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Published Dec. 24, 2021

I tend to become a monster when I go nights on end without good sleep, so when my adventure partner and I began section hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago, researching the best air mattresses for camping was a top priority for both of us. 

Then, after hiking almost 700 trail miles and sleeping in every weather condition imaginable, I can honestly say my air mattress is worth its weight in gold. Not only has it protected my backside from burly roots and rocks in quite a few sketchy bush campsites, but because I paid close attention to insulation value when making my purchase, my air mattress has allowed me to camp in four seasons in warmth and comfort. 

But how do you find the best air mattresses for camping when you can’t take them for a test drive? Luckily for you, we’ve done the research and taken the guesswork out of finding a sleep solution that will work for your camping needs. Whether you are going glamping in your backyard or you are gearing up to tackle all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail, we’ve got you covered.

If you are looking for an insulated air mattress that won’t wake you up when you turn over at night, look no further than the three-season NEMO Tensor. With its plush feel, the rectangular Tensor’s trademarked Spaceframe design evenly distributes your weight and prevents your hips and elbows from digging into the cold, hard ground. Plus, the Tensor has two layers of metallic fabric inside to prevent cold air from penetrating the top layer of the mattress, keeping you comfy and cozy all night long.

The most impressive feature of the Tensor is its less-than-two-ounce Vortex pump sack (included and available separately) that magically fills with air from breaths blown from up to six inches away. Once full, you just seal air into the pump sack by rolling the collar down, line up the Vortex valve with your mattress valve, and then push the air from the Vortex into the mattress. You simply have to see it to believe it — it’s amazing. And if you don’t want to carry the extra weight of the Vortex, you can always blow up your NEMO Tensor manually.

Product Specs
  • R-value: 3.5, making it an excellent three-season camping option
  • Thickness: A full three inches of loft provide cushioning and insulation from the cold ground
  • Set up: A breeze, especially using the magical Vortex pump
  • Packed size and weight: Slightly more than a pound and slightly smaller than a Nalgene bottle when rolled up
PROS

Vortex pump included in new models but can also be purchased separately

Trademarked Thermal Mirror material prevents cold air from getting through to your body for a cozy night’s sleep

Exterior mattress fabric dampens noise

Rectangular shape is more accommodating and comfortable than mummy shaped mattresses

Low to medium price range depending on size

CONS

Slightly heavier weight than some competitors

Lower R-value doesn’t make this a practical pick for camping when it is less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit

Slightly less durable exterior fabric

The Klymit Insulated Static V is a strange-looking air mattress with air chambers in a V shape running the length of the center of the rectangular mattress, and shorter rectangular chambers lining the sides.

In the signature red color, it kind of reminds me of the exoskeleton of a lobster. Looks aside, the V-shaped chambers in the Static V serve a very good purpose, and that is to provide the same level of support and comfort for the stomach, side, and back sleepers.

But it is the rectangular air chambers running down the length of the sides that are its true distinguishing characteristic because they serve as bumpers to keep you centered in the mat no matter how much you move around in your sleep. If you’ve ever woken up with a cold leg touching the floor of your tent because it has slipped off of your inflatable mattress, you will understand how those bumpers can play a valuable role in keeping you warm through the night.

As this tongue-in-cheek promotional video shows, Klymit has further perfected the comfort level of the Static V by including its trademarked Klymalite synthetic insulation in the design, increasing the warmth factor of the mattress while also considerably dampening sound from movement. Simply put, you can’t get a better bang for your buck for an insulated mattress than the Static V. As Klymit likes to say, it is “over-engineered, but not overpriced.”

