Memory foam mattress shopping is starting to make my head hurt

My wife and I are in the market for a new mattress, and we decided to look at the new memory foam mattresses on the market. We figured we might be able to take advantage of an Independence Day sale. I started doing my research last week – Consumer Reports, then I found, and then I stumbled upon this forum. During that time our purchasing decision has changed about 5 times. The more I learn, the more confused I become – and I’m a chemist, so the technical details of the foams don’t escape me. The mattress market seems more shady than used car dealers. Anyway, I’m new to the forum, and I’d like some input from you folk before we make any final decisions, if you don’t mind – it seems that there are a lot of people here with a wealth of information.

After laying on a number of mattresses, there are 2 that had the overall ‘feel’ that we liked – price and quality ignored for now. The first was the Memoryworks Autumn View at Macy’s (made by Sealy), and the second was the Simmons Comforpedic Phenom. We prefer medium to medium-firm mattresses. We both sleep on our back and sides, sometimes on our stomachs (but not regularly). My wife weights about 115 lbs, and I’m 165 lbs. I tend to sleep on the ‘hot’ side.

After pouring over the information on this forum, we started looking at the mattresses from Rocky Mountain Mattress. Our questions are this:

  1. Are the mattresses from RMM high quality? It appears so from posts here.
  2. Which RMM mattress would most closely ‘feel’ like the mattresses that we like (above)? We were looking at the Tamarack 12" and the Sundance 10".
  3. What do you guys think of the models that have a pillowtop? Overkill?
  4. Are there other mattresses that we should consider that I haven’t mentioned?

Our budget allows us to spend up to the $1600 range, but we would like to get the best quality and value for the money. It seems that the quality of the materials of the RMM mattresses are far above those of comparably priced models in the stores from the name brands.

Any information would be greatly appreciated, and thanks in advance.


Hi mschnittman,

Your questions lead to an answer that may be more complex than most and I thought I’d reply in much more detail than normal so I could use the reply as a reference post for others as well. This post will deal with “feel” and the difficulties of trying to duplicate another mattress which is being used as a subjective “standard” and the next post will deal with your other questions.

Like chemistry where different combinations and amounts or variants of very similar chemicals or the addition of a single catalyst or reagent can result in very different reactions and outcomes … variations of different materials (like the many different types of memory foam, different layer thicknesses or various extra or missing layers in one mattress vs another) can result in very different performance characteristics and feels between two mattresses. This is made even more complex by the infinite variations of sleeping positions, body shape, and weight distributions between different people … all of which will interact with the same mattress very differently. For example … a mattress with a certain material that is 5" deep may have little effect for someone that wasn’t heavy enough to sink down enough to feel it but could have a significant effect for someone that was much heavier. To further complicate things … this effect may be noticeable in one position (on the side for example) with larger body prominences (hips and shoulders and others) that were exposed to the mattress surface than they would be in a “flatter” position (say on the back) that didn’t have the same degree of bony prominences that were interfacing with the mattress.

All of this is to say that the only way to “duplicate” a specific mattress is to use the same foam variants in the same layering scheme with the same mattress cover. While there are many combinations of materials and construction that can lead to similar degrees of pressure relief and alignment (what someone “needs” in a mattress) … they will have different properties such as motion isolation, speed of response, breathability, resilience, motion restriction, depth of cradle, surface feel and many other different characteristics (what someone prefers in a mattress that is a significant part of its “feel”). Post #9 here for example includes some of the many different properties that can be found in the many different types of memory foam and post #7 here has more about the differences in “feel” between Dunlop and Talalay latex.

Because of this … it’s usually important to set specific characteristics as your target rather than a certain mattress because the “feel” of a mattress is a more subjective description which has many different components and can be very different for different people (depending on how their unique body weight/shape, sleeping habits, and perceptions interact with a certain mattress design).

All of this is made more difficult by the fact that the manufacturers of the mattresses you are looking at may not fully describe the materials in the mattress (or the differences may be more subjective) so it can be very difficult to “translate” one material or mattress design into another in any objective way.

There are probably hundreds of mattresses that would “match” the pressure relief and alignment “needs” you have and be close in “feel” to what you preferred and it’s likely that most retailers or manufacturers with a fairly wide range of choices would have a model that meets your criteria even though it may “feel” differently.

Just as important though is how long will a particular mattress continue to perform and “feel” similar to the way it did in a showroom. This is something you can’t feel with your testing and relies on having some knowledge of the durability and quality of the materials in a mattress. More durable and higher quality materials are more expensive and are generally found in mattresses in a higher budget range. This is where the major manufacturers completely fail in most cases because they won’t provide this information so that consumers can make meaningful comparisons between mattresses in terms of “value” and durability. Of course this is by design because if a certain “feel” can be accomplished using various combinations of lower cost and quality materials … then selling a mattress at a price that should include more durable materials leads to higher profit margins and there is no way for a consumer that doesn’t know what to look for to know any better.

