Here’s the ultimate list of air mattress alternatives for camping.
When you think about sleeping while on your camping trip, air mattresses might be the first thing to come to mind.
But what if you can’t use an air mattress for some reason? You will need to find an alternative.
We believe that the Camping Cot or Foam Camping Pad are the best air mattress alternatives for backpackers. Both options can be lightweight, but the Foam Camping Pad will win every time. Camping Cots, meanwhile, help get you off the cold ground and away from potential bugs or dampness.
For car campers, a Folding Mattress is likely your best air mattress alternative. Offering the thick comfort of a regular mattress but the portability of something much smaller, you can’t go wrong.
Finally, for glampers who require the finest things in life, we suggest a Futon. Futons are about as close to home as you’ll get, providing the best support and feeling of a bed.
11 Air Mattress Alternatives – Comparison table
To make things a little easier, we’ve summarized our list of alternatives into this handy table.
|Sleeping Style||Portability||Overall Comfort||Price|
|Camping Cot||Suitable for all||Very High||High||$$-$$$|
|Regular Cot||Suitable for all||Low||Medium||$$|
|Futon||Suitable for all||Very Low||Very High||$$$$|
|Folding Mattress||Suitable for all||High||High||$$|
|Foam Pad||Suitable for all||Very High||Low/Medium||$$|
|Self-Inflating Pad||Suitable for all||High||Medium||$$|
|Bean Bag Chair||Suitable for all||Very Low||Very High||$$$|
|Hammock||Not much movement/dislikes ground||Very High||Medium/High||$$$|
|Sleeping Bag||Not much movement||Medium||Medium||$-$$$|
|Backcountry Bed||Suitable for all||Medium/High||High||$$-$$$|
|Blanket Nest||Suitable for all||Low||Medium/Low||$|
Why You May Consider Air Mattress Alternatives
As you may know, there are certain areas in which air mattresses aren’t the best.
Portability is immediately an issue. Air mattresses are heavy! Check out our article on the weight of air mattresses if you want to learn more. They also take up a ridiculous amount of space inside a tent.
When it comes to setup, air mattresses fail here too. Unrolling and inflating an air mattress is a time consuming chore.
When I was little, my family often went backyard camping. But my parents refused to buy a battery pump, which meant that we’d all have to blow up our own air mattresses…manually. Ugh!
One of the worst things about an air mattress is how delicate they are. It seems like the smallest thing can cause a mysterious leak.
I slept on my fair share of air mattresses visiting my grandparents. I used to think they were a lot of fun…until I’d repeatedly wake up with my bed sinking around me.
This is even worse when you’re camping and your bed starts deflating. Before you know it, you wake up with sharp rocks poking into your back. That seems a lot worse than my grandparents’ carpeted floor!
What to Look For in an Air Mattress Alternative
Before you toss your air mattress in the trash, let’s look at some things you’ll have to consider when selecting your new sleep system.
First off, what types of trips will you be taking?
If you’re primarily a backpacker ready to ditch air mattresses for good, you’ll need a lightweight alternative. The 2lb Helinox Lite Cot might be perfect for your needs.
Conversely, if you prefer the luxurious style of car camping or even glamping, you’ll have more options on the heavier side.
Also consider how heavy a load you’re willing to carry/walk with. This is true for backpackers and car campers alike.
Don’t forget about tent space either. If you have a smaller tent, a sleeping bag would make the most of your space.
Look for something that fits your sleep style. Do you want the maximum room to roll around at night? Or are you more of a still sleeper?
Some options will feel more restrictive than others, so it’s good to keep this in mind.
Are you willing to sacrifice a bit of the plush life in order to shed weight? Or do you prioritize comfort over light weight?
Backpackers might fall into the first category. Meanwhile, car campers who don’t need to carry their sleep system on their back would likely be okay with heavier but more plush choices.
Before you commit to a new sleep alternative, figure out what temperatures you’ll mostly be camping in.
After you decide your temperature range, look for the temperature rating of your sleep option. For sleeping bags, this is usually a number in degrees printed prominently on the side of the packaging.
Keep in mind that some options won’t provide a temperature rating at all.
Finally, some options offer better insulation than others. Backcountry beds, for instance, usually offer quite a lot in terms of comfort and insulation from the cold ground.
On the other hand, something like a blanket nest would provide minimum insulation on colder nights.
Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, cots traditionally are not made for lightweight backpacking.
