Sleeping in a tent doesn’t feel like your bed at home, but it can still be comfy. There are many ways to create a cozy bedtime experience while camping.
While the go-to for most is an air mattress, some campers don’t find them comfortable.
Our family has experimented with many different camp beds over the years. Air mattresses aren’t for everyone.
Here’s how to find the best air mattress alternatives for camping.
Air Mattress Alternatives
These are some of the products we’ve tried and liked over the years. It might take a little investigating on your part to find the one that best suits you and your family.
1. Insulated Inflatable Mats
Insulated inflatable mats are like air beds but not as bulky or leak-prone. They’re also made of heat-retaining materials to keep you warm at night. Here’s one of our favorites.
We use the ExPed Deep Sleep Duo when we camp, and I highly recommend it. It measures 3 inches thick and is made of open-cell foam, with a brushed 75-denier fabric exterior.
This ExPed mat comes in two sizes, medium or extra long and extra wide. You can also get single or duo width. It’s warm, easy to pack down and carry, and quiet when you roll over at night.
The ExPed insulated sleeping pads have been my top choice as the best air mattress alternative since 2010. My only suggestion is that the duo mats are for car camping and not backpacking as they are heavy.
If you want to be up off of the floor, you can always put your exped on top of a camping cot for extra comfort.
- Size: Medium (72” x 40.9” x 3”) and Extra long Extra Wide (77.6” x 52” x 3”)
- Weight: M (7.2 lbs) WxL (9.8 lbs)
- Insulated for warmth
- Includes stuff sack with velcro straps
- Expensive ($259.95)
- Still Inflatable (Still could leak)
- Patches and pumps are sold separately
2. Foam Pad
Another air mattress alternative is a foam pad. This simple camp option is a long time favorite. If you prefer an air mattress, you can also use the foam pad as a topper to retain heat and add a layer between you and the cool plastic.
The Teton Foam Pad is a good choice in this area. It’s a bouncy open-cell foam sleeping pad covered in durable canvas. It weighs about 6 lbs, making it a lighter option than the standard twin air mattress. It can also be rolled and strapped to your pack for easy backpacking.
I like the Teton pad because it has a few extras a standard foam pad doesn’t, like a handy storage pocket. I also appreciate the canvas cover. An uncovered foam pad is easy to tear and absorbs moisture and bacteria.
- Size: 79.9” x 29.9” x 1.9”
- Weight: 6 lbs
- Sewn in pockets for easy storage at night
- Compression straps
- Built in roller assist
- Thin when you lay on it
- More expensive than other foam pads ($174.44)
The Hest Foamy Sleeping Pad is on the pricey end of the foam mat budget, but the benefits make it worthwhile. It’s made of a combination of open-cell and memory foam for maximum comfort. This keeps you warm and supplies support and pressure point relief as you rest.
I’m a fan of the Hest pad because the cover slips on and off easily to wash and dry between camps. The lower fabric is also waterproof. This is a bonus because even on dry nights, condensation is bound to form between your tent and mat by morning.
- Size: Regular (78” x 25” x 3.9”) and Regular Wide (78” x 30” x 3.9”)
- Weight: 11 to 13 lbs
- Memory foam for an (almost) at home sleep experience
- Connector clips to add pads together
- Grab and go handle for easy transport
- Expensive ($299 to $349)
- Heavier than other foam mats (11 to 13 lbs)
Self-inflating mats are an incredible time saver. They’re close to the air mattress category, but lighter and often fitted to sleeping bags. This makes them great for single bed option for backpackers.
The Therm-a-rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad has a StrataCore™ foam to keep you warm. This is covered in a stretch knit fabric to protect the foam, and the inflatable portion of the mat from damage.
What I like best about the Therm-a-rest mats are the shape. These are great for campers who prefer mummy-shaped sleeping bags. The mats are wide at the head and shoulders and narrow at the feet. The fact that it requires no pump to inflate is a bonus.
Therm-a-rest was the first self inflating sleeping pad I ever tried and they make great air mattress alternatives for camping.
- Size: Regular (20” x 72”), Regular Wide (25” x 72”), and Large (25” x 77”)
- Weight: R (1 lb 13 oz), RW (2lb 5 oz), L (2 lb 7 oz)
- Customize Firmness
- One of the most lightweight mats available
- StrataCore™ technology for extra insulating warmth
- Still Inflatable
- Expensive ($154.95 – $174.95)
What’s more relaxing than a hammock? Hammocks conjure island in the sun vibes.
