College dorm mattress topper advice?

In mid-August, my son leaves home for college where he will live in a dorm with one of those twin xl institutional mattresses. Everyone says he’ll be happier if he has a good mattress topper. I want to buy one for him and could use some advice about what will have enough substance to be durable but not too pricey.

Yesterday I looked at BB&B and everything was either pretty cheap looking and compressed down to nothing, OR was priced at about $100 or more and had that feeling of being too cloying (maybe too memory foam-ish?) I hesitate to spend $100+ when I expect he might only use this pad for about 24-36 months before getting back to a larger bed.

He will be in a warm-ish place with no AC, and is warm-natured to begin with, so it is important for the mattress topper NOT to do alot of insulating! (We will be using a cotton covered mattress pad.)
Also he will be flying cross country to school, with no room in luggage for anything bulky like this pad, so I would need to have it shipped out. I hate to buy something like this without trying it personally, but on the other hand, maybe there is a solution to this challenge, since a piece of latex foam (for example) might be pretty much the same anywhere, given the same specifications.

Hi Karenmo,

The choice of which material you purchase would be based on personal preference (usually memory foam, polyfoam, or polyfoam) but the quality and durability of polyfoam depends on its density (see the foam quality guidelines here). Convoluted polyfoam can be comfortable (the convoluting makes the layer softer than it would otherwise be) but it’s also much less durable than a softer solid layer of the same quality material (see post #2 here). It’s a good “cheap” solution for those that need more comfort and pressure relief on their mattress or when durability isn’t as important a factor in your purchase.

Post #2 here and the posts it links to has some guidelines for choosing a topper that may be helpful. There is also a link there for some toppers of which I am aware that have return policies.

You mentioned that the mattress has plastic around it (institutional) which would affect how it feels and also the sleeping temperature (plastic can’t breathe to wick away moisture and carry away the heat). With no air conditioning and your son being a “warm” sleeper, memory foam would probably be something to avoid. Latex is also the most breathable and coolest of all the foam materials and memory foam is generally the warmest with polyfoam in the middle. Polyfoam and latex are a faster response material that feels like you are sleeping more “on” the mattress. For latex, a good “average” choice generally would be in the range of 2" or so.