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 to come to mind.
But what if you can’t use an air mattress for some reason? You will need to find an alternative.
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.
A Folding Mattress is likely your best air mattress alternative for car campers. Offering the thick comfort of a regular mattress but the portability of something much smaller, you can’t go wrong.
Finally, we suggest a Futon for glampers who require the finest things in life. Futons are about as close to home as you’ll get, providing the best support and feel of a bed.
Comparison table – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
To simplify things, we’ve summarized our list of alternatives in this handy table.
|Sleeping StylePortabilityOverall ComfortPriceCamping CotSuitable for allVery High High$$-$$$Regular CotSuitable for allLowMedium$$FutonSuitable for allVery LowVery High$$$$Folding MattressSuitable for allHighHigh$$Foam PadSuitable for all Very HighLow/Medium$$Self-Inflating PadSuitable for allHighMedium$$Bean Bag ChairSuitable for allVery LowVery High$$$HammockNot much movement/dislikes groundVery HighMedium/High$$$Sleeping BagNot much movementMediumMedium$-$$$Backcountry BedSuitable for allMedium/HighHigh$$-$$$Blanket NestSuitable for allLowMedium/Low$|
- Comparison table – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- Why to Consider Alternatives – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- What to Look For – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 1. Camping Cot – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 2. Regular Cot – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 3. Futon Mattress – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 4. Folding Mattress – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 5. Foam Camping Pads – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 6. Self-Inflating Pad – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 7. Bean Bag Chair – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 8. Hammock – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 9. Blanket Nest – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 10. Sleeping Bag – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- 11. Backcountry Bed – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- Conclusion – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
Why to Consider Alternatives – 11 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 air mattresses is their delicateness. 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 – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
Before you toss your air mattress in the trash, let’s look at some things you must consider when selecting your new sleep system.
Portability – What to Look For
First off, what types of trips will you be taking?
You’ll need a lightweight alternative if you’re primarily a backpacker ready to ditch air mattresses for good. The 2lb Helinox Lite Cot might be perfect for your needs.
Conversely, if you prefer the luxurious car camping style 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. A sleeping bag would make the most of your space if you have a smaller tent.
Sleeping Preferences – What to Look For
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, so it’s good to keep this in mind.
Comfort – What to Look For
Are you willing to sacrifice a bit of the plush life in order to shed weight? Or do you prioritize comfort over lightweight?
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.
Temperature Rating/Insulation – What to Look For
Before you commit to a new sleep alternative, figure out what temperatures you’ll mostly be camping in.
After you decide on 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.
1. Camping Cot – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, cots traditionally are not made for lightweight backpacking.
However, we encountered a handful of highly praised models 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 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 2 lbs!
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 to 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 of air leaks. You’re still in a slightly-raised bed but don’t have to worry about spontaneous deflation.
On the downside, bringing a sleeping pad is still advised, as cots aren’t the best at insulation.
Pros – Camping Cot
- Never deal with a sinking bed again.
- Lightweight option balances weight and the feel of a bed.
- Get away from the cold ground and the bugs; better back support.
Cons – Camping Cot
- Depending on your chosen type, 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.
2. Regular Cot – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
If a cot piques your interest but 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 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 20 lbs. That’s around the typical range for traditional cots, I’m afraid. So if weight saving is the game’s name, you’d probably want to look elsewhere.
Pros – Regular Cot
- 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.
Cons – Regular Cot
- Weight is an issue again; 10 lbs are low, and some can go beyond 30 lbs.
- Consider bringing insulation on cooler nights.
- You definitely need to be concerned about damaging your tent floor with a heavier cot.
3. Futon Mattress – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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 our list’s lightweight air mattress alternatives.
This will be heavenly to any glampers 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.
Since futons are rather bulky and not very portable, they’re best for longer stays where you’ll have an extended base camp.
Transportation of such bulky equipment will also be a pain in the neck. Futons will 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 get a sleeping alternative that feels almost exactly like your bed at home.
Pros – Futon Mattress
- 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.
Cons – Futon Mattress
- 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.
4. Folding Mattress – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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.
Pros – Folding Mattress
- Quick setup; unfold and done!
- No air issues or leaking.
- Feels like an actual mattress; thick and comfortable.
Cons – Folding Mattress
- Narrow: only room for 1, as they’re typically only offered for a single person.
5. Foam Camping Pads – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
Foam camping pads are similar to folding mattresses but 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 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 night’s sleep.
Pros – Foam Camping Pads
- 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.
Cons – Foam Camping Pads
- Can be too uncomfortable for some campers.
6. Self-Inflating Pad – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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 suit you.
Even though they aren’t the thickest alternative to an air mattress, they still succeed in many areas where air mattress fail.
For instance, they roll up to the size of a large water bottle, if not a little thicker. So packing and storing a self-inflating pad is a breeze.
You probably noticed the obvious: inflation = a chance for punctures and air leaks.
I currently use the Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Sleeping Pad to offer some perspective. 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 self-inflation was priceless at the end of an exhausting day.
Pros – Self-Inflating Pad
- More comfortable than thinner options.
- Highly light and packable.
- Doesn’t take long (or at all) to inflate.
- Good insulation; use a sleeping bag or blanket for top coverage.
Cons – Self-Inflating Pad
- 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.
