Sleeping under the stars in the middle of a wooded forest is one of the most amazing experiences you can have. Unfortunately, that blissful moment can easily be ruined by neck aches and back pains if you’re camping outdoors without a comfortable air mattress.
Whether you’re spending a weekend relaxing by the lake or embarking on a multi-week adventure up the side of a mountain, you’ll always retreat to your mattress for a good night’s rest. That’s why the best camping air mattress is absolutely crucial if you want to wake up rejuvenated and ready for the day ahead.
In this article, we’ll dive into what makes a good camping mattress and explain a few things you should keep an eye out for when purchasing one. We’ll also share with you our five favorite air mattresses that are guaranteed to give you a solid night’s worth of sleep.
Why Trust This Guide?
We’ve been camping more times than we can count, which means we understand the importance of a comfortable place to sleep. Even if you have a durable tent, a cozy sleeping bag, and comfy pajamas – none of that will make a difference unless you have a good-quality camping air mattress!
Over the past few years, we’ve tested numerous styles, brands, and types of camping mats and air mattresses. We tend to lean towards air-sprung cells or compartment-style mattresses (over horizontal or vertical lane ones) because they feel most like the beds we have at home. However, this is just our opinion, and we understand that comfort can vary from person to person.
Generally speaking, we also prefer mattresses that we can pump ourselves (as opposed to self-inflating ones). We like the ones that inflate using a pump sack because they are ready in just a few seconds. They are also easier and faster to deflate so we can get a jump start on our day in the morning.
Why You Need a Camping Air Mattress
A camping air mattress is an inflatable bed for sleeping that is made specifically for travel. As its name implies, it’s blown up using air (usually with a hand/foot pump or pump sack) and can be rolled or packed down when not in use.
After a long day of hiking, does the cold, rock-hard ground sound like a comfortable place to rest your head for the night? Probably not – which is why it’s essential to go camping with a camping bed or air mattress.
Air mattresses are thick, buoyant, and soft, which provides just the right amount of padding so you can sleep comfortably. Without it, we doubt you’ll get much sleep during the night (and if you do, we bet you’ll wake up with a stiff neck or sore back!).
Different Kinds of Camping Air Mattresses
When researching camping air mattresses, you’ll likely come across three main styles – vertical, horizontal, or compartmentalized. This refers to how the air is spread around the mattress, impacting how comfortably you sleep throughout the night.
Vertical lane mattresses are creased from the top of the mattress to the bottom. This creates a sleeping surface that “cradles” you into the center of the mattress. While it’s not a very flat surface, they do prevent you from rolling off the mat onto the floor in the middle of the night.
A mattress with horizontal lanes is more body-conforming, although it can get compressed on the edges, which translates to less support and possible middle-of-the-night roll-offs.
Compartments (Air Sprung Cells)
Compartment-style mattresses feel the most similar to what you have at home in your normal bed. With both horizontal and vertical lanes, these mattresses have little air pockets that provide excellent support and padding. We may be biased, but we prefer this style because it’s by far more comfortable compared to mattresses with either vertical or horizontal lanes.
How to find the Best Camping Air Mattress
Besides comfort, there are certain things to keep in mind when researching air mattresses. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong mattress, as everyone’s preferences and styles will be different!
When looking at different types of mattresses, you’ll likely see that they come with a numeric R-value. The R-value measures the mattress’s ability to retain heat. The higher the number, the better insulated the mattress is.
For versatility, we recommend choosing a camping air mattress with a higher R-value because it can be used both in warm and cold climates. On the other hand, you have to keep in mind that a higher R-value means more insulation and thus more weight. A mattress with a low R-value is lighter and will be fine for summer camping.
So, the best camping air mattress for you only has an R-value to the circumstances you need it and weighs as light as possible in proportion to the amount of insulation.
Method of Inflation
Buying an inflatable air mattress means, well, you’re going to have to find a way to inflate it! The type of pump could increase the weight or size of your mattress, as well as the difficulty to inflate it while you’re camping, which means it’s a crucial consideration when making a purchase.
When looking for an air mattress camping pump, you’ll likely come across a few different types. Some mattresses have built-in pumps, while others require you to purchase an external pump separately. We’ll explain more about the differences in inflation pumps a bit later.
Size and Weight
Unless you’re going car camping, you’ll likely need to take the weight and size of your air mattress into consideration. Hauling something bulky and heavy on your back isn’t ideal, which means you should be looking for a camping pad that’s both small and lightweight.
Most camping mats weigh anywhere from 340g (12 ounces) to 600g (17 ounces). Thicker mats can provide more comfort, although you can also expect them to add more weight to your bag.
How to Inflate a Camping Air Mattress
As we mentioned, the inflation method should be a big consideration when looking at different types of mattresses.
The easiest way to inflate a mattress is with a pump sack, which is a lightweight bag that connects directly to the inflation valve on your mattress or camping bed. The bag is lofted and filled with air which then gets pushed into the mattress to inflate it. We prefer to use a pump sack when we camp because it weighs practically nothing and is super easy to use.
Another option is to purchase a hand/foot pump. These pumps usually come with a large cord that connects to your mattress and uses hand or foot power to inflate. While they are easy to use, they often tend to be bulky to travel with, which can be a problem if you’re planning to camp with as little weight as possible.
It’s also possible to buy a self-inflating sleeping pad, which is designed to automatically draw in the air once its valves are opened. This type of camping pad can be practical, although it tends to be smaller and thinner than other types of outdoor mattresses.
