A Cozy Camping Bed Is Around the Corner

Woman relaxing and lie in a sleeping bag in the tent. Sunset camping in forest. Mountains landscape travel lifestyle camping. Summer travel outdoor adventure

Key Points

  • Your camping trip is only as good as the rest you get at night.

  • There are four main types of camping beds: air mattresses, foam pads, air mats, and cots.

  • Camping beds are not one-size-fits-all.

From watching the stars to campfires and smores, camping is a solid option for many people when it comes to using nature to relax and rejuvenate. Things can quickly go south, though, depending on how the night goes. There is nothing worse than trying to fall asleep and feeling every twisted root and pebble digging into your back, thanks to an awful camping bed.

A great bed is a total game-changer and will have you yearning to sleep in the great outdoors time and time again. Consider these camping bed guidelines to ensure your night is spent sleeping and not just counting sheep.

Types of Camping Beds

In 2022, there are four main types of camping beds: standard air mattresses, air mats, foam pads, and cots. While some rank high on comfort, others rank high on convenience. Whatever you go with, keep in mind that you are apt to make a sacrifice in one department to benefit another.

When shopping for your new camping bed, it's important to note that terminology can vary depending on the manufacturer and type of bed. Some call them mats, others are called pads, but they're all in the same family.  

There are several questions you need to consider before pulling out your wallet:

  • What type of camping trip is it?

  • How often are you going to be camping?

  • Do you prefer convenience or comfort?

  • Are you carrying your bed with you?

  • Is power from a vehicle or generator be available? 

  • How much sleeping room is available to you?

  • What is the temperature at night?

Two feet at edge of camping mats with nature lookout in background

Air Mats

Most air mats are self-inflating. Usually, all you have to do is open the air valve and the rest takes care of itself. Voilá!

The name air mat is often a bit of a misnomer, as these typically have some type of open-cell foam inside that creates the self-inflating aspect. But it is, in fact, air that expands back to its original inflated shape. That's how they work, like memory foam sealed inside resilient fabric that protects against punctures. Because the foam is made up of open cells, air wants to fill those cells, reverting it to its natural state — working a lot like the sponge in your sink.  


  • Most air mat models allow you to control the level of inflation, making it more or less firm based on your personal preference.

  • Air mats generally have better heat retention than basic air mattresses since the foam also acts as insulation. This measure is referred to as R-Value. High R-Values mean greater heat retention, making it better for colder conditions.   

  • As of 2022, open-cell foam technology is much improved. There is essentially no shrinking over time. The ability to re-inflate is more impressive than ever.  

  • The comfortability factor of air mats is astounding. They’ve been around since the 1970s, but thanks to new technology, they are incredibly comfortable.


  • With inflatable air mats, you sacrifice when it comes to their weight and how well they can be packed up. If you're a trekker or backpacker and need to carry all of your supplies with you, the inflatable foam air mats are probably not your best option. 

Zoom UL Insulated Sleeping Pad

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Best Air Mat

Now that you know more about an air mat, it's time to list the best one on the market. The Big Agnes Zoom UL Insulated Sleeping Pad is the air mat that tops our list. It is exceptionally comfortable and distributes your weight evenly across the pad. It has a 3" thickness across the pad and a 3-1/2 thickness on the edge. Weighing in at 17 ounces, it is among the lightest on the market. It has a 4.3 R-Value; plan on sleeping on this pad at 32 degrees or higher. If you camp in weather below freezing, consider the Big Agnes Rapide SL Sleeping Pad.

Person rolling a camping mat

Foam Pads

In the same vein as air mats, closed-cell foam pads are another great option. While there are pros and cons to foam pads, closed-cell pads are typically more durable with a longer life span than inflatable air mats.

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  • Closed-cell mats have completely closed cells, preventing air and moisture from getting inside. This gives them more insulation power than mats with open cells, making them a great option for colder climates.

  • Since foam pads don't inflate, they are puncture and tear-resistant. You don’t have to worry about that pile of pine needles — just roll it out and hit the hay.  

  • Typically, foam pads are more cost-effective than self-inflating mats, ranging anywhere from $15 to $200.

  • Foam pads tend to be thicker, offering lots of cushion and comfort. Even when using lightweight sleeping bags.


  • Closed-cell foam is not very breathable, making foam pads a less suitable option in warmer climates.  

  • Foam pads are typically heavier than their self-inflating cousin, making them hard to transport and store.

  • Unlike the self-inflating pads, you can’t control the firmness of these pads. Make sure it’s to your liking before you take it out and about.  