However, we encountered a handful of very highly praised models that are specifically made for those trying to ditch the pounds that often accompany a cot.
Camping cots hit that sweet spot between weight, comfort, and a bed-like feel for those of you who aren’t ready to sleep directly on the ground.
Some, like the MARCHWAY Ultralight Folding Cot in the image above, weigh 4.8 lbs. One of the lightest camping cots we encountered is the Helinox Lite Cot, weighing an incredible 2lbs!
With some models folding down to a width as small as 5”, they’re more portable than their regular cot cousins. And of course, they’re doubly portable when compared against air mattresses.
Of course, this weight saving has to happen somehow: height is sacrificed.
Camping cots don’t get you as high off the ground as regular (and much heavier) cots. But still, having that extra 2-4” of ground clearance can be nice, especially if you’re worried about bugs.
Another great thing about camping cots is that there’s no chance for air leaks. You’re still in a slightly-raised bed, but you don’t have to worry about spontaneous deflation.
On the downside, it’s still advised to bring a sleeping pad, as cots aren’t the best at insulation.
- Never deal with a sinking bed again
- Lightweight option balances weight and the feel of a bed
- Get off the cold ground and away from the bugs; better back support
- Depending on what type you choose, it can be a bit uncomfortable/too stiff for some
- They can get cold, so you still need to bring insulation like a sleeping pad
- Beware of damage to tent floors from the cot’s feet
If a cot piques your interest but you couldn’t care less about weight savings, maybe a more traditional cot is for you.
Unlike their smaller brothers, a regular cot gets you high off the ground. This makes getting in and out of bed easier. Plus, it just feels more natural, like swinging your legs out of your bed at home.
While we’re on the subject of cot height, consider that all that extra space under the cot is a perfect place for storage.
Some cots are the traditional flat canvas or polyester stretched across a metal frame. But others, like the REI Kingdom Cot 3, feature a quilted, plush top for extra comfort.
Of course, adding things like fluffy padding will increase weight.
The Kingdom Cot, for instance, is 20lbs. That’s around the typical range for traditional cots, I’m afraid. So if weight saving is the name of the game, you’d probably want to look elsewhere.
- Gets you higher off the ground than camping cots; feels more natural and easier to stand up
- Extra storage under the cot
- Some models feature additional padding for comfort
- No air leaks
- Weight is an issue again; 10lbs is on the low end, where some can go beyond 30lbs
- Consider bringing insulation on cooler nights
- You definitely need to be concerned about damaging your tent floor with a heavier cot
Aren’t futons only good for college dorms? Nope! They can be a surprisingly functional addition to any glamping setup.
Despite their bad rap, futons can be amazingly comfortable. They can feel like your bed at home!
Even the minimalist models will feature padding that rivals many of the lightweight air mattress alternatives on our list.
This will be heavenly to any glampers who are fed up with air mattresses but don’t want to sacrifice any modicum of comfort.
Notice I’ve been saying glamping. That’s because futons are generally large and cumbersome, built with rigid frames that fold in half, at most.
So they probably won’t fit through the door of a regular-sized car camping tent.
Considering that futons are rather bulky and not very portable, they’re best for longer stays where you’ll have an extended base camp.
Transportation such a bulky piece of equipment will also be a pain in the neck. Futons will most likely be inconvenient to load into your truck and haul to the campsite. It’ll feel like college move-in day!
But in return, you’ll be getting a sleeping alternative that feels almost exactly like your bed at home.
- Extremely bed-like for those who prefer creature comforts
- Great for glampers and long-term stays
- Gets you high off the ground
- No air leaking
- Decent amount of padding likely means warmth
- Room for 2, usually
- Will be annoying to transport unless you have a large truck; they only fold down in half at most
- Weight: anywhere from 30-60lbs; hard to maneuver
If the idea of a mattress sounds appealing but you don’t want to deal with the space-hog nature of a futon, consider a folding mattress.
Made for a single person (rather than 2), a folding mattress is often smaller than a futon.
The really cool thing about folding mattresses is how they fold down into the size of approximately a couch cushion. This makes for great portability, transportation, and storage.
They also feel like a mattress, since they’re of a similar thickness: around 6” or so, depending on the model.
One slight downside to this sleeping solution is that they’re only made for 1 person. So if you’re hoping to cuddle up on a romantic glamping outing, you might be out of luck.
Not to worry – some campers suggest simply pushing the mattresses together to help remedy this issue.
- Quick setup; unfold and done!
