I wonder what brought you to this article.
Is it because you’re tired of feeling roots and rocks under your tent? Or are you not sure what to choose—your airbed or your sleeping mat?
Whatever the reason, by the end of this article you’ll be able to decide if an air mattress is worth bringing on your camping trip or not.
For a brief answer to the question “Is an air mattress good for camping?”, see the next paragraph:
Air mattresses have many advantages that make them favored among many campers who appreciate comfort or struggle with back pain and getting out of bed. But the truth is that air mattresses also have many downsides that outweigh the benefits for some people. Especially for young people like me who don’t have trouble with back pain or getting out of bed.
Now, let’s take a more detailed look starting with the benefits of sleeping on an air mattress.
Table of Contents
The Pros of Sleeping on an Air Mattress When Camping
While sleeping mats are a popular choice in the camping community, air mattresses have their own fan base as well.
So what’s going on that you don’t know about?
1. Air mattresses are more comfortable
Perhaps not as important if you’re still in the early stages of life, but people are willing to go miles for extra comfort as they age.
So why is an air mattress more comfortable than a regular sleeping pad?
You don’t feel the ground when sleeping on an air mattress
Depending on your campsite, the ground can be rough or grassy. Especially in the wilderness it’s not uncommon to feel a few rocks, bumps or roots under your tent’s floor. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.
Well, with an air mattress you’re literally sleeping on air, so there’s no need to worry about an uneven surface.
The only things you need to worry about are sharp sticks and stones. So before you pitch your tent, clear the ground of sharp objects that could puncture your air mattress.
Air mattresses make it easier to get out of bed
As useless as this benefit is for young people, you may have reached the age where getting out of bed is not as easy as it once was.
If that’s true, then this is a game-changer.
You’ve seen an air mattress before, right? Then you know how thick they can be. Some are only 10 inches high, but others can reach 20+ inches.
Getting that little lift in the morning can make it much easier to put on fresh socks and get out of bed.
Speaking of age-related problems, there’s one more way air mattresses can make your life much easier…
Air mattresses may reduce your back pain
A good air mattress will reduce your back pain.
But how do we define “good”?
I did a little Google search and found out that the firmness of your mattress plays a huge role in solving back pain issues. The right firmness aligns your spine correctly, which in turn relieves pressure points.
The good thing about air mattresses is that you can deflate and inflate until you find the firmness that aligns your spine properly. This is the main reason why people, especially older people, choose to go camping with an air mattress.
But wait, there’s a catch.
The problem with cheap air mattresses like the Intex ones, is that the sides get stretched outwards due to your body weight.
Not to mention, cheaper air mattresses lose more air overnight.
Both these issues result in one huge problem: your spine gets misaligned as you sink into the mattress, resulting in back pain.
Does this mean you have to ditch your Intex air mattress and buy a more expensive one?
Not necessarily. There’s an alternative solution:
Buy a tensioned air mattress cover.
As explained in this article, this is a 6-sided cover that’s smaller than your air mattress, which means it holds your fully inflated mattress in place.
As if that’s not enough, it also makes your mattress hold air for much longer and prevents punctures as well as stress on the seams.
It transforms your cheap air mattress into one of much higher quality and durability.
The video below shows you how it works:
So far, the only place where you can buy a tensioned cover is on this website, as this idea has not yet been commercialized. Even though it significantly increases the efficiency and durability of a cheap air mattress.
The downside of a tensioned cover is that it costs $100+, but if you truly suffer from back pain, I believe it’s a worthwhile investment.
2. Multiple purposes
Have you thought about this? You can actually use your air mattress for more than just a bed to sleep on:
- Use it as a pool float: Are you camping near an ocean, lake or pool? Then consider using your air mattress as a pool float. Just make sure there are no sharp sticks and rocks that could puncture your mattress. This is also why I advise against using an airbed in rivers or streams.
- Use it as a couch: When you’re done floating around, drag your airbed to the shore and use it as a couch. Read a book or take a nap. It’s especially helpful if your air mattress is a dark color, as it will warm up and feel amazingly comfortable. Just be sure to clear the ground of any sticks and rocks. It’s a good idea to lay a towel under your airbed.
The Cons of Sleeping on an Air Mattress When Camping
Unfortunately, an airbed also has its fair share of disadvantages. There are numerous reasons why you might be better off not using one for camping.
1. Poor insulating properties
Generally speaking, airbeds don’t do a great job in keeping you warm. Bringing them on your winter camping trip is not a good idea, and you wouldn’t be the first one to make this beginner camping mistake.
The problem is that the temperature of the air in your airbed depends on the temperature of the air in your tent. So if the ground and the air in your tent are cold, the air in your airbed will also get cold, which will eventually lead to you being cold.
