Some of us remember a time when backpacking and camping could be fairly described as “roughing it.” You could say that today’s air mattresses put the question of sleeping comfortably on the ground to rest. Follow these buying tips and get one of these portable beds to ensure yourself sweet dreams outdoors.
Choosing an Air Mattress
Consider these details when picking an air mattress for your adventures:
- Size: For backpacking, air mattress widths are usually either 20 inches (standard) or 25 inches. Lengths range from regular (72 inches) to long (78 inches), and down to around 47 inches, which shaves weight and works well for shorter people who sleep curled up or almost anyone willing to stick an empty backpack under their feet. Shapes include rectangular and mummy, the latter reducing weight slightly.
- Warmth: R-value measures a pad’s insulation. Look for an R-value under 2 only for warm nights (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit), 2 to around 3.5 for most three-season camping, and 4 to 5 or higher for frozen ground and winter temps.
- Comfort: Measurements tell all. Find more comfort with a regular or long mat and 2.5 to 4 or more inches of thickness. Closed-cell foam pads are lighter than most air mats and very durable, but they’re bulky and don’t nearly match the comfort of air. A foam pad under an air mat can boost comfort and insulation while helping protect the mat from puncture.
- Weight: Generally, air mats for backpacking weigh under about 1.5 pounds. At under a pound, the lightest usually are not full length, use less insulation and/or lighter fabric that might be more susceptible to puncture, and might not inflate as thick as heavier mats.
With 2.5 inches of thickness, the ultralight Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite ($200) delivers surprising comfort for its slim weight. Its 2.3 R-value insulates on chilly three-season nights, and it packs down to a tiny 6-by-3.6 inches. 8.8 oz.
The Nemo Tensor Ultralight Insulated Mummy Pad ($160) delivers an impressive balance of comfort (3 inches thick), aluminized film insulation (3.5 R-value), low weight, moderate packed size (8-by-3 inches) and affordability. Bonus: The Spaceframe baffles offer stability and none of the noise of some insulations. 14 oz.
The 4-inch-thick Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated Air Mat ($180) marries two types of insulation to reflect body heat back to you and prevent convective heat loss, giving it a 3.2 R-value (3.5 in women’s). The 30-denier and 40-denier face fabric is more durable than most and the Airstream Pump stuff sack inflates the mat. 17 oz.
On a budget? The Klymit Static V ($55, 18.7 oz.) sports body-mapped, comfortable V-shaped air chambers that keep you centered atop it. With an R-value of 1.3, it’s fine for summer temps, and the 75-denier fabric is indestructible. The Insulated Static V ($85, 24 oz.) has Klymalite synthetic insulation and a 4.4 R-value, warm enough for nights well below freezing.