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Air Beds

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Air beds guide

We tried a range of lightweight air beds for backpacking overnight, and considered them in terms of various criteria, including:

  • Ease and speed of inflation
  • Comfort
  • Weight
  • Pack-ability (i.e. the ease with which they fit into your camping rucksack)
  • Durability (which included checking that none of the mats were susceptible to pesky air leaks
  • Insulation (the 'R-value' is the measure for a material's ability to resist heat transfer at a certain thickness. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.)

 Sleeping pads come in two basic flavors: foam filled and air filled. Their purpose is twofold: to provide a layer of insulation between you and the ground and add cushion against it. Backpackers often choose solid foam or foam filled pads because of their minimal weight, ruggedness and ease of use. Car campers don’t necessarily have these restrictions. And, if you do most of your car camping in mild or summer weather, insulation concerns are minimal as well. It really just comes down to sleeping comfort, and that’s where inflatable air mattresses for camping really do a great job.

Types of Air Mattresses

Inflatable air mattresses come in many configurations and types from thin and lightweight mummy shapes to thick and large king-sized beds that rival the cushion and comfort of a home mattress. So, to make sense out of so many choices, I first need to define a few terms.

Air Pad vs Air Mattress vs Air Bed – Air filled sleeping pads designed with backpacking in mind are thin, lightweight and very compact when deflated. They are typically referred to as Air Pads or Air Mattresses. And although any type of camper can use an air pad, backpackers tend to choose them most often.

In contrast, Air Beds are designed for car camping. They are thick, heavy, and come in common bed sizes. They are designed to fit standard-sized sheets and although bulky, car campers, like myself, enjoy the extra cushion air beds provide.

Throughout the remainder of this article I will use the term Air Pad to mean any inflatable sleeping pad designed more for backpacking and the the term Air Bed when talking about inflatable sleeping pads designed more for car camping.

Sizes and Shapes

Similar to foam pads, Air Pads come in various lengths to accommodate all body sizes. Short (3/4 length), regular, and long length sizes, are the most common. They are available in a standard 20 inch width. Longer sizes are often available in 25 – 30 inch widths. Air pads are typically 2.5 – 3 inches thick.

Air beds designed for camping are more like a mattress for home use. In fact, many people, myself included, will occasionally use an air bed at home for guest to sleep on. Available in twin, full, queen and king sizes, they are around 5-6 inches thick. Some manufacturers even make double thickness beds that keep you more than a foot off the ground.

Choosing between an air pad or air bed is really a decision based on the type of camping you do. Outdoor product manufacturers continually update and improve their products. Because of this, you should consider renting various camping products firs