Our friends at the Strategist will be dropping in every now and again to share their shopping expertise on the most delightful and handy items for your home.
We wrote in 2017 about a golden age of mattresses. So many start-ups had arisen to challenge the likes of Sleepy’s and Tempur-Pedic — Casper and Tuft & Needle and Leesa and Saatva, among many others — that we tested a bunch to make sense of it all. Since then, the mattress-sphere has only gotten more crowded, with more brands continuing to debut and existing ones rolling out new models and phasing out older ones. Meanwhile, the essential question, “What mattress should I buy?,” has gotten trickier to answer.
So we’re doing this again. We’ve updated our guide by trying these beds out ourselves. Determining which mattress to buy will always depend on you — your sleeping position, temperature, firmness preference, and budget — and the perfect mattress only becomes obvious once you’ve actually slept on it. The writers and editors on our team described their individual sleeping profiles, and as best we could, we each tested a mattress that we might have bought for ourselves, if we were shopping based on other online reviews. After a week (not after one night, and not after half an hour in a store), we wrote our reviews. So if you’re a stomach-sleeper who runs hot at night, look for the Strategist editor who is, too. Same goes for if you’re a side-sleeper, or if you hate foam, or if your back hurts all the time.
A couple of things to note: All the mattresses here are some of the best reviewed on the market, so there are no duds. Rather than name the “best mattress for everyone” (which we’re convinced doesn’t exist), we set out to judge each on its own terms. The starting prices we’ve listed are for queen-size mattresses. In some cases, for companies that offer more than one mattress design, we picked only one option. Still, we hope the review serves as a baseline for how firm, springy, or cushy the brand’s other products might be. We’ll be adding more mattresses from other companies as we go, but for now, here’s our answer to that question about which mattress you should buy. If you don’t want to scroll through all of the options, you can click on any of the links below to jump to their corresponding mattresses.
The best all-around mattresses | The best eco-friendly mattress | The best firm mattresses | The best soft mattresses | The best mattresses for achy backs | The best firm and springy mattresses | The best affordable mattress | The best mattress for kids
Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, several of these companies have temporarily paused or slightly changed certain additional services they normally offer, such as white-glove delivery or mattress removal. Many of them, however, say they plan to resume these services as soon as they’re able, so we still note any extra services offered by each company — just be sure to check their websites for the latest information on the state of all such services.
The best all-around mattresses
The tester: Simone Kitchens, former Strategist senior editor
How I sleep: I slouch, so at night I need to lie down on something very firm to counter a long day of slightly stooped sitting and sinking into my hips while standing. I start out on my back but eventually collapse over to my side by the middle of the night.
What to know: Saatva, which has been around for almost a decade, was one of the first online innerspring mattress companies. It offers three versions: soft, luxury firm, and firm. In each, an organic cotton pillow top — some people call it “Euro style,” or “hotel style” — covers a top layer of ecofriendly memory foam, which sits on a level of individually wrapped coils above another layer of recycled steel coils, then a poly foam base.
How I slept: Because of my generally sore back, I was tasked with testing some of the firm mattresses out there. Side-sleepers, the company told me, are said to prefer the luxury firm. So I got it, and my first impression was how sturdy the bed felt. But lying down, I immediately noticed how incredibly bouncy the double layer of coils makes the luxury firm. I can certainly see why side-sleepers would like the pressure relief it offers, but I decided to swap it for the firm, hoping it would focus support on my lumbar region. Which it very much did. You feel more on top of it, because of the steel springs, but you still have the contoured shape of the raised pillow top. I move around at night, shape-shifting from my back to my side to stomach, but the firmness of this mattress never created a sunken, stuck feeling, which I’ve found happening with memory foam. Instead, the supported feeling of this bed (which still manages to be pretty plush) kept my lower back from collapsing in, making my spine feel more aligned overall.
The fine print: Saatva allows customers a 180-day trial run as well as a full return or exchange. The mattress is covered by a 15-year warranty. All sizes are available in two heights — a custom slim (11.5-inch) and a premier luxury (14.5-inch) — and give the same level of support. The company offers free white-glove delivery and mattress removal.
The tl;dr: Saatva’s firmest option is a true firm, making it a good choice for those in need of back support. Plus: Saatva uses organic and ecofriendly materials, so while all the mattresses listed here are certifiably safe, there are fewer chemicals in Saatva’s.
The tester: Jenna Milliner-Waddell, junior writer
How I sleep: I am never not sweating and always sleep on my side or stomach. While I’ve stopped using it, I often long for my old five-inch memory-foam mattress topper from college; it was the kind of memory foam you immediately sink into and forms to your body and is so comfortable.
What to know: Each of Nolah’s U.S.-made, all-foam mattresses is constructed with Nolah AirFoam — a proprietary, temperature-neutral foam the company says is created without using the chemicals found in traditional memory-foam mattresses, which can trap heat. This proprietary foam, Nolah claims, makes its mattresses cooler than any other memory-foam mattresses. The Original 10 mattress I tested is topped with two inches of Nolah AirFoam; beneath that is a one-inch layer of high-resilience foam that the company claims makes the mattress 300 percent more durable than the average memory-foam mattress. The rest of the ten-inch-thick mattress consists of a high-density breathable base foam. Beyond being cooling and durable, Nolah says the mattress is also particularly comfortable for side sleepers like myself, because its combination of foams results in a plush-but-supportive mattress with a medium amount of body contouring. Side-sleepers apparently need pressure relief on their hips and shoulders, along with a mattress that supports the alignment of the spine, shoulders, and pelvis; Nolah claims its AirFoam puts 376 percent less pressure on the shoulders, hips, and back, providing 22 percent more pressure-relief overall.
How I slept: While I (and anyone who sat on it) found my beloved college-era memory-foam mattress topper comfortable, there were a couple things I didn’t like about it. One was that I would almost sink into it too much, making it harder for me to naturally roll over onto my stomach as I sometimes do while sleeping. Its memory foam also seemed to absorb my sweat (and its odor), too, perhaps because of the way it absorbed my body. I bring these points up in order to say: The Nolah Original is not my old memory-foam mattress topper — in the best way. Its top layers of memory foam have some give, but the mattress is much firmer: When I sit on it, I notice a soft bounce, but when fully recline, I feel totally supported. Before sleeping on the Nolah Original, I was sleeping on a pillow-top innerspring mattress, and I never thought there was anything wrong with that mattress until I started using the Nolah one and noticed that I’m actually sleeping better. The best way I can tell? I used to need a weighted blanket to get an uninterrupted night of sleep, but with the Nolah, I have been sleeping through the night (and often to my alarm) without one.
As for the mattress’s cooling claims: While I was not expecting this — or any — mattress alone to stop me from being a night sweater, this memory foam does feel cooler to sleep on than other memory foam I’ve slept on. I can tell because I don’t get overheated as fast sleeping on the Nolah Original as I have in the past. In fact, I’ve been sleeping on it as summer turns to fall in New York City and have already needed to turn on the heat in my bedroom a few times — something I’d do on past mattresses, but usually not until it was closer to (or actually) winter.
