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8 best air beds for comfortable camping and slumber-filled sleepovers

·11-min read
Will you opt for a self-inflating style, or one with a built-in pump?  (The Independent)
Will you opt for a self-inflating style, or one with a built-in pump? (The Independent)

Sales of air beds have, ironically, exploded. There are various theories as to why – from the increased popularity of staycations and camping holidays to post-lockdown get-togethers – but generally speaking, if beds are limited, an air bed becomes the next best thing.

The good news? They’ve come a long way since the days of paper-thin rubber, leaking valves and the need to spend an entire day inflating them with a foot pump.

These days, built-in pumps are incredibly common, allowing the bed to be inflated with a flick of a switch once it’s been attached to either mains power or a battery pack, although these types will always be compatible with standalone pumps, too.

Or for nights under canvas, you should also consider self-inflating mattresses. These feature a thin layer of foam through which air circulates, and they are becoming increasingly popular. Typically, they’ll have a small valve which needs to be opened to kick-start the inflation process, before the firmness can be increased with a few breaths of air.

Finally, a top tip, which will be especially relevant if you’re using an air bed during a camping holiday: always place a rug or blanket beneath the air bed. “Convection currents can easily form in the trapped air, and these will sap body heat,” says Clive Garrett, Oase Outdoors’s in-house camping expert. “These are created as body heat is pulled towards the cold ground. Putting a blanket under the airbed will stop these from forming.”

How we tested

We’re not going to lie. This particular job involved a lot of lounging around, dozing and generally making sure we tested each bed’s comfort levels thoroughly. But our process also involved a lot of exertion – with self-inflating mattresses for example, we were keen to see precisely how many puffs of air were needed once the bed had inflated, and we spent hours unrolling and rolling our air beds in order to test how quickly and easily they could be stowed away

In other words, after our rigorous testing process (interspersed with occasional dozes) we now consider ourselves airbed experts.

The best air beds for 2022 are:

  • Best air bed – Active Era king size comfort plus air bed: £114.99,

  • Best for neck support – Silentnight camping collection flocked airbed with built-in electric pump: £120,

  • Best for camping – Therm-a-Rest neoair xlite sleeping pad: £125.96,

  • Best budget buy – Mountain Warehouse flocked double air bed: £33.99,

  • Best for easy storage – Coleman extra durable raised double airbed: £62.91,

  • Best for ease of use – Quecha self-inflating camping mattress: £149.99,

  • Best for comfort – Jysk air bed velour comfort: £65,

  • Best for single sleepers – Outwell sleeping 10cm single self inflating mattress: £80.99,

Active Era king size comfort plus double air bed

First things first. This isn’t an air bed designed to be crammed into backpacks or squeezed into a one-person tent. It’s huge, and one of the deepest inflatable beds we’ve come across – we appreciated the heavy-duty carry bag it came in. The blurb states that it inflates – using the built-in pump – in three minutes, but it actually achieved optimum inflation in slightly under this time. We relied on mains power (although you can use your own pump, too), and were impressed with the design of both the built-in pump and the cord, which tucks neatly into the side of the bed.

Watching it slowly inflate, like some strange, rubbery alien, was weirdly enjoyable, and we were floored by the level of comfort. Ridges designed to support the head, shoulder, hips and legs did precisely that, and the stability was second-to-none – despite being keen campers, we hate the rocking sensation associated with sleeping on airbeds, but the comfort plus provided a level of stability we’ve never found in an inflatable. Packing it away was surprisingly easy too – it deflated (a process we started by simply uncapping the valve) in under three minutes.

Buy now £114.99,

Silentnight camping collection flocked single airbed with built-in electric pump

After a night dozing on this luxurious air bed, we don’t think we can ever face kipping on a sofa again. It’s surprisingly hard to find top-quality single models – the best materials and technology always seem to be reserved for doubles. Not so with Silent Night’s camping collection flocked airbed, which comes with a built-in pump and storage bag.

We inflated it – using the internal pump – in a matter of minutes, and the ultra-rigid beams provided fantastic support. It was also one of the few air beds which didn’t give us neck pain – all too often headrest areas seem either too pronounced or too minimal, but this slightly raised one cradled our neck and head perfectly.

Buy now £120.00,

Therm-a-Rest neoair xlite sleeping pad

If you haven’t tried a sleeping pad, we strongly recommend taking the plunge. Think of them as ultra-thin air beds which can be inflated using a few breaths, a pump or what’s known as a pump sack – a bag which can be attached to the pad and used to inflate it. What sets sleeping pads – and particularly the ones made by Therm-a-Rest – apart is the tech, whether it’s the “baffled” internal structure which cushions bumpy ground, or the ultra-secure winglock valve. We’ve tried several sleeping pads but this was without doubt one of the best, with a lightweight design and a tapered shape which allowed it to strike the perfect balance between performance and portability.

Buy now £125.96,

Mountain Warehouse flocked double air bed

We’ll admit it. We’ve got a thing about flocking. On hot, muggy nights, the wrong kind of flocking can make or break a camping holiday or sleepover. Nobody wants cheap expanses of plastic stuck to their skin, after all. Luckily, Mountain Warehouse’s flocked double air bed gets a gold star in the flocking department – it’s supremely soft and easy to spot-clean, and the dimpled design meant there was still plenty of room for air to circulate. To inflate it, we simply popped open the valve and attached a pump (not included). Despite being one of the thinnest air beds we’ve come across,  there was still plenty of firmness, and the material felt much less flimsy than the rubber used on similarly priced air beds.