- No air issues or leaking
- Feels like an actual mattress; thick and comfortable
- Narrow: only room for 1, as they’re typically only offered for a single person
Foam Camping Pads
Foam camping pads are similar to folding mattresses, but they can go way thinner.
Ranging from around .5” – 3” in thickness, this option is definitely for those willing to sacrifice a little comfort for weight loss.
Foam camping pads are lightweight and portable; they can easily be rolled up and attached to the outside of a backpack.
The NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad is an incredibly popular pad that I feel like I see every two seconds on the trail. Weighing a meager 10oz, you can see why backpackers consider a foam camping pad a favorable option.
The foam provides exceptional insulation properties. Closed-cell foam particularly is known for retaining heat.
Because foam is such a rock star, even the ultra-thin .5” pads will be sufficient for insulation on cool nights.
But obviously, because they are so thin, they might not create the most comfortable nights sleep.
- Thin, lightweight, and easily rolled up
- Excellent insulation, even the thin models; bring a sleeping bag or blanket for top coverage
- Can be used in cooler temperatures; made specifically for heat retention
- Most are affordably priced
- No risk of puncture or leak
- Can be too uncomfortable for some campers
Self-Inflating/ Inflating Pad
A self-inflating pad is essentially an air mattress. But they’re smaller, much more packable, and a lot thinner.
How thin, you may ask? Most of them are around 1” thick. So if you’re looking for thick, cushioned comfort, a self-inflating pad might not be for you.
Even though they aren’t the thickest alternative to an air mattress, they still succeed in a lot of areas where air mattress fail.
For instance, they roll up to the size of a large water bottle, if not a little more thick. So packing and storing a self-inflating pad is a breeze.
Now, you probably noticed the obvious: inflation = a chance for punctures and air leaks.
To offer some perspective, I currently use the Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Sleeping Pad. After a week of beating it up in the backcountry, it’s still 100% functional.
I say all this so you don’t run away for fear of air leaks. I never had any issues with leaks or even punctures. And the ease of the self-inflation was priceless at the end of an exhausting day.
- More comfortable than thinner options
- Highly light and packable
- Doesn’t take long (or at all) to inflate
- Good insulation; use with a sleeping bag or blanket for top coverage
- Generally, you’re at risk for punctures, same as an air bed, but it depends which model you get
- At 1” thick, this could still be too thin for some
Bean Bag Chair
There are a handful of bean bag chair manufacturers who make their chairs specifically to double as a bed. Check CourdaRoy’s Convertible Bean Bag Chair (the image above) for a much-beloved example.
Simply unzip the bag, turn it inside out, and ta-da! You now have a nearly queen-sized bed!
One thing we loved is that when the bean bag is in chair-mode, it can save loads of space in your tent.
Now you won’t have to navigate around a cumbersome bed. Instead, you have a functional chair and a way to conserve precious floor space too.
When you’re done, roll the mattress back into it’s vaguely ball-shaped configuration and replace the cover.
Speaking of the cover, folks love the soft, rich feel of the sueded canvas. And to make it even better, the cover is easy to toss in the washing machine for no-fuss cleaning.
It’s just too bad this easy clean doesn’t extend to the mattress itself.
Granted, you’ll likely be using blankets or maybe sheets for a glamping trip. So that could solve the sanitation issue.
But still, we would have liked to see a cover option for the mattress as well if campers wanted to go sheetless.
- Versatile: double functionality as a chair or mattress!
- No worrying about air leaks or punctures
- Comfortable and plush
- Roomy and spacious; spread out and roll around on this nearly queen sized option!
- They’re usually over 30lbs, so they will be annoying to maneuver around and carry
- Pricier than some of our alternatives listed
If being a ground-dweller doesn’t suit you, a hammock could be a good fit.
Hammocks are awesome for people with back problems – the ground is really hard, even with sleeping pads and cushioning!
Hammocks are also for those who prefer the weightless feeling of suspension.
Plus, they’re really convenient and can be a giant weight saver. This is because hammocks, when used with a tarp for light weather protection, eliminate the need for a tent altogether.
You’ll also encounter hammocks with and without insulation. For a hammock without insulation, bring your sleeping pad.
And yes, this still applies even though you’re not in direct contact with the ground. The air itself will suck the heat from you. Take it from me…been there, done that!
Aside from temperature control, hammocks solve the issue of portability quite nicely. A lot of them pack down to the size of a large water bottle and weigh just over 1lb.
