Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable? Which one did I choose?

Getting a decent night’s sleep is a challenge for most campers. From my own experience and speaking with fellow campers it takes trial and error.

Some campers prefer Air Mattresses others prefer Self Inflatables.

Then there are those still trying to figure out a better way to get a proper night’s sleep.

I am one of those campers on the journey to experience the best nights of sleep camping as possible. 

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable. 

Most campers either use an Air Mattress or a Self Inflatable. So which one is better?

What are the different bases to sleep on?

In a tent, there are basically three different bases (besides sleeping on the ground) to sleep on.

The first one being an air mattress. Second is a self-inflating mattress and third, being a stretcher.  

Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable?

In case you’re wondering what the difference between an air mattress and self-inflatable, please read below; 

What is an Air Mattress?

Air mattresses can also be known as an airbed or inflatable beds. Normally made from rubber or plastic and filled with air.

With the exception of high-end air mattresses, they do require inflation by either mouth or hand, foot, or electrical pump. 

Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable?

Pros of inflatable air mattresses:

Here are my Pro’s and Con’s of Air mattresses;

  • Air mattresses are inexpensive. They range from anywhere from $25 to $150 for the high-end deluxe model. However, you normally have to buy a pump costing around $75
  • Come in a range of sizes and can even come with a pillow built-in.
  • Can pump more or less air to get the right level of comfort/cushioning 
  • Keep you off the ground, away from the cold
  • Once packed up, they are light and easily fit into the car for transport.

Cons of inflatable mattresses

  • My biggest problem with air mattresses is that they can be quite easily punctured
  • Kids love to use it as a trampoline, with a likelihood of becoming punctured. 
  • I have experienced slow leaks overnight, waking up in the early morning flat on the cold ground is not fun 
  • Small holes can be very difficult to find and patch
  • Over inflating can cause seams to pop, leaving large lumps making it impossible to sleep on. 
  • Inflatable mattresses can be quite cold. They offer no insulation from the ground and are best used with a blanket over the top in cold conditions.
  • Like a waterbed, they can be quite bouncy and if sleeping on a double or queen likely your partner will feel your every move and visa vera. 
  • Pumping the air mattresses can take time and tiring, especially if you are using a hand or foot pump. 
  • You can purchase electric driven pumps but they are more expensive. 
  • Pumps are expensive, often more expensive than the mattress itself. 

What is a Self Inflatable Mattress?

Self-inflated mattresses have foam built into them with airtight shell with a valve.

Once the value is opened it sucks air into the shell expanding the mattress.

Once the foam is fully expanded the value is closed off and the mat is ready for use. Self-inflation can take up to 1/2 hour depending on the brand.

Best of all no need to spend precious camping time using a pump. 

Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable?

Pros of self-inflating mattresses

  • As the name suggests, these mattresses will inflate on their own by sucking in air. So you don’t have to pump them up.
  • They are very comfortable, particularly in the larger sizes. They will also insulate you from the ground keeping you much warmer.
  • If you do happen to get a hole in it, you will still be sleeping on the foam rather than ending up completely on the ground.

Cons of self-inflating mattresses

  • Self-inflating mattresses are generally large and bulky, taking up precious space in your vehicle. 
  • If you’re desperate to get asleep, camping mattresses can take up to 1/2 to inflate (depending on the brand)
  •  If your looking for a large comfortable mattress, comfortable like your bed at home the larger and bulkier the mattress. 
  • There are self-inflating mats available that are quite thick when rolled out but pack down quite small. These mattresses will have more air than foam in them. They’re often a lot more expensive than the thicker ones.
  • If you do end up with a small hole, it can be a lot harder to find on these mattresses than the inflatable mattresses. And the hole will mean the mattress will inflate in its bag when rolled up which can sometimes make them stuck in the bag.

What is Camp Stretcher?

A camper stretcher is a cot that is a narrow bed for an adult. It is made of canvas fitted over a frame, and you can fold it up. Ideal for taking camping.

Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable?
Photo Courtesy; Rei.com

Pros camp stretchers

  • Stretchers get you up off the ground, making it much easier to get in and out of bed.
  • Some stretchers come with padding, making them comfortable to sleep on. 
  • They are quick and easy to assemble and provide extra storage space as you can put your bags etc under the bed.
  • Placing a good quality sleeping self-inflating mat can be very effective and very comfortable

Cons camp stretchers

  • Some stretchers are stiff and rigid to sleep on
  • Some stretchers feel flimsy, giving you the feeling of collapsing and crashing onto the ground
  • Stretchers can be heavy and bulky taking up much-needed room in your vehicle

Stretchers with a sleeping pad

The fourth alternative is combining the stretcher with the pad. This offers greater comfort and support. Many experienced campers do this.

Buying a hiking/trekking/backpacking pad is likely to be a better option than a camping mattress. The reason being they are less bulky and weigh less than a camping mattress.

So what did I choose (Airmattress vs Self Inflatable)?

In my camping experience, I have tried a number of camping mattresses.

I have mostly used air mattresses, for the main reason they are relatively inexpensive.

Many air mattresses later, I found soon rather than the later leak or the seam with pop.

Leaving me with an interrupted night’s sleep. The next day feeling wrecked. Made even worse when it’s the beginning of the camping trip. 

Most recent times have been sleeping on a camp stretcher without padding. The issue I find with sleeping on stretchers they are stiff to sleep on.

To overcome this I recently purchased a backpacking sleeping pad (Therm-a-Rest) to place on the stretcher to provide extra comfort.

The advantage of buying a hiking stretcher instead of camping mattresses is the size and weight. Hiking pads are significantly lighter and bulky taking up less room in the vehicle.

Difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable?

Further Information

Hope you have enjoyed an article on the difference between Air Mattress Vs Self Inflatable? If you have enjoyed this article you will enjoy the other articles.

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