Should I buy an airbed or camping mat?

Camping Mats vs Airbeds

Any outdoor enthusiast will tell you that it pays to be comfortable when you’re camping. Sleeping on cold, hard flooring – with nothing but a sleeping bag to separate you – is no laughing matter. You’ll be tired, achy and craving for the comfort of your bed at home.

 Fortunately there are ways to create a more comfortable space to sleep on, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up feeling fresh and ready for the day ahead. The two main surfaces to choose from are camping mats and airbeds. But which one should you buy for your forthcoming trip?

What's More Portable?

Well, it all depends on the kind of trip you’re planning.

If you’re driving to a campsite and pitching your tent near your vehicle, you won’t need to worry about carrying too much kit around. If, on the other hand, you’re hiking, cycling or trudging through muddy fields at a festival, you’ll want something that’s lightweight and compact to easily carry.

Self-Inflating camping mats are the better option if you’re looking for something that won’t weigh you down. When deflated, they can be rolled up into a compact size and stuffed into the bag they’re supplied with. You can comfortably carry the bag over your shoulder, leaving your hands free to carry other gear (a crate of beer for example).

Which is the Most Comfortable?

This one’s pretty simple. Just ask yourself: what sounds more comfortable? A bed or a mat?

Yep, when it comes to comfort, nothing beats an airbed. As the name suggests, it’s essentially a bed filled with air. Comfort Quest Airbeds even have a special coil beam construction which replicates the springs and foam found in a common mattress.

As well as taking comfort to a new level, the coil beam construction provides support and stability to reduce back cramps and muscle pains. There’s far less chance of you waking up like Quasimodo if you choose an airbed over a camping mat. It’s one of the reasons they’re a top choice for new-age glampers.

That said, thicker camping mats are now available, ranging from 5cm to 10cm thick. These mats contain more foam than the standard 3cm mats and are far more comfortable to sleep on. In fact, the 10cm models are more like mattresses than camping mats (and the closest thing you’ll get to sleeping on an airbed). You can also buy camping mats with integrated pillows so that you don’t have to take a pillow with you.

The only downside to the thicker 5cm camping mats and 10cm camping mats is that they’re chunkier when rolled up and heavier to carry. In contrast, the 3cm camping mat is lighter and more compact when rolled up. If you’re travelling light, it’s a far better option.

Which has the Best Insulation?

Camping mats provide better insulation than airbeds because they have a dense memory foam construction. Scientifically speaking, the denser the sleeping surface, the warmer it is to sleep on. The amount of air in airbeds makes them far less dense. As a result, they provide less insulation and are colder to sleep on.

 Airbeds aren’t all bad, though.

To provide better warmth, most of them have a soft flocked surface. You can also cover the airbed with a bedsheet or blankets to improve insulation. The downside is that you’ll have to carry the bedsheets and blankets with you which isn’t ideal if you’re lugging a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment and other gear around.

What is Easier to Set Up?

The majority of camping mats are self-inflating and require little effort to set up. Simply open the air valve and they automatically inflate. The mats usually inflate to around a 75% capacity so you’ll need to blow in some extra air to ensure they’re fully inflated. It’s a small price to pay when you consider that the mat does most the work.

On the flip side, airbeds require a pump to inflate them. They inflate in minutes using an electric pump but take far longer with a manual pump. Unfortunately, most airbeds are supplied with an electric pump so you’ll need to buy a manual pump separately.

I found this out the hard way when I went camping last year. I presumed that the double airbed I purchased came with a manual pump and it wasn’t until I was at the campsite that I realised it came with an electric pump. With no socket to plug the pump into, I had to drive back home to inflate the airbed (a one hour round trip).

I was then faced with the problem of trying to fit the airbed into the back of my Peugeot 206, a process akin to fitting a carrot in a keyhole. I had to drive very slowly back to the campsite with the airbed hanging out the boot, praying all the while that it wouldn’t fall out en route.

What should have been a dream start to my camping trip descended into a nightmare. If you want to avoid a similar ordeal, check that the airbed you’re buying comes with a manual pump. If it doesn’t, I urge you to buy one. Oh, and one final bit of advice: always inflate your airbed inside your tent because they’re a pain in the backside to squeeze through the door. 


Always think practically when choosing between a camping mat and an airbed.

Consider the size of your tent and whether you want to sacrifice space for a more comfortable night’s sleep. After all, an airbed might be more comfortable to sleep on but it’s also a damn sight bigger. A single airbed is about 20cm wider than a single camping mat, whilst a double airbed is roughly 30cm wider than a double camping mat.

If you’re staying in a pop up tent, an airbed is out of the question. You’ll end up with more bed than tent. If you’re staying in a large tent (or a luxury yurt with a wood burning stove, sheepskin rugs and other home comforts), go the whole hog and treat yourself to an airbed.

Summary Table


Camping Mat

Air Bed

Set Up