Of course, the wildly obvious drawback to hammocks is that you need trees to hang them. So if you’re camping in the desert, hammocks are useless.
And don’t forget that even if you did find two perfectly spaced trees, you still have to tie up the hammock.
- Amazingly lightweight and packable; 1lb
- If used with a tarp for rain coverage, you don’t even need to bring a tent
- Good for those with back issues
- Needs trees
- Learning curve with knot tying
- Beware the weather: not the best in extreme conditions
This one’s self-explanatory: bring a pile of blankets from home and layer them until they’re mattress-like!
It’s a pretty simple (and highly convenient!) solution, but it brings a few drawbacks. For one, this only works if you have a lot of fluffy and thick blankets at home.
If you try to do this with only one or two blankets, the weight of your back will compress the fill of the blanket. Meaning, you’ll be able to feel rocks, twigs, and the overall unyielding hardness of the ground.
Not only that, but you’ll instantly kill any insulation properties of the blanket. That’s why we advise bringing at least 4-5 thick blankets to lay on. You’ll have to bring an extra 1-2 blankets for coverage as well.
As you can imagine, the weight of 7+ blankets could pile up quickly. So no, this isn’t the lightest air mattress alternative on our list.
- Roomy like an airbed with space to move around
- Can be as plush as you make it
- Incredibly convenient
- Budget friendly; use whatever you have at home
- You will compress them down when you lay on them, rendering a lot of insulation value virtually null
- Heavy and inconvenient to drag all those blankets to the campsite
- Requires time to assemble
- Lots of laundry at home afterwards!
Ah yes, the quintessential sleeping bag. They’re wildly popular, and for good reasons.
First, they’re incredibly versatile. You can mix and match different bags for the season/temperature you’ll be camping in.
Sleeping bags are also a staple of the outdoors community for their convenience and portability. They aren’t nearly as cumbersome as an air mattress.
Best of all, you can skip the awful leakage issues or worries about puncturing.
So that’s a lot of reasons to love sleeping bags, but there are plenty in the camping community who hate them.
They do tend to feel claustrophobic, so if you move around a lot when you sleep, you might not like the tight fit.
Although they’re insulated and rated for cool temperatures, you still need to bring along a sleeping pad.
Sleeping bags aren’t wildly plush the way a futon or folding mattress would be. So without a pad, you’re going to be in for a painful, stiff night on the cold ground.
- Lighter weight, way more easy to pack
- Doesn’t need an air pump
- Requires sleeping pad
- More claustrophobic and restricting than an air mattress
- Can overheat/feel humid
A backcountry bed is basically just a sleeping bag…but better.
They’re often built a little wider, meaning they will feel somewhat similar to an air mattress in terms of space.
One of my favorite things about a backcountry bed is the built-in comforter quilt. Seriously, check out Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed to get an idea of how cushy this is.
Not only is it super comfy and fluffy, it also functions as insulation on warmer nights. By this, I mean that you can flip the quilt inside out and lay on it.
Plus, backcountry beds often feature adorable little mitten pockets to keep your hands and arms warm on cooler nights.
But don’t forget your sleeping pad for extra insulation and padding. Some backcountry beds are even equipped with pockets or straps to keep the pad in place. No more rolling off it at night!
Overall, this is a great solution for someone nervous about the extreme switch from a cushy, elevated air mattress to a bag on the ground.
- Good intermediary between air mattress and sleeping bag
- Very comfortable; you get a built-in quilt!
- Mostly spacious; not restrictive to move around inside
- Insulated; built with the outdoors in mind
- Heavier/bulkier than some of our more portable alternatives, although our example is an impressively light weight of 2lbs
Although the air mattresses in those adorable Pinterest glamping photos may look amazing, they’re far from perfect.
Hopefully, this article has helped show you some alternatives so you never have to deal with a deflated air mattress again!
From all the available alternatives, our favorite for backpackers is tied between the Camping Cot or Foam Camping Pad. The Camping Cot can go surprisingly light, and it helps get you off the ground. Meanwhile, the Foam Camping Pad is unrivaled in weight savings.
A Folding Mattress is a good solution for car campers who have more room in their tents than backpackers. It brings the portability of a smaller solution but keeps the bed-like comfort you want in an air mattress alternative.
Finally, a Futon could make a lot of sense for a glamper. Although they’re heavy, once you get them placed in your tent, you’ll be treated to a sleep that feels just like it would in your bed at home.