Portable Air Beds
Choosing a Practical and Affordable Option

Those seeking sleep accommodations that are portable and/or storable need only look to the basic inflatable air mattress. This category of air mattress has received a major upgrade in recent years, and can best be evaluated on the joint criteria of ease of use and comfort.

Ease of Use

When evaluating ease of use for a basic air mattress, the biggest single determinant is its inflation process. Many models now come with a convenient built-in electric pump that can inflate the mattress fully in only 1-2 minutes. However, if cost is your primary concern, some models can be inflated with an ordinary hair dryer instead (so long as it can be set to blow only cool air).

Of course, if you intend to use the mattress for camping you may want to consider a manual model, many of which are now "self-inflating." A self-inflating mattress is filled with sponge-like foam that can expand and compress. To inflate it, open the valve and spread out the mattress, letting the foam expand as the air rushes into the mattress. Once the foam has fully expanded, top off the mattress with a few extra puffs and then seal the valve to keep it from compressing when you lie down on it. To deflate, simply open the valve and squeeze out the air like any other air mattress.

Another feature that enhances an air bed's user-friendliness is its compactness when stored. Some models even come with a small duffel bag for storing the deflated mattress when not in use.


When it comes to comfort, the aforementioned electric pumps have yielded improvements in this area as well. For those that prefer a firmer sleeping surface, the more powerful air flow of today's electric pumps has enabled a level of firmness that was previously difficult to attain with manual pumping techniques. And like with the more upscale primary-use air mattresses, those seeking the ability to more precisely control their desired level of firmness are now able to more easily make such adjustments.

A number of other designs and features offer enhanced comfort, but at the expense of the air bed's compactness when stored. For example, a "raised" air bed typically stands about 24 inches when inflated, or roughly the height of a normal bed, versus 6 to 12 inches for a standard air bed. While the added height may not change the way the mattress feels, it makes the bed easier for most adults to get into and out of, and eliminates the somewhat strange sensation of sleeping on the floor. Similarly, some storable air mattresses feature pillow-tops or built-in pillows, also making the air mattress more comfortable but bulkier when stored.

Portable Air Mattress Manufacturers

Leading brands of basic inflatable air mattresses include Aero, Extraordinaire (Simmons), Intex and Coleman.

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