Camping Pad vs Air Mattress: Which is Better?

Inflatable camping mattress close up isolated on white background

Camping can be an amazing and fun activity. Being able to enjoy nature and be away from a city for a few days is wonderful, but that comes with a challenge faced even in the city: the ever-present challenge of sleeping comfortably. So, are air mattresses or camping pads better?

Air Mattresses are better for camping than camping pads. They keep sleeping campers off of the ground and off of rocks and roots that the tent might be situated on. Camping pads are more expensive and offer less comfort, while air mattresses only need a little bit of maintenance to function well.

A large part of camping comfortably is up to what a person’s individual needs are, and that extends to the sleeping arrangements. There are several different options, and two of those options are air mattresses and camping pads. Each has its own reasons why it might be better, but it’s important to consider both before deciding on either option.

Leaks vs No Leaks

One of the first things nearly any camper with experience sleeping on an air mattress will tell you is that there is one very inconvenient part of having an air mattress. While air mattresses being inflatable is a huge bonus in the sense of camping, that comes with a price. Even the smallest leak makes the air mattress no longer functional.

Despite many people swearing by air mattresses, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they have had an air mattress deflate underneath them when they least expected it and did not want it to deflate. Going to sleep on an air mattress and waking up with a root in the back is a sure way to make any camper less than happy.

Camping pads don’t have that problem. While some of them are inflatable, they don’t have the volume that air mattresses have. This cuts down on the initial comfort, but it is much harder to cause a camping pad that has an inflating feature to leak. Most camping pads will be some sort of rolled foam mat that is somewhat similar to a yoga mat, just slightly thicker.

There are a few different things that can be mitigated where leaks are concerned, including getting a patch kit and treating an air mattress with respect to ensure it doesn’t develop any leaks or get punctured. This doesn’t guarantee that your air mattress will never develop a leak, but it helps. (Source)

Close to the Ground or Up High

Green rolled sleeping mat isolated on white background. Sport equipment

Camping pads are much closer to the ground than air mattresses, which has an effect on how well someone might sleep when they’re camping. Being lower to the ground causes a few different things. Depending on the thickness of the camping pad, the camper might feel a rock, root, or bump in the ground through the pad and that would make it much less comfortable to sleep.

Temperature-wise, someone sleeping on a camping pad might get cold easier. Heat has always risen and cold is always lower, and the ground sometimes leeches what heat there is in a body or camping pad much more than an elevated sleeping arrangement might.

The R-value is the heat resistant gauge for any sort of sleeping mattress and is used to measure just how much the pad or mat will resist heat transfer, essentially keeping the sleeping camper insulated and comfortable. This is especially important for winter camping and any time when the night is extremely cold as both a protective measure and a comfort level gauge.

The most specific circumstance to consider for R-value is what time someone would be camping and where. For any sort of winter camping, R-value will be important and the pricing can be justified since it will keep a camper safe and away from things like frostbite. Using a good sleeping bag and thick blankets can help with that, but it’s always good to have other insurance when winter camping. Summer camping doesn’t require the same sort of attention to insulation, but rather the opposite.

Having good airflow when it is hot at night and making sure it’s comfortable can also help and should be a consideration point for choosing an air mattress or a camping pad. Both provide alright airflow and protection from heat, though the thing to watch out for with air mattresses is that they expand or contract with weather changes since air expands or contracts with changes in temperature. Adjusting for this for some might be tedious and annoying, while for others it is more than worth it. (Source)

Getting it to the Campsite

Another thing to consider is what kind of camping it is and packing the supplies, including the bedding. Camping from the car and at a campsite up a canyon is some of the easier camping and will make getting supplies much easier, whereas backpacking will have a completely different set of rules and requirements to ensure safety and comfort.

If backpacking, something light is a necessity since a backpacker is literally hiking to their campsite for upwards of a whole day. Out-of-car camping is a lot less intensive and can allow for quite a bit more supplies, as such something larger like a cot or in this case, an air mattress, is perfectly fine.

The ability to sleep in a tent will also be important for either a camping pad or an air mattress since most things like that don’t do well out in the elements, regardless of how durable they are marketed to be. If you have the means, packing in an air mattress will be most efficient and provide the most comfort, barring a few small inconveniences.

Other Supplies Needed

Air mattress with electric pump for rest and sleep isolated on white background.

Each method might require more supplies than just the bedding themselves and understanding what might be needed for emergencies would be good to provide the most comfort for a camper.

