From whoopee cushions to water balls, earth dwellers have always found a way to use air to simply have fun. Air also helps us in our sports, shipping containers and marketing, but this guide is for those who need a comfy, convenient bed to sleep on.
You might call it an air mattress, blow-up bed, air bed, or sleeping pad depending on which part of the universe you come from, but they are all basically the same thing – an inflatable mattress. These inflatable beds use air in one or more chambers to give support, instead of coils like traditional mattresses or water in water beds. This feature makes it possible to deflate the mattress, which makes it portable and very convenient to store in a small space.
5 Best Air Mattress Alternatives
- TRI FOLD MATTRESS: Our tri-fold mattress is a convenient & comfortable alternative to air...
- THERAPEUTIC & COMFORTING: This mattress is made from high density foam which is known for its...
- LIGHTWEIGHT & PORTABLE: Take this mat with you on the go. It easily folds to fit into compact spaces...
- 4IN HIGH-DENSITY FOAM: Soft yet firm high-density foam provides maximum comfort and padding while...
- MULTIPURPOSE: Great as a convenient guest bed, a comfy camping bed, or as a floor sofa during movie...
- PORTABLE AND SPACE-SAVING: Simply slip the included carrying case over the portable, tri-fold...
- 4" THICK FOR MAXIMUM COMFORT in this premium self inflating sleeping pad. You get a very comfy...
- FAST INFLATABLE DESIGN with Built-in Air Pump. Simply stomp or hand press to inflate. Much easier...
- RUGGED LONG-LASTING 75D Polyester pongee fabric with extruded PVC lamination. This is the most...
- ALLEVIATES BED SORES AND ULCERS: Providing relief from bed sores and ulcers caused by extended...
- DESIGNED WITH 130 AIR CELLS: Each of the 130 air cells alternately inflate and deflate to create a...
- QUIET VARIABLE PRESSURE PUMP: Variable pressure pump is ultra quiet for restful sleep. Producing...
- COMFORTABLE - This folding mattress is plush, soft, breathable, and super comfortable.
- PORTABLE - This mattress folds easily for travel or storage and is perfect for small apartments and...
- CONVENIENT - The removable bamboo cover is machine washable for easy care.
From inexpensive mattresses for occasional camping trips to quality luxury beds with adjustable back rests, this guide walks you through the question-by-question process of choosing the best one for you.
Our team of explorers have put together an awesome site for you to read all about air mattresses, with in-depth reviews and the ultimate buying guide. You can also sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news, reviews, tips, and specials.
The 9 vital questions to ask
Before buying an air mattress and clicking that exciting Amazon Add to Cart button, we recommend asking yourself the questions below. They may not give you the answer to life, the universe and everything, but they will help you choose the best mattress for you. Make sure you print out the handy superhero checklist at the end of this book to take notes as you work through this guide.
- What will you mostly use the air mattress for?
- How many people will sleep on the air mattress?
- What’s your budget?
- How will you store and/or transport the air mattress?
- What quality are you looking for?
- Will you be warm enough?
- How much comfort are you looking for?
- What safety considerations are there?
What will you mostly use the air mattress for?
Air mattresses fall into one of three categories depending on what they are used for:
- Camping – overnight outdoor trips
- Temporary use – occasional use, such as when guests sleep over or for the kids on long car trips
- Permanent use – full-time use, such as in a bedroom with fitted sheets and a bed skirt, or in an RV for long-term travel
Some air mattresses can be used for more than one of these functions, but knowing what you will mostly need it for will help you choose the best one.
Tip for campers: Traditional foam mats tend to be uncomfortable and give very little support. Why not consider taking a foam air mattress on your camping trip that inflates itself with the simple opening of a valve? It‘s also easy to deflate and light to carry when it’s time to pack up and go home. Here are some foam air mattress brands our customers enjoy sleeping on: Therm-a-Rest, Western Owl Outfitters and Triphunter Gears.
Action to take: Decide which category/categories your air mattress will fall into.
