What is an Air Mattress?

Air mattresses for the uninitiated

Air mattresses are inflatable beds used for a variety of occasions that all involve sleeping, both in and outdoors. Think of air mattresses as purpose-built inflatable beds, sometimes referred to as temporary air mattresses, air beds, or blow-up beds.

There are three primary types of air mattresses:

  • Camping Air Mattresses
  • Temporary Air Mattresses
  • Permanent Air Mattresses

Camping air mattresses

Camping air mattresses are typically lightweight and reduced in size, both in overall height and thickness. They typically allow for more portability than other types of air mattresses as well. Camping air mattresses are often used to stay off the rocky, cold, and uneven ground.

The bedding material on these models is usually the same across the entire body of the air mattress. This helps them remain waterproofed, avoiding unnecessary materials. Many of the higher-quality camping air mattresses will have a protective and more durable bottom layer that makes them better for outdoor use.

There is also an ultra-lightweight air mattress, known as a “sleeping pad,” which is commonly used by backpackers and bush crafters for its extreme portability and compactness.

Temporary air mattresses

Temporary air mattresses are often heavier, taller, and thinner than camping air mattresses. Designed primarily for indoor usage, they’re often made of higher quality air chambers than camping air mattresses. One of the primary reasons these air mattresses are purchased is for accommodating guests that will be sleeping over.

The bedding material used on temporary air mattresses will vary based on the brand and model. The rest of the body of the mattress will typically be made of one solid material. Appearance-wise, they will look similar to a conventional bed mattress, with the exception of the air chambers at the head of the bed for neck support.

Permanent air mattresses

Permanent air mattresses, otherwise known as air beds, are designed for long-term usages, like a traditional 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 technologies.

They are typically used as an alternative to a traditional bed and have advanced features. They are typically used for guests or as replacements to permanent beds. Standard sheet sizes will tend to properly fit air beds.

Air mattresses come in a variety of sizes

There are air mattresses available in all the standard sizes as conventional beds. You can find the following sizes readily available:

  • Twin Size
  • Full-Size
  • Queen Size
  • King Size
  • California King Size

In addition to the direct size of the air mattress, the height of the mattress is also used to help differentiate. The vertical height is often indicative of the weight limit and toleration, which is crucial depending on the size and number of people the mattress is intended for.

The height of an air mattress can also be a hard requirement for certain situations and people, in which ease of access or accessibility, for both getting on and off of the air mattress is a necessity.

The anatomy of an air mattresses

There is a multitude of materials that make up the anatomy of an air mattress. Some of the manufacturing materials used are considerably more common than others. Industry manufacturers have started to lean towards rubber or urethane plastics, as the materials tend to be more durable and elastic.

Some of the more common manufacturing materials are:

  • Latex
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • Rubber or Urethan Plastic
  • Nylon

An air mattress’s elasticity and durability can be critically important, as it’s no secret that air mattress leaks and punctures are a widely known issue. The material used on both the base of the mattress, its sides, and of course the topper all plays a role.

The top of an air mattress, also known as the bedding material layer, can come in a variety of materials. Including, but certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Cashmere
  • Cotton
  • Down & Feather Fill
  • Flannel
  • Fleece
  • Jersey
  • Leather & Suede
  • Memory Foam
  • Microfiber
  • Polyester
  • Velvet

Air mattresses help solve problems

Some of the main reasons that air mattresses exist are due to their portability and affordability. They are an alternative option, in some cases, to cots, sleeping bags or beds. Some of the best air mattresses provide a considerable amount of comfort and support than their alternatives and are often more cost-effective, quicker to set up and tear down, cheaper and easier to store away.

For those who enjoy camping in the great outdoors — sleeping on a cold, rock hard and uneven ground is not exactly the definition of a good time. No matter how far away from work you may be, sleep is still important. There’s also a segment of people that do not enjoy sleeping at the ground level with bugs and all forms of forest critters. Since this may not be high on your list of things to do, the air mattress may come in handy.

There are potential health benefits and hazards in some cases when using an air mattress. Documented studies have shown that certain air mattresses can promote quality of life improvements, such as sleep quality, back pain reduction, and spinal alignment.

How do air mattresses work?

While there are many types of air mattresses, all require some manner of inflation. Some of the best air mattresses can utilize both manually operated pumps or electric air pumps to get the job done.

Both methods of inflation have their advantages and disadvantages; it all depends on the use case. It is imperative to remember because it drives home the purpose-built nature of each type of air mattress.

The most common air mattresses work by simply being filled with air. While some inflation methods are “easier” than others, such as air compressors and electric pumps, they can be loud when you’re trying to avoid noise and require electricity when you may not have access to it. There are also low-profile camping air mattresses that utilize special foam in combination with air to inflate the mattress.

And there you have it.

Hopefully, this quick guide has brought you into the know and initiated those of you who were unfamiliar with air mattresses. Now it’s time for you to dig in and identify which type of air mattress is right for you and your next adventure, party, or holiday season.

Be sure to check out our in-depth and Complete Air Mattress Buyers Guide next!