Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Camping Pad/Mattress
Many air mattress models sold today are ideal for camping because they provide the comfort, support and temperature neutrality required for sleeping on rough outdoor terrain. These models are also relatively inexpensive and highly portable, since they can be easily inflated and deflated, packed, and stored in a backpack or the back of an automobile.
Today’s camping-friendly air mattress options range from low-tech pads to state-of-the-art designs. This guide will look at important factors to consider when shopping for and comparing inflatable air mattress for camping, as well as some common pros and cons associated with these products and our picks for the top-rated models.
Common Characteristics of Camping-friendly Air Mattresses
The term ‘air mattress’ refers to any inflatable sleeping pad designed for short-term use; these products may also be referred to as ‘blow-up mattresses.’ Air mattresses are considered suitable for camping on the ground or in an RV, as well as floor bedding for guest rooms.
It’s important to note the differences between inflatable air mattresses and ‘airbeds,’ which are standard-size mattresses built with adjustable air chambers in the support core, and are designed for long-term use. For more information about airbeds, please visit our Airbed Reviews page.
Also, camping style is another consideration. Some people prefer hiking to a campsite with all of their provisions stored in a backpack, while others prefer to ‘car camp,’ or camp at sites that are accessible to vehicles.
- Backpackers typically prefer lighter, lower-profile air mattresses because they are easier to store and haul in backpacks.
- Car campers have more options, and many choose higher-profile mattresses because they can be easily transported in a vehicle.
Although designs and features vary by brand and model, today’s air mattresses designed for camping generally share the following characteristics:
Most air mattresses sold today are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as polyvinyl or vinyl, a synthetic plastic polymer that is also used to make bottles, food packaging, and an assortment of other goods.
PVC has raised some pollution and human health issues in recent years, largely due to the use of chlorine in the PVC production process. As a result, some air mattresses are made from ‘eco-friendly PVC,’ which refers to PVC that has not been made with chlorine.
In addition to the PVC shell, some air mattresses feature microcoils for added support and comfort. Some self-inflating models are insulated with polyfoam. Unlike other air mattresses, foam-padded models often do not carry a weight limit.
As a rule, air mattresses must be inflatable, but the inflation method varies from model to model. An air mattress may feature a built-in internal pump, or an external pump.
The pump mechanism also varies by brand and model; generally, four different mechanisms may are used with today’s air mattresses:
- A manually powered pump, often designed to be operated with feet to help users avoid back strain. These are almost always external pumps.
- An electric pump with a built-in electrical main that can be programmed and adjusted using buttons, switches, and other external controls.
- A battery-powered pump, which can be programmed and adjusted in the same fashion as an electrical pump, but these are typically external models that can be easily detached from the mattress.
- A self-inflating pump, which can be operated by flipping a switch or twisting the external nozzle. These models can be customized for firmness by simply stopping the self-inflation process when the mattress reaches a certain thickness.
The table below explains air mattress pump mechanisms in greater detail.