This is compounded by salespeople who are trained to sell mattresses based on marketing stories or “showroom feel” which is a subjective perception that varies from person to person and that can be easily managed in a showroom. For example the order that a consumer tries different mattresses will lead to completely different perceptions and opinions of each one than if the same mattresses are tried in a different order. Perceptions of “feel” are also highly influenced by what a consumer is told about a mattress as well. Marketing stories in other words can have an effect on what someone feels on a mattress.

More challenging yet is the difficulty of applying objective standards to subjective perceptions and that we don’t have an accurate memory for subjective “feel” for very long. Almost everyone has experienced lying on many different mattresses in a store and not clearly remembering how the first one “felt” or trying a mattress in the morning and then testing other mattresses at other stores and then returning to discover that the mattress they were using as a target now feels very different from what they remember later in the afternoon.

So the goal is to as much as possible to identify different qualities that are important and test for and measure each mattress against these specific qualities rather than comparing the feel of different mattresses against each other.

These specific qualities are first of all your needs (see the basic functions of a mattress) which are Comfort/Pressure relief and Support/Alignment when you are fully relaxed with no muscle tension (like when you are asleep) in all your sleeping positions. This means specific testing on each “candidate” for at least 15 minutes fully relaxed. Each person has a range of tolerance where their pressure relief and support needs are met. This can vary from “just barely enough” to “lots of room to spare” depending on where you are in the range between “princess and the pea” to “I can sleep on anything”. In general … it’s wise to remember that many materials will either soften (foam) or compress and become firmer (fibers) over time so if someone’s needs for either pressure relief or alignment are “just barely in their range” … the initial changes in some materials, especially foam softening, during the first 90 days or so of use (which is followed by more gradual changes) may put them over the line to “not enough”. This is where knowledge of the initial changes that will happen in a material and the ongoing changes that follow can be important.

Beyond your basic needs everything else is preferences. These include …

Motion isolation: This needs to be tested with both people on a mattress if it’s for a couple and with normal sleeping movements in the testing including getting on and off the mattress. Each person or couple may have a very different sensitivity to this.

Motion restriction: Some materials (like memory foam) are less resilient and slower responding to changing sleeping profiles which to different degrees will restrict the natural movement and changing of position that occurs during sleep. Others are more resilient and instant responding and allow or assist movement more. It’s important that natural and healthy movement and changes of position (which varies from person to person) during sleep is not restricted beyond the preferences or tolerance of each person. Because sex also happens on a mattress … this is also an important consideration for most couples and motion restricting mattresses are less “sex friendly” for the majority of people (see post #2 here about sex and memory foam).

Temperature regulation: This is perhaps one of the most important of the “preferences”. There are many factors involved in the sleeping temperature of a mattress and many of them are dealt with in post #2 here. Some of these can be noticed or felt in testing but many of these involve some knowledge of the materials and components in a mattress and the odds that a specific combination will lead to heat issues for a particular person. Heat and the ability of the mattress components and materials to ventilate and breathe are directly connected and there are also various types of either “heat conductive” materials or “phase change” materials that can also provide incremental improvements in regulating temperature although control of humidity and ventilation is the most important of these. The three main temperature regulating technologies are described at the end of post #4 here.

Depth of cradle: Some people prefer to be more “in” their mattress and some people prefer to sleep more “on” their mattress. Softer thicker materials will be more “in” while thinner firmer materials may be more “on”. Slow response materials will tend to be more “in” and faster response materials will also tend towards “on”. How each material compresses differently will affect this. Regardless of the depth of the pressure relieving cradle or whether you are more “in” or “on” the mattress … it’s always important to make sure that you are sinking in evenly so that you are in good alignment in all your sleeping positions.

Overall springiness or liveliness: This is connected to a property called hysteresis which is the amount of energy that is absorbed vs resilience which is the energy of movement that is returned by a mattress. This is also connected to motion isolation and motion restriction and to heat (energy absorbing materials tend to be warmer because mechanical energy is changed to heat when it is absorbed) and is also a significant part of the “feel”. Some people prefer a more springy, resilient overall response in a mattress and others prefer a more dead or energy absorbing overall response in a mattress. This can be tested by moving around on the mattress with either larger or smaller movements.

