Air mattresses are undoubtedly the most popular choice for camping beds. A standard inflatable mattress is cheap, comfortable, and easy to use, which is why they’re so common. However, there are some downsides to using air mattresses, so some campers are leaving them behind in favor of the alternatives.
For campers who’ve never used anything but an air bed, sleeping somewhere else may seem strange. We’re here to show you that the alternatives to air mattresses for camping are worth considering. Whether you’re just sick of punctures, or you’re searching for a bed that’s better for your back, we’ve got all the bases covered.
In this article, we will explain why you might choose to leave the air mattress behind and then go into detail about the alternatives we recommend. From ultralight foam sleeping pads to camping cots to hammocks, there are plenty of options for your consideration. You should be able to find the ideal alternative to an air mattress for camping for you.
Note: If you haven’t tried a high quality air mattress, you should know that they’ve come a long way and can be quite comfortable. Browse the best air mattresses for camping here.
Why use an alternative to an air mattress for camping?
There are a number of reasons you might choose not to use an inflatable bed for your next camping trip. According to a 2017 report, only 13% of campers consider air beds to be an essential item, while 17% considered it a luxury item. This shows that air mattresses aren’t as necessary as you may think.
To start with, the most common problem with air mattresses is punctures. Sick of waking up in the middle of the night in a half-deflated bed? Maybe it’s time to make the change. If you find yourself buying puncture repair kits regularly, then it might be worth the investment into a new sleeping arrangement. There are heavier-duty puncture-resistant air beds on the market, but these can increase dramatically in size, price, and weight.
For many campers, especially backpackers, pack space and weight is limited. Air mattresses are not the most efficient in either category, so we’d recommend taking a look at some other options. If you forget your foot pump or don’t have an electric air pump, air beds can take a long time to inflate manually- not much fun when you’re just arrived at the campsite and want to go and explore. So, now you know why you might want to make a change, read on to discover the top air mattress alternatives available to you.
The first option we would like to direct you to consider as an alternative to air mattresses is the humble futon. Futons are very popular amongst truck campers, and they’re ideal for car camping too. You may want to consider a futon for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the setup time is almost nothing, all you need to do is lay down the futon on a flat surface and you’re ready. In comparison, air beds take time and energy to inflate, which could be better spent exploring your campsite. Taking 20 minutes to inflate your air bed upon arrival to a campsite is a waste of valuable time.
The same goes when packing away, with a futon all you need to do is fold it up and store it. Air beds can take a significant amount of time to pack away, there are several steps that need to be followed in order to do it correctly, and again this is a boring and time-consuming process. If you don’t know already, read about how to deflate an air mattress and you’ll see what we mean.
Futons are an ideal choice for car camping. They’re very comfy and can turn the back of your car or truck into a luxurious place to spend the night. However, futons aren’t very space-efficient, and wouldn’t be a viable option for backpacking.
Foam sleeping pads
Foam sleeping pads are much more space-efficient than both futons and air mattresses. They range in thickness from less than an inch up to several inches, with a variety of options available. These basic sleeping mats are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells and are usually stored rolled up.
Unlike air beds, foam or memory foam sleeping pads are extremely lightweight, meaning they won’t hinder you on your journey. Air mattresses, especially higher-end models, can be surprisingly heavy, whereas sleeping pads weigh next to nothing. They’re also the only option which can be safely stored outside your pack without fear of damage, they can’t be punctured like inflatable mattresses.
Foam sleeping pads offer good insulation from the ground and are pretty durable too. There’s not much that could stop you from sleeping on one, you’d struggle to find a fatal problem. Sleeping pads are admittedly just as bulky as air mattresses, however as we mentioned they can be stored outside your pack, so it doesn’t matter as much.
The downside to foam sleeping pads is that they aren’t as comfortable as air mattresses. They’re thin, meaning the cushioning from the ground is minimal, and you’ll probably still be able to feel that rock sticking in your back in the middle of the night. This problem can be easily solved by carefully choosing where you pitch your tent, but a foam sleeping pad still won’t be as comfortable as the other options.
Foam sleeping pads are the most practical option, as they will work almost no matter what. Recommended for tent campers and backpackers, a simple foam sleeping pad will provide basic cushioning and insulation from the ground, without compromising on size and weight. Unfortunately for many people foam mats are just too uncomfortable, but there are still more air mattress alternatives.
Self-inflating sleeping pads
As the high-tech version of foam mats, self-inflating sleeping pads have a lot to offer. If you don’t want to stray too far from inflatable mattresses, then inflatable sleeping pads are an option you should consider.
Self-inflating pads are basically a cross between a foam mat and an air bed, as they use a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. There are multiple different types, some are optimized for backpacking, made to fit inside your bag, whereas others are made for car camping so don’t need to fold as small.
We’d recommend self-inflating mats as a good all-round choice, as they offer excellent insulation while remaining inexpensive. Unlike air beds, there’s no foot pump or batteries to deal with, all you need to do is open the valve and they’ll self-inflate. For firmness, these mats are easily adjustable, simply add more or release some air, so they’re versatile as well as efficient.
Unfortunately, these sleeping mats have one problem in common with air mattresses- punctures. Because they’re still an inflatable item, containing air, leaks can form and this could make them less comfortable and less useful. A self-inflating mattress can sustain punctures or other damage, but they’re actually much easier to repair in the field than air mattresses. Carrying a simple puncture repair kit with you will help keep your self-inflating map in working condition.
These sleeping pads are lightweight and space-saving; when you’re finished just roll them up to push the air out. Self-inflating sleeping pads are popular for a reason, they make a good compromise between comfort and pack size. Compared to air beds, they’re much more efficient, however, you might feel that a sleeping mat of any kind just isn’t comfortable enough. Keep reading to find out about comfier alternatives to air mattresses for camping.