We’re a big fan of hammocks for keeping off the ground and maximizing comfort. Here are a few hammocks to try in your pursuit of the best alternative to an air mattress for camping.
Kammock makes a variety of hammocks, hammock stands, hammock tents, and more. Their Roo Single Camping Hammock is a hit in our family. This is a great product for backpackers because it’s extremely lightweight, waterproof, and compact.
The Roo Single is great because it’s made from 100% recycled fabric and has a weight capacity of 500lbs (perfect for snuggling). It also includes gear loops on the sides of the hammock to attach a camp blanket or hang items you want suspended. Get it in 11 different colors.
- Size: 100” x 50”
- Weight: 0.7 lbs
- Extremely lightweight
- Loops for blankets and other attachments
- Stuff sack included
- Holds up to 500 lbs
- Setup takes some skill
- Requires a hammock stand or nearby trees
ENO hammocks are known for their soft material. No scratchy, slippery surfaces here. The ENO SingleNest is a great option for an outdoor adventure. It’s light weight, comes in five different colors, and extends 9.5 feet for even the tallest of campers.
We like the ENO SingleNest because of the integrated stuff sack and side release buckle. It’s easy to setup and even easier to pack away, which is a big help after a long weekend of camping.
You can also combine it with other ENO products like their bug net or rain tarp.
- Very Lightweight (1 lb)
- Durable triple-stretch construction
- Breathable and fast drying
- Side release buckle
- Internal stash pocket
- Need trees or a stand
- Still need to learn set up
5. Foam Floor Covering
For a family camp, or tent with multiple sleepers, a foam floor covering is an excellent air mattress alternative. Rather than setting up or inflating a bed, you simply interlock foam tiles or roll out a mat and enjoy.
These are a hit with our little guy. Foam puzzle blocks are fun to setup as a family, and make a broader surface to roll around, play on, and fall asleep on.
There are a wide assortment to choose from, including some that now have carpet! Believe me, that’s a nice addition if you camp year round.
- Size: Sizes vary, but on average, expect each block to measure 11.8” x 11.8” for small blocks or 23.6” x 23.6” for large blocks.
- Weight: Roughly 5 lbs for a set of 6 large foam tiles.
- Can’t Slide off the tiles while sleeping
- Use as many or few as you need and trim to tent shape
- Insulates tent floor
- Can use under other bed options
- Awkward to pack and carry
Cots are a neat combo between a hammock and a bed. They create an off-the-floor sleep space with no need to inflate anything. Cots often require a little setup, but nothing too extensive. This one comes highly recommended by friends of ours.
The Disc-O-Bed Large Bunk with Organizers is a stackable storage cot system. This is a great option for couples or campers with big kids (who won’t roll off the top bunk). The bunks stack with adaptors to create bunk beds, but can also be transformed into a seating bench by day.
Each cot has two side organizers. The beds are made from a sturdy denier material on a steel frame. It can hold up to 500 lbs and is easily assembled by a single camper.
You can always add an air mattress, foam sleeping pad or sleep on a cot in just a sleeping bag.
- Size: 79” x 36” x 28”
- Weight: 60 lbs
- Off the Ground away from the cold
- Sturdy and durable construction with a rust-free frame
- Side organizers with pockets
- Stackable for bunk beds
- Very Firm (not a great choice for side sleepers)
- Too heavy to hike with
7. Thick Blankets
If you don’t like camping with an air mattress, and you’re in a pinch, thick blankets are a viable option. Blankets are a cheap choice because you probably have plenty already. On the downside, they can be quite heavy and bulky. Here’s one option for camp blankets.
The Basecamp Down Blanket by Sierra Designs is a cozy air mattress alternative for blanket lovers. It’s stuffed with down (responsibly sourced), and the stuff sack works as a pillowcase.
This blanket is lightweight but warm and designed using recycled 50-denier polyester. Use this blanket as a mat to sleep on, or wrap it around yourself for campfire, or bedtime.
