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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.
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.
Although designs and features vary by brand and model, today’s air mattresses designed for camping generally share the following characteristics:
Construction: 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.
Inflation: 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:
The table below explains air mattress pump mechanisms in greater detail.
|Pump Type||Description||Pump Mechanisms||Pros||Cons|
|Internal||Built-in inflation system operated using switches and/or knobs|
No extraneous parts
|No risk of losing spare parts|
Inflate at a faster rate
|Prone to breakdowns|
|External||Pump is a separate component that attaches to an outside nozzle||Manual|
|Time- and energy-consuming|
Risk of losing spare parts
Cover: Most air mattresses designed for camping have flocked (or textured) sleep surfaces to help maintain warmth, and also to provide resistance and prevent sleepers from slipping off. Many of these covers are waterproof and/or antimicrobial, as well, which may be useful for sleeping outdoors.
Thickness: In terms of thickness, air mattresss fall into two general categories:
Some models may feature legs or fold-out cots for additional height. Please note that the heights of some mattresses may differ by inflation/deflation level.
Size and weight: Unlike standard mattresses, air mattresses typically come in three different sizes: Twin, Full, and Queen. An air mattress model available in all three of these sizes is somewhat rare; most come in one or two. In lieu of these standard sizes, some mattresses come in specialty sizes.
When completely deflated, most standard elevation air mattresses will weigh less than 10 pounds. Raised elevation models tend to weigh more, but rarely will they exceed 30 pounds when fully deflated. Weight is an important consideration for backpackers, since they are required to haul the air mattress on their back; for this reason, a standard elevation model is typically most preferable. Car campers are less restricted with regard to mattress weight.
Weight capacity: Standard inflatable mattresses can support at least 300 pounds, and some models may be able to support up to 600 pounds. While this is sufficient for most single sleepers, those who weigh more than 230 pounds may experience uncomfortable sagging. Additionally, regardless of the listed weight capacity, couples should avoid sleeping on the same air mattress (see ‘Cons’ below for more information).
Collapsibility: Because air mattresses are used in backpacking and camping so frequently, most models sold today are designed to be easily folded, packed, and stowed or attached to backpacks. Models will easily fit into the trunk or backseat of a standard vehicle, as well. Packing equipment, such as cords and a carrying sack, may be included with purchase or sold separately.
Some benefits associated with using air mattresses for camping include:
Drawbacks linked to air mattresses for camping include:
In addition to the pros and cons listed above, let’s look at three performance factors that tend to vary from model to model:
When choosing an air mattress that will be primarily used for camping and backpacking, here are a few factors to keep in mind:
Punctures and air leaks are to be expected when using an air mattress, but proper home storage and pre-trip preparation can greatly mitigate the risk of these issues.
Storing an air mattress: Air mattresses should never be stored in areas that are excessively hot or cold, or humid spaces that are prone to dampness and moisture buildup. Additionally, owners should ensure that there aren’t any sharp objects under, on top of, or in physical contact with the mattress. They should also keep dogs, cats, and other clawed pets away from the mattress. Even superficial knicks can cause significant air leakage.
Air mattresses should be fully deflated when stored. This will help preserve the integrity of the internal air chamber, and is also helpful for conserving space.
Carrying cases can be quite handy for home storage, and many models come with these accessories. They provide extra protection against moisture and sharp objects. If the mattress does not come with a case, they are widely available through outdoor and sporting goods retailers.
Maintaining inflation: Air mattress owners should plan to inflate the bed every time they plan to use it, although full inflation may not be necessary. More importantly, users should avoid over-inflating the mattress; this can lead to tears, leaks, and undone seams. Most self-inflating air mattresses will never over-inflate, but other air pumps are susceptible to this issue because they are owner-operated.
Many air mattress manufacturers recommend inflating and deflating the mattress at least once before using it. This will break in the air chambers, and can also help owners identify any leakage issues before they plan to sleep on it.
Fixing leaks: Many air mattresses come with vinyl leak repair or patching kits. If not, they are widely sold in outdoor and sporting goods stores, and are usually sold for $10 or less.
