Air Mattress Alternatives for the Best Camping Experience

Air mattresses are comfortable to sleep on when you are camping. But air mattresses also come with some issues, like leaks. Or, what if you don’t have an air mattress or don’t want to pack one with your camping gear?

Many air mattress alternatives can be used for camping. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the best alternatives for sleeping when you go camping.

A comfy air mattress can be a great alternative to sleeping on cold hard ground, but they are not without issues. For example, air mattresses can leak, and sometimes it’s a constant battle to keep them properly inflated.

Air mattresses tend to be large and bulky and require a pump or another way to inflate them

If you are sleeping with a partner, you have to worry about bouncing around when someone rolls over in the middle of the night.

This article will share some alternatives to packing what can sometimes be a cumbersome air mattress when camping.

Camping Cot

A camping cot is an excellent alternative to an air mattress for sleeping on when you go camping. Sleeping on a cot is a great way to ensure you get a good of sleep when you are camping while still saving space in your tent. 

Camping cots are typically lightweight, so they will not add much weight to your gear when it comes time for packing it up. Also, if you are car camping or have a pickup, a cot is pretty easy to travel with. 

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Many camping cots fold up small and don’t take much storage space.

One thing to note about sleeping on a cot; since you are elevated off the ground, air circulates underneath the cot. This can be nice in warmer weather since the airflow may help to keep you cool.

But, when the weather is cold, sleeping on a cot allows your body heat to escape. In that case, it’s nice to have an insulated pad to couple with the cot to help you retain heat and not get cold when you are sleeping.

Another advantage of using a cot is using the underneath area for storage. For example, you can slide a duffel bag, backpack, or other camping gear, neatly under the cot.

Pro tip: Make sure you buy a cot that is longer than you are tall. It’s no fun to sleep on a cot that is too short.

Self-inflating mattress

Air mattresses are a great way to sleep when it comes to camping. But air mattresses suffer from many issues such as leaks and taking up too much space.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard air mattress that is more compact and durable than ever before, then you should consider using a self-inflating mattress.

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A self-inflating mattress is made of tough nylon with foam insulation and has an inflatable pad inside. A good self-inflating mattress will have an R-value (insulation) to help keep you warm.

As the name implies, a self-inflating mattress doesn’t require a pump. Instead, you unroll the bed, and it will automatically start inflating.

With many of these mattresses, you can also “top off” the mattress by blowing air inside. You can make the mattress a bit more firm this way if you need to.

Self-inflating mattresses are easy to pack up and pretty lightweight, so they will not add too much weight to your camping gear.

A self-inflating mattress is a good alternative for sleeping when you go camping. The compact size makes self-inflating mattresses easy to pack up in the car or bring on backpacking trips.

Foam sleeping pad

A foam sleeping pad is an excellent alternative to an air mattress when camping. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and easy to use.

If you are looking for a new way to sleep while camping, consider using a foam sleeping pad. A foam pad is pretty inexpensive, and you don’t have to worry about it leaking when you are sleeping.

A foam mat offers more versatility than other options since they are available in different lengths so that tall people can find the perfect fit. In addition, some retail locations sell pre-cut foam pads, which are great for most people.

If you need a longer pad, often you can have one cut to fit, but this may cost more. But, again, the benefit is a pad that fits you.

The downside to foam padding is that it can break down over time and lose some support. Also, the more you sleep on a foam pad and roll it up to transport, this contributes to flattening and wearing down.

Foam pads are also bulkier than other options, but you probably have room if you have a pickup or SUV.


Suppose you are looking for a cheap and easy way to sleep while camping, consider using blankets instead of an air mattress. Most people have plenty of blankets readily available, which means you don’t have to spend money on a new camping mattress.

Blankets offer versatility since they are available in different lengths, and you can use as many as you need to get a comfortable sleeping surface.

Blankets won’t stay put like other options, so you will find them shifting around during the night, which can interrupt your sleep.

The downside to sleeping on blankets is bulkier than other options. But if you have room in your car or SUV, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

If you are looking for a cheap and easy alternative to an air mattress, blankets are an easy option.

Sleeping bag

Maybe you are okay sleeping on the ground in your sleeping bag, with or without a tent. However, sleeping on the ground can be rough, so it’s essential to have a good sleeping bag.

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Some bags are specifically designed for different temperature ranges or specific outdoor activities like camping and backpacking. 

There are some benefits to sleeping on the ground in your sleeping bag. For one, you don’t have to pack a sleeping pad, so that reduces the amount of gear you have to take.

