Finding the perfect air mattress for your next camping trip or converting your office into a temporary guest room for the next big holiday can be difficult, so it’s important to find an air mattress buyer’s guide to help you make an informed decision. Your local shopping mall and sporting goods stores can be lackluster when it comes to the available options.
Shopping online for an air mattress, however, is a lot like walking into a brick and mortar mattress store. There will be an ample amount of options available, but deciding on the best air mattress for your situation can be overwhelming, if not paralyzing.
That’s why we’ve put together this detailed and complete guide, to help inform and guide you to selecting the ideal air mattress. We’ve taken great care to create a list of over 22 considerations to keep in mind before buying an air mattress. Take a few minutes to read through our guide and equip yourself with the knowledge needed to select the best air mattress for your situation.
Types of Air Mattresses
With a plethora of air mattresses available in the market, it’s easy enough to say that it’s a real challenge to choose the right air mattress. There are many different air mattress brands and features to select from. To step up to this challenge, you should spend some time acquainting yourself with the different types of available air mattresses.
There are three primary categories of air mattresses:
- Camping Air Mattresses
- Temporary Air Mattresses
- Permanent Air Mattresses
Camping Air Mattresses
Camping air mattresses are typically lightweight and reduced in overall size and height, however, there are exceptions to all things. Generally camping air mattresses are designed to be:
- Portable and Compact
These mattresses will most often have an extra thick vinyl bottom to help protect from punctures. Standard sheet sizes do not always fit camping air mattresses, so flock top bedding material is quite common. Some camping air mattresses are designed with a low-profile body, that utilizes specialized foams and air combinations. There’s a whole world of new technology in the air mattress industry to keep an eye on.
The primary reasons for selecting a camping air mattress are often associated with comfort. Taking an air mattress with you camping allows you to sleep elevated off the rocky, uneven, cold and sometimes wet ground. Moisture is nearly impossible to avoid overnight when camping on the ground, in a tent, or even inside of a truck bed. No one wants to wake up wet. Keep waterproofed camping air mattress features in mind.
There are also ultra-lightweight air mattresses, known as “sleeping pads,” which are commonly used by backpackers and bush crafters for their extreme portability and compactness. These types of air mattresses are highly valuable to backpackers aiming for the lightest pack possible and a good night’s rest.
Temporary Air Mattresses
Temporary air mattresses are typically heavier and bulkier in size and height when compared to camping air mattresses. Generally, temporary air mattresses are used inside of a home setting and thought of as inflatable beds that are designed to be:
- Easily setup
This type of air mattress tends to adhere to standard bed sizes, such as twin, full, queen, and king size mattresses. With this kind of mattress, it’s common for standard sheets to fit and to have features that allow them to adhere to the bed itself.
It’s not uncommon for temporary air mattresses to have flock bedding material on the top. This flock material is a synthetic velvet-like material that covers the top of the bed and can eliminate the need for extra sheets. This material is not the only one used, but it’s quite common and will depend on the specific model. There are lower grade materials and higher-grade materials that can cause the price to fluctuate. It’s also important to note that flocking materials can be a little tricky to clean certain substances out of it.
One of the primary reasons for purchasing a temporary air mattress is to provide overnight guests with a more comfortable sleeping arrangement. These types of air mattresses will tend to have higher quality air chambers and more features that mimic traditional beds than a basic inflatable bed would have. Some models will have air chambers located at the head of the bed to provide neck support to emulate pillows.
As compared to the permanent air mattresses, temporaries are lighter and tend to be more compact and portable. They will often be smaller and easier to store, as they may be folded up and fit inside something like a plastic tub. Some temporary air mattresses are rated for camping use, but you must keep an eye out for extra-base protection if you’re intent on using the temporary air mattress for dual purposes.
Permanent Air Mattresses
Permanent air mattresses are typically heavy and larger in overall size and height, however, there are exceptions to all things. Generally, permanent air mattresses are designed to be:
- Used for a long duration
- Emulate or replace a conventional bed
- Have a sturdy support structure
- Elevated and highly accessible
Permanent air mattresses also referred to as air beds, are designed for more long-term situations, like a conventional bed. They are often the heaviest, tallest, and thickest of the three categories of air mattresses. Sporting the most advanced and high-quality air chambers and the latest technologies.
These mattresses are typically used as alternatives to conventional beds. It’s common to see permanent air mattresses used as replacements for guests’ beds and used inside impromptu guest rooms. Permanent air mattresses also adhere to standard sheet sizes and often have advanced features built in to prevent them from slipping off.
