Last Updated on 10/11/2022
12 Air Mattress Alternatives for Camping
In this guide to air mattress alternatives, we will share 12 different ways to camp without an air mattress. Foam pads, hammocks, camping cots, and blankets are all viable air mattress alternatives for camping but which makes the best alternative to an air mattress?
Air mattresses are comfortable, for most people, but are heavy, bulky, and there is always a risk of puncture. If for any reason you puncture your inflatable camping mattress or forget to pack it you will be forced to find an alternative.
Some people simply do not get on with air mattresses. For others, they may not know anything different. We’re going to share 12 air mattress alternatives for camping and explain how to get the best night’s sleep using them.
12 Alternatives To Air Mattresses
These are some alternatives to inflatable mattresses we have used in the past
Foam Sleeping Pad
Foam pads are perhaps the most basic form of sleeping mat available for camping. These pads are used by everyone, from the youngster going for their first night out to the experienced camper who wants something with no risk of deflation. They are warm, lightweight, and affordable.
There are two major downsides to foam pads, though. Firstly, they’re bulky and usually end up on the outside of a backpack. More importantly, they don’t offer anywhere near the same level of comfort as an air mattress, with just a thin layer of foam keeping you separated from the ground.
Self Inflating Sleeping Pad
Inflatable sleeping pads are a modernization of the foam pad. These inflate up to a couple of inches thick, but can also pack down really small. You can get inflatable sleeping pads with varying degrees of insulation, so they’re good for all seasons. Thermarest are one of the top brands for self-inflating sleeping pads, check out this post for one we have used in the past.
Self-inflating sleeping pads are the best version of the inflatable sleeping pads. Simply open a valve and the pad draws air in to inflate itself to a comfortable and supportive sleeping pad. Remember, though, that inflatable pads are at risk of getting punctured, so it pays to check your sleeping area before you inflate them.
Cots are perhaps the most comfortable bedding option available for camping. Camping cots are made from a metal frame and canvas sheet, which raises you off the ground. Unlike with other options, there is no risk of deflation and no issues coming from the uncomfortable ground. But are camping cots worth it?
However, these are bulky and really heavy. Carrying a camping cot in is unlikely and they are more popular with people who sleep close to their car. If you want comfort, though, then these are the answer.
Hammocks may not seem like the obvious choice as an alternative to an air mattress. For a start, you have to totally overhaul your sleeping set up, leaving the tent and moving into the freedom of the great outdoors. Setting up a hammock takes some getting used to, as can sleeping in them, but many people find them to be the most comfortable option for sleeping outside.
Hammocks themselves offer very little insulation, but you can add a hammock underquilt to stay warm.
Blankets are a traditional way to keep yourself comfortable and insulated when out camping. Folding a blanket underneath your sleeping bag will give a reasonable level of padding and you can always fold it over more if you need a thicket pad.
Wool camping blankets are heavy for the level of insulation they offer. They are unlikely to be your go-to plan but are a great backup if you find yourself in need of a sleeping mat. They’re versatile, though, and can be used to keep you warm around a campfire before being folded under your sleeping bag.
Animal skins and furs have been keeping campers around the world warm for longer than any other technology. A sheepskin rug may sound like an odd alternative, but they’re lightweight and warm. These roll up small enough to pack on the outside of your backpack, with some people choosing to roll them up inside a weather barrier to keep them dry.
The canvas roll, popularised by western films, is more of a way to protect your sleeping bag than an insulating barrier. You can easily roll your sleeping bag or blanket up inside your roll, too, so you can just get up and go in the morning. These are heavy, though, and don’t suit hiking or carrying your kit, better suited to arriving by car, or on horseback.
Custom Foam Padding
If you sleep out a lot and want an option that you can throw into your car and take with you, you can do a lot worse than custom foam. There are many manufacturers out there who will cut your foam to your precise dimensions, or you can just take a mattress topper from a single bed.