The fine print: Nolah offers free shipping and free returns within a 120-night trial period; if you decide to send a mattress back within that time, the company will donate it and give you a full refund. Customers willing to forgo the trial period can save an extra $100 (or thereabouts) on their purchase. The Original mattress is covered by a 15-year limited warranty that applies to normal deterioration and craftsmanship errors; Nolah’s pricier Signature mattress, meanwhile, is covered by a limited lifetime warranty. Currently, Nolah does not ship mattresses to Alaska and Hawaii.
The tl;dr: Based on my experience, if you’re a side sleeper who moves around and skews hot, the Nolah original is a superior option. And if you’re another kind of sleeper who skews hot, I’d recommend checking out its other mattresses given that they all include the brand’s proprietary cooling memory foam.
The tester: Maxine Builder, Strategist managing editor
How I sleep: I am a stomach-sleeper who prefers a plush mattress that cradles my body. However, I share a bed with a back-sleeper who prefers a firm mattress with little-to-no give.
What to know: Leesa is one of the OG mattress-in-a-box companies — it’s been selling an all-foam mattress since 2014 — and according to Sleepopolis, it’s a solid option for back- and side-sleepers. In August, Leesa reformulated its basic mattress for the first time, replacing its top layer of trademarked Avena foam (a latex alternative) with a layer of what’s called “LSA200 foam technology.” According to Jamie Diamonstein, one of Leesa’s co-founders, the new foam has improved “pushback,” meaning it better fills in the gaps around your body when you lie down. “The goal was to enhance the pressure relief of the body through this technology,” he says. “We’ve created a foam that responds to the shape and the sleeping position of your body, then it pushes back and balances your body out.”
How I slept: I used a sleep tracker for five nights while testing this mattress, and every night I fell into a deep sleep quickly and stayed there. The mattress felt soft and plush, but I never sank down into it. My partner, who is so enamored with sleeping on hard surfaces that he sometimes naps on a yoga mat on our hardwood floor, raved about the pressure relief and comfort he felt from the foam filling in the small of his back while he slept.
The fine print: Standard shipping is free, though Leesa can arrange white-glove delivery, which includes mattress removal, for an additional fee. You have 100 days to try your Leesa mattress; if you don’t like it, the company will coordinate a pickup from your home, then refund the full purchase price.
The tl;dr: This is a foam mattress but a substantial one that offers excellent pressure relief. It should suit all kinds of sleepers and is a good mattress for anyone who doesn’t want to overthink it.
The tester: Lori Keong, former Strategist writer
How I sleep: I am not loyal to any one position, so my ideal mattress is a jack-of-all-trades with support for my back, but which is also cushy enough to let me comfortably flop around on my stomach and side.
What to know: The Aviya mattress itself is a hybrid model with three layers of high-density foam over a coiled innerspring system. The brand offers three options for firmness: plush, luxury firm (Aviya’s most popular style and the one I tested), and firm. It’s possible you’ve already unwittingly slept on one, as a couple of popular (but undisclosed) hotel chains use the Aviya luxury firm bed. That may be because Sleep Advisor, Sleepopolis, and Real Mattress Reviews gave it a near-perfect all-around score for comfort, materials, and support.
How I slept: Flopping down, I was immediately taken by how plush yet delightfully bouncy this mattress was. The innersprings are a big plus, but they’re buried far beneath the layers of foam. I was amazed at just how propped-up and aligned my body felt while supine, yet how comfortably I slept thanks to the padding of the quilted foam top. Which shouldn’t bother back-sleepers, I’d think, because of the lack of give in this mattress — there is virtually no sinkage, which I tested by dropping two ten-pound weights on top of it. But the plush top still lends itself well to dozing on your side or stomach. I’d even go so far as to say that sleeping on this changed my perception of what soft-but-supportive means.
The fine print: Aviya provides free shipping, which includes in-the-door delivery through a third-party service. However, that might not cover getting the mattress upstairs in a walk-up apartment (it didn’t at my Brooklyn brownstone), so customers living in cities should ask ahead of time. Mattress setup and removal are available for an additional fee, and Aviya will set this up during a two-hour window, Mondays through Fridays only.
The tl;dr: The Aviya is supportive but soft and is another can’t-go-wrong choice for those who don’t want to overthink it but know that they’d prefer an innerspring system.
The tester: Margaret Rhodes, former Strategist senior editor
How I sleep: I’m a stomach-sleeper — I often can’t fall asleep at all unless I’m fully prostrate — but often wake up on my side, and I like a mattress that feels fluffy without having too much give.
What to know: If you’re reading this, what don’t you know about Casper? It wasn’t the first mattress-in-a-box company to launch, but it quickly became the most prominent, thanks to factors like shiny branding and venture-capital funding. The original premise of Casper was that one mattress could make everyone happy. The company has abandoned this Goldilocksian ideal and made two other models (read on for those), but this is the original: a four-layer foam construction with firmer support around the shoulders and hips in the newest update.
How I slept: I owned a Casper before this project (as did several other Strategist staffers), so my evaluation is actually based on a year’s worth of sleep. And it was great. I didn’t have any sleep complaints before, but graduating from my Ikea mattress to the Casper was like flipping a light switch. It’s definitely a foam mattress, and for some people (like Strategist writer Liza Corsillo), that makes it feel hot. It also makes some people call it a soft mattress (Karen Iorio Adelson, Strategist senior writer). I found it to be squarely in the middle, with absolutely no painful give around the back, but cushy enough that collapsing into it at the end of the day felt like a reward. (Lori also had one and liked it.) Casper has become the de facto mattress, the one bought by people who don’t shop obsessively and who say, “I just have a Casper.” But, honestly, the ubiquity is deserved.
The fine print: You get the standard (with mattress start-ups, at least) 100 days to decide if you like your Casper. Free shipping and returns come with that, and the company says it tries to donate returned mattresses when possible. Formerly called the Casper Mattress, the company has rebranded this as the Casper Original Mattress and claims that the latest version has “enhanced support and cooling features,” as well as a “new cover made with recycled materials.”
The tl;dr: As a company, Casper is a well-oiled machine that makes delivery a cinch and offers other high-quality products along with the mattress, which is convenient if you want new, say, pillows. As for the mattress, it skews just a tad softer, and hot sleepers don’t always love the foam. For everyone else, you can’t go wrong.
The tester: Lauren Ro, Strategist writer
How I sleep: I mostly sleep on my back but also switch to my side during the night. I prefer a mattress that’s on the firmer side.
What to know: Tuft & Needle launched early, in 2012, and in 2018, it was acquired by Serta Simmons. Tuft & Needle offers three mattresses: The Original foam mattress; the Mint, an upgraded version of the original; and the Hybrid, which has both foam and springs. The original has just two layers of material: a seven-inch support layer of dense foam as the base and a three-inch top comfort layer of proprietary Adaptive Foam infused with a “cooling gel” and graphite to keep sleepers cool. Its simplicity may explain its lower price — it’s a couple hundred dollars less than other foam competitors — but its appeal is meant to be broad and is aimed at a wide range of sleeping preferences and body weights.
