Air Mattress Alternatives You Should Know

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Photo credit By Alan Stewart, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9151139

You may be “roughin’ it” on your camping trip, but you still want to sleep comfortably, right? The mattress you choose can make or break your trip, and somehow, this is often overlooked. Many people opt for an air mattress, these are the most popular, and can be a good choice as long as you don’t buy the cheap kind. One of the main issues with an air mattress, however, is air leakage. This is something that will very likely happen eventually, if not over time, a simple accident could puncture your air mattress. Let’s explore some alternatives!

The foam mattress is one of your best choices. It’s all-purpose, portable and durable. It may be little bulkier and heavier, but it’s a fair trade for the durability gained. There are two kinds of foam mattresses, closed cell and open cell. Both are self-inflating. The closed cell mattress is made of a harder, usually waterproof foam. The open cell foam is softer, covered with a protective material and requires some air to inflate through the open cell structure. The good news is these mattresses are self-inflating.

Pros and Cons of the Foam Mattress:

Closed cell foam

Pros:

  • Multipurpose; closed cell foam can be used as seat to rest on or in some cases, as a water float.
  • Portable; these are usually heavier and bulkier than air mattresses or open celled mattresses but still surprisingly light and portable as they can be folded, rolled or otherwise compacted for transportation.
  • Durable; meaning no air leaks and no ending up on the ground in the middle of the night. The closed cell foam mattress is a good choice for rocky surfaces or areas where an air mattress or open celled mattress could get punctured.

Cons:

  • Heavier and bulkier than air or closed cell mattresses.
  • May not provide a lot of padding (more padding equals more bulk).

Open cell foam

Pros:

  • Lightweight; still slightly heavier than an air mattress.
  • Portable; can be compacted to a small size. Some models are comparable to an air mattress.
  • Provides good insulation from the ground.
  • Self-inflating, saving you the time and effort of doing it yourself.

Cons:

  • Still require air, and thus may still be punctured, although repair kits are available.
  • They can be expensive.

Other air mattress alternatives include laying down a few blankets or comforters, bamboo mats and survival beds (I’ll explain this). I’ll go over the pros and cons of each:

Another option is layering blankets and pillows on the ground

Pros:

  • Cheap: you likely already own them so you don’t have to buy anything new.
  • Flexible method: you can adjust the thickness of the padding under you or over you to your liking.
  • Durable as the blankets can conform to any surface without being punctured, although they can tear, but even with a tear they are still useable

Cons:

  • Very heavy and bulky, definitely not for hiking.
  • Not very compact, will not fit in a pack well.
  • May not provide a lot of padding (as mentioned before, more padding equals more bulk).

Bamboo mat

Pros:

  • Cheap.
  • Lightweight.
  • Compact.
  • Durable.
  • Multipurpose: you can use it to sit on, eat on, lay on, possibly more.

Cons:

  • Breakable with enough force.
  • Provides very little protection from the ground in terms of insulation.
  • Not great for rough ground.

Survival beds

A survival bed is made from materials you find in your environment. The idea is to get you off the ground and provide you cushion and insulation. It could be as simple as piling up leaves or pine boughs. Another step up would be laying out logs and then piling bedding like those mentioned above on top of the logs. Or they could be more involved and require some lashing, cutting and assembly.

Pros:

  • Free!
  • Weightless:  they are made on the spot and left behind when you leave.
  • No need to worry about durability, because you aren’t keeping it.
  • Can be very comfortable and warm if done properly.

Cons:

  • Takes more time and energy than other types of bedding.
  • If done wrong, these may offer no protection from the ground.
  • Involves a bit of research.

Often, an air mattress is the ideal camping mattress, however, there are several alternatives. Happy camping!