How well an air mattress insulates is expressed in an “R-value”. The higher this number, the better your air mattress blocks the cold temperatures.
And the truth is that most air mattresses have a low R-value, especially the cheap ones.
As for how high the R-value should be, it’s best to stick to the following rules of thumb:
More than 65 °F
No insulation is required
50 – 65 °F
32 – 50 °F
Less than 32 °F
Keep in mind that these rules of thumb are estimates. Even with the “right” R-value, you may still be cold. Maybe you get cold easily, or maybe you have a below-average body mass. If that’s the case, consider adding an additional R-value of 1.
How to insulate your air mattress
You can increase insulation by putting a barrier between you and your airbed.
So what will this barrier be?
Let’s have a look at your best options:
- An insulated sleeping pad: The combination of a sleeping pad and an air mattress is great because it’s a win-win game. Your sleeping pad provides insulation while your airbed ensures comfort. A closed-cell foam sleeping pad is your best option.
- Wear more layers at night: Although this one is quite obvious, a lot of people forget about it. Just wear more clothing at night. Long underwear and undershirt, a hat and two pairs of socks should do the job.
- Wool blankets: Wool has superb natural insulating properties, making it a good barrier to place between you and your airbed. The same can be said for sheepskins. The more layers you bring, the better.
- An insulated topper: You could also buy a cover that provides you with the needed insulation. Check out this article for more information.
Needless to say that there are many more options. If you want to know about them, have a look at this forum.
2. Perhaps too huge for your tent
Do you have a tent with sloping walls towards the center?
Then bear in mind that an airbed is usually quite thick, which means that it could push against the walls of your tent. You want to avoid this because pressure against the walls of your tent results in leaking.
So if you’re wondering if your queen air mattress will fit in your tent, measure the dimensions of your tent at the same height of the air mattress. If you have a cabin tent, then you just have to make sure the tent’s floor is wide and long enough.
Then there’s one more thing to consider. If you want some empty space on the sides of your airbed for a few gear items like spare clothing, a water bottle and a flashlight, include that in your calculation as well.
3. Deflation overnight
Have you been wondering why your air mattress deflates even though there are no holes?
The truth is that they all leak air. Some more than others, but you’ll notice that your airbed loses its firmness over the days.
So why is that?
We simply don’t have the technology to make fully air-tight mattresses yet.
I’m not an air mattress expert, but at least one source mentions that if the air wouldn’t be able to escape, it would put a tremendous amount of pressure on the seams, which would eventually result in a hole, damaged seams, or worse—an exploding airbed.
Another article mentions that air mattresses are made of a polymer (PVC), which is a material that is permeable to gas molecules. So the air inside your mattress could still escape even if it wouldn’t have tiny holes. Ever wondered why a balloon gets so deflated after a few days? This is why.
Besides those two reasons, you should also know that your body weight and air temperatures play a role. More weight means faster deflation, and cold air is less dense than hot air, which means your airbed will appear deflated during a cold night. It will inflate again in the morning when the temperature rises.
How to fix a leaking air mattress
Now, this becomes a problem when your airbed leaks enough air so that you experience back pain or other discomforts in the morning.
Besides getting up at night and re-inflating your airbed, you could buy an airbed that regulates the pressure with a built in automatic pump.
You could also find and fix the leak, although that’s more often than not only a temporary solution. Chances are it will leak again after a short period of time, especially if it’s leaking at the seams.
If the deflation is caused by a huge temperature difference between day and night, a heater may be enough to prevent your airbed from deflating. Just make sure it’s not placed too close to your mattress.
How to make your air mattress last longer
Since permanently fixing a leak is so hard, it only makes sense that you treat your airbed like a queen.
Know that the speed at which your airbed deflates can be reduced to a minimum if you live by these rules:
- Don’t buy an air mattress that shows bad reviews about air leaks.
- Avoid over-inflating.
- Read the user manual. It can share important information.
- Don’t sit or kneel on your airbed. Otherwise, you apply too much pressure to one specific section and your air mattress may pop.
- Don’t use your mattress for the first 48 hours after inflating it. Let the seams, cells and fabric stretch before you apply extra stress.
- Fold your air mattress with care. Incorrect folding can make leaks worse.
- Be careful with the opening where you pump air through. Tape over it when it begins to lose its strength.
- Make sure there’s nothing on the floor that could puncture your air mattress. Putting a blanket underneath is safest.
4. Sweaty in hot weather
Have you ever slept on an air mattress on a hot summer night?
If you did, then you know how sweaty and uncomfortable it can make you feel. That’s because they’re made of non-breathable PVC or other plastic.
But don’t worry, because there are a few ways to reduce this problem.