How I slept: Right off the bat, the mattress felt substantial. The textured fabric cover felt plush to the touch, and when I pressed my open hand down on the mattress, it bounced back with a friendly spring. Lying on the Tuft & Needle for the first time, I immediately felt embraced. Sleeping on my back, I felt supported and cocooned at the same time, and when I turned to my side, the transition felt natural. The company calls its in-house T & N Adaptive foam “soft and comfy while still being bouncy and supportive,” and I completely agree. While I may revert to a coil-spring mattress eventually, I can see myself keeping the Tuft & Needle for a long time. My husband also really likes it, and he’s a back- and stomach-sleeper whose temperature runs a little hotter than mine. It’s a solid introduction to a compressed mattress-in-a-box.
The fine print: Shipping is free, and if you don’t like it after a 100-day trial, the brand offers a full refund and free removal to a charity of your choice. It also comes with a ten-year warranty.
The tl;dr: Another crowd pleaser for anyone who’s happy with foam, Tuft & Needle is a very smart choice for anyone looking to spend a bit less.
The best eco-friendly mattress
The tester: Liza Corsillo, Strategist writer
How I sleep: I’m a roller. I’ll start out on my back but usually end up sleeping on my side with a pillow or the edge of a comforter stuffed between my knees for hip comfort. I prefer a firm cool mattress since I run hot; I usually wake up with one leg free of any covers. I share the bed with a side-sleeper who runs just as hot (and sometimes sweaty) as I do.
What to know: Avocado set out to create the greenest mattress on the market using nontoxic natural and organic materials (as well as ecofriendly production processes). The brand offers two different adult-size mattresses (in addition to two for cribs): the Green and the Vegan, which is like the Green minus the wool. Both are foam-coil hybrids that layer eco-conscious natural Dunlop latex (made from tree sap), recycled steel coils, organic cotton, organic wool, and hydrated silica (a food-grade-quality flame retardant). You can choose from the standard mattress, which rates a 7 out of 10 in firmness according to Avocado’s own system, or the same mattress with an additional two-inch plush Dunlop latex pillow top — the one I tested — which rates a 6. If it matters to you, Avocado also makes its mattresses in California and negates its shipping and delivery emissions through carbon-offset projects.
How I slept: The first thing I noticed about the Avocado Green mattress was its height compared to my previous Casper mattress. The Casper measures ten inches, and the Avocado with additional pillow-top (I went for it despite liking firm beds after reading that it provides more support for side-sleepers) measures 13 inches. I’ve never preferred a tall bed, but there was definitely something decadent about flopping down on a giant slab of rising dough. It took a few nights to get used to the feeling that I was floating above the mattress, rather than sinking into it, but two weeks in, I felt incredibly well supported and less affected by my boyfriend shifting and changing positions (the mattress has 1,130 individually wrapped coils). And though I was skeptical, I now look forward to splaying myself out on the cushy pillow-top layer — it’s by far the fanciest part of my apartment. While some people won’t care about things like petroleum-based polyurethane foams or chemical adhesives, I appreciated knowing the Avocado lacked those things. What it does have makes the mattress naturally anti-microbial, more breathable, and dust-mite resistant. I’ll always be the kind of person who prefers sleeping with the window open (partly because I don’t have control over the heat in my apartment), but hot sleepers should know that the Green mattress is a big improvement over my Casper, which made my night sweats worse.
The fine print: Avocado lets you test a mattress for 100 days with free returns if you don’t like it, and it offers a 25-year warranty. Delivery was easy — I got a call a few days out to schedule a drop-off window and again on the delivery day to let me know my mattress was ten minutes away. I opted for an additional mattress-pad cover (because dog accidents happen) and two standard pillows, which came separately via FedEx.
The tl;dr: If you want a lot of support plus cushioning, Avocado is a foam-coil-hybrid mattress that will give you both. The layers of organic wool and cotton help to regulate body temperature and wick away moisture for warmer sleepers, too. For those who prefer a very firm mattress, the pillow-topper is an added expense that you may not enjoy (you don’t need it). And it’s especially good for any sustainable/ecoconscious types, though you don’t have to be to appreciate it.
The best firm mattresses
The tester: Margaret (stomach and side-sleeper; likes supportive but cushy mattresses)
What to know: Allswell is Walmart’s mattress-in-a-box brand, and it launched in 2017. It offers three models: the 12-inch-tall luxe hybrid, which I tested, a newer, cheaper hybrid mattress simply called the Allswell, and the Supreme, a 14-inch-tall hybrid with a temperature-regulating foam layer and so-called Euro top. The luxe hybrid is one of the compressed mattresses that still has coils in addition to foam that’s mercury- and lead-free. The reviews on the young brand are solid: Sleep Sherpa called Allswell a breakout brand; Mattress Clarity points out that its firmness makes it well-suited for back and stomach-sleepers.
How I slept: The strangest thing happened the first time I slept on the Allswell: I laid down on my back to assess the mattress, noting how buoyant I felt. And then I stayed that way and passed out. (It’s almost physiologically impossible for me to do this.) Perhaps I was feeling emotionally spent — I had just crawled into bed after seeing A Star Is Born — but more accurately, there was something comfortably paralyzing about letting this very firm mattress straighten out my skeleton. If I was writing taglines, I’d call the luxe hybrid “sumptuously Spartan.” The plush topper is soft, to be sure, but you float firmly atop the mattress instead of nestling in. I slept like a rock for eight hours, several nights in a row. In the mornings, while my alarm clock snoozed, I’d return to my back from a fetal position and could practically feel my spine unfurling again, realigning for the day.
The fine print: Allswell offers tiered shipping options, with each tier coming at a steeper fee: free shipping; white-glove delivery; and white-glove delivery plus old-mattress removal (if you choose this third option, you have the ability to choose between paying less for delivery/removal and waiving the brand’s 100-night free trial period, or paying more for delivery/removal and keeping the 100-day-return option).
The tl;dr: Allswell has made a stellar firm mattress: You’re being good to your spine, but the feel is still comfortable. It’s also a remarkable value for the price.
The tester: Casey Lewis, senior editor
How I sleep: Almost always on my stomach, every once in a while on my side, and never on my back. I also tend to run hot — but that could be because I share a bed with a pitbull-boxer who likes to cuddle.
What to know: Nectar launched in 2016, making it one of the newer bed-in-a-box mattress companies. It’s also one of the more affordable, with prices starting roughly a couple hundred bucks lower than those of other DTC companies like Casper. The Nectar Memory-Foam Mattress, its flagship model, is an all-foam bed with a quilted cover on top of layers of “gel-infused” memory foam, support memory foam, and high-density poly foam. Because of all that foam, it’s quite firm (so firm, in fact, that an illustration on the company’ website shows a bowling ball bouncing next to a undisturbed wine glass — a claim I didn’t test.) In 2019, Nectar debuted a pricier mattress called the Nectar Lush that’s very similar to the one I tested, except it’s slightly softer and an inch thicker because it includes an additional layer of so-called gel-coated cooling foam, which the memory-foam mattress does not have.
