Air Bed vs. Sleeping Pad – How To Choose The Right One For Your Needs
As an alternative to a regular bed, air beds and sleeping pads are two popular options. Both are convenient with defining features that can make one more, or less, comfortable or appropriate for a particular purpose, than the other. So, here we’ll help you decide between an air bed vs. a sleeping pad for your needs.
When choosing between an air bed vs. a sleeping pad, choose an airbed for more cushioning but less insulation. Choose a sleeping pad for less cushioning but more insulation and portability. Air beds are best for car camping and tent camping whereas sleeping pads are designed for backpacking.
Air beds and sleeping pads are great for providing a more comfortable night’s sleep, especially if your needs are met by using the right option. Sleeping pads can be a great substitute as mentioned in our air bed alternatives guide.
Air Bed vs. Sleeping Pad - A Comfort Comparison
The most important consideration when buying an air bed or a sleeping pad, is how comfortable it will be to sleep on.
Air beds offer more cushioning than sleeping pads since their thickness ranges from 10-18 inches high. Sleeping pads provide more insulation than air beds, ease of use, and portability. Choose a sleeping pad with an R-value of more than four for camping in colder weather.
Here is a comparison between air beds and sleeping pads, based on comfort factors of each:
Amount Of Cushioning
Although both air beds and sleeping pads provide cushioning, they do differ in the amount of comfort offered, depending on the materials they are made of, and the thickness of the mattress or pad. This is essentially a trade-off between thickness and cushioning.
Generally, air beds offer a significant amount of cushioning. They are designed to be used as an alternative type of bed and some are even designed for permanent use. This is explained in our article that offers tips and tricks for air bed long term use. The height of an air bed affects the amount of cushioning it provides. The further it is from the ground, the more comfortable it is likely to be. The thickness of an air bed can range between 10 to 18 inches. Sleeping on a double-tall air mattress can actually feel like you’re sleeping on a regular bed. In addition, the level of cushioning can be customized through the inflation of the mattress, allowing you to make your bed firm, medium, or soft. Some air beds offer adjustable features to allow targeted control of firmness in different areas.
A sleeping pad definitely provides less cushioning than an air bed. Sleeping pads are usually only a little over two inches thick, which is not that much higher than the surface they’re laid on. Nevertheless, sleeping pads can provide a comfortable alternative to sleeping directly on the floor when needed for sleepovers, as well as for traditional outdoor camping use. You can even add to the amount of cushioning provided, by layering a comfortable mattress topper over your sleeping pad.
Level Of Insulation
The amount of insulation can be a determining factor in how comfortable you will be on either a sleeping pad or an air bed, especially while camping during cold nights. It is frustrating to spend the night freezing in your tent due to insufficient insulation to regulate temperature and keep you warm. Read this article, from ncbi, outlining the effects of the thermal environment on sleep, to see the importance of proper temperature regulation. Air beds often provide a different level of insulation from a sleeping pad due to the different materials that they are made of.
Most air beds are made from synthetic materials, such as vinyl, that provide poor temperature control. The air inside the mattress also holds the same temperature as the air surrounding the bed. Just as in summer, an air bed can absorb the heat your body generates and keep you uncomfortably warm, the air inside the mattress can match low external temperatures in winter keeping you uncomfortably cold. Although regular air beds do not provide insulation, there are tips and tricks that you can use to fix an air bed that is cold, as explained in our article.
Some sleeping pads can resist heat loss and provide enough insulation to keep you warm at night. However, you do need to be careful when choosing a sleeping pad to be sure that it has an appropriate R-Value. This stands for thermal resistance and indicates the level of insulation of the sleeping pad. Read this article from ScienceDirect, explaining exactly what thermal resistance is.
There are various types of sleeping pads such as foam pads, self-inflating pads, and inflatable insulated pads. Make sure to choose an inflatable insulated pad, since they provide the best insulation. Additionally, keep in mind the R-Value needs to be higher than four for more insulation in winter. This sleeping pad video review gives more information about Klymit inflatable sleeping pads.
Portability is an important factor to consider when you choose between an air bed and a sleeping pad. Both are used for outdoor purposes, which makes portability a key issue.
Although air beds lose much of their size when deflated, they can still take up a considerable amount of space and are unlikely to fit in your backpack when you're camping or hiking. And if it does there won’t be room for much else. A twin size, single tall air mattress can be around 11” X 7” X 1.5” when deflated and packed, which is still too big for a backpack. However, this collapsed size might be small enough for getting to your campsite, by car.
Your air bed, however, might be a different size. Make sure to take a look at our guide to air bed dimensions to make sure you are considering the size of your particular mattress.
Compared to air beds, in terms of portability, sleeping pads come out on top. They are highly portable, which also varies according to the type of pad. Self-inflating sleeping pads, for example, become smaller in size when collapsed. They can easily be packed in your backpack and won't take up much space. Closed-cell foam pads don't lose their size when folded down or rolled up, so they are a little less portable.
Ease of Use
Another important element in choosing between an air bed or sleeping pad is how easy it is to use. A product that is easy to use, will contribute to making your experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Using a foot or hand pump to inflate an air bed might take some time, but it isn't that hard to do. If you have a battery-powered pump, inflating an air bed can be even easier. A built-in electric pump can work well if you have access to electricity. We give an in-depth explanation of how to inflate an air bed, in our step-by-step guide.
Really tired after a day of hiking? What if you could get your sleeping pad ready just by unrolling it? Yes, sleeping pads are extremely easy to use. Closed-cell foam pads, for example, need only to be unrolled to sleep on. A self-inflating pad, similarly, can be inflated very easily, just by opening the valve to inflate, and in a blink of an eye you’ll be ready for bed.
