Do You Need An Air Mattress For Camping? | Guide And Alternatives

You’re finally pushing through with the camping trip that you planned and need to get your stuff ready.  The first thing on your list is to decide what kind of sleeping options you have for comfort, before roughing it up in the wild. 

In this post, I want to take a look at a few different options to get a good night’s sleep and help you to answer the question, do you need an air mattress for camping?

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.

Air Mattress? Yes or No?

Before we answer, it’s best to take note of  the following conditions as you decide on what to buy:

  • Location to know the terrain, flooding conditions, and wildlife presence.
  • Do you need a bed for two people while camping?
  • Weather conditions on how hot or cold the nights will be to help you decide your needs for sleeping gear.
  • The type of camping depends on whether your car is nearby or if you will hike towards a location.
  • Sleeping Space depends on how spacious or limited the area for you to stretch in.

Your friends and fellow campers vote to get an air mattress that’s sure to cushion your body from the tent ground.  So what kind of air mattress should you get? You want the best camping experience but know very little about what kind of air bed to get to avoid air leakage.  Here is a quick guide on air mattresses and the accessories required for them.

What is an Air Mattress?

An air mattress or blow-up bed is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), urethane plastic, or thermoplastic polyurethane plastic.  It is packed flat and uses an air pump or a self-inflating mechanism to put air into the body. 

Once inflated, it gives the semblance of a real bed. An air mattress can be great to sleep on, offering a lot of comfort for a good night’s sleep.  The sleeping surface has ridges that act as natural air circulation for the person laying on the bed.  When not in use, it can be folded and placed in storage.

a couple is reading a book on a camping air mattress

What are the Benefits of Having an Air Mattress for Camping?

Here are some practical reasons for using an air mattress while camping.

Portable & Light

The biggest advantage of getting an air bed is being lightweight and compact.  When not in use, it is deflated and folded up neatly.  You can put it on a shelf and store it easily. The next time you use it, it’s good as new.

Easy to Use

As you lay the air bed flat on the floor, just attach the air pump into the air valve nozzle and inflate the air mattress with a portable air compressor or pump.  You can customize the firmness of your air mattress by releasing the air valve to your desired preference. 

Feels Like a Bed

The air bed has the closest resemblance to a bed foam.  It has a bouncy softness but also tends to sink where the weight is concentrated on. Overall, it has enough support to withstand the movements of the body.

Adjusting the Bed’s Firmness

You can adjust the air bed’s firmness or hardness by adding more air or lessening it. Just be careful not to over-inflate otherwise the bed might pop once you lie down on it.

Flexible Waterproof Material

The material made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), urethane plastic, or thermoplastic polyurethane can stretch once inflated and is waterproof.

a girl who was sleeping in the air mattress now woke up

What are Some Drawbacks to Camping with an Air Mattress?

There are some drawbacks to using an air mattress but has its remedies so you’re not left unprepared.

Ripped or Punctured

The air bed can suffer a rip or puncture from a sharp object.  A harmless movement of a cat or dog because of its nails. Seam Splits can happen from over-inflation as well.  Be ready to have a repair kit on hand for field repairs, so you can stop the air deflating.

Pricey and Costs More

It costs a bit more than the other sleeping options because of its travel convenience.  But because of the tendency to get punctured, you end up buying a brand new air mattress since the temporary patch is unreliable in keeping the air secured.

Limited Insulation

The mattress is made of non-breathable material that has no insulation.  While you lay in the bed, it does not absorb your body heat, rather absorbs the temperature of the ground.  Heat loss occurs with the movement of air particles spread in a wide area preventing them to fuse. 

Possible Deflating of Bed

The common complaint is the recurrence of a deflated air bed due to a possible air leaking from a faulty air valve.  Other reasons may be the change in room temperature, a person too heavy for the bed, over-inflating, or sitting on the edge of the bed.

a big size portable air mattress of room corner

What Else Can You Sleep on When Camping?

There are many sleeping systems that you can use for camping aside from an air mattress.  Depending on your preferences or priority reasons, here are the other sleeping alternatives for camping.