To repair an air mattress leak, follow this step-by-step process:
One important note: never submerge the air mattress in water in order to find the leak. This may cause irreparable damage to the air chamber, nozzle, and/or other internal and external mechanisms. However, applying liquid soap to the surface may be helpful for locating the leak, as air bubbles will form wherever a puncture occurs.
As we’ve mentioned above, backpacking campers generally prefer mattresses that are lighter, thinner, and easier to haul on trails. The table below lists five of our top-rated air mattresses that meet these criteria. Please note: all customer satisfaction ratings are generated using authentic customer and owner experiences.
|Model||Classic Air Mattress||Outback Mat||Prestige Downy Airbed||Camping Series||MondoKing 3D|
|PVC with inflatable polyfoam insulation||PVC||Eco-friendly PVC||PVC with inflatable polyfoam insulation|
|One size (32W” x 80L”)||Twin|
|Long (25W” x 77L”)|
xx-Long (30W” x 80L”)
|Price Range (est.)||$79.99 (Twin)|
|Mattress Weight (Deflated)||8.8 lbs (Twin)|
12.4 lbs (Queen)
|7.5 lbs||5.5 lbs (Twin)|
9.4 lbs (Full)
10.7 lbs (Queen)
|9 lbs (Twin)|
Weight not disclosed for Queen
|5.5 lbs (Long)|
6.8 lbs (xx-Long)
|Weight Capacity||450 lbs (Twin)|
600 lbs (Queen)
|No weight limit listed||300 lbs (Twin)|
600 lbs (Full and Queen)
|300 lbs (Twin)|
500 lbs (Queen)
|No weight limit listed|
|Pump Type||External Electric||Self-inflating||External|
|Inflation/Deflation Time||Deflates in 1 minute||Not disclosed||‘Minutes’||Inflates in 3 minutes||Not disclosed|
|Carrying Case Included?||Yes||Yes, plus repair kit||No||Yes||Yes|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||73% (473 customer reviews)||93% (52 customer reviews)||73% (1,722 customer reviews)||83% (895 customer reviews)||92% (98 customer reviews)|
Transporting an air mattress in a vehicle is much easier than hauling one in a backpack, meaning that car campers may wish to choose heavier, higher-profile mattresses. The next table lists our six top-rated picks for car-camping-friendly air mattresses. Again, all satisfaction ratings are generated from authentic owner and customer experiences.
|Model||Double High Airbed||All-Terrain Single High Airbed||SupportRest Double High||Raised with neverFLAT Pump||Inflatable Airbed for Camping||Dream Series|
|15″||18″ to 20″||19″||20″||19″|
|Price Range (est.)||$63.57 (Twin)|
|Mattress Weight (Deflated)||17 lbs (Twin)|
30 lbs (Queen)
|5.1 lbs (Twin)|
8.3 lbs (Queen)
|9.7 lbs (Twin(|
14.7 lbs (Queen)
|16.3 lbs (Twin)|
19 lbs (Full)
22.3 lbs (Queen)
|13.2 lbs (Twin)|
18.1 lbs (Queen)
|13.5 lbs (Twin)|
19 lbs (Queen)
|Weight Capacity||300 lbs (Twin)|
600 lbs (Queen)
|400 lbs (Twin)|
800 lbs (Queen)
|300 lbs (Twin)|
600 lbs (Queen)
|350 lbs (Twin)|
500 lbs (Full and Queen)
|600 lbs (Twin)|
661 lbs (Queen)
|300 lbs (Twin)|
500 lbs (Queen)
|External (pump not included)||External (pump not included)||Two Internal Electric Pumps||Internal|
|Inflation/ Deflation Time||Inflates in 3 minutes|
Deflates in 1 minute
|Not disclosed||Not disclosed||Inflates and Deflates in 4 Minutes||Inflates in 3 minutes||Inflates in 4 minutes|
|Carrying Case Included?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes, plus repair kit||Yes||Yes|
|Warranty||2-year pump warranty (Twin)|
|Customer Satisfaction Rating||77% (53 customer reviews)||87% (62 customer reviews)||80% (632 customer reviews)||78% (2,654 customer reviews)||82% (93 customer reviews)||83% (17,432 customer reviews)|
For more information about air mattress construction and care, please visit the following Tuck guide pages:
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