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Inflatable Air Mattresses
Handy for Guests or Travel

Last updated on July 18, 2019

Need an instant guest bed or camping mattress? Inflatable air mattresses have received a major upgrade in recent years. They're simple to inflate, and more comfortable than ever.

What is an inflatable air bed?

Made mainly of vinyl, these portable mattresses come compressed and packed in a storage box or bag, and come with a manual or (more commonly) electric or battery powered pump.

Blow-up beds are available in a variety of heights; which you choose depends on where you plan to use it and store it. Thinner mattresses in the 4" to 9" height range work for car camping, RVs, and other times when you need to consider packing and weight. The next most common size are blow-up beds in the 18" to 22" range, which mimic the look of a regular mattress, sometimes called 'double height.' Obviously, extra tall beds take up more storage space when deflated.

A third type of mattress isn't so much a mattress as a pad; alternatively called 'sleeping pads,' these are thin pads meant to sit under a sleeping bag for backpacking and camping. They usually inflate with a manual pump, or are made of expandable foam requiring no pump (called self inflating). Foam pads resemble a thick yoga mat, while inflatable types look like a scaled down pool float. These are outside of the scope of GoodBed's expertise, but we found good reviews from campers and some highly-regarded options at Amazon.com.

Which inflatable mattresses are easy to use?

Ease of inflation

When considering ease of use for a basic air mattress, the biggest single determinant is its inflation process, but don't overlook deflation and storage features.

Most models come with a built-in electric pump that can inflate the mattress fully in only 1-2 minutes. On cheaper models, the pump is a separate piece (sometimes included but sometimes a separate purchase). Most pumps are powered with an electrical cord. If you think you might want to use your inflatable bed while camping or elsewhere without access to an outlet, check for an optional battery backup feature. Some have a third option, a port for manual inflation with a separately purchased hand or foot pump.

We talked about inflation, but what about deflation? Squeezing air out of a 22" tall air bed can be a pain. Some have a feature that reverses the inflation process using the built-in pump to deflate the bed.

Other features to consider:

  • Carrying bag. Handy for storage and tossing in the car
  • Sheets. Mattresses between 7" and 12" tall should be fine with standard fitted sheets. For taller beds, look for a groove in the plastic where a fitted sheet's elastic could sit.
  • Mattress size. Most come in sizes similar to regular mattresses, primarily twin and queen. Full and king sizes are less common and harder to find.
  • Durability. The biggest complaint we saw in user reviews is leaking. This is definitely a product where you'll want to check user ratings.
To shortcut your research, we sorted through highly rated air mattresses at Amazon.com. Here's what users say are the top-rated inflatable beds for camping, and here's a short list of highly rated blow-up mattresses for home use.

Are air beds comfortable?

Yes, especially as the short-term solutions they are intended to be. Most built-in pumps are sophisticated enough and seams are tight enough to allow for a firm level of inflation. Backing off and not filling the bed so much results in a softer feel.

The height of the bed also comes into play. While a short, 8" or 9" bed is easier to maneuver and store, taller 18" to 24" raised beds better simulate a real mattress's height from the floor, and are easier to get in and out of, and alleviate the sensation of sleeping on the floor.

Some models have pillow-tops (an extra inflatable section on the top) or built-in pillows, but whether these features make a difference to you is a personal preference.

What brands make inflatable beds?

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

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