Sleeping Bag

The sleeping bags have different fabric layering depending on the weather and your preferred space.  Sleeping bags are zipped up if it’s cold and unzipped up if it gets warm. The average sleeper will consider their metabolic rate, their sleeping clothes, and how they react to humidity and wind.  This is the lightest and easiest sleeping option to use for camping.

Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pads have good cushioning on the bumpy and hard-surfaced ground.  It’s made from thick flex foam that can be folded to save on storage space.  The thickness of the foam makes it effective in insulating the body with an R-value warmth from underneath. You will have to layer up with blankets to keep your body warm either way.

Camping Cot

Camping cots are usually made with a single layer of polyester, nylon, or canvass fabric on steel frames or aluminum frames.  Some will opt to use a memory foam top layer, a foam pad, or a sleeping bag.  It mimics a bed that takes up plenty of space but has no chance of getting punctured.  Larger camping cots for couples may be heavy and bulky, and not suitable to lug around if you will hike to the sleeping area. However, you can also get lightweight sleeping cots designed for backpacking.


The most lightweight and ideal for the hikers, the hammock is for the adventurous ones who chose to sleep suspended on trees away from the ground.  It takes a bit of practice to get used to sleeping in a hammock because of the soft material curves with the body weight.  This may cause tight back pain when you wake up.  It’s not an ideal sleeping option for colder climates or rainy weather.

The Ground

Not exactly the best way to get a comfortable sleep when you lie on a lumpy and uneven surface.   Sleeping on the ground can only be done during the summer months when you can use a mat or blanket as lay on the ground.  This is not advisable for winter months when you need all the insulation and cushion as a barrier to avoid freezing.

a lady sleep in a sleeping bag on the side of the hill

What are the Ways I Can Inflate my Air Mattress?

There are several options of air compressors to choose from to inflate the bed while camping.

Using Your Car’s Power

The car-powered air pump is plugged into the cigarette lighter socket of the car.  The car power socket is electrically heated and works as a DC connector, providing power to the air pump that can inflate an air bed.

Battery-Powered Pump

The basic battery-powered pump requires 6 C batteries to operate and inflate a bed.  You can use rechargeable batteries or opt for solar-powered batteries to make them economical and eco-friendly.  

Built-in Pump

The built-in pump inside the mattress works with a click of a button or a turn of a knob.  The price range is more than the regular air bed, but it saves you the hassle of a separate pump with the needed power supply. 

High Airflow Foot Pumps

The foot pump with high airflow relies on the repeated foot pumping notion to transfer air from the accordion tube into the air valve of the bed.  A bit bulky, it collapses into the size of a novel book when folded up.

a man using a foot pump to inflate his air mattress

What is the Best Size Air Mattress for Camping?

Just like any bed, the air mattresses are available in king, queen, twin, and regular measurements.  The height can be as high as 25 inches, while the regular air bed is 18 inches, which is the same height as a box spring on the floor.  The twin measures 77 x 50 inches,  the queen measures 80 x 60 inches,  The king measures 84 x 72 inches.

Consider that the bigger the air beds will need a bigger tent space to accommodate the size.  Remember, you require space to move around or park the rest of your things inside the tent.

As to the best size to buy, that will depend on different sleeping positions.  A side sleeper uses very little space and would be comfortable in a single bed. If you are one of the many stomach sleepers or a log sleeper, then you’ll need a twin. You can choose a queen or king if you 2-3 person will sleep on the same bed.

Finally, consider the size of the person sleeping on it. Some air mattresses for heavier people will be reinforced and can hold up to 600lb.

an air mattress outside of camp

Final Thoughts

Camping is a fun outdoor activity close to nature.  The tent offers protection from the elements outside, while an air bed provides a comfortable sleeping experience that spares you from the aches and pains of the tent grounds.   

Choosing a good quality mattress, with maximum height, helps cushion the lumps and sharp edges of the ground.  It may not have the best insulation properties,  but that can be remedied by placing a cell-foam mat to prevent the bed from absorbing the cold from the ground.   An extra barrier to trap the heat like a fitted bed cover, heat shield, or bubble wrap reflector will help as you lay on the air bed.

The best part is you can still have the same sleeping position that you’re used to and that ensures a good night’s sleep.

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