Product Specs
  • R-value: 4.4 rating makes this a great all-season camping option
  • Thickness: 2.5 inches of loft for cushioning and support
  • Set up: Takes around 15 breaths to fully inflate
  • Packed size and weight: At a pound and a half, heavier than many competitors
PROS

You can’t beat the price for this amount of insulation and cushion in a four-season air mattress

V-shaped air chambers and side bumpers offer fantastic comfort and support

Noise dampening construction means everyone gets a good night even if one person tosses and turns

Fairly easy to set up and takedown

CONS

1.5 times larger than a Nalgene bottle

A half a pound heavier than its competitors

Does not come with a foot pump or pump sack

If you are an extreme winter sports person and you are willing to invest in the Cadillac of insulated camping mattresses, look no further than the Therm-a-Rest Neo-Air Xtherm MAX Ultralight.

Made to withstand the rigors of mountaineering, the rectangular Xtherm MAX is pricier than other air mattresses but is guaranteed to keep you sleeping like a baby in the most Arctic of climates.

Therm-a-Rest’s Triangular Core Matrix, proprietary Therma-Capture technology, and foam layered between interior air pockets, keep you warm by reflecting heat back up to the body while preventing cold ground air from penetrating to the top layer of the mattress.

Constructed of thick Nylon, the Xtherm MAX is built to withstand the toughest winter and ground conditions. But you won’t have to sacrifice warmth for room in your pack for the XTherm MAX. Despite its insulation and cushiony comfort, this four-season air mattress weighs in at less than a pound, making it one of the warmest and lightest on the market.

Product Specs
  • R-value: A whopping 6.9 R-value means insulation in the coldest of temps
  • Thickness: 2.5 inches of loft to buffer you from the cold and hard ground
  • Set up: Use the included pump sack or take 15 breaths- the choice is yours
  • Packed size and weight: Weighs in at 15 ounces and compacts down to less than the size of a Nalgene bottle
PROS

Provides maximum insulation for the most extreme sleep environments

Proves that a high R-Value doesn’t mean added weight and bulk in your backpack

Trademarked WingLock valve and included pump sack make for quick set up and tear down

ThermaCapture technology prevents heat loss through the mattress

Rectangular, generous shape

CONS

Expensive, at $240.00 for regular size

High R-value may be overkill for occasional campers in more temperate climates

Lacks a fabric cover to dampen the noise of turning over

Best Mattress For Ultra-Lightweight Backpacking

I’ve had my Therm-a-Rest Nano Xlite inflatable mattress for five years and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made when it comes to hiking equipment. Since I bought mine, Therm-a-Rest has continued to improve on the great design of the original, most recently by adding their trademarked easy close WingLock valve and adding a pump sack, making teardown in the morning quite literally a breeze. Plus the 2.5 inches of air the Nano Xlite puts between your backside and the ground will prevent rocks and sticks from poking you in your sleep on those short winter days when you have to make do with a sketchy campsite in the backwoods before the dark creeps in.

The proprietary Triangular Core Matrix of the Nano Xlite means the interior air chambers promote heat circulation from the body but prevent cold air from infiltrating the top layer of baffles, keeping you warm and snug. In fact, Therm-a-Rest likes to say the Nano Xlite “offers the most warmth per ounce of any air sleeping pad construction.” While I can’t vouch for that exactly, I can say I have slept out in the wilderness in all four seasons in warmth and comfort with mine, and I highly recommend it.

Product Specs
  • R-value: 4.2 R-value and Therma-Capture reflective material make this a great, year-round camping option
  • Thickness: 2.5 inches of loft insulate and provide excellent protection from rocks and sticks
  • Set up: Quick and easy with the wide Winglock Valve and included pump sack
  • Packed size and weight: 8 ounces for the regular length and packs up smaller than a Nalgene bottle
PROS

Lightweight without compromising insulation and warmth

Thickness buffers against tough terrain elements

Easy installation and teardown

Durable exterior materials and included repair kit

Mid-priced, starting at $149 for a regular-sized mattress

CONS

Loud when your camping mate turns over

Mummy design can cause your legs to slip off onto the cold ground

Not for use in hammocks due to slippery exterior material

Best Closed-Cell Foam Pad

I first started noticing thru-hikers with these old-style accordion-shaped sleeping mats strapped to the exterior of their packs last year. Because I grew up in the Marine Corps using the world’s cheapest and least insulated foam sleeping mat, I’ve always snubbed my nose at the idea of a closed-cell foam sleeping pad. But all of those thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail can’t be wrong. While you really can’t squeeze through four seasons with a closed-cell foam pad due to their lack of insulation and loft, the Z Lite Sole has a lot of hiker fans for good reason.