How I slept: Prior to receiving my Nectar mattress, I had been sleeping on a mattress I acquired from a former roommate, who had slept on it for who knows how long before me. It was supposed to be temporary, but nine years later I was still sleeping on it. And so was my dog, whose every move I could feel (and hear) because my ancient spring mattress would bounce and squeak whenever he got in and out of bed. The reason I bring this up is because, after spending many years on top of that spring mattress, the Nectar seemed almost too firm to the touch. When I plopped down on a corner, it had nearly no bounce at all. But when I curled up to go to sleep, it was surprisingly enveloping — and for the first time ever, I didn’t wake up every time my dog flopped or fidgeted throughout the night. The mattress has just the right amount of give, in that it’s comfortable for me to move around on but I don’t feel anyone (or anything) else moving around. What’s more: My worries about the memory foam overheating me never came to fruition. Apparently the mattress’s cooling gel, which honestly sounded a little dubious to me, really does work. While I still woke up with stress dreams (a new mattress can’t solve a global pandemic, it turns out), I never once woke up with sweat-soaked sheets.
The fine print: Nectar offers free shipping and free returns, with a 365-night home trial (it claims this is “the longest in the industry”) during which you can return the product for a full refund. Nectar also offers a “forever warranty,” which means it will replace mattresses that develop any defects at any point after you purchase one. My mattress arrived just as the pandemic was hitting New York City; while the delivery was contactless (which I very much appreciated), that meant I had to figure out a way to get the bed from my building’s vestibule to my second-floor apartment, and the 74-pound queen proved too much for me to handle (a kind, masked neighbor was able to haul it up by himself, though). But for an extra $149, Nectar offers white-glove delivery and setup of its mattresses, which also includes removal of any old model.
The tl;dr: For its price, Nectar’s memory-foam mattress is a comfortable, high-quality model that I have no doubt will also be long-lasting. And if you share your bed with restless pets (or people), the mattress almost makes you forget they are there.
The tester: Lori, who changes positions and likes a middle-of-the-road mattress
What to know: The Casper Wave Hybrid is a souped-up, premium version of the original Casper that’s designed to provide targeted support for your back, neck, and shoulders along 33 points in the mattress through a contoured foam and dome-shaped gel pods (the gel pods are new to the Wave Hybrid) that are said to work for all shapes and sizes. It’s made of five layers of foam (including a frequently raved about top layer of “flo” foam), has a more luxurious texture and a thick, removable cover, and, at $2,295 for a queen, is very much the “luxury” option. The Wave Hybrid earned an almost perfect score from Sleep Advisor, which was gung ho for the support and overall quality.
How I slept: If you’re familiar with the regular Casper, the first thing you’ll notice is that the Wave Hybrid is firmer. But as almost every review mentions, the top of the mattress has a lovely plush feeling to it that lends itself well to stomach-dozing and side-snoozing. The mattress felt too stiff for my taste, but friends of mine who like firm mattresses inherited it and they love it. One is a side-sleeper and the other prefers dozing off on her stomach, then flipping onto her back at night, and they reported that — at the risk of sounding hyperbolic — “the Casper Wave has been revolutionary.” It took them a few nights to get used to the firmness of the mattress, but after that, they were smitten. “My hips don’t sink in like they used to with our old mattress, so it makes me feel almost weightless,” one of them noted. The rumors about this mattress running hot (as does the original Casper) are true, but fixable: Having tested this during a New York City heat wave, I would absolutely recommend removing the wool cover if you burn up at night.
The fine print: Casper provides free shipping with free white-glove delivery and mattress pickup if you live within its “in-home delivery and setup markets.” In parts of New York and Los Angeles, delivery can be as early as the same day. As a repeat Casper user now, I’m consistently impressed by how headache-free and speedy the process is. Formerly called the Casper Wave Mattress, the company has rebranded this as the Casper Wave Hybrid Mattress and claims that the latest version has “enhanced support and cooling features,” as well as a “new cover made with recycled materials.”
The tl;dr: The Casper Wave Hybrid is not an entry-level mattress — it’s a mattress for sleep obsessives and mattress-heads, especially those who want something firmer.
The tester: Steven John, contributor
How I sleep: Chest down, with one arm under a pillow that’s under my head and one leg bent 90 degrees at the knee (I also typically shift from side to side a good seven or eight times before I manage to drift off).
What to know: Like others on this list, the Honest Elements mattress arrives in a big box — but the buyer does all the unpacking and setup (pulling the mattress out, cutting away plastic shrink wrap, and letting the mattress expand for a few hours). Looking at it, my first impression of the seven-inch-deep mattress was skeptical at best, but that skepticism turned out to be unwarranted. Like the above Wave Hybrid (which I’ve also slept on), this has an upper layer that’s largely composed of naturally moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating wool. But unlike the Wave Hybrid’s wool layer, this can’t be removed. The next layer is made of an organic-cotton foam, which lets your body settle in for custom comfort. Beneath the foam layer is a layer composed of hundreds of individually encased springs that maximize the custom comfort and support of the mattress — which I’d call pretty firm, because while you sink into the foam some, it’s not supersoft or fluffy at all. One thing this doesn’t have, though, is a reinforced perimeter. This lack of a firm edge means it is not as easy to get into and out of bed, and less comfortable to sit on the edge of the mattress to, say, put on your socks and shoes. The lack of edge support also might mean that the mattress will break down faster than a comparable choice, but I haven’t noticed any degradation in mine. Thankfully, if it does start to show serious wear, Signature Sleep mattresses come with a decent warranty (more on that in the fine print below).
How I slept: Manufacturers recommend giving these types of mattresses 48 hours to fully “open” before use, but I waited maybe ten minutes before lying down on mine for the first time and slept on it within hours of delivery. I found the mattress to breathe well: It allowed airflow that kept me evenly cool, and drew away moisture that might otherwise leave me feeling hot and sweaty or cold and clammy depending on the ambient conditions. Maybe because it only has one foam layer, I did find myself moving around a few times before settling fully — but I did ultimately settle. Worth noting that no two sleepers will leave the exact same impression on the mattress because the springs compress to accommodate exact weight, body shape, and position. The springs also reduce motion transfer almost to zero, so you are highly unlikely to wake your partner as you get in and out of bed or adjust your position. Which is good, as I shift around a lot and usually get out of bed at least once a night.
The fine print: You’re getting a great mattress (and they throw in a cover with your purchase) at a great price, so don’t expect too many perks beyond the bedding itself. It shows up in a box, but it’s on you to unpack, set up, and clear out your old mattress. The Honest Elements is backed by a ten-year warranty, so if it breaks down sometime during the first decade of use, you can get it replaced for a flat $75 to cover shipping.