Buy now £33.99,

Coleman extra durable raised double air bed

Call us fickle, but we absolutely loved the teal-blue hue of this bed – in our experience, inflatable air beds come in varying (but equally depressing) shades of grey, green and black. Admittedly, its teal-themed fabulousness had no bearing on comfort levels, which were surprisingly high. The dimples looked (but didn’t feel) deeper than the ones we were used to seeing on air beds, but there’s obviously some method to the madness, because we experienced a blissful night’s sleep (despite the fact that, for this price, we’d have loved to have seen a built-in pump, rather than having to dust off our own one).

We also liked the so-called wrap’n’roll system – once it’s deflated, simply roll it up and stash it into the built-in carry bag. We were sceptical about the claim that the soft-touch brushed polyester reduced the noises made from moving around, but we stand corrected – there was none of the rustling we were accustomed to when we shifted or turned in the night. If only there was an air bed which could silence our partner’s snoring….

Buy now £62.91,

Quecha self-inflating double camping mattress

Camping should be all about toasting marshmallows and gazing into bonfires – not spending four hours grappling with air bed pumps. Which is precisely why we loved Quecha’s camping mattress (a type of air bed similar to the aforementioned sleeping pad, and which comprises an airtight envelope attached to an open-cell foam layer through which the air circulates).

The words “self-inflating” admittedly made us somewhat nervous about the level of comfort it would provide, but things looked good from the moment we removed it from its sturdy carry case and pulled off the plastic clips which keep it in place when it’s folded up. To inflate the mattress, we simply uncapped one of the two plastic valves, which kick-started the inflation process. The instructions suggested waiting for 150 seconds before manually adding up to 12 breaths of air in order to increase its rigidity, although it reached our desired level of firmness in just over one minute.

We were shocked at how comfortable the mattress was – the open-cell foam does a great job of not only cushioning uneven ground but providing insulation from the cold, and all without adding weight, which makes this a great option for campers hiking from one site to another.

Buy now £149.99,

Jysk air bed velour comfort double air bed

This is another great option for anyone who dislikes the wobbly sensation of sleeping on air beds. Or water beds, for that matter, but far be it for us to critique others’ nocturnal preferences. Made with ultra-tough PVC, it’s the ideal air bed to keep in a cupboard for those moments when unexpected guests turn up. Like the Active Era model, it’s got a built-in pump, and we were pleased to see the inclusion of a repair kit, too. But what really set this apart was the support – not just along the length of the bed, courtesy of raised ridges which provided cushioning in all the right places, but the raised pillow area, which appears to have extra padding. A word of warning – it’s not the largest double air bed we’ve come across, but it’s more than adequate for two people. Perhaps just not extra-tall ones.

You can also get this airbed in a single size (, £50).

Buy now £65.00,

Outwell Sleepin 10cm single self inflating mattress

This is a fantastic, minimalist option for anyone seeking a lightweight sleeping surface that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s incredibly simple to use – a single valve is switched to either “inflate”, “deflate” or “airtight”, and to inflate the mattress we simply switched the valve to inflate before waiting for three minutes (the instructions listed the inflation time as between two and three minutes). We added a few breaths of air to increase the firmness, but we suspect we’d have slept just as well relying on self-inflation alone – the foam mid-layer provided more than enough support, and was a great insulator too.

Buy now £80.99,

Air bed FAQs

What is the difference between an air bed and an air mattress?

The main difference between an air mattress and an air bed is that the former is designed to be used indoors, while the latter is for outdoor use.

What is the lifespan of an air bed?

The average air bed can easily last up to 15 years. Often, if you opt for an air bed that has a built-in pump, the pump will fail before the bed will.

How to choose the best air bed for you

There are a number of things to consider when choosing an air bed:

  • Pump: For a super easy to use air bed, you’ll want to opt for one that has a built-in pump, including manual, battery-operated, and plug-in. We’d suggest going for one with an electric option since this will make the blowing up process faster.

  • Height: A taller mattress is likely to be more comfortable since it has more air, but of course it will be more cumbersome. So, if portability is important, you may want to consider a thinner air bed.

  • Air chambers: Air beds with vertical air chambers are more comfortable because they work to distribute the weight. It’s worth noting that while air chambers that run side to side look more comfortable, they can sag when you lie down.

  • Inflation time: It’s worth noting how long it takes the air bed to inflate – it’ll usually be a couple of minutes.

The verdict: Air beds

Yes, the Active Era king size comfort plus air bed is on the large side, but it’s also proof that bigger is definitely better. Admittedly this isn’t going to be the ideal option for campers planning on travelling light, but it’s a brilliant all-rounder which can be quickly inflated when a spare bed is required, and which doubles as a fantastic option for camping weekends, too.

Jysk’s air bed velour comfort air bed gets a gold star due to its enhanced stability and the built-in pump, which was incredibly easy to use, and we love the price tag – just £65. Finally, a shout out to Silentnight’s camping collection air bed, which provided unbeatable support in all the right places.

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