Hand feel or surface resilience and softness: This is the surface feel of a mattress with shallow compression and has an effect on how people perceive a mattress. Thin soft quilting layers can modify the way a mattress distributes weight and pressure. For many people who are more sensitive to and don’t like more “even” pressure distribution in some areas of their body (such as the small of the back or waist), or who perceive denser memory foams as too firm (because they take longer to mold to changing body profiles with movement) or just because they like a soft surface feel … this can also play a role in subjective or even objective comfort.

These are many of the “preferences” that may be very different for different people and while they may not be “essential” in terms of needs … they can also play an important role in overall comfort and long term satisfaction with a mattress.

Finally there are issues of durability. This involves identifying any “weak links” in a mattress and knowing the qualities and relative durability of different materials (see post #4 here). Without “full disclosure” of the materials in a mattress (including foam density in the case of polyfoam and memory foam and knowing the type and blend of any latex that is in the mattress) … knowing how long a mattress is likely to maintain the properties that led to your purchase are impossible to know. The only exception to this is around an inch or so of materials in the upper layers of a mattress (usually in the quilting) which is already soft and is precompressed with the quilting processso that further softening will have less effect on the mattress’ performance and it’s durability. Of course knowing the type of quilting materials is important so you can tell whether they will compress (fibers) or soften (foam).

More durable materials are more expensive (and higher performance materials are also more expensive even if they are the same in terms of density/durability) and while the initial needs and preferences of different people can be easily met with lower cost and less durable materials … the performance and feel of the mattress will change much more quickly when they are used. This is one of the biggest reasons why knowing the “specs” of the materials and layers in a mattress … particularly of the foams in the upper layers … are so important. Without this information you only know the type of material and every material includes low cost/quality versions that are less durable and higher cost/quality versions that are more durable. The overall durability of a mattress and the durability and quality of the individual layers in it should be one of the most important reasons for a higher budget. Heavier people or people who are more “active” or tend to be harder on a mattress will need more durable materials than lighter people or less active people to have a similar useable lifespan in a mattress. There is more about the factors that are involved in durability in post #4 here.

So all of this is about the “targets” that should be used as more objective standards that each mattress you consider can be measured against. If a consumer has a more specific picture of what they need and prefer and these qualities can be more accurately separated and described … then each mattress can be “measured” against a more objective standard rather than more subjective perceptions.

Part two (two down in post #4) will talk more about how to find the better outlets and manufacturers that already have a combination of the knowledge, skill, experience, and integrity to better educate their customers about their mattresses and make or sell mattresses that have the quality and value that can dramatically increase your odds of making better choices without having to learn all the technical details that can take a great deal of time and effort (and cause headaches :)) to sort through all the conflicting material and mattress information and trying to decide what is accurate, can be believed, and what is just marketing, self promotion, or attempts to sell more expensive mattresses with lower quality materials and increase profit margins.

In other words … it’s about how to simplify all of this and buy a mattress with good quality and value that will meet your long term needs and preferences without having to learn all the complex information (like this post) that can sometimes be overwhelming.



First of all, thanks for taking the time to give me a ‘real’ answer. You appreciate the difficulty that we’re having in navigating the minefield of the retail mattress business.

I understand and agree with everything that you say. I have been paying attention to the specific composition of the mattress layers, their order, and their thickness, when the information is available – but more often than not, it isn’t. This, I’m sure is by design by the manufacturers, to make ‘apples to apples’ comparisons difficult if not impossible. Hence, my frustration and confusion – and I have a number of advanced educational degrees – which don’t help much here.

Looking at some of your previous posts, I see that you prefer latex over memory foam. Why?

In another post, you mention a liking of the Foamex foam, which is what Rocky Mountain Mattress uses. Assuming that I can correctly communicate to them what our needs/desires are, can I buy from them with confidence? Do you have other retailers that I should be looking at? We live in the Northeast US (Long Island, NY). I don’t have a problem doing business online, as long as the outfit has an honest return policy. Of course, I would prefer to try the mattress in person prior to purchase.

I spoke with a customer service rep from Rocky Mountain Mattress this morning, and I was impressed with his knowledge, his generosity with his time (we were on the phone for over 45 minutes), and his willingness to share information and educate. From what I can gather, pretty much everything that he told me was substantiated by information that I have read here. He wasn’t familiar with the Simmons that we tried, but suggested that we return to the store and try the Tempurpedic and Serta iComfort lines again, making notes about which specific models we liked/disliked, then to call back. He would then be able to guide us towards a RMM model that closely as possible mimics the ‘feel’ and performance of the mattress that we selected in the store. Good advice?