- Size: 57” x 50”
- Weight: 1 lb 8.3 oz
- Affordable (cheaper than cots or branded foam mats)
- Hand warming pockets
- Stuff sack pillowcase
- Lightweight (1 lb 8.3 oz)
- Thin (Feels thick as a blanket, but under your weight will feel thin)
- Slippery (Putting a sleeping bag on this is sure to leave you sliding around at night)
8. Futon Mattress
A futon mattress literally brings the comfort of home to your campsite. These are thick, durable, warm beds, often chosen for their versatility. If you have a drive-in site a futon mattress is a nice choice, but not one I’d try. Here’s a look at some futon mattress options.
Most modern futons are constructed of foam, like the cooling memory gel foam in JINGWEI products. They come in multiple sizes and thicknesses, from 3 inches to 6 inches. The thicker the mattress the greater the comfort level, but also the greater the weight.
Folding futon mattresses are easier to transport than non-folding mattresses, but they’re still bulky. This isn’t something I’d hike with, but I’ve heard they’re extremely comfortable.
- Size: Narrow twin (31” x 75”), Twin (38” x 75”), Twin XL (38” x 78”), Full (73” x 52”), and Queen (78” x 58”)
- Weight: NT (11.92 lbs), T (14.32 lbs), TLX (13.37 lbs), F (22.1 lbs), and Q (28.5 lbs)
- Cooling gel memory foam
9. BeanBag Mattress
Transport yourself back to your high school bedroom with a beanbag chair. It sounds silly, but beanbag mattresses are comfortable and kind of funky. Again, for a drive-in site, this would be a fun camp choice. Here’s one of the coolest beanbag mattresses to try.
CordaRay beanbag mattresses are extra fun because they’re convertible. Use them to lounge in as chairs inside the tent, and transform it into a bed for the night.
These beanbags come in full and queen sizes and are covered in a microfiber exterior. Despite the name, there are no beans involved in the chair (which is lucky because that could attract animals). Instead, it’s filled with soft yet durable foam.
- Size: Full (54” x 75” x 8”) and Queen (60” x 80” x 8”)
- Weight: Q (42 lbs)
- Convertible for extra seating
- Large enough for a couple or two kids
- Very expensive
- Heavy and bulky to transport
10. Eggshell Foam
Eggshell foam is simple, lightweight, and easy to transport. It’s a classic mattress topper, and a great tent mat if you’re traveling light. When Daddy Critter was young, he started out with eggshell foam like this, Now, modern campers have a variety of options. Here’s one to try.
Z Lite Sol foam pads come in two sizes, small and regular. They use ThermaCapture™ technology to capture heat and reflect it back at you as you rest. They’re very durable and easy to pack.
If you really want to continue sleeping on an air mattress, I’d suggest putting something like this on top.
The Therm-a-Rest Z Light Sol also comes in regular and small sizes, and calls itself an “ultralight backpacking mattress”. This is a good choice for families who prefer hike-in campsites.
- Size: 20” x 72” (standard)
- Weight: 0.08 lb (40 g)
- Extremely lightweight for hiking and backpacking
- ThermaCapture™ technology for warmth
- Best for warm months only
There are often things around the house that substitute easily for an air bed. The thick blankets, for example. Another option is chaise lounge cushions. If you don’t have any, here’s a brand to try.
Folding memory foam chaise lounge cushions are an innovative camp option. They’re great because of the washable waterproof covers, but not so great because they’re bulky and heavy to carry.
Like the futon mattresses, these cushions are viable for a drive-in campsite, but you don’t want to hike with them. Milliard is a U.S.-based company that makes its products to meet U.S. safety standards.
- Size: 73” x 20”
- Weight: 6.5 lbs
- Easy product to collect from around the house (if you have outdoor chaises)
- Bulky to carry
- Not as wide as other sleep mat products
Yes, I said nothing. Surprisingly, some camp and hiking enthusiasts really rough it sometimes. Leaving the mattress portion of your camp gear at home lightens the load drastically. If your sleeping bag is warm enough, and your tent is waterproof, you don’t always need a mat.
I don’t recommend this if you’re camping with littles (although my son has slid off his mat before and slept fine). As an adult, however, you can definitely minimize your pack by foregoing the air mattress or mat alternative.
- Lightest Weight
- Nothing to Pack
- Nothing to Break
- The Ground is Hard
Many campers believe the best air mattress alternative for camping is a combination air mat and camping cot. The cot minimizes size requirements for the air mattress to keep you off the ground and supported at night. Here’s a combination option to try.