First of all, the Z Lite Sole is very affordable at less than $65 and it weighs less than a pound. Second, the Z-Lite Sole makes set up and tear down simple and the ability to attach it to the exterior of a backpack saves room inside of your pack for other essentials like food. Finally, with a 2.0 R-value, the old school Z Lite Sole can be paired with other sleeping pads for additive heat retention. It’s a no-nonsense, easy-to-use sleeping pad that can get you through nights in the wilderness without breaking your bank.

Product Specs
  • R-value: 2.0, meaning you have to layer pads to stay warm
  • Thickness: .75 inches
  • Set up: Super quick and easy shake out and lay flat set up
  • Packed size and weight: Less than a pound and when folded up accordion-style, the size of two Nalgene bottles laid horizontally
PROS

Affordable at less than $65.00

Durable

Offers the best insulation for its class and weight

Fast set up

CONS

Minimal thickness necessitates a campsite free of sticks and rocks, but layer them for added warmth and cushioning

Not for four-season camping unless paired with another pad or an air mattress

Not for back sleepers

Larger pack downsize

Best Self-Inflating Mattress

Because my adventure partner likes to fire up a hot beverage when we pull into camp and I am always afraid of singeing my eyebrows off with the stove, I usually end up getting our tent and sleeping arrangements put together while he heats the water. That means I always end up almost blowing up the capillaries in my eyeballs when I have to inflate our two air mattresses, one of which is a large long. So imagine my awe when I discovered the NEMO Roamer, the “sleep at home” self-inflating camping mattress.

The Roamer can self-inflate in less than a minute thanks to NEMO’s proprietary open-cell foam technology, which has channels that quickly allow air to flow into the cells once the mattress is unrolled. No blown capillaries and lightheadedness are required. And once it’s fully inflated, a micro-adjustable valve allows you to let small increments of air out of the mattress to customize your ideal support level. The NEMO Roamer mattress provides luxurious comfort in the most extreme temperatures. While it isn’t cheap, light, or small, if you don’t plan to hike into your campsite and you can afford to splurge, this mattress will lull you into a deep sleep lickety-split. You might even forget you are in the woods.

Product Specs
  • R-value: 6.0, making this a perfect mattress for the most extreme winter nights
  • Thickness: A whopping 4 inches of insulation with a silky top fabric
  • Set up: Self inflates within seconds and multiple mattresses can be toggled together
  • Packed size and weight: 8 pounds, 4 ounces, and packs down to duffle bag size
PROS

Made for glamping with a bed-like feel

Silky fabric on top keeps it quiet even if your co-camper tosses and turns

High R-value means you won’t sacrifice warmth for plushness

Max loft means no rocks and sticks poking you in the back

Packs smaller and weighs less than similar options

CONS

Weight and pack size make it prohibitive for anything other than car or pull in camping (although it does come with a stuff sack)

Expensive, at almost $250.00

Best Hammock Mattress

Last year, my adventure partner and I finally invested in hammocks so we could ditch our stifling tent in the summer. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the mummy-shaped and slippery exterior of my air mattress was not conducive to hammock life, causing me to constantly slip off and move around all night. Would I have to forgo the air circulation and comfort of my hammock just to get a good night’s sleep? The answer is no.

That’s because Klymit has created an insulated air mattress specifically designed to prevent slipping and sliding in your hammock while also providing warmth and insulation. While strange-looking, the Klymit Insulated Hammock Mattress is the first air mattress of its kind for hammock camping. With the addition of four wings to the rectangular body, Klymit’s insulated mattress provides wrap-around warmth and insulation inside your hammock, and the non-slip coating helps to ensure the mattress stays put so you don’t slide around all night. Proprietary Klymalite synthetic insulation further contributes to nighttime comfort by preventing cold air from penetrating the top layer to your backside.

