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Foam to Futon: Which Van Mattress is the Best in 2024?

When it comes to the most critical parts of your van conversion, you probably think of things like tires, insulation, and brakes. And yes, these are very important…but isn’t getting a good night’s sleep on your van mattress just as important?

You’ll use your RV mattress every single night. In fact, it’s probably the thing you’ll use most in your van. Maybe you don’t cook or shower everyday, but there will never be a night that you don’t sleep (…unless you’re at a really epic van gathering).

But what type of mattress is right for you? Not only will it need to fit your budget and the bed frame of your van, it also needs to be high-quality enough so that you’re actually comfy!


Why Many Vanlifers Choose a Foam Mattress

Foam mattress toppers are the most popular choice of mattress for van lifers. They’re comfortable, form to your body to provide optimal support and come in many different thicknesses (recommended minimum thickness is 8 inches).

But most importantly, you can use a good ‘ol bread knife to cut them to your custom mattress size. This makes them ideal for any type of campervan: from the luxury Sprinter vans to the more modest minivans.

Memory Foam

Memory foam is a polyurethane foam that conforms to the shape of your body while you sleep. Memory foam mattresses come in many different densities to provide you with any level of hardness or softness. Most people like memory foam as they feel it “cradles” them and supports their body effectively.

However, some people report that sleeping on memory foam feels like “sinking” into the van mattress and that they warm up and get too soft after you’ve been sleeping on them for a few hours.


  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available
  • Provides support
  • Can be easily cut to fit any shape
  • Quiet


  • Can feel like you’re “sinking”
  • Warms up/too hot
  • Goes soft after time
  • Vulnerable to mold and mildew

High-Density Polyurethane Foam

High-density polyurethane foam is very similar to memory foam, but isn’t quite as malleable as memory foam. This type of foam is commonly used in RVs for the sofa dinette bed conversions. In fact, it’s what I used for nearly two years on the road! It is a little firmer and doesn’t conform to the shape of your body. Many people like to use high-density foam as the base of their van mattresses and put memory foam on top.

Be careful, because high-density foam is not all rated the same. Some van mattresses made with it are too firm to sleep on and some are quite soft.


  • Inexpensive
  • Not heavy
  • Can be easily cut to any shape
  • Less susceptible to mold and mildew
  • Good for a van mattress base


  • Not all high-density foam is created equal
  • Can be too hard or uncomfortable
  • Some have a chemical smell

Gel Foam

Gel-infused memory foam is a nice mattress option because it distributes body heat efficiently and prevents the mattress from warming up while you sleep. If you van life in a hot climate or are just a warm sleeper, cool gel foam might be just the thing for you. Some memory foam mattresses are made of a combination of gel foam and memory foam, which I think is the perfect combo.

Another bonus of the gel foam mattress as a campervan mattress is that it’s less prone to growing mold because its design typically includes breathable holes or air pockets that helps increase air flow.


  • Not too expensive, especially in combo with memory foam
  • Breathable/no mold growth
  • Keeps you cool
  • Doesn’t heat up and go soft overnight
  • Can be easily cut with a carving knife or bread knife


  • More expensive than memory foam
  • Microbeads are not good for the environment
  • Can become too firm in cold weather
  • Sometimes has a chemical smell

Latex Foam

A natural latex mattress is an eco-friendly option for van lifers looking to take care of the environment while they sleep. It’s also a hypoallergenic material, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

Latex mattresses are one of the few foam mattress types that don’t use fiberglass as a fire repellant. Typically, they’ll use silica, wool or plant fibers instead. Natural latex is made from rubber tree sap (you can also find synthetic latex.) People report that latex is springier and provides more support than memory foam and that it sleeps cooler.


  • Eco-friendly (if you buy natural latex)
  • Sleeps cool
  • Springy/supportive
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Resistant to mold, mildew and dust mites
  • Doesn’t contain fiberglass
  • Won’t warm up and go soft
  • No off-gassing or chemical smell (if you buy natural latex)


  • Can be too firm or bouncy
  • Quite heavy
  • More expensive

Hybrid Foam

A hybrid foam mattress includes an innerspring layer as well as a foam top layer. This is similar to the kind of bed you’d have if you put a foam mattress topper on your regular mattress at home. Some people think they offer the best of both spring and foam mattresses, while others find them cumbersome and too difficult to use for van life.


  • Lots of support
  • Innersprings provide longevity to the mattress
  • Breathable; good airflow
  • Feels like your bed at home


  • Heavy and cumbersome
  • Cannot be cut to a specific shape
  • Take up more space overall than just a foam mattress topper

Futon Mattress

A futon mattress is a great option for low-maintenance campervan conversions. It’s a big, malleable mattress that can be folded into a sofa couch or laid flat as a comfy bed. Futon mattresses are also on the eco-friendly side; typically made up of many layers of wool, latex or cotton. Their average mattress thickness is about eight inches.

For road travelers who don’t want to deal with a custom DIY van bed, simply throw a futon mattress on a bed platform and be on your merry way! And bonus–futon mattresses usually come in easily-removable and washable mattress covers–making it ideal for easy cleaning.


