A comfortable night’s sleeping can make or break a camping trip. Low quality sleep can cause aches and pains, lasting fatigue, and a negative attitude among other things—all side effects of poor sleep that can significantly affect the ability to have a good time during a weekend getaway. Quality sleep, on the other hand, can leave a person feeling energized, recharged, positive, and optimistic about future adventures—attributes of a person that is a delight to be around.
The ability to sleep comfortably can be hindered by a variety of things: adequate temperature, a dry shelter, and satisfactory padding or support while sleeping. Tents and sleeping bags can be purchased in order to keep campers dry and warm, but how do you sleep comfortably and well supported on the hard ground?
The answer, of course, is by purchasing a sleeping pad or air mattress which will cushion the ground and further insulate campers. Pads or mattresses can do this by reducing heat loss through conduction (body heat that flows into the ground). There are two significant styles of sleeping mattresses used for camping: one style—the sleeping pad—is narrow and compact, lighter weight and is typically used for backpacking; the other is a heavier, wider air mattress most commonly used for car camping or guest beds.
This buying guide will be focused on air mattresses.
Camping Air Mattress Height
The most commonly used camping air mattresses come in two heights: low and raised. The height of your tent plays a huge role in determining which air mattress will have the best fit. Lower height air mattresses may fit into a tent more easily and allow more head room when sitting up at night. Raised air mattresses may be more comfortable, as they feel more like an actual bed, are easier to get up from, and typically have more support than a lower air mattress. They are also less likely to deflate completely if there is a leak.
There are also cot style air mattresses that are higher than raised air mattresses but can provide extra features, such as side tables that can be used to store drinks and electronics, and durable frames that can support more weight if necessary. These can be beneficial for larger campers or for those who have difficulty getting in and out of bed, but finding a tent tall enough to house them comfortably can be challenging.back to menu ↑
Camping Air Mattress Weight
Although car camping typically means campers do not have to worry about carrying gear for any great length, the weight of an air mattress can relate to how durable it is. Heavier duty air mattresses are made with thicker materials which reduce the possibility of pops or leaks. They are also designed to hold more weight without risking a hole.
However, heavier air mattresses typically also mean they will take up more space in a trunk or on top of a car, which can make packing for a camping trip difficult. Weight may not be a make-or-break factor when purchasing an air mattress, but may still be something to consider.
Camping air mattresses come in sizes that correspond to original mattress sizes (give or take an inch). The dimensions of each size are:
• Twin/Single: 39 x 75 in
• Full/Double: 54 x74 in
• Queen: 60 x 80 in
When determining which size of air mattress to buy, it is crucial to first figure out how much space is available in the tent. Purchasing an air mattress that sticks out of the tent door means there will be no true barrier against bugs, rain, or rodents. There is no worse way to wake up than to wet feet, bug bites, or a mouse that’s found its next meal in your granola bars.back to menu ↑
Camping Air Mattress Pump Style
How you will inflate your air mattress is one of the most important factors in picking out a sleep system. When getting to camp, are you more interested in food, campfire, and S’Mores to worry about the time it takes to set up the air mattress/sleeping bag for an easier time later on? Or would you rather take the time to put in the absolute perfect amount of air—for a firm-but-not-rock-hard camp mattress?
Either desire has options, thanks to improved inflation
technology for camping air mattresses. The easiest and most hassle-free system is probably the self-inflating air mattress, which saves time and energy so that you can be making food or spending time with your family. The obvious downside is that these mattresses are more costly, and any pump issues that come up will mean sending the mattress back to the manufacturer for repair, or otherwise replacing the mattress completely. Another con is that the mattress will be unusable if the pump is not charged beforehand or if there is no access to electricity, as there are no ports for external pumps.
External pumps can be handy because of the ability to quickly replace a damaged pump in a pinch. Most stores that sell outdoor equipment will also carry spare air mattress pumps that have adapters to fit almost any mattress valve.
For this reason, manual pumps are probably the most reliable method for inflating an air mattress, as they are almost impossible to break and they do not rely on electrical means to work. There are foot pumps that inflate the mattress by stepping on a pedal, or standing pumps that are designed similar to a bike pump. Bike pumps themselves may not fit an air mattress valve, but there are adapters that can be purchased to accommodate to a bike pump for inflation. This is a preferred method, especially for those who would already have a bike pump for cycling, as it requires the least amount of tools, is relatively inexpensive, and has the lowest likelihood for failure during your camping trip.back to menu ↑
Camping Air Mattress Durability/Materials
As stated above, typically heavier mattresses mean more durable materials. Air mattresses are most often made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC is waterproof, fire-retardant, and relatively cheap to make. However, it is often treated with a chemical called phthalate, which is used to make the mattress more flexible and soft. These phthalates can be absorbed by campers and may be toxic to health.
However, there are more recent designs of air mattresses which are formed from reinforced urethane plastic or rubber, or thermoplastic urethane (TPU) which are not treated by phthalates. These reinforced mattresses are more resistant to punctures or holes, and are more durable and generally considered safer than PVC mattresses. They are, however, more expensive than their more popular counterpart.
Aside from choosing a mattress made from more durable materials, finding a system with fewer moving or integrated parts will also reduce stress. Internal pumps may be speedy and efficient, but can break and are difficult to replace compared to an external or manual pump.back to menu ↑
Camping Air Mattress Insulation
For those looking for an air mattress with the sole purpose of using it for camping, an insulated air mattress might be the best option in case of adverse weather. For backpackers, there are many options for insulated sleeping pads filled with down, foam, or small cells which trap air and use the body’s heat to insulate and stay warm. However, these are generally thin and do not provide much support.
Generally, air mattresses used while car camping come with minimal options for insulation. Because there is so much space inside an air mattress (especially in raised air mattresses), air can circulate and prevent the body from being warmed as in the examples above. Having a barrier between the air mattress and sleeping bag, such as thin foam or another insulated sleeping pad, will keep campers from losing heat to the air mattress itself. There are also some options that were designed specifically with small cells on the air mattress, which trap air between the mattress and the body and effectively insulate the camper.back to menu ↑
Camping Air Mattress Overview
Overall, finding an air mattress that is going to be a good fit is up to the individual user and the resources available. If you have a short, small tent, a raised queen size mattress is probably not going to be the best choice. If camping trips consistently mean no access to electricity or hiking far into the woods, a lightweight mattress (or an even lighter weight sleeping pad) with a manual pump will be an appropriate option.
Finding a more durable air mattress that is free from toxic materials might be the highest priority when searching for a sleep system, but can cost more than the average mattress. Similarly, built in pumps can be more expensive but can save time and effort that can be spent on more enjoyable tasks when camping.
As with anything, there are a number of reviews online that can be sorted through, and many specialty stores have employees specifically trained in answering questions that relate to camping needs. There are also additional opportunities to supplement an air mattress, such as using an additional pad to provide further insulation or support to campers. As with most camping products, setting up the mattress before it will be used is the best way to test the system to make sure pumps work correctly, the mattress is comfortable, and it will fit in the tent.