Air Mattress vs Foam Mattress Camping | Which To Choose

Proper equipment and tools are a must for every camper. This includes the things you need during the climb and utilities should you choose to sleep onsite. Refreshing oneself is always the end goal. Thus, an overnight camping experience will always be lacking without a good night’s sleep.

To have the best sleep possible, you will need to buy a mattress to lay your body comfortably. However, there are a lot of types out there and one might get confused as to what’s best for them. In this article, we will look at Air mattress vs foam mattress camping tools so that you will know what to buy in the future.

Note – Please know, some of the external links on this page are affiliate links, this means that if you purchase after following one, I make a small commission from the sale at no additional cost to yourself.

What is Air Mattress and Foam Mattress

Air Mattress

Air mattresses are comfy and smart beds that can be inflated and deflated depending on your preferences. The basics are as follows: lay down the bed, fill it with some air, and sleep on it. However, there is a much more advanced science behind it and its materials. 

Most air mattresses are made using polyvinyl-chloride or PVC. It is an elastic material that can hold air without bursting. To get air inside the mattress, you can either use an electric compressor, electric pump, or manual pump. Such camping gear will eliminate the hassles of inflating the system.

When it comes to sizes, air mattresses offer similar ones as regular beds. You can have king and queen sizes, as well as twin beds for the material.

If you are asking why these are very suitable for camping, I have the answer. Air mattresses can be inflated and deflated, rendering them to be highly portable and lightweight to carry. Instead of foam, the bulk of the volume is reserved for air, and this makes things a lot easier for travelers. Thus, it is not a wonder why many mountaineers or campers are fond of it.

A couple is lying on the air mattress

Foam Mattress

A foam mattress can be seen as one of the traditional types of bed. It is a full foam bed that can have a mix of memory, polyurethane, or other types of foam. It removes the hassle of inflating and deflating since the material is built already for immediate use.

Foam mattresses come in three types: latex, polyurethane, and Tempurpedic or memory. Latex maintains steady support for the body and does not cave in on long periods of sleep. On the other hand, polyurethane or poly-foam are those that are of low quality that mainly serves as top layers. 

Lastly, Memory foam takes hold of weight or shape pressed down towards it, giving comfort and warmth,

A woman is holding a corner of a foam mattress with her hand

Benefits of Each Type of Mattress for Camping 

Air Mattress


Portability is the selling point of an air mattress especially for mountain or trek camping. As a camper or hiker, you always want to travel light so that energy will be conserved. Since air mattresses do not take up too much weight, it is a great choice especially for trails that need long walks to arrive at. Furthermore, these materials are space-savers. You can just jam them inside any part of your bag, then take them out whenever necessary. One thing to keep in mind is that you’d want some extra space for your pump.


For a hiker, the price of equipment by quality should always be satisfactory. Air mattresses are made up of PVC which is a non-expensive material, and most of the inside of the bed is hollow. This makes it cheaper compared to foam. When it comes to quality, however, it is easier to find better-quality foams since they do not need much labor or work to ensure proper operations. 


Why are air mattresses flexible? The answer is simple. There are two ways to adjust the hardness or softness of this type of mattress. Either you add air or remove air from it. By adding air, you make the whole bed firmer, which is ideal for those who like a stiffer sleeping position. On the other hand, removing some allows you to have a softer bed that is built better for comfort. Overall, it results in a more customized sleeping bag activity.


Back then, I used to think that foam sleeping pads are better at conducting heat compared to air mattresses. After all, foams look warm and bulky and one would quickly concur that they’d stay warm longer. However, my experience with beds has made me realize that air mattresses are better at thermal conductivity. It has a greater R-value (Measurement of heat flow or insulation) compared to traditional foams. This means that in some high-quality air mattresses, it is possible to sleep for winter camping over a pile of cold weather snow. 


Air mattresses are known to be thicker in size. This makes them much more comfortable for people who sleep on the side of their body. Also, since it has adjustability functions, one can deal with back pains better as the one-dimensionality of foam mattresses is removed. This entails better comfort especially for those that are older.

The couple sit on an air mattress in camping

Foam Mattress


Compared to an air mattress that has strong points when it comes to portability, a foam mattress shines in durability. It does not need to deal with punctures and holes that may render it useless. As a singular unit, there will be no need to worry about not using it just because of a stray accident. Furthermore, with a foam mattress, the need to remove hazards such as thorns and prickly in the site results in a better journey and experience.