Like its counterpart, the Insulated Static V, the V-shaped air chambers of Klymit’s Hammock Mattress help to circulate warm air coming off of your body, provide support, and prevent cold air from infiltrating the top layer of the mattress. This means I no longer have to retire my hammock and return to a cramped two-person tent when winter sets in. Huzzah!

Product Specs
  • R-value: A hefty 4.4 R-value makes this a 4 season air mattress
  • Thickness: 3 inches of loft when fully inflated
  • Set up: Addition of the wings mean more lung work necessary, requiring a good 18-20 deep breaths to blow it up
  • Packed size and weight: At 2.2 pounds, compresses down to slightly larger than a Nalgene bottle
PROS

Less slipping around in your hammock and more slipping into dreams

Wrap around insulation and no cold tush

Opens up hammock camping to all four seasons

Can be used in any hammock, not just Klymit’s

CONS

Bulkier and weightier than other air mattresses (but you also won’t be lugging a tent around)

At just under $170.00, fairly pricey

Large size and no pump requires more lung power to set up

Bulkiness can make it harder to pack up

Why you should trust us

I am an outdoor fanatic, and the fun doesn’t stop for me when Old Man Winter shows his ugly face. Whether summiting 14,000-foot mountains or hiking through the snowy woods, I crave being in nature all year long. Professionally, I’ve also gutted countless military training exercises, including cold-weather training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California. 

Throughout all my experiences, I’ve learned that the quality of your gear can make or break an adventure. Well-constructed gear is mentally and physically worth every penny, but it doesn’t need to cost a pretty penny. Whether you are trying to find the best snow boots for women to keep your toesies warm or a way to stay toasty while sleeping during your fall and winter camping trips, I’ve learned the hard way that investing in the right gear is essential to comfort and fun in the wilderness.

Types of air mattresses for camping

Closed-cell

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more thru-hikers with accordion-style sleeping pads attached to the backs of their packs. After rolling into way too many campsites late in the afternoon after long days on the trail and having to spend what feels like an eternity blowing up my air mattress, I can see the appeal. 

The name comes from the material used to manufacture the pad, rigid closed cell foam (CCF), which is a dense material with tiny trapped air pockets for insulation and cushioning. While closed-cell sleeping pads don’t provide the same R-value or comfort most blow-up mattresses will, they are lightweight, easy to set up, puncture-resistant, and way less expensive than most other sleep system options. They can also be layered for additive R-value and cushioning if you have the room.

Inflatable

Inflatable camping mattresses look a lot like pool mattresses. Both are generally made from the same type of polyvinyl material and when blown up provide 2.5- to 3-inches of air between your backside and the ground. Many inflatable camping mattresses also contain reflective material inside for additional insulation and comfort. Depending on whether you are a back or side sleeper, the firmness mattress can be tailored to suit your sleep style by simply adding a few extra breaths during setup. 

While they take more time to blow up and take down than close cell options, can make a lot of noise if you toss and turn at night, and are more to puncture, inflatable mattresses are generally lightweight, cost-effective, pack down to less than the size of a Nalgene bottle, and provide excellent camping comfort. Four-season inflatable mattresses even contain down insulation for extra insulation, and many air mattresses even have a pump, either separate or integrated into their stuff sacks, for faster set up.

Self-inflating

Self-inflating camping mattresses are constructed out of a combination of open-cell foam and polyvinyl, providing up to 4-inches of insulation and max cushioning and comfort. To set up a self-inflating mattress, all you have to do is unroll the pad, open the air valve, and wait 20 to 30 minutes for the air cells in the foam to expand. You can even add air by manually adding a few breaths to the pad for firmer support. 

Thanks to their dual-material construction, self-inflating camping mattresses provide arguably the most warmth, comfort, and quiet, regardless of your sleep style or the season. The downside is that this style of mattress is heavier and doesn’t pack down as small as a regular air mattress. However, if comfort is king for you and you can spare the room in your pack on your camping excursions, a self-inflating mattress is a luxurious and warm good way to go.