Hi mschnittman,

This seems to be my day for long and complex posts but while this one may not be really short … it will be focused on steps that can be taken to simplify the process of choosing a great mattress :slight_smile:

As you can see from my last post (and others today) the “study” of mattresses can be a long and complex process that is made much more complex by the lack of accurate, fact based, and meaningful information that is available. As you mention … this is a specific strategy of the major manufacturers and their primary customers which are the larger retailers and chains. They are more responsive to their shareholders or investment groups rather than consumers. They replace local reputation and word of mouth advertising based on the quality and value of their mattresses with advertising budgets and marketing strategies that continue to promote half truths and marketing stories to sell mattresses.

Unfortunately the vast majority of consumers have been blinded by these strategies of the last decade or so (or longer) to the point where they don’t even know meaningful questions to ask any more and have blind loyalties to certain brands that have been created by marketing and carefully managed perception. What major manufacturers and larger outlets that depend on them disdainfully call “off brands” are actually a better source of quality and value. Major brand marketing and even corporate lobbying for certain practices (such as the 1633 fire regulations) has created a more difficult environment for smaller manufacturers and their ability to get their message out in the face of consumers’ tendencies to “follow the advertising” and to only consider the information that comes to them easily through mass media instead of the information that they could find if they did more careful research. Major manufacturers have grabbed a large market share that used to belong to hundreds of local and independent multi generational manufacturers all across the country who have mattresses “in their blood” that made (and still make) exceptionally high quality and value products. Since the introduction of 1633 I would guess that about 20% of them have gone out of business (which I believe was a big part of the underlying reason for the regulations).

Also unfortunately … consumers have had little access to sources that will give them accurate information and even many of the “expert” sites that are on the internet promote incorrect information and don’t do their homework. Many of these are mostly fronts for mattress outlets that are more concerned about promoting the “benefits” of what they sell than they are about actually educating their audience. Much of the incorrect information is repeated so many times that it takes on the “aura” of truth even though it isn’t. I could go on at length about this but I think you get the idea. This is one of the reasons for the guidelines here which will help consumers to avoid most of the worst choices that are available if they “follow the advertising” or are lured by the fake sales that are everywhere that are meant to create the perception of “a great deal”.

In general there are two good approaches to finding a great mattress. The first of these is becoming an expert. This of course can involve many days, weeks, or months (or longer) of research and you will soon come face to face with the difficulty and frustration of actually finding this information and then applying it in the face of manufacturers or retailers who either don’t know or won’t tell you what is in their mattresses to even be able to evaluate it. This is by far the most interesting approach for those who have the time but in the real world it’s not practical for most people. To give you an idea of the level of knowledge that is “out there” in many if not most cases … just spending a couple of hours reading (and not even studying) the mattress shopping tutorial will make you more of an “expert” in the type of information that really counts than most of the people who sell mattresses in the mainstream industry.

The second approach of course is the simplest and this involves putting your efforts into finding the factory direct manufacturers or better sleep shops that sell higher quality and value mattresses and who already know the information (to different degrees) that you would otherwise have to learn. Some of these will have the technical information and will gladly talk specs with you all day long while others have decades of experience that is “real world” and may not be as “spec educated” but make up for it with years of experience and practical knowledge. In other words … finding the best outlets is just as important a step with this approach as finding the best mattress and researching retailers comes before testing mattresses.

These types of outlets are what I call “mattress people” who have the knowledge, experience, and integrity to educate and inform their customers and are more focused on helping them make their best choices (and building their local reputation for great quality, value, and service) than they are on their profit margin. They understand that profits are a side effect of the service and the quality of the products they provide. These kind of outlets have many things in common and to find them involves some time on websites followed by time on the phone (not through email) “interviewing” the potential places to visit (along the lines of this article) before even considering going there to test mattresses.

These retailers or manufacturers will often have better quality and value in most of their product line and it’s not a matter so much of choosing the best value mattress that they sell but more a matter of choosing the most suitable mattress out of the range they offer. They would have the knowledge and experience to help with this. While most of the mattresses they sell will tend to have better quality and value than anything in the same budget range sold at more “mass market” outlets, it’s still important to know the details of every layer in a mattress so you can make meaningful quality and value comparisons. In some cases market pressures makes it necessary to also carry some major brands to attract traffic (or they may not eat) but they will often “sell against” these brands rather than promoting them. These are the types of businesses that understand the importance of knowing what is in your mattress.

Some of these outlets have been invited to become official members of this site and there are many more that are not “yet” part of this list and will be included as I get to know them (and they get to know me) or I have time to expand the reach of the site. These are the ones that I “officially” recommend but there are many more that I either know already have good quality and value or that are a good possibility in various areas (and these are the ones that I usually list on the forum). There are also some that I list as good “testing grounds” which carry good quality mattresses but may not have the same value as some of the others and would require more careful “value” comparisons.