The downside to sleeping directly on the ground and not in a tent is that you can get wet and exposed to bugs, etc.

Sleeping on the ground inside your sleeping bag means you don’t have to spend money on an air mattress, and you don’t have to carry extra gear.

Sleep in your car

If you wake up in the middle of the night to a deflated air mattress, and you are out of options, you might try sleeping in your vehicle.

Sure, this might be easier said than done. You can either lean the seats back or if you have an SUV, lay the back seats down and sleep.

Your car is a heck of a lot more sturdy than a tent, so this can be a solid option for sleeping.

The downside is that it can be uncomfortable and cramped, and you might feel cooped up by the end of the night.

Leave a window cracked so you can have some fresh air circulating in the car.


If you are looking for an air mattress alternative, consider sleeping in a hammock. Although sleeping on the ground can be rough and an air mattress can leak, a hammock is a great option.

The benefit of using a hammock instead of an air mattress is that you don’t need as much gear, and there is no need for additional padding underneath you (a pad).

It also offers versatility since many models include trees straps or hooks, which allow you to set up anywhere with two anchor points such as trees, posts, etc.

If you are a nature lover, you might find that sleeping in a hammock is preferable because you are out in the open, closer to nature.

The downside of using a hammock instead of an air mattress is it can be difficult getting into and out.

Sleeping in a hammock can be a double-edged sword. First, you lose a lot of body heat because you are suspended in the air. This can be great when the weather is warm but lousy when the weather is cold.

Also, you are exposed to bugs, critters, and weather with a hammock, which is not a great way to have a relaxing night of sleep.

You can buy a hammock tent which helps to keep you protected from some of the stuff just mentioned.

Pros of an air mattress

  • Air mattresses are an excellent option for camping because they are comfortable, easy to set up, and relatively lightweight.
  • An air mattress can also be used as a temporary bed in your home if you have guests over or need an extra bed for any reason.
  • Air mattresses can be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, and they offer a good night’s sleep for some people.
  • Some models also come with built-in pumps, which make inflating them easier.

Cons of air mattress

  • They also need to be pumped up before you go to bed. If you forget your pump or it breaks, you won’t be able to inflate your mattress.
  • Air mattresses are prone to punctures and can deflate in the middle of the night.
  • Some people also feel that air mattresses are not as comfortable or supportive as alternatives such as a cot, hammock, or foam pad.
  • Some air mattresses lack necessary insulation, which means you will need extra padding underneath you if it is cold outside.

Pros of air mattress alternatives

  • Air mattress alternatives like cots, foam pads, blankets, etc., don’t require a pump and can’t be punctured.
  • In the case of blankets, or sleeping in your car, you don’t have to spend any money on extra gear.
  • Many self-inflating sleeping pads have an insulation value to help keep you warm at night.
  • Cots, self-inflating sleeping pads, and hammocks don’t take much space.
  • It’s important to remember that it is possible to buy items like cots that are great for home use and fold down small enough to take with you when backpacking.

Cons of air mattress alternatives

  • Some of the items, like blankets and foam pads, are bulky and are not good for remote camping or backpacking.
  • If you already own an air mattress, you need to spend extra money buying an alternative.
  • Cots and hammocks can let your body heat escape.


What can I use instead of an air mattress for camping?

There are many different air mattress alternatives that you can use for camping. Some of the best options include a cot, hammock, or sleeping bag. You might even try a bedroll. You can read more about bedrolls here.

Can I use my air mattress for camping?

Yes, you can use your air mattress for camping. However, some alternatives might be more comfortable or better suited for camping than an air mattress.

What is the best alternative to an air mattress?

The best alternative to an air mattress is a cot or a self-inflating sleeping pad. These alternatives can be more comfortable than an air mattress, are easy to set up, and are relatively lightweight.

What is the difference between a cot and a hammock?

The main difference between cots and hammocks is that cots are raised off the ground while hammocks are suspended. If you are looking for an air mattress alternative that is lightweight and easy to set up, a cot is the best option. However, if you are looking for something more comfortable, a hammock might be a better choice.

What is more comfortable than an air mattress?

Some people find that cots, hammocks, and foam pads are more comfortable than air mattresses. It is essential to try out different options before going camping to see what works best.


Many different options can work if you’re looking for a comfortable alternative to an air mattress. The best choice will depend on your specific needs, from self-inflating sleeping pads and cots to hammocks or blankets.

A cot is a great option if you want something lightweight and easy to set up. Whichever option appeals most should give you plenty of comfortable camping experiences without ever having to worry about punctured mattresses.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.

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