Camping,  Outdoors

Why you shouldn’t use a Cheap Air Mattress for Camping

Here is my ode to my deep hatred of using a cheap air mattress for camping. Am I being a bit dramatic? Sure. If you understood the real struggle of cheap air mattresses and how my camping life vastly improved when I finally got rid of that terrible thing, maybe you’ll understand.

So, how did I get to this conclusion?

It all began when my husband Robb and I went to our first camping music festival. We have been camping many times prior to this event but often used my mother-in-law’s gear or would forgo the mattress entirely. Since we often only camped during the warmth and were both really young, it didn’t matter too much.

But, with a four night camping trip filled with booze, dancing, and fun we figured it was time to invest in something that could maximize our sleep. Hangovers be damned!

With our grand shopping list for Bonnaroo, we headed out to our closest big box retailer in search of an optimized camp sleeping system. Why not get ourselves a cheap air mattress for camping?

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Just so you know, we were right out of college and money was scarce. For instance, I had only a few hundred bucks in my bank account and while Robb was already a few months in his nursing career, we were saving most of his income for our great move to Denver. That being said, our budget was very limited and we were only going to spend a tiny amount on an air mattress.

That’s where it all began.

All of the headache, backache, and well slight camping bickering matches could have been avoided if we only invested in a better product. I’m not saying that there is no decent air mattresses out there and there are certain purposes to go with a blow up variety when it comes to padding. All I am saying is to be wary of the cheap air mattress.

I get the logic behind it. Sleeping on air sounds a whole lot better than rocks. But, that is not what is happening with a cheap air mattress for camping. Top it off, there are many concerns with a cheap air mattress that you wouldn’t think of if you’re not a regular camper.

Let me break it down for you.


This is the most annoying thing ever. Think of it. You have your beautifully inflated mattress when you go to bed only to be left in a deflated mess by the morning. I don’t care how new the mattress is, it will deflate. Perhaps it goes slow in the beginning but yes, it will deflate.

What is even worse is that because you are probably the heaviest thing on the air mattress, you will be touching the ground while surrounded and suffocating on the air mattress material boasted up by your weight. Hello back pain.

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This can especially be annoying when it’s hot. Imagine being cocooned in a layer of stupid air mattress material in the heat of the morning. It’s not fun.


This doesn’t apply if you are solo air mattressing but if you are sleeping with a partner, friends, children, or pets, you can bet that your precious sleep will be interrupted by the general movements of people around you. Think of a bounce house. That’s what it’s like.

Someone needs to use the restroom in the middle of the night? Get ready to be slammed into the ground when they get off the mattress. Someone’s a morning person? Welcome to waking up in the morning. I know. It sucks. But wait, there’s more.


While camping may be about staying outdoors, you sometimes need some kind of shelter to spend time in while camping. Whether it be due to privacy or nature, it can be nice to jump in the tent for a minute or so when you change, to escape unpleasant weather occurrences, or even get a bit of alone time from other campers at your site.

Sounds great until you have to tromp around on the stupid air mattress. Have food in there? It will spill. Drinks? Spilled.

Even if you want to just sit still, it will be interrupted by any movement. Again, think of it like being in a bounce house. Fun if you are a small child bouncing. Not so fun when you just want to sit an relax.


Did you think the struggle goes away if you are camping in cold weather? WRONG! Cheap air mattresses are arguably worst in the cold. 

Why is that? Basically, most cheap air mattresses are made from low quality materials, making them affordable. Many higher quality sleeping pads use materials that prevent the transfer of cold from the ground to your body when you sleep keeping you nice and toasty at night.

Cheap air mattresses do no such thing. Since the material doesn’t do much to prevent cold air transfer through it, the air inside your air mattress basically turns into a frozen ice block. Ok, maybe not literally since it is still air but you get my drift. It’s cold. Now your sleeping bag, which I’m going to assume isn’t a ritzy expensive one since you went with a cheap air mattress has to do all the work. It will be cold.


This is where the bickering comes in. It is Robb’s duty to pump up the cheap air mattress and well, he is not a fan. I’ll paint you the picture.

 Every morning with the sun blazing and backs aching, Robb has to pull this flaccid oversized excuse of a bed out of the tiny doorway of the tent, knocking all the blankets, bedding, pillows and accumulated clothes down to the floor, some even getting caught or tossed outside the tent in the process. Then he heaves this heavy piece of junk over to the car, dragging much of the corners on the floor. The odd shape makes it hard to move regardless of the weight.

Now, he must turn on his car to use the car operated generator. It’s loud and obnoxious and if there is a worry of the car battery going bad, we sometimes turn the car fully on, filling our campsite with fumes. Yes, there are hand pumps as well but that just takes a lot of effort to get it fully pumped as well. The other alternative is to go through a million batteries while using a battery operated pump. Either way, it sucks. These bad boys need a lot of air.

Lastly, as he finishes pumping the mattress, he has to heave it back to the tiny opening of the tent where we decide either to just throw it in there or move all the things displaced by the job so they aren’t lodged under the mattress. Either way, it’s a pain and everything that was once organized is now an annoying mess.


Just when you think the annoyance is done since your trip is over, you get hit with another problem. Cheap air mattresses never fold right back up.

We usually use Robb’s Subaru Impreza for camping and while there is space, it is limited. So, it is always a joy when packing that we can never quite get all the air out of the air mattress. Yes, when you first buy it, it is nicely vacuum sealed and fits perfectly in the box. Not so much when you try to do it yourself. Maybe after a lot of time and patience, you might get it somewhat small. But it takes a lot of time.

So, instead of your nicely packed air mattress box, you have a pile of thick fabric taking up all of the space in your vehicle. It’s like the punishment that keeps on giving.


So, this begs the question. What should you use instead of a cheap air mattress for camping? Well, there are great solutions for any budget. If your budget is low, I recommend any cheap foam pad. Even some of the highest brands such as Big Agnes or Thermarest offer economical options.

If you want to splurge, go with a self inflating mattress like my Big Agnes Hinman Double sleeping pad. It’s rated up to 15 degrees, keeping you warm throughout the night. You’ll be surprised how comfortable a few inches of padding is. Blow in a couple puffs and you will feel like your sleeping at home. Even after a night of partying, I wake up pain free.

If there is one piece of camping gear to splurge on, this is it. I even use relatively cheap sleeping bags and have no problems camping 3 out of 4 seasons out of the year in the Colorado Rockies.

Well there you have it. Here is why I will not use a cheap air mattress for camping and I highly recommend that you do the same.

Do you have any experiences or funny stories regarding  a cheap air mattress? I would love to hear your take in the comments below.

For more camping tips and stories, please subscribe to my blog. Thank you all for reading and I hope these tips help make your next outdoor adventure great.  

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