Fun random tip: Want to get creative? Set up an outdoor movie theater with a screen and some air mattresses to lie on in your backyard. Here’s how to make one for less than $30, or you could just go wild and get an inflatable mega movie screen from Amazon.
How many people will sleep on the air mattress?
Think about where you will use the mattress and if there are any size restrictions in that area – is the office space really big enough to fit a super-duper, California King with all the trimmings? Also think about the maximum number of people who will sleep on the air mattress, along with their gender and age. Why is this important? Because each size will fit a different number of people and/or children comfortably.
Single and twin air mattresses: These mattresses are cost-effective and take up minimal space inflated and deflated. They also sleep minimal people one, to be precise. A small single (30×75”) is ideal for a child, a twin is good for one lady, while a twin XL is best for a man.
Full air mattresses: A full air mattress can comfortably sleep one woman and a small child. An adult couple should fit onto a Full XL mattress.
Queen air mattress: A queen mattress gets bigger, sleeping two adults with probably some breathing room. These mattresses are usually made higher than their smaller counterparts to better support a heavier weight.
King Size air Mattresses: This is the king of all mattresses. At 76 x 80 inches, it’s bigger and wider than them all. An adult couple and a child should sleep comfortably on a king. Many are also designed for extra comfort and bliss, being firmer and higher than other air mattresses to keep spines and necks aligned for a good night’s rest.
Action to take: Decide on the best size for your air mattress.
What’s your budget?
The price of an air mattress varies greatly depending on the materials used to make the mattress and any luxuries that come with it. You can actually see how much these prices vary by looking at the general price ranges below:
- Single and twin sizes: $15 – $90
- Full size: $20 – &210
- Queen size: $30 – $200
- King size: $120 – $200
Action to take: Look at your budget and decide which sizes you could consider buying. We will talk about quality soon – then you will need to weigh up the sizes versus luxuries based on what you can afford.
How will you store and/or transport the air mattress?
You will probably store the air mattress most of the time, only taking it out for a long-awaited snooze under the stars, or when Aunt Mavis comes for her annual visit. So storage is pretty important.
Think about where you will store your air mattress if it won’t be for permanent use. How much space do you have for that storage?
Now also think about how often you will need to transport the mattress and if you will have to carry it or drive it long distances. If you will simply be storing and using it in the office when Aunt Mavis rocks up, then a heaver, cheaper material should work just fine. But if you plan to show it life, the universe and everything through road trips, or you need to carry it up and down stairs in your house because Aunt Mavis has bad hips, then you may want to invest in a lighter and more durable air mattress.
What quality are you looking for?
The quality you choose will largely be determined by what you will use the mattress for, how often, and if it will be slept on indoors or outdoors. Your budget will also influence this decision, as it always does.
As we said at the beginning of this guide, air mattresses are filled with air to provide support. The air is pumped into air chambers, which can be made from anything like polyethylene bags to more expensive vinyl or latex. That material you sleep on is usually bonded cotton, but some lavish air mattress come with a foam layer on top of the chambers to make them snugglier, if that’s a word.
Let’s examine the materials because stuff like that’s interesting. Not always, but it helps to have a basic understanding of what you’re buying…
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Many people buy PVC air mattresses as they are the most cost-effective and readily available in all sizes. The good news is that this material is waterproof and can be used inside and outside – just wipe it clean if anything spills on it.
PVC is quite durable, lightweight and portable, making these air mattresses easy to store and transport. It does have a distinct smell, which you might know, but it’s not bad and may only be a concern if young children or someone with allergies will be sleeping on it.
Rubber is used to make the air chambers inside mattresses, where the air is stored. Many brands are also topped with a rubber layer.
Rubber has many of the same characteristics as PVC but is a lot more hard-wearing. But the more rubber used in an air mattress the more expensive it tends to be. This added cost also adds a lot more comfort.
Urethane Plastic (UP)
UP is a man-made material that’s waterproof, strong, easy to clean and simple to maintain. This is what you want to get for camping and outdoor activities. UP is a lot softer than PVC, yet stronger, which makes for a comfortable and durable air mattress with a slightly higher price tag. It also doesn’t aggravate allergies or medical conditions like PVC may do. More and more buyers are choosing UP as their material of choice.