How long will the air mattress be used for?
Asking this question before purchasing an air mattress can be critical. This question alone can really be a divining rod as to whether or not you need an air mattress or something different. Inflatable air mattresses have many benefits, but they also have drawbacks depending on the situation they’re being used for and for how long it’s intended to be used.
Most air mattresses are not recommended for daily use, but instead for special occasions like impromptu backyard camping for your kids, entertaining visiting family members and friends, or going out to the woods for a weekend camping trip. For some people that work remote-jobs, they may keep an air mattress in the back of their truck bed or SUV. All of these situations are situational and there are specific air mattresses designed for these types of scenarios.
If the intent is to use an air mattress for a longer period or as a replacement for a conventional bed, you will want to look deeply into the permanent air mattress or air bed category. These types of inflatable air beds will be much better to stand the test of time and many are designed for such. However, be sure to read into the product and the fine print in the warranty. Many new air mattress buyers are caught off guard AFTER their purchase.
There are many different air mattresses on the market with each model stipulating its own guarantees and warranty policies. It’s common for higher-end models to have a 1-year warranty, but it’s certainly not standard on all air mattresses.
For most models, manufacturers do not intend the air mattresses to be used on a regular basis, as like all things, wear and tear will catch up. Most warranties only cover very specific areas, such as faulty built-in pumps or factory defects in the mattress itself. This doesn’t cover punctures and other abuses that can occur to the inflatable bed.
Where will the air mattress be used?
Where an air mattress is intended to be used is another critical data point when making a decision on what’s the best air mattress for your situation. While there are certainly more use cases than we can list, sometimes it’s best to own multiple air mattresses. Similar to using the right tool for the job.
For example, packing up and hauling a bulky air bed that may require access to an electrical outlet for using its internal pump is NOT an ideal situation for a camping trip. Just as much as setting up a small temporary air mattress low to the ground wouldn’t be suitable for your grandparents who are visiting for the holidays.
Many temporary air mattresses are specific to camping and have special features built in to help address typical scenarios you would find in these situations. Spend enough time looking for the features that reflect this purpose. Identify whether or not the location you’re planning on using your new air mattress makes sense and matches your intended use. The last thing you want to do is buy a new air mattress and find out it’s not going to work, or even worse damage it to the point of required maintenance and repair.
Air Mattress Comfort
Comfort is generally the fundamental reason to buy an air mattress, to begin with. Otherwise, we would let our selves and guests sleep on the ground. Air mattresses allow us to provide a more comfortable sleeping arrangement than say an old living room couch or futon. It’s cannot be overstated how valuable and important it is to get a good night’s rest.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been in a situation where we were forced to sleep on an old couch, love seat or worse, a hard cold floor. A few blankets or sleeping bags Rarely does this turn into a good night’s sleep. Worse yet, if you are camping and planning on going for a hiking, fishing, or some other related activity — you want to do it well-rested.
This is why companies that manufacture air mattresses focus on one mainline feature: comfort. If you are unable to sleep comfortably at night, then the mattress would be of no use to anyone.
Specifically, you should investigate features that are absolutely necessary for comfort such as:
- Quality build materials
- Stability of the mattress
- Firmness settings
- Bedding material
- Accessible height of the mattress
A great way to get a good sense of the comfort level is to read into the product reviews yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you’re purchasing this product directly from Amazon or other retailers’ websites. Look for third-party opinions that have been aggregated. Don’t take the manufacturer’s word, verify it through consumer reports and reviews.
Air Mattress Support
When it comes to air mattress support, different mattresses will have varying levels of built-in support that make the bed more comfortable to sleep on. Air mattresses are designed with limitations to the supported weight and number of sleepers the bed is intended to hold.
Support features found in air mattresses differ from conventional beds, which can heavily rely on memory foam, padding, and metal coil systems. Air mattresses rely on a core of air. Higher-end models will imitate coil systems by using uniquely designed air coils, that are spread evenly across the bed. They help by equalizing the weight distribution across the mattress so that the naturally occurring dipping effect is minimized.
In addition, there are models with advanced materials built into the mattress that allows it to contour to your body while allowing for continuous air circulation. These new support systems can make a significant difference when compared to lower-end models when the air mattress will contour to your body and allow for air circulation.
Air Mattress Firmness
One of the most significant benefits of having an air mattress is the ability to control the firmness through inflation. This isn’t always optimal, as most air mattresses will specify a specific inflation level. So if controlling the firmness is essential to you, look for beds with customized firmness settings, especially if there are pre-programmed levels.