The tl;dr: Having slept on a more expensive Casper mattress, if you’re watching your budget, don’t even think twice — go with a Signature Sleep. That said, if you have the money, know you may well enjoy a Casper for the better part of two decades, thanks to its superior construction.
The best soft mattresses
The tester: Maxine (stomach-sleeper, likes a plush mattress)
What to know: Helix doesn’t offer one style of mattress-in-a-box. It has 13, ranging from plush to firm, including six “Luxe” mattresses, which have six layers of foam and a pillow top, instead of the standard four layers. Since we first wrote about Helix in 2018, they’ve eliminated some of the specialty mattresses — including the split-firmness mattresses, which have one plush and one firm side — and modified the foam layers on some of the models to give them a firmer feel (since I was not the only person to describe even their medium-feel mattress as too soft). You take a short quiz to guide you toward the ideal combination of springs and foam. However, almost all of Helix’s mattresses — including the one I slept on — have the same basic hybrid construction, with a bottom layer of hundreds of wire coils topped by foam.
How I slept: Given that my partner and I have very different sleeping styles, we weren’t terribly surprised when the quiz recommended that we go for the Dusk, which offers what’s described by the company as “medium feel” on the top and extra support from the middle layers of metal coils. It’s their middle-of-the-road option, neither firm nor plush, but when I slept on it for two weeks in 2018, I found it to be extremely soft. My partner (who grew up sleeping on a futon) described the way it swallowed up our bodies as the “waterbed effect.” However, in 2020, Helix swapped out its regular mattresses’ memory-foam layer — one of their six layers of foam — for a firmer memory foam, giving this particular model that much more support. I have not tried this new version of the mattress, but according to reviews on Reddit, it seems that Helix has still got a reputation for being on the softer side. One thing that has not changed, however, is the dense mattress base, which offered plenty of support when I tested it.
The fine print: Helix ships for free and offers a 100-night sleep trial. If you are unhappy with the mattress for any reason, you can return it for a full refund.
The tl;dr: Though the memory foam used in the hybrid construction has changed since we tested this in 2018 — and we have not tested the newest model — Helix’s mattresses still have a reputation for being on the softer side. The quiz, and the 100-night trial period, means that couples with different sleep styles should be able to find a good compromise within the broad set of options.
The tester: Maxine (stomach-sleeper, likes a plush mattress)
What to know: Looking at the Birch website, you’d never know that it’s also owned by Helix. Though both are hybrid mattresses, that’s about where the similarities end. The main selling point for Birch is that it’s a “nontoxic” mattress made from “thoughtfully sourced” materials — including Rainforest Alliance–certified latex from sustainably tapped rubber trees, organic cotton, American-manufactured steel, and all-natural birch wool from New Zealand sheep. That wool is the standout material, as it provides the cushion and plush, helps regulate temperature, and acts as a natural flame retardant (unlike the Avocado, which uses silica). And unlike Helix, which offers over seven options for every type of sleeper, there is only one Birch mattress you can buy; the manufacturers say the feel is “medium firm,” and if you want something a little more plush, you can add the recommended mattress topper (which is also organic).
How I slept: It’s never been a main concern of mine to sleep on an all-natural mattress — I’m more about maximizing comfort for me and my partner — and really, the only time I was acutely aware of Birch’s natural materials was during the unboxing. Unlike other all-foam or foam-based hybrid mattresses I’ve tested, this had no chemical smell. It sprung into shape faster than any other mattress-in-a-box that I’ve unboxed, needing only about half an hour to fully expand (whereas other mattresses need up to 24 hours). What impressed me most about the Birch is how supportive yet plush it is — a dream for a stomach sleeper like me, who tosses and turns throughout the night. The wool cushioning cradles every curve of my body, no matter how I’m positioned, yet I never feel like I’m being pulled under, thanks to the firm support of the steel coils. My partner, who has described sleeping on a foam mattress pad in the back of a minivan as “comfortable,” initially found this mattress to be “too sinky,” but after two weeks of sleeping on it, he conceded it provided more than enough support (though I think he still would prefer something firmer, and that’s a fight we’ll be having until the end of days).
The fine print: Standard shipping is free to all 50 states. There is a 100-night sleep trial period, which starts on the day of delivery, but Birch requires that you sleep on it for at least 30 days before initiating the return process for a full refund. If you do decide to keep your mattress, you have a 25-year limited warranty that protects against defects from normal use.
The tl;dr: Come for the all-natural materials and handmade construction but stay for the plush yet supportive mattress that’s suitable for most types of sleepers and is built to last, thanks to a better-than-average warranty.
The tester: Chloe Anello, junior writer
How I sleep: I start out sleeping in a scrunched up ball on my right side, then toss and turn onto my stomach, back, and left side throughout the night. I’m also always cold, even in the summer, so I sleep with a down comforter and a weighted blanket.
What to know: The Nova Hybrid, which Casper released in March of 2020, is billed as the plushest among the company’s hybrid (foam-and-spring) mattresses. It has a similar construction to Casper’s Wave Hybrid mattress in that it’s mostly memory foam on top of a layer of springs, but trades that model’s layer of gel pods for a top layer made of soft, pillow-like material — they call it “puff fabric” — to make it cozier. This design is meant to appeal to sleepers, like me, who prefer a softer mattress but also want some support.
How I slept: Before testing this mattress out, I had been sleeping on a roughly six-year-old spring mattress, which I honestly loved. This and my former mattress are entirely different, but perhaps in a good way. My former one had a soft two-inch mattress topper on it; without it, I found the mattress alone too firm. But the Casper Nova, thanks to its layer of puff fabric, was plush enough to lie on as is — it needed no adjustments or additions. Because Casper touts this as its plushest option, I kind of expected I’d sink into it, but the memory foam actually offers more support than I thought without being too firm because of the springs in the mattress’s fourth layer. The Nova Hybrid claims to be “cooling” since its two top layers of foam are perforated (making it more breathable), but I found it retained my heat if I stayed in a position for a long time. (As someone who’s always cold, that’s actually a major plus.) Since I started using this mattress, I also think I toss and turn much less: I tracked my sleep score with my Fitbit and noticed it improved a few points after a few days of sleeping on the Nova Hybrid — and has pretty much remained consistent ever since.
The fine print: As we’ve noted before, Casper offers free shipping and returns after a 100-night trial period. If you’re setting this up yourself, be mindful that the boxed mattress weighs 95 pounds and its box is oblong and difficult to carry — so unless you’re some sort of superhero, you might need some help transporting it. I thought the mattress would need time to puff up once removed from its vacuum-sealed bag, but as soon as I took it out of the packaging, it was good to go — I slept on it that night.
The tl;dr: True to its promise, the Casper Nova Hybrid offers a plush mattress (without requiring any extra toppers) that still delivers a decent amount of support.
