Camping with an Air Mattress

I’m sure you would agree that camping with an air mattress is one of the better alternatives to sleeping on the ground and having a comfortable sleep at night outdoors.

A good shelter is great but somewhat incomplete without a comfortable sleeping surface to lay your tired body at night.

Getting an air mattress that can prevent you from feeling roots and rocks in your back should be high on your priority list.

Air mattresses are very popular among campers. They are one of the easiest ways to make camping on the ground comfortable and feel like you didn’t leave your bed at home.

That said, there are three important factors that we look for when choosing the right camping air mattress and these are comfort, weight, and insulation.

Camping with an air mattress will make a huge difference to your overall experience. There are lots of different air mattresses available in the market today, styles and designs differ greatly.

Before jumping into the pool of air mattresses in the market, here are some of the things we’ve learned that may help you decide which to choose.

If you want to be guided on the nitty-gritty of camping with an air mattress then read on this full article.

looking out from inside a tent

What is an Air Mattress?

An air mattress is an inflatable soft surface usually nylon or another soft rubber compound. It may be composed of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), or textile-reinforced urethane plastic material which is then inflated with air forming a sleeping surface that will keep you off the ground.

Inflation can be done in several ways, one is by blowing air into them using your mouth, by using a lightweight hand or foot pump is easier and then small battery-operated units that will do the job without much effort at all.

With the advancement of technology, self-inflating pads are popular and are some of the very best mattresses. Some of these mattresses can provide an incredibly comfortable bed

In its deflated form, an air mattress can be rolled or folded compactly making them the ideal choice for hiking and are so lightweight you will hardly notice them in your backpack.


R-value is a term that you might have already heard when searching for a camping air mattress. This is a rating or a number that gauges how well the pad resists heat transfer from your body into the ground.

In simple terms, we can say that the higher R-value the more the insulation the air mattress provides. You must understand these ratings so that when you’re planning to go on a winter camp you would know that getting a higher R-Value is your best option.

In a more in-depth example, an R-value under one or less than five is best for the summer season while an R-value rating higher than five is ideal for winter camping.

person sitting in front of a tent

Types of Air Camping Mattress

Air Mattress or Air Pads

Air camping mattress or commonly known as air pads are thick and comfortable while still being lightweight. We see most of them packable to about the size of a water bottle making them easily fit in a backpack.

These air mattresses vary in prices due to the materials they are made from and the technologies used to enhance them. Air mattresses come in a wide range of insulation options, meaning they have different R-values.

Although these air pads provide insulation by having extra layers in between the exterior such as an insulation layer or some sort of a reflective layer you will often find them designed for three-season camping.

An air mattress may either require you to blow air by mouth or by using a pump. You may also find some air pads that have a ready built-in hand pump in their stuff sacks.

It is said that using a pump is better than blowing by mouth because blown air by mouth can begin to produce moisture trapped inside which can affect the performance of the mattress. So, for those air pads without a pump, you always have the option to buy a separate pump.

While others may think that the more air you put inside the air mattress the better, well, that just isn’t always the case. Too much firmness may create sore back muscles leading to backaches in the morning.

You can always play around the amount of air inside the mattress by allowing some air out of the pad. Generally, the most comfortable thickness can be known by allowing your hips to dip without touching the floor.

If you’re a side sleeper, your best choice would be to go with a thicker air mattress to make sure you have a good night’s sleep. You can find an air mattress that can inflate to about three inches or more and packs down compact enough to carry it in your backpack.

Air mattress is a great option for campers looking to shred off some weight while maximizing comfort and packability on the trail. By now, you must be aware that having a thicker, lightweight, and compact air mattress also comes in an automatic increase in price.

Self-Inflating Camping Mattress

This type of air mattress is basically the best option for campers who are looking for something with really strong fabrics and more durability. Most often self-inflating mattresses use a durable one-way valve for inflation and deflation.

To make the inflation faster, self-inflating mattresses are commonly made up of a combination of air and open-cell foam to provide structure as well as insulation. Like air mattresses, they vary in size, thickness, and price.

You can leave them inside the tent for 10 to 15 minutes and when you return you can see that 75% to 80% of the mattress is filled with air. That said, you may still have to blow or pump in more air to meet your desired level of comfort.

Most campers experience leaving the mattress for about 3o to 40 minutes will give you just the right comfort level and with only a few pumps to top it off. Some self-inflating mattress comes with an easy to use air pump which you can use by hand or foot.

Self-inflating mattresses are thicker, heavier, bulkier, and most often more expensive than air pads. Since they are thicker, they offer more insulation and cushioning compared to air pads, making them a good choice for a certain type of sleeper.