To summarize see our table:
|Features and Considerations||Sleeping Pad||Air Mattress|
|Cushioning||Doesn't provide a great amount of cushioning.||Provides an ample amount of cushioning.|
|Insulation||Provides a high level of insulation.||Doesn’t provide insulation unless designed with an insulating topper.|
|Portability||It’s portable and fits into a backpack.||It’s portable but cannot fit into a backpack along with other items.|
|Ease of Use||Is extremely easy to use.||Is easy to use.|
|Example from Amazon||Sleepingo Camping Sleeping Pad||Englander Twin Size Air Mattress|
When purchasing an air mattress, it's also important to find one that is cost-effective and will last a long time. Be sure to read our tips on how to choose a durable air mattress as well as our air bed price guide for more information.
Choosing Between an Air Bed vs. Sleeping Pad For Camping
For camping, air beds and sleeping pads each have their pros and cons. Either could be better, depending on your type of camping.
Air beds are more comfortable but less portable than sleeping pads, for camping. Air bed use is limited to environments where they can be inflated, whereas sleeping pads can be used in most camping environments.
Air Beds for Camping
Air beds are commonly used for camping because they’re practical and convenient, as long as they can be transported easily to the campsite.
Air beds can be very comfortable to sleep on while camping. They are generous in size and high off the ground, which can give you the feeling that you’re sleeping on your regular bed. This is especially true if you are sleeping on a heavy-duty air mattress as discussed in our article about how to choose an air bed that holds 400 pounds or more. Depending on the thickness of the mattress, it could provide perfect cushioning and great protection from bumpy ground, for a good night’s sleep.
Although air beds are very comfortable, in terms of support and cushioning, air beds are poorly insulated which can make them uncomfortable in an outdoor camping environment. Using an air bed for camping can expose you to cold weather at night because the mattress will trap the cold air inside it. Unless you get an insulated air mattress, this can be very uncomfortable, like lying on a slab of ice.
Air beds are not easy to use unless you have a battery-powered air pump to fill it. Using a foot or hand pump to fill an air bed with the amount of air required, takes effort and time. Electric air pumps will only work where power is available, so the mattress will be useless for off-the-grid camping experiences.
Air beds are not portable enough for some types of camping. For hiking and trekking, they won't fit in your backpack. Fortunately, there are other options available.
Sleeping Pads for Camping
Sleeping pads are recommended for all types of camping.
Sleeping pads are very convenient for camping. They are designed to be extremely portable and can fit perfectly in your backpack. Importantly, sleeping pads are very easy to use in any environment and there’s no need for any air pumps. You can simply unroll a closed-cell sleeping pad, and it’ll be ready to use. Self-inflating sleeping pads like this one for two people, can be inflated just by opening the air valve.
Sleeping pads can provide a high level of insulation to keep you protected against the cold weather and cold ground -- this will make a huge difference in how comfortable your night’s sleep is. Just make sure to choose a sleeping pad with a high level of thermal resistance.
Sleeping pads do not provide as much cushioning as an air bed or mattress would because they are not very thick, usually around 2.2 inches. They will also be less protective against the harsh ground. You might end up feeling the rocks and the sharp objects underneath the pad.
How to Choose the Best Air Mattress or Sleeping Pad for Camping
Air mattresses are less portable and easy to use with less insulation, but more comfortable than sleeping pads. For camping, use a sleeping pad for more insulation to use in small places and to carry easily on hikes and trails,
How to Choose the Best Camping Air Mattress
When choosing an air mattress for camping, the most important factors to consider are comfort and warmth. An air mattress needs to be comfortable and it needs to provide a good level of insulation against the elements and the ground that you will be sleeping on. To avoid sleeping on the ground you can lift an air bed for camping, as explained in our guide.
Here are the features you should look for when choosing a camping air mattress:
|Features to Look for in a Camping Air Mattress||Why?|
|Double tall air mattress||More comfortable because it is thick and provides more cushioning, however, it is less portable.|
|An air mattress with an insulating topper||Better insulation than the mattress alone|
|An air mattress with a battery-powered built-in pump||Easier to inflate the mattress.|
How to Choose the Best Camping Sleeping Pad
A sleeping pad for camping needs to be comfortable enough for you to sleep on. It also needs to be easy to use.
Here are the features you should look for when choosing a camping sleeping pad:
|Features to Look for in a Camping Sleeping Pad||Why?|
|Self-inflating sleeping pad||Easy to inflate and doesn’t require pumping with a foot pump.|
|Closed cell sleeping pad||Very easy to use. Simply unroll it!|
|Higher than 4 R-Value||Provides better insulation for cold winter temperatures.|
Choosing the Best Foam Sleeping Pads for Backpacking
Sleeping pads are used extensively for backpacking because they are very portable. Foam sleeping pads are very small and can easily be included in a backpack. They don’t need to be inflated, and they can be folded into a smaller size that can fit into a backpack or rolled and hung on the outside of your backpack, using suitable straps. Foam sleeping pads are often the preferred choice for backpack camping because they are so easy and convenient to use. A foam sleeping pad can even be used on top of a portable camping cot for extra comfort, as mentioned in our article that compares using an air bed or a camping cot for camping.
Here’s what to look for in a foam sleeping pad for backpacking.
|Features to Look for in a Sleeping Pad for Backpacking||Why?|
|Moisture-proof||Protects from dampness on the ground and from getting wet in the rain.|
|Closed-cell foam pad||Provides better support for your body, giving you a more comfortable night’s sleep with better cushioning.|
|Higher than 4 R-Value||Provides better insulation from the cold ground.|