Buying an air mattress for camping is a bit different than buying one for your home, as it will be exposed to outdoor factors such as temperature and weather changes, dirt and debris, and the traveling aspect.

In this article, I’ll explain what you need to look for in order to get the best air mattress for camping. You can also read my guide on How To Buy An Air Mattress for a more in-depth look at general air mattresses.

 

Introduction

When it comes to sleeping out in the wilderness, it’s essential to be warm and comfortable. Some people independently use blankets, sleeping bags or even the cold hard floor, which are often the cheapest options, but not necessarily the best when it comes to compactness and getting a decent night’s rest.

The sensible option is to go for an air mattress (which can be used independently or with blankets and sleeping bags), and there are two different types. The first being a home type air mattress that’s inflated using an air pump, and the other being a floor foam mattress which is very thin, lightweight and self-inflates.

Your choice would entirely depend on how you camp, who you camp with, how much space you have inside your tent, and of course, your own sleeping preferences.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each type of camping air mattress.

 

Types Of Camping Air Mattresses

Air Mattresses Using Air Pumps

Pros:

  • best air mattress for campingHigher off the ground.
  • More air inside which usually makes sleeping more comfortable.
  • Has options for twin, queen and king sizes.
  • Provides more security and comfort for children.
  • Can also be used as a temporary bed for guests or travel.
  • Most ideal for family camping.

Cons:

  • Heavier and larger than self-inflation air pads.
  • Needs to be inflated via a built-in or external air pump, which adds to the weight.
  • Defect rates are generally higher.

Self-Inflation Air Pads

Pros:

  • Self-inflation air pads.Very lightweight and thin in height.
  • Can be easily rolled up tightly and stuffed into stuff sack (which is usually included).
  • Automatically inflates by itself by opening the air valve (unless it’s a manual inflation air mattress).
  • Easier and more convenient to set up.
  • Most ideal for backpackers that sleep individually.
  • Can double up as an exercise mat.
  • Ideal to be combined with a sleeping bag, to provide back support.
  • Lower defect rates, which is why many manufacturers option a limited lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Usually not as comfortable as pumped up air mattresses.
  • Closer to the ground, which exposes you more to dirt and critters.

 

Construction Material

The types of materials used and how a camping air mattress is constructed will dictate what types of conditions it can withstand and how long it will last.

You’ll find that the majority of pump type air beds are made from PVC or vinyl, but the ones that are most suitable for camping will often be puncture resistant, and include other elements which are intended to increase durability such as a laminate finish or/and a specific coil design. Sometimes a flocked or suede fabric will be used on the sleeping surface to make the bed more comfortable.

As for self-inflated air pads, the outer surface would generally be a nylon or polyester fabric that covers the inner closed-cell foam (so the mat cannot soak up water), which usually consists of polyurethane. This type of foam provides advantages such as lightweight, extra cushioning and thermal benefits.

Certain self-inflated air pads also have an anti-slip bottom to prevent the mattress from sliding around. The sleeping surface is normally consistent with the rest of the mattress, but certain models may add a suede or flocked top to increase comfort.

To help you maintain your air mattress, I recommend that you read my articles on how to find an air leak and how to keep an air mattress from deflating.

Insulation

You’ve probably seen the term “R-Value” come up for some air mattresses, and have no idea what it means. Basically, this is a measure of thermal resistance and the higher the number, the better the effectiveness of an air mattress’ insulation.

Many manufacturers don’t state the R-Value for their air mattresses, but another indicator for insulation is the thickness of the foam and type of sleeping surface.

 

Inflation & Deflation Method

In the above section, I explained briefly about the inflation methods of an air mattress that uses an air pump, and a self-inflating air mattress. Now, I’ll go a bit more in-depth about both types, but if you can also read more about air mattress pumps here.

Air Pump

Larger air mattresses require an air pump to inflate it (and often to deflate too). Sometimes it’s built into the bed itself, which saves space but adds weight to the bed, and may also have features such as air level, (which can be adjusted to match your desired firmness of the bed) and heat prevention to stop the pump from overheating.

air mattress pump

Battery powered external handheld air pump.