Key features of air mattresses for camping 

R-value

R-value is used to rate the warmth of a camping mattress. The “R” refers to thermal resistance, or how well the material blocks cold air from moving from the ground, through the mattress, and to your body. It’s measured from one to seven. The higher the R-value, the warmer the mattress. However, if you want to maximize warmth, you can double up on sleeping pads to add more insulation. The bottom line is that if you want to stay warm in the winter, bring a camping mattress with a high R-value. 

Set-up time

All air mattresses, even the self-inflating ones, require at least some manual inflation, so ease of use is an important factor to consider when choosing one. There is nothing worse on a bitingly cold day than having to spend 30 minutes setting up your mattress. While you can use a pump to save time, you should also consider the size and material of your air mattress, but in general larger air mattresses will require more air and time to completely inflate. 

In terms of time, a closed-cell camping mattress takes the least amount of time to set up while a self-inflating mattress requires the most time. They require anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes for the air to fill the foam cells inside the polyvinyl shell. Why such a significant delta? The variance is impacted by the quality of manufacturing materials, elevation, and outside temperature. Simply put, the colder it is outside, the longer it will take to set up. 

Thickness

Most experts agree that you need at least two inches between you and the ground to sleep comfortably at night and buffer you from sticks and stones. In colder climates, thicker mattresses offer more insulation. 

Additionally, if you are a side sleeper, a thicker air mattress will prevent your hips from digging into the ground. Of course, thicker air mattresses also tend to weigh more and not pack down as small, so you will need to consider your camping requirements beforehand. 

If you plan to drive into your campsite, investing in a plush, six-inch layer of marshmallow cushioning might be a practical choice. But if you plan to carry your camping mattress on your back during extended hikes, you may want to consider using a thinner mattress. This will save space and reduce the overall weight of your pack. 

Materials

Some extreme hikers do everything possible to shave off every ounce they can from their gear. I get it. If you spend enough time in the field, the last thing you want is to feel weighed down by the contents of your pack. Luckily, most camping equipment makers today try to use materials that are lightweight, compact, durable, and designed for multi-purpose use. 

When it comes to sleeping gear, though, never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. An air mattress that’s too light might not provide enough comfort and support your body needs to recover from a grueling day of hiking. While you should be selective about what you bring, don’t skimp on the sleeping gear. Good quality sleep is essential for your mental and physical well-being.

Size

When you’re looking at camping air mattresses, you want to consider both their inflated and deflated sizes. That way you’ll know they’ll be big enough to support your body, and small enough that they won’t be burdensome to carry. 

When inflated, most camping air mattresses measure in at 72 inches by 20 inches, so big enough for an average adult, and when they’re deflated and rolled up, they’ll fit inside of a Nalgene bottle. However, there are other options for people who are smaller or larger than average as well, and those mattresses will pack up smaller or larger, too. 

With all that said, you should be able to find the right balance if you remember a couple of things. If you’re concerned about weight, pay attention to the weight specified by the manufacturer. If you plan to camp year-round, you don’t need to sacrifice warmth to maintain a light load. There are quality air mattresses with a high R-value that weigh just a few ounces more than lower R-value options. 

Benefits of air mattresses for camping

Comfort

You need good sleep when you hike and camp, but that’s easier said than done. Getting into deep sleep is a lot harder to do when you are tossing and turning because you are cold or uncomfortable. While it will take up space and weight in your backpack, a quality camping mattress will provide you the cushioning and insulation needed to maintain your body temperature throughout the night and promote deep, restful sleep. 

Buffering 

If you’ve ever read “The Princess and the Pea,” you know that even the slightest pebble between your back and the ground can feel like a boulder after laying on it for hours on end. A good camping mattress acts as a buffer between you and the ground and prevents you from feeling every stick and stone underneath you as you try to drop into REM sleep. 