Foam is comfortable, easy to stuff into a car, and insulates well. What it lacks is breathability and you can find yourself getting sweaty sleeping on foam. It’s bulky, too, even if it’s lightweight, so you probably won’t be taking this hiking with you any time soon.
Duvet Cover/Sofa Cushions
If you’re running short of options or camping infrequently, buying a specialist piece of equipment might not seem worthwhile. A spare duvet cover or the cushions off the sofa can see you through a night or two. These are both fairly comfortable and well-insulated options, but obviously bulky and not suited to carry any distance.
If you get into camp and find you have nothing better to use, you can always lay out your spare clothes and sleep on them. They will separate you a little from the ground, and you can make a fairly comfortable sleeping pad too.
Remember that condensation can form on the ground in some tents though. You don’t want to sleep on top of your spare clothes, only to wake up and find them too wet to wear the next day.
Natural Materials – Moss, Grass, Leaves, Sand
You probably aren’t going to bring any other these into the tent with you, but finding a spot with plenty of moss or sand underneath you can be an easy way to make your night more comfortable. If you can’t find a good spot with these in, you can move them into place. Though none of them, except perhaps moss, offer much insulation, they do give you a far more comfortable area to sleep on.
It’s important to aim to leave no trace when you’re camping though. Moving any of these can disturb the habitat, and removing live plants just for comfort should only be a last resort. Aim to avoid moving any of these unless you have to, and instead look for somewhere they occur naturally.
Sleep on the Ground
Last but not least, you can sleep on the ground. This is not the choice that anyone wants to pick, but sometimes we’re left with no option. Try to find a soft piece of ground that is free of sticks and rocks, and position yourself to get as comfortable as possible.
Reasons for Needing an Air Mattress Alternative
You might be wondering whether you can get away with just sleeping on the bare ground but in most cases you won’t get much sleep at all. Here are some of the reasons why you should seek an alternative type of bed if you don’t have an air mattress:
Your air mattress gets a puncture
It’s not uncommon to wake up on an air mattress that has lost some of its pressure overnight. This is different, though, from sleeping on one which has a puncture and can’t hold air. If your air mattress gets a puncture, you’re going to wake up on the ground with no insulation, which is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Chances are, you may not find out about the puncture until you’re out camping, by which time it can be too late to pack an alternative. In this instance, you may have to resort to one of the less-appealing options like sleeping on clothes or blankets to stay warm.
You lose your air mattress
If you lose your air mattress on the trail, we’d be surprised if you didn’t notice. But it can happen. Whether or not you lose it in your house, or when you’re out camping, a lost air mattress is no use to anyone.
If you lose it at home, you’re in luck. You can pack some pillows or foam instead, or pick up an alternative on your way to camping. If you lose it when you’re out and about, you may have to resort to sleeping on clothes or a blanket to get through the remaining nights.
You don’t sleep well on an air mattress
Some people just don’t find air mattresses comfortable. Even the best air mattresses offer little support compared with a regular bed. If this is you, you will probably need to try a few alternatives to an air mattress to find what’s right for you, and then stick to that in the future.
They are too big to carry
If you’re carrying your pack any distance, you’re not going to want to carry your air mattress and a pump with you. You will know when planning your trip, whether you are walking any distance. If you are, pick an alternative, like a foam pad, and take that instead.
Why an Air Mattress Alternative is Important
Having a barrier between you and the ground is important when you are camping. Not only is it a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the floor, but it insulates you too. The air that traps inside an air mattress will act as a barrier between you and the cold ground, so you can sleep more soundly.
Do You Need an Air Mattress for Camping?
Whether you need an air mattress remains up to you. A lot of campers swear by their comfort. Alternatives to air mattresses for camping are popular with hikers and those who want a lightweight option.
Being aware of some alternatives can open opportunities to try new equipment. It can also help to dig out of a hole, if you forget, lose or puncture your air mattress while you’re out camping. The most important thing is to insulate yourself from the ground up and try to get as comfortable as possible.