I normally recommend first looking locally (or asking on the forum and I will list the ones I know about) because most areas have some good choices within reasonable driving distance. Testing a mattress in person will always be more accurate than going by “averages” with a online purchase. If you have two or three local outlets that are in this group … then choosing the “best” from each one will lead to making final choices between “good and good” with the finer details making the final difference rather than having to choose between “better or worse” and not having the information to really be able to do so.

For those who don’t have these types of choices available locally or who need a reference point for “value” … then the best of the online manufacturers can be a great source and help. As a general guideline … I would place a premium on local testing and would be happy to pay perhaps 20% more for the accuracy and ease and service of dealing with a high quality local outlet or manufacturer but when the premium for dealing locally compared to an online outlet for a similar mattress is more than this … then the online outlet would become a serious consideration. Of course the “premium” is only a reference (and some local outlets may have lower prices than some online outlets) and each person may have a different number and level of risk they are willing to accept for the particular benefits of an online purchase. The members here that specialize in online sales and guidance are listed in post #21 here. They all have great knowledge, quality, service, and high value products but their design, specific features, and policies have many differences and price ranges so the reasons behind their value may be different between them.

Rocky Mountain is one of these so to answer your question about them … yes I would trust them and consider them to be among the best of the best in terms of both quality, value, and their ability and willingness to inform and help their customers.

This is mostly personal preference based on the qualities and feel of latex vs memory foam and partly based on the more technical advantages of latex (greater responsiveness, breathability, durability, less risky construction, great pressure relief, great support, and other qualities). There is more about most mattress materials including latex and memory foam in the mattresses section of the site and there is more about the relative pros and cons of latex vs memory foam in post #2 here.

I also like combinations that use thin layers of memory foam in combination with latex (particularly a thin layer of latex over a thin layer of memory foam over latex). It is a much less “risky” construction.

I should also add that I am not alone in my preferences. If you talk with local manufacturers that have been making mattresses for generations and have seen all the trends develop in the industry and could use any materials they want in their mattresses … you will find that well over half of them will either not make memory foam mattresses or more commonly make it but “sell against it” and carry it only for their customers who insist on it against their “best” advice. They are very aware of the risks of using memory foam and are very cautious about using it (especially in thicker layers) because of the potential harm that returns or the changes that can happen over time in performance, comfort and support and the damage that may happen to their reputation as a result. There are even some that take this to extremes and would rather lose a sale than make or sell memory foam. I’m personally more towards the middle but on the very cautious side in my thoughts and opinions about the use of memory foam in mattresses.

The reason I like some of the foamex (FXI) memory foams are that they use a manufacturing process called VPF (variable pressure foaming) that can lead to more open celled and breathable memory foam. This is not the only way to achieve this and some manufacturers use mechanical means and some use chemical means to do something similar but I like the quality and characteristics of VPF foam as long as it’s in a good quality/density range. Most of the American foam manufacturers also make high quality foam (and of course some that is not so high quality that is used in lower budget mattresses or in high priced mattresses with huge profit margins).

So in essence … I am a big fan of the second approach which is to research and find the outlets and people who already know what you would otherwise have to learn and who carry high quality and value mattresses throughout their product line. This way you only need to know enough (by reading the mattress shopping tutorial) that you can ask better questions, recognize the “experts”, and better understand the “whys” behind their answers.

Some manufacturers will have “tested” various mattresses that are more widely available that may have a similar feel (although different construction and layers) to their mattresses to help their customers get a general sense of the feel of their mattresses. This is very helpful and is good advice yes.

Hope this long post helps to “turn the tables” of my previous more complex replies into a simple format of researching good retailers or factory direct manufacturers first (instead of specific mattresses first that make or carry high quality/value mattresses and that will become your “best friend”. They can replace the need to become an “expert” and have to sort through all the confusing and misleading information so all you have to do is choose the most suitable mattress that they each offer and then choose between “good and good” to make your final choice based on the parts of your personal value equation that are most important to you.


Hi mschnittman,

I almost forgot … there is a list of some of the better outlets (and some possibilities that will need some interviewing) in post #2 here. There are also some more detailed descriptions of many of them that should help you narrow down the list a bit in post #7 here.

I knew I’d forgotten something in all my long ramblings :slight_smile:



Whoa – you weren’t kidding when you described your post as long and detailed. Looks like you’ve given me more homework to do, but I do appreciate the information and advice. I’ll be in touch in a day or so after I do some more research and make a few phone calls. Happy 4th!