Get in and Out

A disadvantage that inflatable sleeping pad tools, beds or air mattresses have is that they are not used and keep objects. It takes time to put some air into the material, and this adds some time to preparing and dismantling the campsite. On the other hand, when making use of a foam mattress, all you need is to lay it down, sleep, and fold it back up once you’re done. This saves a lot of time on the whole process.


Another great thing I love about foam mattresses is that they have multiple uses. For example, if I want something comfy to sit on, I can just choose to use it as a couch and then sit on it as long as I see a stump of trees. Furthermore, other campers even make it as back support to relieve pain during a long hike. If you are feeling a bit extra, it is also possible to make it part of your backpack as padding to eliminate some strain. 


Every one of us has slept on a foam mattress. Thus, it is clear that these utilities bring great comfort to the sleeping experience. Just place the foam, lay down, and stay comfy as you drift towards a good night’s sleep. It is particularly good for people who sleep on their back as the material (such as memory foam) fits your frame perfectly. 


Apart from durability, comfort, and usability, a foam mattress also operates more quietly compared to an air mattress. As a solid unit with no inflating or deflating needed, foam mattresses do not generate much noise once you step into the bed. On the other hand, air mattresses produce some puffy or squeaky sound as the air below you adjusts according to your weight. 

The couple sits on a foam mattress, drinking and enjoying the natural beauty

Which One is Better and Why 

Now that we are aware of the strengths of each camping bed, we need to take a look at the situations where they are best used. In this portion, we will mainly tackle car camping and tent camping.

Car Camping

Car camping is usually a family activity where you bring people around and find a camping spot using a car. This means that you will have an extra space that will come from your pick-up truck, van, or RV. When car camping, a foam mattress provides a better choice since you will not need to worry about portability. 

One can even place fitted foam mattresses in the back of the pick-up truck to make room for stargazing at night. You can expect to stay comfortable while you watch the starry environment and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Tent Camping

Tent camping is an activity where a group of people goes to a campsite and set up tents to stay for the night. Thus, bringing the best type of bed will be beneficial as it will determine optimal levels of relaxation. For a tent camping journey, the type of bed you should bring will depend on the size of your tent. If you are using a large tent, then a foam mattress is highly appreciated since it will provide great comfort for you and your companions. However, for tents that are single or made for two people, an air mattress should suffice.

A complete setup of in-car air mattresses for car camping

Tips on How to Make an Air Bed More Comfortable

There are many ways to make an air bed comfortable. I will teach you some of them.

Adding Sheets and Covers

In any camping trip, comfort should be a top priority. One way to do this is to add sheets and covers to adjust temperatures to the right levels. This is because the heat inside an air mattress rises or falls quickly which may bring discomfort to a user. Thus, a sheet or covering will give out an added layer of regulation as well as bring more cushion to the sleeping experience.

Adjusting Air

As said earlier, air mattresses have the added function of converting into a soft or firm bed depending on the volume of air inside of it. Never hesitate to adjust it numerous times to get the perfect blend of softness or toughness. If it is too firm, then you might have back pain in the morning. However, if it is too soft, then the bed might sag and fail to support you.


A camping pillow is a must-have if you are going to use a camping bed. Others even make use of clothing or their backpack as pillows, but this should not be the case. You don’t want to be stuck with a comfy bed but a painful neck just because you did not bring any support. 

When searching for pillows, it is important to take into account the size and compressibility of the pillow. Size refers to the volume that it takes up in your cargo. On the other hand, compressibility refers to how small can it shrink during packing. Take note that there are many choices out there such as self-inflating pads or pillows and even micro-fiber or memory foam ones.


There are many types of camping blankets out there. However, you must stick to its original purpose which is to regulate body heat and temperatures in case of harsh weather conditions. You can either make use of a puffy blanket that can shrink into mini sizes for better space-saving. 

Furthermore, wool blankets are available as military-grade equipment that is ensured durability. Lastly, sleeping bags can also serve as a last resort for quick trips. For added comfort, you can even overlay the blanket on your mattress to have it act as a sheet or cover.


Ever since the dawn of camping adventures, there has always been a debate between air bed and basic foam sleeping pad or mattress. However, in this article, we saw that air pads perform well in terms of portability, price, warmth, and size. On the other hand, foam mattresses are better when it comes to durability, usability, and quietness. Thus, there are multiple use cases for each of the camping mattress them depending on the type of camping you will do. 

For car camping, a foam mattress’ size and comfort will be beneficial since you have a vehicle that can carry the load. On the other hand, tent camping is a case-to-case basis, depending on the total size of the housing system. Lastly, in hikes or mountain camping, an inflatable bed is better due to the portability as well as the overall lightness of the material.

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