Air Mattress vs Sleeping Pad For A Camping Trip

A good camper always has proper tools and equipment. After all, you will be battling nature for a spot of relaxation and replenishment. There is a lot to consider, and this includes proper clothing, tent, baggage, and even sleeping goods. It is always crucial to be rested after a tiring day of hiking or driving.

To gain the best sleeping quality, any camper must have a bed or pad where they can lie down and rest. But, there are countless kinds and types out there, and this makes it hard to decide.

Luckily, I have tried many mattresses during my journey as a camper. In this article, I will give my opinion regarding which is better when comparing an air mattress vs sleeping pad for a camping trip. By the end, you’ll have an idea of what to choose for your next trip.

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 Are Air Mattresses?

Air mattresses refer to a set of cozy and portable beds that can intake air at will. These are usually plastic materials that can store air volume to provide elevation and comfort during sleep. The basic mechanic of air mattresses involves taking the bed out of the bag, filling it up with air, and deflating it after use.

PVC is the main component of mattresses. However, some also employ TPU or polyutherane. When it comes to durability, TPU is more enduring, but PVC provides more elasticity and softness. To get started with an air mattress, you’d need any sort of air pump. These can come in the form of electric, manual, or battery-powered.

Sizing is also present in air mattresses similar to foam beds. You have choices in terms of twin, queen, or king, and even the height of the bedding. Usually, it ranges from 9 to up to 20 inches, depending on the brand and type. Some even employ steel frames to support the main bed and give it higher elevation. 

Air mattresses are good for camping due to one reason: portability. They are very lightweight can be packed easily in their bags. It strays away from the basic foam sleeping pad or beds which need adequate space to bring to a camping trip. Thus, it is preferred by many, especially family hikers.

A couple is lying on the air mattress

What Are Sleeping Pads?

One can think of sleeping pads as the thinner and more compact version of air beds. Thus, they take portability to a whole new level. There are many types of sleeping pads, and this includes foam with fillable cores (think of it as an airbed sandwiched between foams), self-inflating ones (those that only need one push to expand, and closed-cell foams (ready to use pads).

When it comes to sizing, it strays away from the usual king, queen, or twin categories. Instead, you’ll have dimension-based length and width which will vary from brand to brand. Commonly, it ranges from 20 to 25 inches which is more than enough to keep you comfy while staying packable.

If you think that insulation is bad in sleeping pads due to their thickness, then you are wrong. There are sleeping pads that are good to go despite the snowfall. Also, some self-inflating pads offer extra protection in terms of heat reflection which avoids dissipation of warmth to the ground. 

A downside of sleeping pads is that they can’t be used if you have a companion or partner. The size is simply too small for two people to fit in. thus, you will need separate pads to get through the night. However, it must be known that sleeping pads are a hiker’s choice, especially when traveling light.

A man buying a sleeping pad in market

What Is More Comfortable, Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress?

Ease of use

In terms of ease of use, it is clear that the smaller inflatable sleeping pad wins the bout vs air mattress. This is because it takes less time to inflate, dismantle, and keep. Not only that, but sleeping pads weigh as little as 2 lbs, rendering them great for walking trips. However, this does not mean that air beds are hard to use. It’s just that size matters in this category.


When it comes to design, air beds focus on comfort and weight distribution. On the other hand, sleeping pads are built for portability and space-saving. I see it this way: air beds are more useful in car camping as you have extra space and lesser need to carry them around. On the other hand, sleeping pads are tailored more towards hike and trail adventures.

Comfort and warmth

Comfort and warmth are dominated by air mattresses. After all, these materials are thicker and have a greater R-value. This makes them great for keeping you warm despite harsh weather conditions outside. Not only that, but air beds also give you a choice of a more personalized softness or stiffness. By slowly inflating or deflating the bed, you’ll get a good night’s sleep system based on your preference.


From the displayed facts stated above, it is clear that sleeping inflatable pads have the advantage in portability. After all, they are designed to be easy to bring wherever you go. In reality, air beds are also more portable. However, when comparing a 3 lbs air pad to a 25 lbs, the winner is obvious.


The value of any bed is dependent on the brand and model you choose. There are good and bad sleeping pads as well as air beds in the market, and you should be keen on this part. Furthermore, you need to assess the type of camping that you want to do. 

Car camps, hikes, and tent camps each have a sleeping companion that’s suitable for them. Also, there is a need to determine what type of weather exists at the campsite. If extreme conditions are present, then you should go for a bed with a higher R-value.

Camping comfortability using air mattress or sleeping pad

Which is Better, Air Mattress or Memory Foam?

Memory foam makes use of a special polyutherane material that follows the user’s shape once they apply pressure. This makes weight easily distributed to different parts of the bed and lessens strain during sleep. On the other hand, an air bed uses coils and air storage to make the overall experience soft on the back. 

When it comes to comfort, they are not far from each other as they both retain your shape as well as reduce pain. However, it should be noted that Air Mattresses degrade at a slower rate, but are also prone to producing more noise.

Which is Better, Inflating Sleeping Pad or Foam Pad?

This is a topic long argued by different bed enthusiasts around the world. Some people claim that self-inflating sleeping pads are better than foam pads because of portability. On the other hand, foam pads are debated to be more advantageous due to their softer composition. For me, it’s a matter of context and where you will use the product.

For car camps and tent camping, I highly recommend the use of foam sleeping pads. This is because you can just store it in your car, lifting off the burden of needing to carry it around. Also, it can be repurposed to be used as a couch, spine support, or mat in case you need one immediately.

On the other hand, I recommend inflating sleeping pads for hikers and trail runners. You do not want to carry a lot of deadweight during the hike as it will only expend your energy. Thus, what you need is a portable and space-saving bed that can be used and kept any time you want.

What are the Benefits of a Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress?

Adjustable. The crowning glory of sleeping pads and air mattresses lie in their adjustability. If you were to purchase one that has inflating capabilities, then you’d easily notice that you can tweak the bed to be softer or tougher. This is great especially for those who have sensitive backs. Also, this makes it very versatile for both back-sleepers and side sleepers.

Folding Capabilities. This refers to the capacity of a self inflating sleeping pad or typical air mattress to be folded to a fraction of its size. Pads and air mattresses are designed to be brought wherever you go. Thus, it is clear why hikers and campers love to use them.

Thermoregulation. Contrary to popular belief, air mattresses are better at keeping normal temperatures compared to foam mattresses. Air is a good recipient of heat, and this enables the utility to protect you even on cold ground at night. Also, certain pads have heat reflection technology which prevents the bed from dissipating heat to the surroundings.

A beautiful lady sitting on a campaign sleeping pad


Now that you have a clear idea of the strengths of each camping tool, you can decide on what to get. I believe that car camping trips will benefit more from air beds. On the other hand, hiking trips will gain much value from sleeping pads. This is because of the comfort and portability of these products.

Regardless of what you choose, always remember to examine the destination or the spot where you will sleep as it can help in preparing your bed. Enjoy your quality sleep with your new bed!

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