The best mattresses for achy backs
The tester: Katy Schneider, Strategist senior editor
How I sleep: I change positions a lot during the night, and have happily slept on soft beds all my life. The beds at my parents’ house are so soft I have to actually roll out of them. My boyfriend, on the other hand, would gladly sleep on a mattress fashioned out of a block of cement. Our mattress, which used to be my mattress, is soft, with a pillow topper on it, and tortures him nightly with back pain. Needless to say, he was thrilled when I told him we’d be testing Wink’s most popular mattress: the “luxury firm.”
What to know: Wink is an interesting company. Its mattresses are handmade to order in Wisconsin, and many of the people working at its factory have been building beds by hand for most of their careers. Wink CEO Dan Adler says certain techniques — like hand-sewing the mattress quilt and tape edge, and laying the innersprings by hand — ensure the quality of construction on every mattress. From top to bottom, these have a thin layer of foam (for comfiness), air springs (to keep things cool), a support pad (to keep your lumbar area well-supported), and tempered steel coils (for pushback, and to keep the mattress from losing shape). Wink beds come in soft, luxury firm, and firm.
How I slept: Though I bristled at the word “firm,” I quickly converted from “will only sleep on pillows” to “I think I’m a firm mattress person.” Because the memory foam layer is thin, it still felt soft without enveloping my body. The mattress also seems to have saved my boyfriend’s back. He claims he hasn’t woken up with pain since we started sleeping on it. The springs also seem to absorb other movement — my boyfriend often comes to bed much later than I do, and I found that I noticed him flopping down a whole lot less on the Wink than I did on my old bed. I also find that I’m comfortable on the Wink on my back, side, or stomach.
The fine print: Wink ships free, but offers “room of choice” (a.k.a. white-glove) delivery for a fee, and old-mattress removal for an additional fee. Customers get 120 days to decide if they like it. If not, they’ll pick it up for free and give a full refund.
The tl;dr: Wink’s middle-ground hybrid option (not even its firmest) was firm and supportive enough to rid one sleeper of nightly backaches.
The tester: Simone (prefers a firm mattress to combat a daytime slouching habit)
What to know: Cocoon Chill is Tempur-Sealy’s bed-in-a-box offering, and the mattress comes with a heat-dissipating knit cover. There are two levels of support — soft and firm. The firm option’s construction is pretty straightforward: two inches of memory foam atop eight inches of high density foam (the soft version has a transition foam layer to separate the memory foam from the base layer; they say side-sleepers prefer it for that reason). With the firm one, you are closer to the high-density foam, hence a slightly more supported feeling. Sleepopolis calls it a no-frills option for people who want a firm feel but don’t have specific sleeping issues.
How I slept: The Cocoon Chill is every bit as firm as the innerspring coil mattress I’ve slept on for years, but the memory foam hugs me in a way that makes my lower back feel particularly supported. Weird visual for you: Imagine two open palms gently lifting up your sacrum area. There was no hip-sinking feeling; the foam filled in the areas around my lower spine that generally ache, making it feel like I was very much on top of the mattress. The first night I don’t remember moving around all that much. The following morning, the usual roll-out-of-bed lower-back creakiness was gone.
The thing about this bed is that despite that Sleepopolis review, I have very specific sleeping issues. I’ve had acupuncture and done physical therapy over the years to alleviate chronic back and neck soreness. Right before trying the Cocoon Chill, I had a new, specific bit of spinal pain. But much of that immediately subsided after that first night and hasn’t returned. Crawling into this bed at the end of the day gives me a floating yet hugged feeling that I find to be full-body relaxing. And although memory foam can cause you to heat up, it was never an issue here.
The fine print: The company ships for free and customers get 100 nights to try things out, with the option to exchange or return. While the memory foam will break in and adjust to your pressure points (I noticed the density of the mattress subsiding slightly), the company says that if it shows any indentations or dips lower than one inch, a full return is covered by its ten-year warranty.
The tl;dr: The Cocoon Chill is an all-foam mattress, but the firm option was supportive enough to help alleviate some chronic back pain. Priced a bit lower than competitors like Casper, it’s a solid value.
The best firm and springy mattresses
The tester: Steven (chest down, with one arm under a pillow that’s under my head and one leg bent 90 degrees at the knee)
What to know: What sets the Bear hybrid mattress apart from Bear’s OG mattress (which we review below) is a layer of dozens of individually wrapped coils — or springs — in addition to its four layers of foam. These coils, which comprise the Bear hybrid’s thickest layer, compress to accommodate thicker parts of your body, like your shoulders and hips, and allow for ideal spinal alignment and reduction of pressure points. The coils also allow for superior heat transfer away from your body because they create pockets of empty space. Because the coil layer allows the Bear hybrid to effectively map to any body, it is a great mattress for people who prefer different levels of firmness to share. Like the OG Bear mattress, the hybrid has a top layer made with Celliant fibers woven into the quilting (Celliant being a material claimed to improve physical recovery by broadcasting your own body heat back to you in the form of infrared energy, which purportedly may improve blood flow, help with muscular recovery, and enhance thermoregulation). Many studies support the stuff, but I’m still on the fence.
How I slept: On the Bear hybrid, I fall asleep faster than I have on just about any other mattress I’ve ever tried. Full disclosure: My wife and I got a twin-size one for our son (who we thought deserves the best night’s sleep). But every night after book time, I lie down with him on it for what I plan to be no more than five minutes of snuggling, chatting, and winding down. And almost every night, I doze off before those five minutes are up, only popping back awake if he asks me if I’m listening. The mattress is truly that comfortable. Its foam upper layers beneath the Celliant top layer are super-soft, letting me sink into the mattress, while the third layer of foam is a bit firmer, conforming to my body and holding me comfortably in place. This foam layer also presses down into the coils below it, which offer support contoured to the sleeper’s build and weight.
The fine print: With a list price of nearly $1,400, a queen-size Bear hybrid isn’t cheap. While that’s about double the cost of the OG Bear, it is also hundreds less than a Casper Wave Hybrid — which, again, I have also slept on — and I conk out just as easily on the Bear hybrid as I do on the Wave Hybrid. We had our Bear hybrid delivered to the front stoop vie FedEx, and I took care of the unboxing, cutting off the plastic, and letting it unfurl and breathe and whatnot. But, for an additional charge, you can get white-glove delivery and have folks carry the mattress right to your bedroom, get it opened and laid out in place, and haul off your old mattress, too. If after giving it a shot you decide it’s not for you, Bear has a risk-free trial period (more on that in our review of the OG Bear below).
The tl;dr: If you want to fall asleep fast, this mattress is worth the price. Its multiple foam layers provide custom comfort, while the coils offer support contoured to various body types and create space for excess body heat to flow into. The jury may still be out on whether the Celliant topper actually helps restore muscle and joint health, but it’s definitely soft and inviting.
The tester: Anthony Rotunno, senior editor
How I sleep: I typically start out on my side or stomach, but will move around at night, including onto my back. Rarely do I wake in the position I conk out in. And I share my bed with my husband. We previously slept on an inherited Sterns and Foster innerspring mattress, and neither of us like beds that are too firm; we prefer a little give, because we both move around in our sleep.
