Air Mattress vs Sleeping Pad Compared

The two most common sleep support systems, the sleeping pad and the air mattress have their strengths and weaknesses. While an air mattress offers more luxury inside your tent, a sleeping pad is an ultralight backpacker’s best friend. Now that camping season has arrived, which one would you prefer for your outings?

The decision between an air mattress and a sleeping pad depends on the intended use. A sleeping pad has many advantages for wilderness excursions, including portability, ease of use, low cost, and comfort. When camping, nothing beats an air mattress’s convenience and comfort.

Whether you are camping or backpacking and want to find out whether to get a sleeping pad or an air mattress, we are here to guide you. This article provides an in-depth, head-to-head comparison between an air mattress and a sleeping pad to help you decide which best suits your requirements.

Wanting to compare an air mattress vs sleeping pad? Read on!

Air Mattress Vs Sleeping Pad: Which Is Better?

Your camping vacation experience often hinges on sleep quality. That’s why weighing the pros and cons of using a sleeping pad, or an air mattress is essential. “Roughing it” describes camping perfectly. 

Most likely, you wouldn’t venture far from your own house if that’s where you intended to spend most of your time to take full advantage of all its amenities.

Glamping, on the other hand, has raised standards for camping luxury. No wonder campers want the same comfort level as their beds back home, especially since some of the greatest tents today are designed for this sort of comfort and luxury.

However, if you go backpacking up the mountain, you cannot carry an air mattress; therefore, a sleeping pad and a terrain-appropriate sleeping bag will be the best bet for your adventure.

Before we start, it’s essential to know that there are 3 different types of sleeping pads;

Self-Inflating Foam

Once you’ve unrolled and removed the valve, a self-inflating sleeping pad takes only a few minutes to inflate by absorbing the air such as this Clostnature Self Inflating Sleeping Pad. This type of sleeping mat does not require an air pump. They’re popular among ultralight backpackers and hikers since they outperform closed-cell foam pads in weight, comfort, and portability.

Closed-Cell Foam

The closed-cell foam like the REDCAMP Closed Cell Foam Sleeping Pad is the most basic, durable, and affordable of all the sleeping pad options. The only insulation component is the foam, which is covered in a protective covering. There’s a wide range in size, style, and comfort level. However, you need to carry them separately from your backpack and tie it to the exterior of the pack.

Manual Inflatable Pads

Manual inflatable pads such as the ECOTEK Outdoors Insulated 4 Season Ultralight Inflatable Sleeping Pad have the most features of all the other types. However, manual inflatable sleeping pads tend to be bulkier, needs manual inflation, and most have a serious problem with comfort relative to insulation.

Manually inflating a sleeping pad requires you to use the air in your lungs or an air pump to prepare them for use. Manually inflated pads present a unique difficulty because of the inherent trade-off between comfort and thermal performance. Baffles (which add comfort to a sleeping pad) reduce the pad’s insulating efficiency.

However, they retain warmth better when they are fully inflated. Most modern lightweight sleeping pads are as comfortable as an air mattress, so why not acquire one you can use for a wide range of adventurous excursions? Let’s compare and contrast the two common types of sleeping surfaces; air mattress vs. sleeping pad!

Air Mattress and Sleeping Pad Compared: Value For Money

Based on what you pay for either of these sleeping surfaces, which one offers you more value for your money?

Air Mattress

On the surface, it would appear that buying a big air mattress is much more cost-effective than investing in a dedicated adventure sleeping pad.

Investing in a big air mattress like this EnerPlex King Air Mattress with Built-in Pump is worthwhile and utilizing the savings to fund the purchase of other necessities for your family camping vacation unless you’re an experienced explorer, backpacker, or avid camper outdoors.

Sleeping Pad

An inexpensive sleeping pad with a lower R-value will suffice for 1-person tent backpacking during the hotter seasons. Sleeping pads with higher R-values, built specifically for extreme environments such as the Outdoorsman Lab Sleeping Pad, are more costly. No monetary value can match the value of a good night’s sleep.

Winner Value For Money: Air Mattress

Reason: An air mattress gives you much more value for money because it is much more comfortable and perfect for a family camping trip. Although portable and compact, a sleeping bag gives you less value for your money unless you are a serious backpacker.

Air Mattress Vs. Sleeping Pad: Portability

If you are camping, portability and weight are not too important. However, if you’re planning to go backpacking in the mountains for a few days, the portability of all your gear is one of the most important factors to consider.

Air Mattress

Unfortunately, we can’t even slightly defend an air mattress as more portable than a sleeping pad. While there are air mattresses that are lighter like the EnerPlex Camping Air Mattress with Built in Pump there simply is not enough space in a backpack for an air mattress, so you shouldn’t consider bringing one with you on a backpacking expedition.

Sleeping Pad

Because a sleeping pad is light and you can compress them into a small pouch or bag, a sleeping pad will continue to be the most portable option especially a lightweight self-inflating sleeping pad like this Gear Doctors Self Inflating Camping Sleeping Pad. There are many possibilities in the sleeping pad category.

Because they retain their shape when you roll them up, closed-cell foam mats are bulky and difficult to transport. Oftentimes, they are attached to the outside of a backpack, with other gear like hiking poles, etc. To summarize, sleeping pads are foldable, lightweight, and portable.

Winner Of Portability: Sleeping Pad

Reason: An air mattress is much heavier and bulkier than alightweight, compact sleeping pad. You can’t take an air mattress on a backpacking trip because the weight and size will wear you quickly.

Air Mattress Vs. Sleeping Pad: Warmth & Comfort

Are you looking for more comfort and luxury on your camping trip, or do you require warmth while facing the snowy mountainous terrain?