As a side note, we never recommend inflating your mattress by mouth. Your breath has condensation, which can make the inside of your mattress damp. Not only is that bad for the longevity of your mattress, but it can also make your mattress colder during the night. Plus, who wants to manually blow up a mattress after a long, exhausting day of hiking? Not us!
Top 5 Best Camping Air Mattresses
As devoted campers, we’ve tried and tested numerous types of camping pads and mattresses over the years. These are a few of our favorites we wanted to share with you.
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Mat | Best Camping Air Mattress for side sleepers
R-value: 3.5 | Weight: 500 gr (1lb 1.5 oz)
- Comfortable air-sprung cells
- Great for side sleepers
- 3-season insulation
- Included pump sack
- Expensive price point
- Bulkier than other mattresses
When we go camping, we rely on our trusty Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Mat to keep us comfortable through the night. Made with 10.1cm (4 inches) of interconnected air sprung cells, this camping bed conforms to your body, providing much need rest after a long day on the mountain.
It has two types of insulation (Exkin Platinum and Thermolite) and an R-value of 3.5, which means it’s perfect for spring, fall, or summer camping trips. Compared to other camping mats, the Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Mat is a little thicker (which is great for side sleepers), but it still packs down small to 11.5 x 24cm (4.5″ x 9.5″), so it won’t take up too much space in your pack.
We also love that it’s designed especially for women, thanks to the narrow shoulder width and extended hip area. It also comes with an integrated pump sack for inflating, which means you can get it set up in just a few minutes. Read my full review of the Sea to Summit Ether Lights XT here.
Exped SynMat UL 7 | Most Comfortable Camping Air Mattress
R-value: 3.1 | Weight: 595 gr (1lb 5oz)
- Comfortable vertical lane design
- Packs down small
- Must purchase the pump separately
Having used the Exped SynMat UL 7 Air Mattress camping for five years, we can testify to its longevity and durability. It’s one of the lightest camping mats we’ve seen, standing just 7.1cm high (2.8 inches) and clocking in at 453g (16 ounces). When packed, it’s no bigger than the size of a small water bottle.
The vertical lanes are incredibly comfortable and insulated, earning an R-value rating of 3.1. That should be sufficient for most summer or warm weather camping trips, although you might look for something with a higher R-value if you plan to use it in the winter.
It doesn’t come with a pump, although you can purchase a pump sack separately to help assist with inflation. However, that’s a small price to pay for getting a good night’s rest on one of the most comfortable mattresses.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad | Best Camping Air Mattress for Cold Climates
R-value: 6.9 | Weight: 425 gr (15 oz)
- 4-season camping pad
- Soft horizontal lane design
- Includes pump sack, stuff sack, and repair kit
- Expensive price point
With an impressive R-value of 6.9, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad is the best air mattress for camping in cold climates (although it also can be used for the other 3-seasons as well). It’s constructed with a patent-pending insulation layer made to reflect body heat and conserve warmth, so you stay snug and cozy all through the night.
The horizontal lanes have a tapered design made to fit a woman’s body while also offering stability and support for all types of sleepers. It stands 6.4cm (2.5 inches) high and weighs just 340g (12 ounces), which is considerably smaller and lighter than many other heavy duty air mattresses.
In addition, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad comes with a pump sack, stuff sack, and even a repair kit (just in case something were to rip or puncture the mattress during your trip).
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX | Best Camping Air Mattress for smaller people
R-value: 3.2 | Weight: 510 gr (1lb 10 oz)
- 25% more durable than other mats
- Comfortable champer air pads
- 4 different sizes available
- Included pump sack
- Heavier and bulkier than others
From backcountry camping to week-long mountain retreats, the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX is a durable outdoor camping mattress that’s guaranteed to last. It’s made with Aviation grade TPU lamination technology and double ripstop nylon fabric that’s 25% more durable than many other mattresses on the market.
Despite being a great heavy duty mattress, the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX is also very comfortable, with quilted cushion padding and champer-style compartment air pads and it comes in 4 different sizes. So, if you are a smaller person, you can opt for the petite size and don’t carry more weight than necessary. It has an R-value of 3.2, so it’s also made to keep you warm in most spring and fall climates.
Compared to other air mattress camping styles, this model is relatively thicker (10.8cm or 4.25 inches) and heavier (453g or 1lb). However, it’s made to survive even the most rugged of conditions, which makes it a worthy choice for extreme outdoor enthusiasts.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite | Best Camping Air Mattress for ultra-ultralight adventures
R-value: 2.3 | Weight: 250gr (8.8oz)
- Packs small
- Soft horizontal lane design
- Includes pump sack, repair kit and stuff sack
- Not the best for colder circumstances
If you’re up for an ultra-lightweight adventure, then we consider checking out the spacious Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Mat.
It only has an R-value of 2.3, which means it’s better suited for summer or warmer climate camping trips. But giving in on insulation also means gaining a huge advantage on weight, which makes this sleeping pad extremely light as it only weighs 250gr in the regular size.
It also comes with a stuff sack and a pump sack. The sleeping pad packs very small, even smaller than a regular water bottle. And don’t worry if something tears while you’re camping – the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Mat comes with a handy repair kit.
We Love To Hear From You!
If you want to spend less time complaining about sore muscles and more time enjoying the great outdoors, then it’s worth investing in a durable, long-lasting camping air mattress to take with you on your trip. If you have a camping mattress you’ve used and love, please tell us in the comments below!