What to know: Although it sells mattresses in boxes, Nest Bedding slightly predates the great mattress-in-a-box boom, having been around for almost a decade (it launched in 2012, two years before Casper). The company touts its age — along with other defining characteristics, like the fact that all its mattresses are made in its own Arizona-based factory — as things that set it apart from newer competitors. There are six different models offered by the brand, ranging from cheaper all-foam options to pricier “organic” latex ones. There isn’t a quiz on the site to help guide your decision, but the most popular option, according to a representative from Nest, is the Alexander Hybrid, which basically breaks down into two layers: a top “comfort layer” made of the brand’s so-called TitanChill Endurance Foam that’s about four-inches thick and then a bottom layer that’s about eight-inches thick and includes even more layers of foam and the coils (they’re all broken down here).
How I slept: Before I even laid down on the mattress, I had to get it from my building’s lobby, where the delivery person left it, to my apartment. That was easy enough, but the thing was much heavier than our old Sterns and Foster innerspring. Then came the unboxing and unfurling, and though you read about needing to give these boxed mattresses time to breathe before you sleep on them, there were no specific instructions on that — or anything — in the box, so I had to Google how long to let it sit for (48 hours is recommended). While I realize mattresses don’t necessarily need user guides, I thought some sort of one-sheet on how to best prep it for first use might have been helpful.
The Alexander Hybrid is definitely firmer than our old Sterns and Foster, due to the foam, and at first my husband was wary he’d be able to adjust. But the more you lay on it, the more you notice the give of the coils, too — about 15 minutes after my husband worried we’d have to return it, he was saying how it actually wasn’t that much less springy than our old one. You can choose between three “feels” for its upper comfort layer — plush, medium, and luxury firm; I went with medium, again because the rep told me it is the “most purchased” option. Once we got past the initial difference in overall feel between this and our old mattress, I have to say that we’ve slept well on it since night one. In fact, I would go so far as to say I wake feeling more rested than before — this is anecdotal, not scientific, but I am basing it on the fact that more often than not, I am waking naturally, without an alarm. And not only waking naturally, but feeling rested and ready to start the day. Like some other mattresses on this list, the company says this one is made with temperature-regulating fabrics; I can’t say I’ve noticed any actual benefit from this, as some nights I’m still kicking covers off to cool down. Similarly, it also touts how ecofriendly this mattress is; this claim is one that I think is truer, because the top comfort layer is un-zippable so you can flip that bit of foam around to extend its life (the company suggests flipping it every six months). And when the time comes, Nest Bedding sells replacement comfort layers, prolonging the need to buy a whole new mattress.
The fine print: Nest Bedding offers a 100-day trial period for any mattress, during which you can get a full refund. (You can also freely switch the “feel” of your chosen comfort layer during this time, too.) If you’re worried about having a heavy, boxed mattress simply dropped off at your doorstep, the company offers a white-glove delivery service for a fee. The company also offers a “limited” lifetime warranty for mattresses that reveal certain defects not caused by regular use, and a “lifetime comfort guarantee” that essentially allows customers to buy one other Nest Bedding mattress at a discount “years down the road,” should they need it. And it promises customer support over the phone seven days a week.
The tl;dr: After weeks of sleeping on it, I can see why the Alexander Hybrid is Nest Bedding’s most popular choice: It’s a smooth transition into the world of foam mattresses for sleepers who also crave some springiness. And combined with Nest Bedding’s various warranties, guarantees, and other customer-friendly offerings, it seems a great option to start with if you’re looking to make a similar toe-dip.
The tester: Jason Chen, former Strategist deputy editor
How I sleep: I’m an avowed side-sleeper who likes a lofty pillow and a mattress that’s more firm than soft. I hate Tempur-Pedic foam mattresses because they’re both too spongy and hot.
What to know: In 1996, the brothers Tony and Terry Pearce (both engineers) invented their highly stretchy Hyper-Elastic Polymer, a strong but moldable gel-like material that was then used in medical beds, Dr. Scholl’s soles, and toy balls. In 2016, the brothers used the technology to create direct-to-consumer mattresses that they called “the world’s first no-pressure mattress.” You may be familiar with commercials in which a man with three eggs attached to his back drops from the air onto the mattress without a single one of the eggs cracking.
Unlike traditional spring coil mattresses, the Purple features several different layers — one is a set of coils, topped by a thin layer of memory foam, which sits under several inches of Purple’s proprietary polymer material that’s then covered by a layer of fabric. The Hyper-Elastic Polymer layer isn’t a smooth plane but a grid of squares, which you can definitely feel. Mattress Clarity says that grid allows for airflow that’s great for hot-sleepers and Sleepopolis says it’s the one side-sleepers should choose.
How I slept: I chose the Purple mattress in a 3 (for three inches of Smart Comfort Grid), which is bouncier than the 2 and firmer than the 4. Plopping down on the mattress was a brand-new sensation: You’re very aware of the gel surface, which has almost the rubbery give of a kids’ party bouncy house. I didn’t mind the texture of the square grid, though, because the mattress has such supportive structure. When I lay on my side, it was like being cradled rather than smothered, the way I felt on my old foam mattress. My pressure points in my shoulders and hips never ached — I used to have to move around to avoid spots that had dipped and retained heat, but the gel layer never held divots. After a week, I was fully converted and found myself wanting to spend time in bed during the day: reading magazines, using my laptop, playing with the dog.
The fine print: The white-glove delivery service (which includes hand delivery of the mattress as well as removal of any old mattress) only offers weekday appointments, with wide delivery windows (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). That said, when they did show up, setup was seamless and took under five minutes.
The tl;dr: Purple’s anomalous materials are well suited to those who sleep hot and hate foam (even hybrid mattresses will layer coils with foam; Purple uses just two very thin layers of foam) and who are game to try something very different.
The tester: Margaret, (stomach- and side-sleeper; likes a supportive but cushy mattress)
What to know: Parachute — maker of linen sheets, bathrobes, and mattress toppers — released its first (and for now, only) mattress in early 2019. Before I even touched it, two major things stood out: (1) It’s nice-looking, with fuzzy white wool buttons pinning down the tufts, and (2) it doesn’t smell like anything, meaning it has none of the plastic aroma that issues from a lot of other vacuum-packed mattresses. (That effect is called “off-gassing,” and it’s not harmful, just unpleasant.) Both of these qualities are central to what Parachute founder Ariel Kaye wanted: to make an ecofriendly, heritage-style mattress that gets dropped off at your door. This mattress is spiritually modeled after a Hästens model that, years ago, Kaye saved up to buy. “I’m not saying we use horse hair or the same construction, but the idea was always to have a heritage mattress,” Kaye says. That’s also why Parachute uses only springs (there are 6,000 coils in the queen size) and zero foam, which is said to lose shape and break down.