7. Bean Bag Chair – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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.
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 suede 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.
Granted, you’ll likely be using blankets or 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 if campers wanted to go sheetless.
Pros – Bean Bag Chair
- 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!
Cons – Bean Bag Chair
- They’re usually over 30 lbs, so they will be annoying to maneuver around and carry.
- Pricier than some of our alternatives listed.
8. Hammock – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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 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. Many 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.
Pros – Hammock
- Amazingly lightweight and packable; 1lb.
- You don’t need to bring a tent if used with a tarp for rain coverage.
- Good for those with back issues.
Cons – Hammock
- Needs trees.
- The learning curve of knot tying.
- Beware of the weather: not the best in extreme conditions.
9. Blanket Nest – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
This one’s self-explanatory: bring a pile of blankets from home and layer them until they’re mattress-like!
It’s a simple (and highly convenient!) solution, but it has some 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. This means 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. We advise bringing at least 4-5 thick blankets to lay on. You’ll also have to bring an extra 1-2 blankets for coverage.
As you can imagine, the weight of 7+ blankets could pile up quickly. So no, this isn’t our list’s lightest air mattress alternative.
Pros – Blanket Nest
- 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.
Cons – Blanket Nest
- When you lay on them, you will compress them down, 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 afterward!
10. Sleeping Bag – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
Ah yes, the quintessential sleeping bag. They’re wildly popular, and for good reasons.
First, they’re incredibly versatile. Mix and match different bags for the season/temperature you’ll be camping in.
Sleeping bags are also a staple of the outdoor 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 or worries about punctures.
So that’s a lot of reasons to love sleeping bags, but plenty in the camping community hate them.
They 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 like a futon or folding mattress. So without a pad, you’ll be in for a painful, stiff night on the cold ground.
Pros – Sleeping Bag
- Lighter in weight and way easier to pack.
- Doesn’t need an air pump.
Cons – Sleeping Bag
- Requires sleeping pad.
- More claustrophobic and restricting than an air mattress.
- Can overheat/feel humid.
11. Backcountry Bed – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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 understand how cushy this is.
Not only is it super comfy and fluffy, but it also functions as insulation on warmer nights. By this, you can flip the quilt inside out and lay on it.
Backcountry beds often feature adorable little mitten pockets to warm your hands and arms on cooler nights.
But don’t forget your sleeping pad for extra insulation and padding. Some backcountry beds are equipped with pockets or straps to keep the pad in place. No more rolling off it at night!
This is a great solution for someone nervous about the extreme switch from a cushy, elevated air mattress to a bag on the ground.
Pros – Backcountry Bed
- 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.
Cons – Backcountry Bed
- Heavier/bulkier than some of our more portable alternatives, although our example is an impressively light weight of 2 lbs.
Conclusion – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
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 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.
Frequently Asked Questions – 11 Air Mattress Alternatives
1. What are Some Air Mattress Alternatives for Camping or Overnight Guests? – FAQs
Sleeping pads, cots, hammocks, futons, and foam sleeping mats are all popular alternatives to air mattresses.
2. Is There Anything Negative About Using Air Mattresses That These Alternatives Address? – FAQs
Air mattresses can be bulky, heavy, and leaky. Some of these alternatives are lighter, more durable, and portable.
3. What Should I Consider When Looking for an Alternative to an Air Mattress? – FAQs
Consider things like comfort, portability, durability, ease of setup, and cost.
4. In Terms of Comfort and Durability, How Do Sleeping Pads Compare to Air Mattresses? – FAQs
Sleeping pads are a more compact and lightweight alternative to traditional air mattresses, but they may not be as comfortable or durable in the long run.
5. Can Hammocks Be Used as an Alternative to Air Mattresses, and What are the Advantages and Disadvantages? – FAQs
Hammocks are an option, but they provide a different sleeping experience. They are more portable but may not be as comfortable for all sleepers.
6. Is a Cot a Good Substitute for an Air Mattress, and What Should I Look for When Purchasing One? – FAQs
Cots can offer more support than air mattresses but are not as portable or compact. When purchasing a cot, consider weight capacity, ease of setup, and storage size.
7. What are Some Other Novel Alternatives to Traditional Air Mattresses that People May Be Unaware Of? – FAQs
Inflatable loungers or chairs that double as beds, fold-out couches or chairs, and even blankets or yoga mats layered together for cushioning are all novel options.
8. How Do These Alternatives’ Prices Compare to Those of a Typical Air Mattress? – FAQs
The cost of these alternatives varies greatly depending on the brand and features provided; some may be less expensive than traditional air beds, while others may be more expensive.
9. In Comparison to Inflatable Beds, Do Any of These Alternatives Necessitate Any Special Setup or Maintenance? – FAQs
Some alternatives may necessitate additional setup steps, such as properly assembling frames or hanging hammocks; it is critical to carefully read instructions before use.
10. Which Option is Best Suited for Various Types of Camping Trips (e.g., Backpacking vs Car Camping) or Overnight Guests? – FAQs
The best option is determined by personal preferences and needs; for example, backpackers may prefer lightweight sleeping pads, whereas car campers may prefer larger cots or futons. Guests with back problems may benefit from thicker foam mats, while those who value portability may prefer a hammock.