days. Safe travels and sweet dreams! 


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