Thermos Plastic Urethane (TPU)
TPU is immensely resilient and high quality. In fact, it is the best material to consider for your air mattress, if you have the budget for it. It’s a lot lighter than PVC and UP, and a lot stronger too. It’s hypo-allergenic, without any odour. So this one ticks all the boxes.
Action to take: Decide on the best material(s) for your air mattress.
Will you be warm enough?
Now let’s now think about when and where you will be using the air mattress. What seasons are you most likely to use it, and will this be indoors or outdoors?
A sleeping device’s warmth is officially rated using an R-value. An in-insulated air mattress provides no warmth, unless you purchase something like this NeoAir. If you plan to use the mattress indoors, you can change the bedding to suit the weather.
For camping outdoors, especially in colder months or icy climates, it’s best to add a closed-cell foam (CCF) sleeping pad to your list of what to pack. These pads can be placed on top of the air mattress to give you more warmth, or under the mattress to protect it from rocky terrain. What an awesome all-weather accessory!
If you are serious about keeping warm, get the Thermarest Ridge Rest Solar Sleeping Pad,which has a patent pending at the time of writing this guide. And if you read the specs about this nifty sleeping pad you will know why – it ups the R-value by 13% to 3.5 (see the table below for more info), without adding any weight.
Interesting fact: Did you know that the egg carton design of foam serves an important purpose? The holes trap air in them to make the sleeping pad more comfortable and provide insulation.
How much comfort are you looking for?
Comfort in the air mattress galaxy comes in many forms, from adjustable, self-inflating beds with memory for individual pressure settings to foam hybrids and pillow tops. You might be the type of person who takes comfort in the simple things, like knowing that the bedding you have in the closet will fit without a problem when you need to use your air mattress. Let’s put your mind at ease and dive in.
Interesting fact: Did you know that some air mattresses are available for medical use? Their firmness is adjusted with a control mechanism, which inflates or deflates the air chambers. Some can even change their full-length pressure in cycles, which helps to prevent bed sores.
Standard sheets and bedding will fit most permanent air mattresses, such as those designed for the bedroom or to be slept on in an RV. However, California King bedding may be more difficult to find as bedding for this size was originally designed for waterbeds.
A frame on an air mattress is totally optional and depends on how luxurious you want to go. If you want more luxury then buy a high-end model with a frame. Why? Because they’re sturdier and give better support while sleeping.
To feel if an air mattress has a frame, simply press your hand on the edge and check out its elasticity. If the edge of the bed feels solid, it has a frame.
The air pump
Unless you want to stand there manually blowing up the mattress and making yourself light-headed, you will want an air pump. These handy gadgets make inflation quick and easy. Automatic pumps are the quickest and the easiest, inflating or deflating the mattress with the flick of a button.
If you really want fancy then consider an adjustable air pump, which lets you control how much air you want in the mattress.
Clever tip: Before buying an air mattress check if the air pump works on batteries or with electricity. Think about what will serve you best – for example, will electricity be readily available where you will sleep?
The mattress topper
Mattress toppers make a soft, comfortable layer on top of an air mattress. The most popular toppers are made of memory foam, which molds itself to your body for the best night’s sleep. If you suffer from neck or back pain, then a topper becomes more of a necessity than a luxury! Here’s the ultimate in luxury – a reversible mattress topper with gel memory foam and air channels.
Action to take: Decide how much comfort and luxury you want, keeping your budget in mind.
What safety considerations are there?
With any product there are safety consideration. This is by no means a full list and we want to stress that you purchase all products at your own risk. Please use common sense when using any product that you buy. However, we’d like to bring up the following pointers for you to think about before purchasing an air mattress:
- Never let babies younger than 8 months old sleep on any type of air mattress.
- Avoid buying any air mattress made from phthalate plasticizers as they may be poisonous.
- Keep sharp objects away from an air mattress, even when it has been deflated