  • Easy to install
  • Multi-functional as sofa and bed
  • Good for sleepers who like a firm mattress
  • Typically comes with removable, washable mattress cover
  • Reasonably priced


  • Can’t cut to a custom size
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Can be difficult to maneuver
  • More susceptible to mold and mildew

Air Mattress

The ultimate budget mattress: the air mattress. All you have to do is inflate this bad boy with either a manual foot pump or automatic air pump. Air mattresses pose some obvious limiting factors such as they only come in standard sizes and can deflate–but for the price and ease of install, it’s the right pick for some vanlifers.

Truthfully, I have yet to experience an air mattress that didn’t at least partially deflate on me throughout the night. But I know quality air mattresses exist–just get ready to dish out a bit more. And make sure it has a good warranty!


  • Simply inflate to install
  • Super lightweight
  • Easy to maneuver; can be used in a tent
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be put away for extra campervan room
  • Inflate to desired firmness or softness


  • Susceptible to mold, mildew and dust mites
  • High risk of popping or deflating in a tight space
  • Can be difficult to maneuver
  • A pain to constantly refill with air
  • Can’t cut to a specific size

DIY Van Mattresses

These mattresses are specifically designed for nearly any campervan on the market with nearly any style van build. Each mattress is 5″ thick and made up of either a combination of different-density foams, or a basic layer of medium density foam for top-notch back and body support.

What makes these mattresses ideal for campervans are:

  • Come in up to 11 different sizes, for a custom campervan fit
  • Removable zippered mattress cover included
  • Contoured mattress corners or tri-fold mattress (so you can easily lift or get underneath the mattress if needed)
  • 5″ thick mattress; ideal for proper body support but not so thick that it becomes bulky

You can opt for a no-fold DIY mattress or a tri-fold van mattress depending on your van build layout. 

Popular Van Bed Conversions

Once you’ve chosen a van mattress, you’ll need to decide on the style of bed for a van conversion. There are a few popular options for van life beds, and each comes with its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at those now.

Folding Bed Seat (AKA Couch Bed)

Photo cred: The Van Conversion Guide

There are tons of different-styled folding mattress beds. Some are as simple as a plank of sturdy wood stretched between two bench seats, while others are a tri-fold designed to flip open into a bed or close into a sofa! Some might even include a table that lowers to become the bed base. 

Depending on the space in your van, and whether you need something like a dinette or table as a workspace or dedicated eating area, you may want to play with some different mattress options to see what works for you.

Slider Bed

Photo cred: Adventuresome Homestead

Slider beds can be slid closed to allow for more space while on the road, then slide open for sleep when you reach your destination. As with folding beds, there are many types of slider beds, including beds that slide out of the back of the van to provide maximum space (obviously this design works best if you van life somewhere with warm nights!)

Some slider beds convert into couches or tables, or simple slide into the bottom of the van to allow storage for things like bikes, skis, and other sports equipment.

Murphy Bed

Photo cred: Not Waiting to Live

The murphy bed is the classic “drop-down” style bed that you see in movies about gumshoe detectives living in tiny New York apartments and motels. The bed folds up into the wall during the day and folds down into the room for sleep.

Murphy beds are great solutions for people in small living spaces, however, they can be clunky and cumbersome unless they are made to fit your custom van specifications. A pre-bought Murphy bed might include an innerspring mattress, so if you have the time and are pretty handy, you might want to consider your own DIY Murphy bed solution.

What is the Best Campervan Bed Setup?

In my opinion, the best mattress is a hybrid gel foam/memory foam mattress topper, with a high-density polyurethane base. This provides the best combination of support, cooling, and comfort. The gel foam wicks away body heat to keep you from overheating and prevents the memory foam from warming up and going too soft while you sleep. At the same time, the high-density base provides firm support.

Summing It Up

I love a gel foam/memory foam combo campervan mattress, but your van life mattress needs might be different from mine! Just make sure to take into consideration a few things before embarking on your van bed conversion:

  • the climate where you spend most of your time
  • the space in your van
  • your personal sleep preferences
  • whether you sleep hot or cold
  • how important environmental considerations are to you
  • how much support you need

But ultimately: what’s going to be the most comfortable mattress for you?

Once you’ve figured those things out, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the perfect mattress for your van build!

Note: this post may contain Amazon Associate, Luno Life or RoamRest links to which I may make a small commission from if anything purchased, at NO extra cost to you.

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  • Greg
    Posted April 30, 2023 at 9:56 pm

    Hi. Thank you for such a detailed article. I am trying to decide which way to go with me sprinter van bed. I am limited to 6” thick, and it will need to be cut as I have a dinette setup with a table that lowers to form the bed platform. I like a firm mattress and want support. Any thoughts about which one to go with and where to best source it? I appreciate your input. Thank you for your help!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 4, 2023 at 6:32 am

      Hey Greg! I’d recommend opting for a high-density polyurethane foam for your mattress/bench setup – this will give you a firm mattress that’s also really easy to cut and shape to your specific bed dimensions. It’s what I use as well and it’s worked out great for me, since the firmness also helps with keeping your bench cushions in shape. You can also add a memory foam or gel foam mattress topper on top, if you want a little extra softness. You can build these yourself (go to my “High-Density Polyurethane Foam” section in this article) or work with a custom van mattress company (go to the “DIY Van Mattresses” section of this article and click on one of the mattresses and you will be brought to RoamRest who offers both premade and custom-fit van mattresses). I hope that’s helpful, happy van travels!


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