Inflatable Air Mattress
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Inflatable Air Mattress I Tips and Tricks

The inflatable air mattress is an essential part of the camping gear and can make the difference between having a sweet dream or a nightmare. Many times when it comes time to choose a mattress, it is only thought that it will provide a soft sleeping surface and is not considered insulation against low temperatures, which may be equal or more important.

Nowadays the equipment manufacturers offer a wide variety of mattresses, knowing its main characteristics will be very useful to you to choose the most adapted to your needs.

Types of Mattresses

Closed Pore Foam

They are the simplest and most economical. They consist of high density foam that has small closed pores with air trapped inside. Some models like the Z-Lite Sun are coated with a metallized sheet that improves their insulation.

  • Advantage: They are durable, economical and lightweight. They do not absorb moisture and there is no risk of pricking it.
  • Disadvantages: Bulky, slightly padded.
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Invented by Therm-a-Rest in the 70’s, this type of mattress uses an open pore foam (like a sponge) covered by a cloth that prevents the passage of air. When the valve is opened, the foam expands by inflating much of the mattress. In addition to the inflation, the foam also fulfills an insulating function.

  • Advantage: Thanks to the foam inside they feel more stable than inflatable mattresses and are more comfortable and compact than foam. They offer good insulation, are easy to inflate and can be adjusted to suit the degree of padding.
  • Disadvantages: The large parts of the models are heavier than the ones of foam and without the proper care can be reached to puncture (although the repair in ground is not difficult).
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They are the latest in the evolution of the mattresses. They use air as a cushion, and most models incorporate insulating and / or reflective materials as insulation. They should be inflated “to the lung” or with some inflator accessory.

  • Advantage: The mattresses are lighter and more comfortable because they offer a great thickness and light weight. They are the closest thing to a mattress. They have a very compact transport volume, can be adjusted to suit the degree of padding and to have a greater thickness the irregularities of the terrain are not major problem.
  • Disadvantages: The inflation is slower, they can feel less stable than the self-inflatable air mattress and without due care you can get punctured (although the repair on the ground is not difficult).
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Normally when you go to sleep in a cold place you only consider the comfort temperature of the sleeping bag, however, you lose much more heat by conduction due to contact with the cold floor than by convection through the air. It is for this reason that the insulation capacity of the mattress is so relevant.

This insulation capacity is mainly determined by the insulating and reflective materials with which the mattress is constructed, and not by its thickness. It is measured using the R-Factor, which is a measure of the ability of the mattress to withstand the flow of heat. The higher the value of the R-Factor, the more insulated the mattress is. As a general rule you can consider that even a Factor-R = 3 works well for three-station conditions. For winter conditions you need a higher R-factor.

A detail to keep in mind, and that can be very useful if you do not have problems with carrying some more weight, is that you can add a closed pore foam mattress under a self-inflating mattress or inflatable mattress. This will give you greater insulation as the R-Factors of both mattresses are added.

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Sizes and Shapes

Most mattresses can be found in different sizes and shapes. The important thing is that you choose the mattress suitable for your needs and stature.

  • Short: With a length of ¾ the length of the body (119 cm) these mattresses are designed for those who are willing to sacrifice a little comfort in order to reduce the volume and weight to carry in the backpack. These mattresses should be supplemented with a backpack or some clothing under the legs.
  • Woman: The mattresses for women have a length of 168 cm and most have a greater thermal insulation compared to men. Keep in mind that some brands like Sea to Summit call Small to the 168 cm long mattresses. If you are a man and do not measure more than 168 cm, you can consider a woman’s mattress; you will save weight and you will have greater isolation.
  • Regular: They are the most used mattresses since they have a length of 183 cm, the length suitable for a standard person.
  • Large: They are the option for taller people. Depending on the brand, they can have a length between 196 cm and 203 cm.

The short, regular and women’s mattresses measure between 51cm and 55cm in their widest part. While large mattress can be between 63 cm and 65 cm wide. Consider your tent measurements if you plan to use the tent, as some tent models are not wide enough for two large mattresses.


The thickness will greatly determine the comfort of the mattress. The greater the thickness, the greater the comfort. This is why inside the inflatables are the most comfortable. Then, with a medium range of comfort, the self-inflatable air mattress would be found. And finally, those of closed pore foam, which are the least comfortable due to its smaller thickness.


Basically, there are two forms on the mattresses: rectangular or mummy shape. The advantage of the rectangular ones is that they allow having a greater area of cover and therefore a greater area of isolation of the ground, something that can be of importance in winter conditions, where you can get to have covered the whole floor of the tent with the Cushions. The disadvantage is greater weight compared to mummy shaped ones that are lighter and less bulky to carry.

And now what mattress do I choose?

After reviewing the different types and characteristics of the mattresses comes the big question, which mattress do I choose? To know, you will have to think about your priorities, because there is no perfect mattress for all situations. For many the main concern is comfort, but for others you can be isolation, weight or price.

Only you know the level of comfort you need to rest peacefully. Consider the terrain on which you are going to sleep, if you are normally going to use the mattress in very irregular terrain or have back problems, opt for a thicker mattress. If you are one of those who can sleep deeply in any condition, you can choose a thinner and lighter mattress. If you are going to sleep in winter conditions or are going to do mountaineering, be sure to choose a mattress with good insulation.

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