How to avoid sweating on your air mattress
- Sleep on a cotton blanket: Cotton is naturally moisture-absorbent, which means it draws the sweat from your body.
- Don’t eat before bed: Your body stays busy digesting the food, which adds unnecessary warmth.
- Ensure ventilation: Open the windows, vent holes and door. Remove the rainfly if it’s not going to rain during the night.
- Install a camping fan: If the heat is unbearable, consider bringing a camping fan. You don’t even need an electrical output since some operate on batteries and can last for days.
5. Takes some effort to inflate
There are numerous ways to inflate an airbed, but they all take more time and effort than laying out a sleeping pad.
The easiest way to inflate an airbed is with an electric pump or a hand/foot pump.
Alternatively, you can buy an aerobed, also known as a self-inflating air mattress. If you’re wondering how it works, check out this video.
But all this costs money, right?
Fortunately, besides blowing, there’s another tactic you can use to fill an airbed without a pump. I’m talking about the bag-tactic.
6. Annoying for other people on the campsite
What is your usual arrival time at the campsite?
The reason I’m asking is because if you have a self-inflating air mattress or use an electrical pump, chances are you’ll annoy some people on the campsite because it makes a lot of noise.
While this is not a problem if you arrive during the day, perhaps it’s not uncommon for you to get there in the evening or at night. If so, don’t be surprised to receive annoyed looks from your neighbors the next day.
7. It could puncture
Are you a real slob?
I’m not judging you, but know that an air mattress is a delicate thing. The material is quite thin and can be easily punctured.
I can’t stress this enough: keep your air mattress away from sharp objects.
Imagine having your airbed punctured at the start of a week-long trip. You could try to patch the hole if you brought the right equipment, but if the hole is too large there’s nothing you can do.
So if you know from yourself that taking care of your belongings is not your strong suit, consider skipping the air mattress or bring a backup, like an extra airbed or sleeping pad.
8. You can’t bring it on a backpacking trip
It is too heavy to carry around all day. This makes an air mattress only suitable for camping in the car.
A sleeping pad, on the other hand, can be used for both car camping and backpacking trips.
Frequently Asked Questions About Air Mattresses
(Clicking on any of the questions below will open the necessary text).How long do air mattresses last?
It can last anywhere from three months to fifteen years. It depends on its quality and how often you use it.
But it also depends on how you treat it.
The problem is that air mattresses are delicate. After some time, they start to develop a slow leak due to stress on the seams or a puncture. Especially the cheap Intex air mattresses struggle with this.
That’s why you want to take good care of your airbed. Preventive measures like minimizing stress on the seams and folding it correctly play a huge role in your air mattresses’ lifespan.
Why do airbeds have bumps?
It doesn’t look nice and it doesn’t feel comfortable, so why do they have bumps in them?
Well, it’s because anything that inflates tends to form like a balloon or sausage.
To avoid this, you have to form a connection between the upper and lower layer of the air mattress. The bumps you see get formed by the strings that hold the two layers together.
Can you put an airbed on a camp bed?
Yes, and it’s a great idea because it gets you even more off the ground, which means you get out of bed easier.
In addition, you create extra space because now you can store your gear under your camp bed.
However, there are a few things you need to watch out for.
First, make sure your camping bed is up to the task. Consider skipping this idea if it’s an inexpensive one that’s not made to support much weight.
Secondly, keep in mind that the pressure of your camping cot’s legs could damage the floor of your tent.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for this: place a few Pringles lids underneath so that the pressure is distributed.
And lastly, you want to make sure it all fits in your tent. Consider the sloping walls of your tent.
How do you stop an air mattress from sliding around?
Airbeds are not made of the most anti-slip material, so you’ll have to put something underneath to stop it from sliding around.
This is especially important when the campsite has an inclined ground.
The most economical solution is an anti-slip mat. You can buy these in many stores such as Walmart. For a more permanent solution, you could glue the edges of the non-slip mat to your air mattress.
I Wouldn’t Bring an Air Mattress On a Camping Trip
I don’t think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, at least not in my situation.
Why do I say that?
Partially because of my age. Here are a few benefits of air mattresses that don’t appeal to me:
- You don’t feel the ground: I don’t really care if I feel the ground. A few rocks or roots don’t bother me.
- Easier to get out of bed: Did you have problems getting out of bed when you were 20 years old?
- Less back pain: I can sleep wherever and however I want, I won’t have back pain in the morning.
That leaves only a handful of benefits that are no game-changers in my opinion. Consider the disadvantages of an air mattress and they’re not worth fighting for.
That said, I agree that air mattresses are great for people who are struggling with issues like getting out of bed and back pain, but for young people… not so much.
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