The air mattress you buy needs to be firm enough to support one, potentially multiple people, but remain soft enough for you to be able to relax comfortably on it.
All models of air mattresses will have some form of a slow leak and will often list on their product pages how many days maximum inflation will remain firm before needing to re-fill the mattress with new air. This factor may play a role in your purchasing decision as well.
Air Mattress Durability
When people think of air mattresses, durability isn’t usually the first feature at the forefront of their minds. Most air mattresses are designed to be a temporary solution to traditional beds, which are made of extra-durable materials like heavy plastics, wood, and metal.
However, there are specific features that you should look for when considering a durable air mattress, even though you may not be using it every day. Durable air mattresses are long-lasting, tough, resistant to physical abuse and are well made. They are able to withstand more wear and tear than low-end air mattresses.
Stacked Air Chambers
Some of the most durable air mattresses will have specialized air chambers inside of the mattress that is designed to be adjustable through the use of pumps. These layers often have the ability to control the air inflation levels and can be easily adjusted with built-in or external pumps.
Quality Materials Increase Durability
Durable air mattresses tend to have a thicker layer of material on the exterior and bottom segments of the mattress.
- The rubber used in the manufacturing of these beds should tend to be a durable material, such as polyurethane or rubber, which is often a vulcanized material.
- Vulcanized materials are hardened and enable the mattress to last much longer than that of lesser materials.
- Rubber exteriors also allow for the mattress to be water resistance and sometimes waterproofed, as well as aid in additional puncture protection.
One other related area to look out for are potential manufacturer defects. Specific components, such as built-in electrical pumps, air chamber designs, and other areas could have manufacturer defects that reduce the air mattress’s overall durability. To quickly identify some of these potential defects:
- Dive into user reviews on reseller websites
- Look for the product on the manufacturer’s website
- Run a simple Google search, like “product name model defects”
Higher Weight Limitations
All air mattresses are designed with weight limitations, found in their product specifications and manuals. The higher this specification, the odds are more likely than the overall general durability of the mattress is higher. Air mattress companies like Coleman, provide a general weight limit guideline on their website.
Coleman’s weight limit guidelines appear to be pretty standard in the industry and widely adopted across most models.
- Twin-size mattresses, support up to 300 lbs for 1 person
- Full-size mattresses support up to 450 lbs between 2 individuals
- Queen-size mattress support up to 600 lbs between 2 individuals
Again, the above are guidelines. Be sure to review the specific specifications of the product you’re looking to purchase.
Air Mattress Size
For nearly all buyers looking for an air mattress, the size is one of the key requirements to consider. There are thousands of air mattresses on the market, available in a wide array of sizes. Many air mattress companies align their mattress sizes with that of traditional beds.
The most common air mattress sizes available on the market mimic the traditional bed sizes. You will most often find the following sizes available for purchase.
|Twin||Twin-size air mattresses are primarily designed for a single sleeper. Their size profile allows them to nicely fit into smaller tents, truck beds, and guest rooms.|
|Full||Full-size mattresses are primarily designed for a single sleeper, however, for smaller children, they can get the job done. They’re slightly larger than twin-size and generally fit in tents, truck beds, and guest rooms.|
|Queen||Queen-size mattresses are designed for an adult couple to be able to sleep on the mattress together. Their size profile generally requires larger tents and guest rooms to comfortably accommodate their size.|
|King||King-size air mattresses are designed for adult couples to be able to sleep comfortably together. Their size profile generally requires a full room to comfortably accommodate their large size.|
If you’re looking to use an air mattress inside of a car, truck bed, or recreational vehicle, the height of the air mattress may come into play. Be sure there’s enough vertical clearance so that the sleepers are comfortable.
Whatever your scenario, make sure that you choose the correct size that fulfills your specific needs and fits appropriately in the intended location. Remember to have space available on both sides as well, to allow for getting on and off the mattress.
Air Mattress Height
For some buyers, sleeping higher up off the ground is a core requirement when purchasing a new air bed. This is especially common when the person sleeping on the bed may require elevation for accessibility reasons.
Raised air mattress models differ from low profile models because of the added height. This allows people easier access to getting both on and off. It’s important to note that not everyone can get low to the floor to get on an air mattress and vice versa. Kids may have a tough time getting up on a raised mattress or worse, may fall off one and get hurt.
