Air mattresses seem to have become the go-to camping bed option over the years and it makes sense why. They raise you off the ground, keep you comfy while you sleep, plus they’re affordable and easy to use. But, there are some downsides to air mattresses and some outdoor enthusiasts have moved way to air mattress alternatives leaving your standard air mattresses behind for better and more convenient options.
Air mattresses aren’t that portable, they can get punctures, they take a while to set up, they’re cold in winter months, and they don’t offer much back support. If you haven’t experienced any of these, then you’re lucky, but believe me, they do happen. The more you camp, the more you might start to realize that an air mattress is not the right sleeping pad for your outdoor adventures and it’s time to look for the best air mattress alternative.
At A Glance: Our Top 3 Best Air Mattress Alternatives
In this article, we are going to run through all the air mattress alternatives from foam sleeping pads to hammocks and futons explaining the benefits and the negatives of each so you can find the best air mattress alternative for you.
Best For Car Camping
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Best For Backpacking
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The first air mattress alternative we would like to introduce to you is the good old futon mattress. You might think these belong in the spare room/office for when guests come to stay but they’re great for taking on the road too.
Futons are not very portable, and you won’t find anyone strapping these to their backpack for a hiking camping trip but they are a great option for car camping. They are bulky when rolled up so you’ll have to have enough space in your trunk.
Setting up a futon takes about 5 seconds, just unroll it and put it where you want to sleep and you’re done. There is no wasted time and energy inflating it like with an air mattress and you can use this time to have camp set up quickly and begin enjoying your time in the outdoors.
Packing up a futon is just as quick. There is no deflating and meticulous folding involved in order to get it back into its bag like an air mattress. Just roll it up, tie it up, and put it in the trunk.
You can put your futon anywhere from the trunk of your car, to in your tent. Once you lay down, it’ll be more like sleeping on your mattress at home than any air mattress you ever used. The thick foam keeps you warmer than an air mattress, and by laying it on the hard ground you’re going to get way more back support and generally have a cozier night’s sleep.
The next air mattress alternative is a hammock. Hammock camping certainly isn’t for everyone and if you haven’t tried it before, it can take some getting used to. Camping in a hammock is a much wilder experience as you don’t have tent wallas to give you the impression of much security.
Hammocks are made from a parachute-style material making them way lighter, packable, and backpacker-friendly than an air mattress. You can stuff and hammock into your backpack with ease and start a week-long adventure without the extra weight of an air mattress holding you back.
Setting up a hammock is easy, just find two suitable trees and learn a few knots and you have your floating bedroom setup in under 5 minutes. Taking it down is even easier, just untie your knots and stuff the hammock in your backpack. This is far faster and more convenient than inflating and deflating an air mattress.
By using a hammock, you also don’t need a tent, as you’ll be sleeping suspended between two trees. This makes them even more portable, but we know what you’re thinking, what about the rain and cold weather?
Well, you might have to take a tarp with you to rig over your hammock, or you can buy ones that are fully covered to protect you from the rain. They are great at keeping you cool in summer, and they can also work in winter, but you’ll need some extra insulation like a good sleeping bag and a foam mattress to keep you warm.
Sleeping in a hammock does have its advantages too. You’re off the ground so nothing can stick into your back. If it does rain, there will be no puddles to deal with. And you can enjoy the fresh air all night long rather than in a stuffy tent.
Hammocks are also known to help you fall asleep faster, give you a deeper sleep, and are meant to assist with back pain as the pressure is equally spread across your body. You certainly can’t say any of this about an air mattress.
The downsides to a hammock are that you do need two trees to make them work, you can’t just put them up anywhere. They could fall down, but as long as you’ve learned your knots, they shouldn’t. And you could struggle to get in and out of them.
The next air mattress alternative is a camping cot. A camping cot is a bed made from a rigid structure with a canvas-like board that holds you above the ground. They come in a range of different types to suit everyone’s needs, so there will be one out there for you.
When compared to air mattresses, a camping cot has a wealth of advantages the first being durability. Camping cots last far longer than air mattresses because there is much less to go wrong and they’re made of more robust materials.
You can’t puncture a camping cot, there is no valve to break, and if you cot does get a small hole in it, it makes no difference and you can continue to use it just the same as before. A camping cot will outlive an air mattress a few times.
Camping cots are also more stable and easier to get in and out of. You can sit and lie down rather than crouching and you won’t suffer the air bumps of an air mattress that reforms every time you roll over.
A camping cot also gives you a better night’s sleep. You’re raised off the ground and are therefore more insulated in colder weather, plus no water or creepy crawlies can get to you in the night.
Being raised off the ground also opens up and a lot of extra storage space. You can slip your things under your camping cot to make you tent much more spacious, whereas an air mattress does nothing but take up space.
Overall camping cots are a great alternative to an air mattress but they don’t tick all the boxes. They are still too bulky and heavy for backpacking and you’ll have to be driving to your campsite to use them.