Other times, an external handheld pump is used for inflation, which may or may not be included with the air bed. These can be battery or AC powered, and certain models with have different types of nozzles which makes it suitable for different sized valves for not only air mattresses, but other air inflated objects such as beach balls.

In my opinion, when it comes to air pumped type mattresses for camping, it’s better to have an external handheld pump since it doesn’t add weight onto the bed, is replaceable should it malfunction, and can be used for other air mattresses too.

I’ve compiled a list of 7 of the best-rated air mattress pumps, which you can see in a comparison chart here.

Self-Inflation

You’ll see self-inflating mattresses commonly used for camping, because they’re lightweight, easy to set up and compact. All it takes to inflate it is to simply unroll the mattress, open the air valve which automatically sucks air in, and once fully inflated, close the air valve. Sometimes, you need to top off the air by blowing into the air valve if you want more firmness.

Not all self-inflating camping mattresses will automatically inflate. Certain models have to be done manually by mouth, for example the Klymit Static V, but that doesn’t make it worse than other self-inflating air pads.

Deflating these types of mattresses are a little bit harder. You must release the valve, and slowly roll the mattress from the opposite end, while using your body weight to push all the air out, then lock the valve. It may take a couple rolls to get all the air out, so it can be as compact as possible.

 

Portability

Carry Bag

How portable you want your air mattress to be depends on whether you’re going car camping or backpacking. If you’re going car camping, you would have more flexibility because the only time you need to worry about size and weight, is when you’re inflating the mattress within a tent.

In terms of backpacking, you will be carrying around your sleeping mattress, therefore it would be ideal to get something lightweight, compact and simple to set up.

Although certain air mattresses that require a pump include a carry bag, and can also be folded up to be just as compact as self-inflating air pads, they’re usually heavier and require a pump.

If you’re going backpacking camping, you don’t always have to get an air mattress that’s long enough to fit your entire body. Some campers have mattresses that only reach their knees, and they rest their legs on their backpacks. This is a good idea if size and weight is a priority for you.

 

Additional Accessories

You don’t need too much for a camping air mattress, but there are certain accessories that are essential, or at the very least, extremely useful, which manufacturers may include with their product.

  • Carry Bag: A must-have product. Most manufacturers will include one with their air mattresses, and certain models even have it attached onto the bed itself.
  • Repair Kit: Even if your air bed is renowned for its durability, you never know what could happen to it outdoors. You should have a repair kit for back up. I always do, and it has come in handy a few times (though most of the time it’s for my buddies instead).
  • Air Pump: This isn’t applicable if your mattress has a built-in pump or self-inflates. Half the time, an air mattress that requires an external pump, won’t have the pump included, so always make sure of this.

If the air mattress you want doesn’t come with all these accessories, don’t worry about it as the most important thing is the bed itself of course. If it’s a great quality air bed and you’re happy with it, then you can always purchase these accessories separately since they’re inexpensive.

 

Warranty

For pump type air mattresses, the defect rates are higher than self-inflating mattresses, and sometimes they don’t come with any warranty. Since you’ll using it mainly for camping, you should go for air mattresses that have at least a one year warranty, which is the standard.

However, they will only cover you for manufacturing faults, so if you accidentally get it caught on a branch or a squirrel puts a hole through it, don’t expect a replacement bed. This is why durability is such a major factor.

As for self-inflating mattresses, there’s less chance of manufacturing faults, so it’s not uncommon to see lifetime warranties included as a part of the deal. Great quality models are usually very well constructed, albeit at a more expensive price.

 

Final Thoughts

Being out in nature can be exciting and relaxing, but at times, exhausting. A good night’s rest will always put you in a good mood, and make your camping experience much better.

High quality camping air mattresses usually come at a greater cost, and you’ll be hard pressed to find decent ones for under $40. My advice would be to not skimp on an item that holds much important when camping. Think of it as a long-term investment, as greater quality air beds are surely going to last much longer than cheaper ones.

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what to look for in a camping air mattress. If you want to check out some top-rated models, myself and my research team have narrowed down to the 10 best air mattresses for camping and presented it in a comparison chart. You can check it out here.