Coleman makes a lot of premium camp gear. This queen-sized camp cot and air mattress are awesome for family campers. It includes the convenience of a camping cot with the comfort of an air bed.
Pull-out side tables with cup holders make this a couple’s camping dream. These camping cots sleep up to 600 lbs, which makes it a good option for families with littles who like to climb into their bed at night. A 4D battery-operated air pump is also included with the cot.
- Size: 59” x 78” x 22”
- Weight: 42.5 lbs
- Customize Your Sleeping Arrangement
- Solid steel frame
- Includes battery-operated air pump
- Requires reinflation
- Very heavy (42.5 lbs)
Why Avoid Air Mattresses?
Air mattresses are useful in a pinch, especially for sleepovers and unexpected guests at home. Camping with an air mattress, however, isn’t always conducive to good sleep. Here are some of the reasons we avoid air mattresses at camp.
Most air mattresses are made of polyvinyl chloride, rubber, or urethane plastic. The material is thin and unable to retain heat. Through the night, air mattresses absorb cold through the ground. If not insulated, sleeping on an air mattress can feel as cold as sleeping on the ground itself.
There’s nothing worse than climbing into bed at camp only to feel it deflate beneath you. Waking up on the cold hard ground is something our family has experienced in the past, and it’s no fun.
Many air beds come with patches in case of leaks. Even so, it’s often difficult to locate the leak, especially on a dark evening armed with only a flashlight. Choosing a more durable air mattress alternative ensures a more restful night.
Campers who enjoy hiking, canoeing, or even biking to camp might find air beds heavy. A twin air mattress weighs roughly 8.5 lbs on average. When you calculate all the additional components needed for a successful camp, that 8.5 lbs get heavy.
Set Up Time
Our family loves “roughing it”. This means camping without access to outlets and electricity. For campers with air beds that leaves only hand pumps, or battery-operated pumps. Both of these options take time (and in some cases energy) to inflate the mattress. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that time having fun.
What to Look for in an Alternative
As you begin your search for the best alternative to an air mattress for camping, there are factors to consider. Here are some of the things I look for in camp bedding.
I touched on this a bit above. If you’re a hiker, you don’t want to add a lot of weight to your pack. Air mattresses are bulky and heavy. Look for a lightweight, compact bed option. You’ll have an easier time getting to camp, and spend less time setting up. Look for something in the range of 2 lbs or less.
Portability is another top feature of camp bedding. Even at a drive-in campsite, you don’t want to be hauling around anything too heavy or an air bed requiring an outlet to inflate. Look for camp beds that are easy to transport and don’t require additional tools or energy sources.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, comfort is the key to the best possible camp bed. Seek out bedding options that will leave you warm, cozy, and rested in the morning. Camping is much more fun when you enjoy bedtime as much as the waking moments.
Other Ways to Sleep Comfortably in a Tent
Apart from changing up your sleeping materials, there are other ways to increase comfort on your camping trip. Our family camps a lot, so we’ve had some practice in finding the comfort groove. Here are a few ways to make your camp more like a home away from home.
Insulate the Floor
The ground under your tent is the worst spot for cold to seep in and chill you at night. Insulating the floor with a reflective tarp, blankets, foam pads, or foam blocks keeps that chill out.
You can also add a layer of waterproofing and insulation with a tent footprint.
Staying warm is another way to make your tent comfortable at night. Dressing in layers helps you stay warm or cool as needed. Packing the right sleeping bag is another big piece of the warmth puzzle.
Sleeping bags are rated for temperature. Check your bags rating guide to make sure you’ll stay warm in the state and season you choose to camp.
Bring extra blankets if you’re camping in a particularly cold climate. You can also look into a mobile tent heater.
Most of us camp in the summer, and summers are hot. Staying cool can be just as important as staying warm.
Wearing breathable fabrics, keeping the sun out of the tent during the day, and opening vents to let air in are all great ways to keep cool.
Some campers also bring along portable fans, cool packs, or cold compresses to cool off at night.
Again, bringing the right sleeping bag helps here. You don’t want a winter sleeping bag for a July campout or you’ll be too hot.
As always, have fun out there and stay safe!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.