Air Mattress

Even though sleeping pads are convenient, they can’t compare to the space an air mattress provides. Unlike traditional air mattresses, which leak air over the night, new air mattresses have valve-locking technology that keeps the air in throughout the night such as this Englander Queen Size Luxury Air Mattress.

There are not many things that are more annoying than having to wake up on a drooping bed. Air mattresses are the most comfortable option because of their plush volume, soft coverings, and ample space to move around. Thanks to air mattress insulation, a comfortable and warm night’s sleep are guaranteed.

Sleeping Pad

The traditional, closed-cell foam mat has been re-engineered to withstand some of the coldest sleeping surfaces. Today’s highly insulated pads will keep you warmer and more comfortable like this ZOOOBELIVES Extra Thickness Inflatable Sleeping Pad. The R-value of a pad indicates its ability to keep you warm by resisting the flow of heat.

The higher the number, the more protection the mat or pad offers against losing heat through the bottom. There is a linear relationship between thermal resistance and R-value: the greater the R-value, the cooler the surface will be. 

If you plan to use it for three seasons, you will require an R-value of 2.5 or higher, but for the harshest winters, you require an R-value of at least 5. If you combine systems, you will get the most effective insulation. If you layered your closed-cell foam mat under a less than 5 R-value-insulated air mat, you would be able to sleep warm even on snow or frozen surfaces.

Winner Of Warmth & Comfort: Air Mattress

Reason: They are much warmer than a sleeping pad’s moderate warmth.

Air Mattress Vs. Sleeping Pad: Convenience & Ease Of Use

While opulence isn’t a priority while we’re planning a camping trip in the vast outdoors, we shouldn’t neglect comfort either. So, let’s see which of these two sleeping surfaces are the most convenient and user-friendly.

Air Mattress

Several common air mattresses require considerable work to inflate with a foot or hand pump. Thankfully, the days of thumping a foot pump continuously for 10 minutes, which sounded like you were continually pounding a dog’s squeaky toy into the floor, are long gone, thanks to larger air mattresses.

Nowadays, most air mattresses come with a motorized pump that self-inflates. The greatest part is that many operate on electricity and batteries, making it possible to camp where no electricity is available to power your pump.

Sleeping Pad

When it comes to convenience, a sleeping pad is second to none. Nevertheless, not all sleeping pads are created equal. Closed-cell foam mats are ready to use after simply unrolling. Unfortunately, since the ends of a sleeping pad roll back up when you unfold it, you must place anything substantial on each end until it holds its shape.

Self-inflating foam core mats are equally simple to “install,” All you need to do is spread them out, turn their valve, and presto! They are also simple and quick to store; simply remove the valve and gently push out the air as you roll it up.

Winner Of Convenience & Ease Of Use: Sleeping pad

Reason: Very quick and easy to install and does not require an air pump like an air mattress.

The Final Round – Pros & Cons

Before we render a verdict on which is better between an air mattress or a sleeping pad, let’s take a closer look at each contender’s pros and cons below;

Air Mattress

The pros & cons of using an air mattress include;

Pros

  • They provide more “padding” than sleeping pads, making them more pleasant to sleep on.
  • They are available in various sizes and thicknesses, making them suitable for many body types.
  • Fantastic for those who like to camp in style and comfort.
  • Air mattresses are much warmer because of their substantial thickness and the additional height it provides above the ground.

Cons

  • People frequently groan about the mattress losing air pressure during the night. You should be familiar with this issue as it is prevalent that it may happen in the future too.
  • More maintenance is necessary because it won’t inflate if the mattress is punctured.
  • Air mattresses are not ideal for lightweight trekking or camping because they are much heavier than sleeping pads.
  • The use of longer-lasting materials justifies high production costs.

Sleeping Pad

The pros & cons of using a sleeping pad include;

Pros

  • Extremely portable, requiring very little space when packed.
  • They’re thin; therefore, they’re not heavy.
  • It is impossible to poke a hole in a pad made of foam or one that inflates itself.
  • They are adaptable since they may be used for sleepovers, camping, or even a simple back garden “camping trip” with the kids.
  • Foam sleeping pads are inexpensive, costing only about $10.
  • Ideal for hikers and campers who need to pack as little as possible.

Cons

  • R-values are often computed for average-sized men and women of 25 years old; therefore, larger persons will likely need a costlier one.
  • Because of its bulkiness, you should transport a foam mattress outside your backpack.
  • You can easily puncture a manually inflated pad if you do not have a repair kit (there is no foam within).
  • Unfortunately, R-values are notoriously unreliable.

And The Winner Is…

Well, the winner in this article is determined by the setting of the fight. When these two camping essentials go head-to-head, there’s no arguing that an air mattress rules the roost. Having an air mattress in your tent is as good as bringing your regular mattress from home.

But once the fight proceeds to the wilderness, the air mattress fades into the background, and the sleeping pad steps into the limelight! The insulated air mat and self-inflating foam core pad reign supreme here.

For trips where you’ll be carrying your belongings on your back, their compactness, portability, and weight make the sleeping pad your best option. Although more expensive, high-end models have higher R-values that protect against even the harshest, coldest mountain weather.

There is a very popular saying written by Albert Einstein that goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Now, while air mattresses and sleeping pads aren’t fish, expecting an air mattress to make your backpacking trip unforgettable is unrealistic.

The same goes for a sleeping pad; sleeping on a sleeping pad in your tent for your entire camping trip won’t give you the same comfort as an air mattress. Both of these sleeping surfaces are great, but everything depends on what you are using them for and where. However, both are worthy opponents!

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.