Camping cots are often overlooked, but they are arguably the best alternative to air mattresses. They come in a variety of forms, catering to all types of campers, so regardless of your specifications there’s a camping cot out there for you. The benefits of camping cots over air beds are numerous, so we’ll outline the biggest here to make sure you fully understand your options.
Firstly, there’s no chance of leaking air from a camping cot. This much is obvious, but even if you end up with a hole in your cot, it will still be functional. Often built to withstand up to some pretty rugged conditions, camping cots are sturdier than air beds.
They’re also much more durable than your average air bed, so a decent camping cot should last you a long time. As well as longevity, camping cots offer more stability, making it more likely that you’ll get a peaceful night’s rest. Cots are also the easiest option on this list for getting in and out of, thanks to their height and stability. If you’re looking to get as close to a real bed as possible, camping cots are an option you should seriously consider.
One very important feature of camping cots is that they are raised above the ground, and the benefits of this are threefold. Firstly, the added space between you and the floor greatly increases insulation, and avoiding this direct contact is vital on cold nights.
Air mattresses do have good insulation, but in the coldest weather, camping cots are better. It also means you can use the area under the bed for storage, and space-saving qualities are incredibly valuable in any outdoor equipment. This alone is a reason to consider camping cots, as air mattresses do nothing but take up space. As an added bonus, being raised from the ground means worrying less about dirt and insects.
Unfortunately, camping cots aren’t the perfect solution. They can be bulky and heavy, making them a pain to transport. Light-weight camping cots are available, however, they’re considerably more expensive, so consider whether you want to make the investment.
We would recommend camping cots as the best alternative for tent camping, where you’re driving to the campsite. For lightweight backpacking or primitive camping, neither camping cots or air mattresses are ideal, but there are several air mattress alternatives which are ideal for these situations.
If you’re an advocate of utility over comfort, then maybe you don’t need an alternative to air beds at all- just go without! A high-quality sleeping bag should provide enough insulation in mild weather, and you can buy thicker ones for added comfort. If you need some extra cushioning from the hard ground, leaf litter and pine needles can provide a mattress that you don’t have to pack in and out.
Some campers enjoy sleeping with just a sleeping bag as it lets them feel closer to nature, and others have claimed it’s good for their back. Either way, compared to using an air mattress, this option will save you space, time, and money.
So many campers seeking an alternative to air mattresses disregard hammocks, but we’re here to tell you they might be the perfect solution. Hammock camping tends to be a little more wild, as the majority of the time a hammock must be tied between two trees. This means you won’t be sleeping inside a tent, and your approach should be a little different.
Firstly, the nature of a hammock requires it to be suspended above the ground. This means that no matter what, there should be nothing sticking into your back in the middle of the night- hooray! Many campers describe the feeling of sleeping in a hammock as “floating”, which can be nothing but appealing to those of us who have spent too many sleepless nights on a lumpy tent floor.
Camping hammocks are made from parachute-style material, which is extremely packable and lightweight. This makes them much more space and weight-efficient than air mattresses. They require minimal setup, but hammock camping does stipulate that trees are available, otherwise you’ll struggle to set it up.
Air mattresses, on the other hand, can be set up anywhere. One potential problem with a hammock is that it could fall down in the night, but you can prevent this by simply reading about the best hammock knots.
Hammocks are excellent for use in hot weather, they’ll go a long way towards keeping you cool in the summer months. Some hammocks are water-resistant, and some are even fully enclosed; if you’re camping in the rain you’ll need some shelter in a hammock.
Although this is a downside to hammock use, remember the remaining benefit: you can’t wake up in a puddle if you’re not on the floor, so flash floods aren’t a problem for hammock campers. In cold weather, it’s still viable to use a hammock, but you’ll need to use extra insulation, such as sleeping bags or even foam mats, to combine two of our camping mattress alternatives.
At the end of the day, sleeping in a hammock is sleeping outdoors. Being out in the open rather than inside a tent can be so much more enjoyable, you can enjoy clean fresh air the entire time instead of waking up in a tent that’s stale and stuffy.
Making use of a hammock can help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper- who can say that about an air mattress? There are also many anecdotal reports of hammocks helping to alleviate back pain, due to the pressure being equally spread across your body.
If you’re used to sleeping on a mattress, hammocks can be a struggle to get used to. They’re also harder to get in and out of than an air mattress, but we believe the benefit of being completely comfortable outweighs this. If you decide to try out sleeping in a hammock, not only can you ditch the air mattress, you might not need a tent either!
Fully enclosed hammocks offer complete protection from the elements in a convenient, lightweight, and comfortable package. Compare the assembly time of putting up a hammock to pitching a tent and inflating an air mattress, and you should be convinced already.
These are the air mattress alternatives for camping, and amongst them should be the perfect solution for you. To conclude, for car and truck camping, a futon is best. There’s no assembly time, just grab it and go, and way more comfortable than an air mattress.
Lightweight backpackers and backcountry campers need to be more efficient, so a foam pad or self-inflating sleeping mat is the best solution. Just remember, the self-inflating pads may be comfier, but they also risk punctures.
For tent camping, use a camping cot to revolutionize the way you sleep. Once you realize how much easier cots are in comparison to inflatable camping mattresses, you’ll never want to go back. They provide better back support, and because they’re raised off the ground cots are much more convenient. However, camping cots are only really appropriate if you’re at a campsite with your car, as transporting them without can be a challenge.
Finally, hammocks offer a sleeping solution for all types of campers. It’s speculated that hammocks are even better for you than your bed at home. Sleeping out in the open will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, so consider hammock camping for your next excursion.
Bonus tip: Check out this video for some hammock hanging tips and tricks!