Because of that, you will often find them with higher R-values and can be used for the colder season. But with weight on the line, self-inflating mattresses are ideal for people who usually camp closer to home or do car camping with young kids.

At the end of the day, self-inflating camping mattress is still a great choice for campers who are looking for extra comfort and don’t mind the slight add in bulk and weight.

campfire overlooking a valley below

Things to Consider When Camping with an Air Mattress

Lighter vs. Heavier


If you’re the minimalist type of camper and your main goal is long-distance hiking, trekking or rock climbing, then you should stick with a lighter weight air mattress. In that case, you can go thru-hike without feeling too tired and you still have some preserved energy once you settle down for camp.

A lighter weight will enhance compact and portability, but this does not mean that the mattress you should choose is flimsy or prone to damage. There are lots of high-quality air mattress that you will find to be durable yet very light in weight.


If comfort is your main concern then getting a thicker air mattress is something you should take into consideration. The only thing is, comfier air mattresses are most likely heavier and bulkier but they are more durable and insulated.

Although most of them are bulky in size, you may still find some that are still compact when stored especially the ones that come with customized stuff sack.

Manual Pump vs. Electric Pump

Manual Pump

Nowadays, you seldom find yourself buying manual pumps for an air mattress because most of them come with a customized hand or foot pump. If weight is still your concern then choosing a manual pump is lighter than an electric pump.

Electric Pump

This is not your choice if you have a mile hike to your campsite because bringing an electric pump may just drag you down. Take note that the electric pump may either come with a DC or AC plugins, this two are different from each other.

A DC electric pump is adapted for a 12-volt car outlet while an AC electric pump is for a generator or a wall outlet.

Size – Length and Width

These factors are very obvious considerations when it comes to choosing an air mattress because for sure, you will want your body to comfortably fit in your chosen pad. To make things easier, try to pitch your tent at home and visualize your air mattress by laying down inside.

Spread out as comfortably as you wish, stretch out your legs and arms to know if there will be enough space for a longer and wider pad. You may also grab a masking tape and ask a friend to mark your widest points and measure them afterward.

By getting the measurement you will immediately know what length and width of the air mattress are perfect for you. Take note, the size of the tent matters too, so if you got a small tent never go for a queen or double size air mattress.


The internet is a great source for reviews if you want to be familiar with the brand of air mattress you’re eyeing for. But let me tell you, there are numerous brands out there so we suggest you list your own preferences to narrow down the choices.

It’s also best if you read the user’s review, meaning the ordinary people who have used the same product. Most of the time you’ll get the truer picture of the air mattress’ performance and durability reading these kinds of reviews.

You may also look at reviews with comparison charts, so you can easily compare the pros and cons of each air mattress.


Of course, the budget is important. With the huge number of air mattresses today you will never fail to find the one that will cater to your budget.

May it be low, moderate, or high there is something in the market that will suit your budget. What you need to understand is sometimes the low cost may also mean less durability and lack of important features.

What we are saying is you have to be wise and stick to what you think is the most advantageous to you. To make you understand more about camping with an air mattress here are some of the situations where you will be using an air mattress.

orange tent on top of a mountain range

Intended Use of Air Mattress

The final part of this article is to show you some type of camping that you will be using air mattresses. Depending on that type of camping it will be easier for you to decide the important features that you will be looking for in an air mattress.

Car camping

This is the most convenient because you don’t have to carry your stuff on your back. Traveling by car will make you unrestricted by weight or size because you have a lot more options available.

When car camping, you can create the comfort of your own bed at home by getting a thicker air mattress. This will truly give you the luxurious sleep after a long day.


In this kind of camping lightweight and compact size is important. You will find these backpackers carrying their own tents and sleeping pads inside or strapped around their backpacks.

You have a lot to consider when hiking thru longer distances. Another thing to consider is the time of the year so you will know the best R-value of air mattress you should bring during the hike.

Winter Camping

Higher R-value and nicely insulated air mattresses are your best option for this camping trip. You may also consider bringing along an extra-cell foam pad to put beneath your air mattress for added insulation. This may double as protection underneath your pad from punctures or damages.


No doubt, camping with an air mattress will truly make your sleep at camp comfortable at night. Choosing the right air mattress is as important as choosing the right tent or backpacks or camping boots.

Camping is a fun way to release stress and be closer to nature. If you want to achieve a relaxing and convenient experience outdoor you have to be knowledgeable of the things that will make your life easier in the wild.

We hope you find this article informative and helpful in finding the right camping air mattress for you.

If you have any more questions about camping with an air mattress, I’d love to hear them and I’ll be more than happy to answer them in the comments section below.     

You may also like to read my in-depth review of the very good Sleepingo camping sleeping pad.

Remember! Leave it cleaner than you found it, only footprints not rubbish.


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