For air mattresses, a few different things are needed including but not limited to an air pump, a patch repair kit, and a good blanket to put underneath to help with insulation in the case that that is needed.

For a camping pad, the supplies are similar enough, needing a repair kit and a good blanket to help with insulation, but they don’t need to be pumped up, so you don’t need to bring an air pump with you on your camping trip if you choose to sleep on a camping pad.

Sleeping comfortably is always a challenge while camping, and something that will help both the air mattress and the camping pad feel more comfortable when slept upon is the required supplies mentioned above as well as a well-insulated sleeping bag and extra blankets. Sleep with a hoodie on to keep your body heat in.

It was recommended on multiple threads and forums to have a blanket, probably a thick and cheap quilt type blanket, underneath either of the beddings. This helps keep heat transfer from being as drastic even if the R-value isn’t up to what more experienced and frequent campers would recommend.

Storage For Camping Pads and Air Mattresses

inflatable air mattress being filled up inside a tent. High quality 4k footage

Storing things is also extremely important to keep the bedding in prime condition and functional, even during offseason weather and when they are not being used. Storing them properly will keep them from being weathered prematurely. In addition to storing them properly, making sure they’re being cared for well will also prolong the lifespan of these tools.

Air mattresses might seem like a lot of work to some, but the payoff in managing to keep an air mattress functional and comfortable for several years is more than worth it. Taking good care of an air mattress will keep it in good condition much longer than being dismissive with its care. Cleaning it after a camping trip will help it keep from getting leaks from gravel or grit on the floor.

Storing an air mattress will be a bit of a hassle, but well worth it in the end. Usually, an air mattress will come with a protective bag. Deflate the air mattress and fold it up as small as it can be folded without air in it. Be patient with this step seeing as it will be hard, but worth it in the end. Put the air mattress in the protective bag. From there, it can be stored on a shelf with the rest of the camping gear or even in a plastic tub with other bedding such as the under the mattress blanket.

Similar storage procedures should be used for a camping pad. Make sure to clean it off before putting it away so it doesn’t get anything sticky or gritty in there that can damage the bedding. Most camping pads can be rolled up, so roll your sleeping pad up as tightly as possible before putting it in the bag that came with it.

While both can be stored just on shelves once they have their protective bags on, it’s just as easy and perhaps more compact to put them inside another container with other similar objects such as the blankets and maybe even sleeping bags. It keeps them out of any weather and away from any bugs or gritty things that could damage any of the supplies. (Source)

Cost of Air Mattresses and Camping Pads

Pricing for either of these bedding will actually be quite versatile since it really depends on a few different factors, one of which being the R-value and quality of materials either of them are made out of. Cheaper air mattresses will typically run between $12 and $20. A really expensive and well-rated air mattress can cost upwards of $50, but if you’re planning to spend a lot of time camping and know you’ll use it consistently, that is extremely justifiable for your comfort and camping fun.

A cheap camping pad is around $15, and the really good ones are about $40 and up. The same logic applies when choosing one. If you think you’ll use it consistently enough to enjoy more from it, it’s worth the extra cost. The camping pads might cost a bit more initially, but the cost is usually worth it in the long run because of how little maintenance they need.

A repair kit for leaks and such for an air mattress is about $12 and while it’s not always completely necessary, it is extremely helpful when sleeping on the ground is not an option. Especially if someone cannot sleep comfortably without some distance between them and the ground, it is important to have this in the camping arsenal.

In addition to that, air mattresses don’t really become air mattresses until they are pumped full of air. In order to make this happen, you need an air pump. There are a few air mattress air pump options, including ones that plug into the wall, the battery-operated air pump, a foot pump, or a hand pump. A hand air pump will cost no more than $10 and will provide quite the workout. While it is cheap, it is also kind of hard to pack in since a hand pump is rather large and oddly shaped.

Inflation pump hand air inflatable mattress on white background isolation

A battery-operated air pump typically costs $10 to $20 depending on the brand and its reliability. These are quite compact and very easy to pack. Having extra batteries on hand will help with other things as well, like flashlights, so packing in the batteries required for this won’t be nearly as much of a hassle as some might consider it to be. It might be a little noisy, but in the end, a little bit of patience and then the air mattress is pumped up! It can also speed up the deflating process.

A foot pump costs about $15 and has the same sort of workout a hand air pump would provide. And a plug-in air mattress pump costs between $10 and $12. This one has some severe limitations because it can’t be used when in the wilderness. You would have to use a car plugin, which may cause your car’s battery to die over time if you don’t leave your car running while it is plugged in.

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