The concept of buffering is especially important if you plan to bush camp because you won’t likely find groomed sites waiting for you in the wilderness. We’ve done our fair share of bush camping in some burly locations and know from first-hand experience that a good camping mattress is worth its weight in gold when you are out of daylight and have to make the worst campsite work. You’d be surprised at what just two inches of foam and air can do to prevent sticks and stones from poking into your body as you try to sleep.

Recovery

Good sleep is essential to muscle recovery. According to medical experts, quality sleep will help your muscles recover faster and also regulate your mood and emotions. To have good quality sleep, you need to enter into a “deep sleep,” where your brainwaves slow down, eyes stop moving, heart rate slows, and body temperature drops. Experts say about a quarter of your sleep needs to be in this deep state for adequate recovery. 

Pricing considerations for air mattresses for camping

Budget

A good quality camping mattress for a budget price will cost you between $50 and $100, but you might have to make a slight trade-off for weight and packed size, set up time, or durability. It’s a good price if you plan on using the mattress just a few times per year. 

Mid-Tier

You can find a whole host of great camping mattresses for $100 and $150. In this mid-tier price range, you are more likely to be able to find a more perfect marriage of low packed weight, high R-value, durable materials, and small packed size with fewer tradeoffs. Plus, many mid-tier options generally come with a pump sack and larger air valves, saving your lungs extra work after a long day of hiking and making set up a breeze. At this price range, it’s a great long-term investment for the avid camper. 

Premium

If you are looking for a more specialized camping mattress, you will most likely need to spend more than $150. For instance, if you plan to ditch your tent for a hammock, investing in an insulated and specially designed mattress like Klymit’s Insulated Hammock Mattress will ensure you stay comfortable in all four seasons without your mattress slipping around all night. If you are planning on an expedition in the extreme cold where your mattress can be the difference between life and death in the mountains, spending more than $150 will ensure your camping mattress is light, packs down small, and has an R-value of five or more. 

How we chose our top picks

Since quality sleep has such a big impact on emotional regulation, mental health, and muscle recovery, comfort and weight were the top two criteria we considered when reviewing mattresses for camping. However, since there is nothing worse than rolling into a campsite in the dark and having to spend 30 minutes putting up your tent and setting up your bedding before being able to relax, we also considered ease of use and set up. 

We also eliminated any mattresses that were too heavy or bulky to hike into a campsite from consideration since not all campsites allow direct access by car. We carefully considered the insulation value of each mattress we reviewed and only looked at those with an R-value of two or higher. Lastly, for consistency and comparison, we only refer to regular (versus long and wide) mattress size dimensions and weights when it comes to pricing.

FAQs on air mattresses for camping

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. Why bother with a camping mattress?

A: A good night of sleep will impact your mood, emotion regulation, and the recovery of your muscles, so investing in a high-quality mattress can make or break a camping trip. Your body and fellow campers will thank you for it.

Q. How do I choose a mattress for camping?

A: You should consider the length of time and frequency you plan to use it as well as where and in what weather conditions. While you could probably get away with using plastic pool floaties for one night on a concrete tent pad, that isn’t a practical solution for multi-day trips. If you are a thru- or long-distance hiker, you also want to consider weight, set up time, and packed size.

Q. What kinds of camping mattresses are there?

A: Pool floaties aside, there are generally three types of camping mattresses: closed-cell, blow-up, and self-inflating. Each has its advantages when it comes to insulation, packed size, and overall comfort and ease of use. When, how often, and where you plan to camp should determine which type is best suited for your needs.

Q. How about the insulation aspect (R-value)?

A: Simple answer. Don’t skimp on the R-value if getting a good night’s rest is important to you in the wilderness. Sleeping on a camping mattress with a high R-value won’t make you feel hot, but it will provide a layer of protection between you and the cold ground, making for a much more comfortable night.

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Kate Germano served in the Marine Corps from 1996 to 2016. She’s a closet gear freak who enjoys schlepping packs with her better half on long Appalachian Trail section hikes. She’s also into true crime, Qwirkle tournaments, and animals, but definitely not Dungeons and Dragons.

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