Even though raised air mattresses can often provide a much higher convenience factor, like traditional beds, they are best suited for specific uses. The overall inflated height is a key factor when looking to purchase an air mattress. In some air mattress models, the height can be customized and controlled with pre-defined inflation levels. Sometimes, they can also be configurable and saved to memory.
Generally, these preset levels are found on higher-end air mattress models. They will have preset levels of firmness controlled through dials, buttons, and remotes found on the air mattress pump. Different inflation levels will modify the overall height of the mattress based upon the specified settings and the specific model.
Low Profile Air Bed Mattresses
Some common properties of a low profile air mattress:
- Range from 4 to 10 inches in height at full inflation
- Often cheaper in the overall cost
- Lack of built-in pumps
- Fewer convenience features
- Usually ideal for children and outdoor usage
- Quicker to inflate
Raised Air Bed Mattresses
Some common properties of a raised air mattress:
- Range from 15 to 24 inches in height at full inflation
- Often mid-to-high range in the overall cost
- Often have built-in pumps & advanced convenience features
- Mimic traditional bed styles
- Usually ideal for adults and indoor usage
- Can take a long time to inflate
In the end, the decision of which mattress style, low profile or raised, depends on your use case and those that will ultimately be sleeping on the mattress. Just don’t forget about the accessibility!
Air Mattress Cover Materials
On the bottom of most air mattresses, you will find an extra-thick vinyl layer. On top of many air mattresses, you will find a flocked velvety material that is soft to the touch.
Flocked top mattress material benefits include:
- Added traction, to prevent slipping and sliding off the bed
- Allows bedding and sheets to stay in place
- Provides added comfort to the air mattress
- Additional material to prevent punctures from above
There are also higher-end models that use special memory foam toppers. These models can provide a superior amount of comfort in comparison, but they also can have drawbacks when it comes to traveling and storing them.
Memory foam mattress material benefits include:
- Added traction, to prevent slipping and sliding off the bed
- Allows bedding and sheets to stay in place
- Superior sleeping comfort
- Body heat climate control
- Custom body contouring and support
When considering whether you want or need an air mattress with a flocked top, memory foam, or standard vinyl covering — think about where the mattress will primarily be used.
If it’s going to be primarily used indoors, a memory foam top or velvety flock topped mattress can make a significant difference when it comes to providing added comfort. These options also make it a lot easier to keep sheets attached to the bed and make better replacements for traditional beds.
Otherwise, if the air mattress will primarily be used outdoors, then a standard vinyl top may have advantages, especially if you plan on getting dirty. Flocking can take more effort to clean up versus wiping down or spraying off a purely vinyl top.
Air Mattress Setup Process
The setup process for any air mattress should be simple and straight forward. If you have any reservations about the setup process, consider it a warning sign. For some air mattresses, the first time use instructions may contain additional taxing steps, such as inflating and deflating the mattress a few times before putting it to use.
These extra steps are normal, due to the natural processes of stretching that occurs with the PVC material. In these instances, those extra steps are entirely normal. If you ignore these steps, you can expect the mattress to lose firmness in the first few overnight uses, because as the PVC begins to stretch, there’s no additional air to fill in.
Coupled with natural air loss over time, it can be very noticeable. It’s not uncommon for people to have bad experiences with air mattresses, because they didn’t stop to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Air Mattress Pumps
It’s in the name. Air mattresses, at their core, are filled with air. The sheer size of even the smallest air mattress requires some form of mechanical or electric assistance when inflating an air mattress. Pumps can also be very quirky, loud, and become battery devourers. Some pumps also can be difficult to mount and unmount, causing air loss to occur when operating.
While intending to inflate an air mattress, having air loss is not a good feature. This tends to happen when unhooking a pump after inflation. If the port does not have a seal, a significant amount can escape while unhooking your pump. This can cause the air mattress to not hold the desired firmness.
In other scenarios, “air loss” or deflation can be seen as a feature, especially for larger raised mattresses. When you are done with an air mattress, certain pumps can be used to pull the air out of the mattress, in a reverse direction.
To this end, there are a handful of options available on the market to choose from, each having their own benefits.
There are a wide variety of hand pumps that can be used for inflating air mattresses. Hand pumps come in many different sizes, some small and light enough to slip into a day pack, while others are large and too heavy to consider walking around with. Inflation speeds with hand pumps are considerably slower than internal and external electrical pumps when pumping a full-size air mattress.
Hand pumps have a few different advantages:
- A small profile allows for pack it in-and-out mobility
- No batteries required to operate
- Multi-purpose pump nozzles & adapters
- Can be nearly silent when operating