How I slept: In the age of the foam mattress, you forget how breezy springs feel. (At least I did.) Parachute’s mattress is very firm, so my initial impression was one of sleeping on a very sturdy topper floating on top of nothing — I immediately noticed that my body heat was no longer trapped beneath me. Because Parachute deliberately made a firm mattress (most people prefer firm, as they should), it recommends that lovers of soft ones add Parachute’s mattress topper, which we’ve actually, separately, deemed the best of its kind. I tried that, and the pillowy layer on top of such a supportive mattress works. One more thing: Ever since Wendi McLendon-Covey told the Strategist about looking for “an organic mattress that wouldn’t leach chemicals,” I’ve had a back-of-my-mind paranoia about sleeping nestled into carcinogenic brain-cell-killing fumes. Paranoid, yes, but the fact that Parachute’s mattress uses 100 percent organic cotton and New Zealand wool brings me some welcome peace of mind.
The fine print: Parachute offers free ground shipping, along with 100 days to return the new mattress, and a 10-year warranty. For a fee, you can arrange for white-glove delivery — although if you have two strong and able bodies to lift the box, you won’t need it — which includes mattress removal.
The tl;dr: Parachute’s mattress costs more than most of the other mattresses on this list, but it offers stuff other mattress-in-a-box companies haven’t yet: all springs and no foam, and more organic materials than many others. It’s positioned as a luxury hotel-style mattress, and it really feels like one.
The best affordable mattress
The tester: Karen Iorio Adelson, Strategist senior writer
How I sleep: I usually sleep curled up on my side, and prefer a firmer mattress. I run hot when I sleep, too, so I appreciate anything that’ll keep me from sweating.
What to know: First of all, Zinus is crazy affordable — a six-inch-thick, two-layer foam queen is under $200. The version I tried, a 12-inch model with an extra layer of high-density foam, features a top layer of memory foam infused with gel, which theoretically disperses body heat better than normal memory foam. (But you can get thinner versions of the mattress I tried for less money.) The cover, made from breathable fabric, is designed to keep you cool with its loose, woven knit that allows air to flow through. The cooling gel foam mattress is ranked right in the middle of the firmness scale by Tuck at a 5 out of 10, but the reviews (like this one from Sleepopolis) are mixed on whether it actually makes you feel cooler. Zinus mattresses have a pretty simple build. They’re made of foam of varying density levels, with none of the proprietary technology you see from companies with higher price tags. (One note: The cooling gel foam mattress I tried is only available directly through Zinus; other slightly less-expensive Green Tea models can be found on Amazon.)
How I slept: Considering my usual preference for a firm mattress, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this one. The top layer is definitely plush, but instead of sinking into it, I felt more like the mattress was rising up to meet me and fill in the spaces where I need some extra padding, like under my back and knees. It’s easy to feel the firmer layers underneath supporting all that softness on top. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any cooling effects — temperature-wise, it felt no different from my normal Casper mattress or one from Bear that I also tested — but for a mattress so affordable, I’m okay relying on moisture-wicking sheets and breathable pajamas instead. Even after a couple of weeks, the mattress kept its plush-yet-supportive feel and the denser foam layers didn’t feel compressed or squishy from regular use.
The tl;dr: This is the best value for a mattress, full stop.
The best mattress for serious athletes
The tester: Karen (side-sleeper, runs hot)
What to know: Bear claims its mattresses, with four layers of foam (and the above hybrid version that also includes spring coils) are engineered for athletes, promoting temperature regulation and quicker muscle recovery after workouts. These benefits purportedly come from a mattress cover made from a licensed technology called Celliant, a synthetic fiber designed to direct body heat back into the muscles as restorative infrared heat. It sounds like science fiction, but there have been some clinical studies with promising initial results, including one conducted at the University of California Irvine Medical Center showing that Celliant-infused socks helped relieve chronic foot pain. Bear leans a bit toward the firm end of the spectrum, scoring a 6.5 out of 10 on mattress review site Tuck.
How I slept: A pressure-map test on Sleepopolis shows pressure points along the hips and shoulders for side-sleepers, which was consistent with my experience. But my husband, who sleeps on his stomach, didn’t experience any pain, so the Bear seems more compatible with back and stomach-sleepers. As for the Celliant cover, it doesn’t feel noticeably different to the touch from any other mattress cover. But — and it may be totally psychological — my legs did feel fresher and less fatigued than they normally would on days after doing sprints and thigh-punishing barre workouts.
The fine print: In addition to the white-glove delivery Steven mentioned above, Bear offers free shipping and returns, and a 100-night risk-free trial period. The company will also help arrange pickup of returned mattresses but requires that you try it out for 30 days before requesting a return. Bear also partners with LoadUp, where you can use the code BEAR for a discounted mattress-removal rate.
The tl;dr: Given the studies on Celliant, marathon runners, personal trainers, and athletes of all kinds might want to look into Bear. It’s experimental, but the 100-night trial exists for a reason.
The best mattress for kids
The tester: Lauren (back-sleeper who prefers a firmer mattress)
What to know: Casper arguably pioneered the bed-in-a-box frenzy, and the Element is an offshoot of its flagship model, the Casper Original, (scroll up for that one). It’s the brand’s most basic and affordable option. It contains three layers of “premium” foam as opposed to the Casper’s four, with a firm bottom support layer, a middle layer made of responsive memory foam, and a soft breathable top layer. It’s also thinner, at 8.5 inches, as opposed to the Casper’s ten inches. [Editor’s note: Since we tested the Casper Element, the company changed the heights of the Element and the Casper Original. The Element is now 10 inches, and the Casper Original is now 11 inches thick.] Experts recommend the Casper Element for the budget-conscious shopper who tends to sleep hot (the top layer of foam is open-celled and therefore cooling), prefers a softer mattress (reviews consistently scored the Element a 6 out of 10 for firmness), and wants something lightweight (it’s ideal for a student or child).
How I slept: The first thing my husband and I noticed was that the mattress was soft. Perhaps too soft. Sitting on it (we had placed it on top of our existing box spring), I noticed that the edge of the mattress gave way easily (though that is common in most foam mattresses). Still, that first night, we slept great, and the entire week, too. But by the second week, we both noticed that we sunk a little too much into the foam and missed the support and pressure relief of our coil-spring mattress. Reviewers have noted that the Element is especially ideal for lighter people like teenagers and children, and, after sleeping on it, that makes sense. Across all brands, foam will often start to contour to the weight of your body, leaving hip- or shoulder-shaped divots. But if you weigh less, like children do, that’s less likely to happen.
The fine print: Shipping is free, and if you don’t like it after a 100-day trial, they’ll pick it up at no cost to you (and claim to “do their best” to donate unwanted mattresses to charity). Formerly called the Casper Essential Mattress, the company has rebranded this as the Casper Element Mattress and claims that the latest version has “enhanced support and cooling features,” as well as a “new cover made with recycled materials.”
The tl;dr: Casper is a trusted company, and the Element comes at a great price, but it’s best for smaller and lighter bodies that won’t sink quite so much into the soft foam.
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