Self-Inflating Sleeping Pads are a great air mattress alternative if you still want some inflation in your camp bed. They’re a hybrid of your standard foam sleeping pad and an air mattress but a lot more convenient.
The work by using open-cell foam that naturally sucks in air and inflates, giving you a great combo of a squidgy mattress with some air inside for extra comfort. Self-inflating sleeping pads provide great insulation thanks to the foam and air combination.
They are comfortable to sleep on and you don’t have that bounce effect like an air mattress does when rolling around in the night. But, they aren’t as raised an air bed, so you’ll need some flat ground without rocks or roots to ensure nothing digs into your back.
To set up a self-inflating sleeping bag just lay it out and open the valve and watch it pump itself up. You can then adjust the firmness to suit you by adding or removing air. There is no need for foot pumps or wasting time pushing air into them, they do it for you. And to pack them up, open the valve, roll, close the valve, and store.
They pack up really small and they are light making them an ideal choice for backpacking. Since they inflate, you still have the risk of punctures like you would with an air mattress but, they are much easier to fix in the field, all you need is a puncture repair kit.
Overall, self-inflating sleeping pads are a great compromise for providing extra comfort for a backpacking camping trip thanks to their lightweight and small packed size. Plus they’re more convenient than an air mattress.
We wouldn’t recommend them for car camping as there are far more comfy alternatives like the futon mattress.
Foam Sleeping Pads are the original no-frills camp bed and are a solid air mattress alternative for certain situations like backpacking. They are a lot lighter and more durable than an air mattress.
You can roll up a foam sleeping pad and tie it outside your backpack without any concern of damage, unlike an air mattress that you’ll have to keep safe from any possible puncture scenarios. Plus you won’t have to suffer from carrying extra weight or tools like a foot pump.
Setting up a foam sleeping pad takes a few seconds, just roll out it. There is no 20 minute inflation time and packing them up is just another roll rather than deflating and folding like an air mattress.
A foam sleeping pad provides you with good insulation but they aren’t as comfortable as an air mattress to sleep on. They are a little thin and you do risk being able to feel any uneven ground come through them in the night. You can solve this by picking the right camo site, but you don’t always have that option.
Foam sleeping pads are a more affordable and practical alternative to an air mattress overall. They’re lighter, more durable, easier to set up and pack, plus you can take them anywhere. The only downside being, you might not be as comfortable as with an air mattress, but there are other alternatives to air mattresses that have you covered, like camping cots.
Taking air mattresses alternatives to an extreme, why not remove the need for a mattress altogether and just sleep on your tent floor with a sleeping bag? This option isn’t made for everyone, but you adventurous explorers out there who love to travel light can’t deny you haven’t thought about it. We certainly have.
Sleeping without any mattress at all is certainly not as comfy or warm as sleeping on an air mattress but there are some things you can do about it like make a natural mattress.
This involves using leaves, heather, or pine needles to create a soft bed over which you pitch your tent. The extra layer will give you something soft to sleep on and provide you with some insulation. Even if you’d never go camping without a mattress, this is a useful tip to remember for times when things go wrong.
The benefits of no mattress at all are quite obvious; money, time, and space. You have nothing to carry, nothing to set-up, and nothing to buy. But, you’ll have to sacrifice comfort and warmth to get all these benefits.
There are quite a few reasons to leave an air mattress behind when you go camping and take an alternative that suits you better. Overall air mattresses are just a hassle full of inconvenience and things that can go wrong. The last thing anyone needs is a mattress that can break in the field, leaving you to sleep on the floor in your sleeping bag.
As you can see, there are quite a few reasons not to own an air mattress. But, don’t worry, the alternatives we put together in this review solve every one of those issues. Buy picking the right alternative, you’ll never have to deal with the hassles of an air mattress ever again, and here are the benefits.
If we haven’t convinced you to ditch your air mattress by now for the best air mattress alternative, then it’s clearly the right camping bed for you. If we have made you wonder about the other options out there but aren’t sure which one will be best, then take a look below. We have outlined our favorites for different camping scenarios to help you make the right choice.
The best air mattress alternative for car camping or for camping where you drive to your camp site is a Futon Mattress. They offer increased comfort, a quicker and easier setup, more durability, better back support, and more insulation compared to an air mattress. Sleeping on a futon mattress is as close as you’ll get to sleeping in your bed at home while camping.
The best air mattress alternative for backpacking is a Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad. With these, you get the best of both worlds; a portable, light sleeping pad that packs down small but also inflates for extra comfort. They are simpler and easier to set up than an air mattress, you can slip them into a backpack, and you’ll be warm and comfy.
The all-around best air mattress alternative is a Camping Cot. Camping cots are easier to set up, way more durable, provide better insulation, raise you off the ground protecting you from any flooding or insects, provide a storage area underneath them, and are more supportive and comfortable.