Z Lite Sol Camping and Backpacking Sleeping Pad

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Best Foam Pad

There are a lot of foam pad's to choose from, but the best on the market is the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite SOL Sleeping pad. The foldable design and bubble texture make it easy to pack and comfortable to sleep on. You will find similar pads with a 72-inch and 51-inch length option with a standard 20-inch width. You will also find they are all about the same price and R-Value. Unlike its competition, the Z Lite has a 0.75-inch thickness, separating it from the rest of the pack.

Air Mattresses

Just about everybody is familiar with the classic air mattress. Most people have needed one at some point when staying at a friend or family member’s house. Air mattresses tend to be more popular with those who are looking for more of a glamping experience.

There’s typically not much diversity of features in the camping air mattress world. You power the pump, hold it to the opening, and fill it like a rectangular balloon. 

Though not quite an industry norm yet, one huge improvement found on certain models is a pump built into the mattress itself. Traditionally, the pump is a separate contraption and can be a nightmare if you’re not well versed — and sometimes even if you are! 

Considered a luxury camping bed, air mattresses are the most comfortable of all the options listed. Keep in mind, though, that they are not always a viable option — depending on the specifics of your trip — because of the sacrifices needed for that level of comfort.  

Person wakes up on mattress placed near lookout


  • 2022 versions of the standard air mattress are a breath of fresh air. To inflate, all you have to do is plug it in and turn it on.

  • The comfort of an air mattress is unmatched in the camping world. If you are camping for a significant amount of time or taking long hikes that are going to leave you exhausted and sore, an air mattress might be the best route.

  • Because of how much they inflate, air mattresses lift you off the ground significantly more than any other option. This is especially beneficial in colder climates, camping grounds with uneven surfaces, or for campers who have back problems. There's nothing worse than not being able to get out of bed in the morning!

  • If you're sharing a bed with children, pets, or the love of your life, an air mattress is your best bet. Most standard air mattresses come in twin, double, and queen sizes, so nobody is pushed off the bed in the middle of the night.


  • To inflate the mattress, you have to power the pump. Do this by connecting the pump to your car or a generator. Some mattresses come with hand pumps that run from human power, but these can take quite a lot of energy to use.

  • Air mattresses are bulky and heavy. If you don't have to haul it more than 100ft, it makes sense to side with comfort over portability. If you are moving campsites or backpacking, this option is probably not going to work. 

  • Air mattresses take up significant space. Make sure you choose the right tent and the mattress fits inside before you purchase.  

With superior comfort, it's no surprise that air mattresses are a top pick for those who experience struggles while sleeping, as well as occasional, overnight, and weekend campers. They are also a great option for families with children.

Sleep System - Memory Foam Camping Mattress

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Best Air Mattress

The Hest Sleeping System Sleeping Pad – Wide is more than an air mattress that happens to fit in a tent. It's a foam pad and air mattress with an unmatched comfortability rating. The memory foam pad unrolls, then you pump up the upper air mattress with the hand pump. To store it, just roll it up and stuff it in the carrying case. It is easy to clean and easy to carry. It has a hidden pocket for your cell phone stash pocket at the top of the mattress. It is not the cheapest, but easily the most comfortable.

RV camper with mattress, sheets, and pillows


Not as common as the other three, cots are another effective way to ensure you're counting Z's and not how many minutes until sunrise. Cots are one of the oldest camping beds (aside from sleeping on the floor of a cave). They are the best option if you are looking for a folding camping bed.

Cots are popular in TV shows, as well as in the military. While they aren't exactly a mattress in the traditional sense, they do still provide a level of comfort. Cots are a hammock built around a rectangular metal frame. You sleep on a relatively thin fabric suspended a foot or two off of the ground.  

As cots are rather unique from the other options, they have very different pros and cons.  

Camping bed cot within a tent


  • Cots are fairly easy to set up. Modern versions typically have a basic fold-out design.

  • Because of their design, cots are also easily stored and transported. While the frame makes them bulky, they do fold up flat.

  • Cots are nearly impossible to break since there is not much to them but simple, sturdy parts.

  • Cots are a great option if you want separation from the ground.

  • They are historically cheap to procure, ranging from $35 to $200.


  • Cots don’t offer much in the way of insulation. You may be high off the floor, but the void beneath you is a vector for the cold. A good way to counteract this is to have a very good sleeping bag and a small tent. The smaller the tent, the less space you need to heat up, and the easier it is to keep it toasty.

  • If you like a very soft cloud to sleep on, this may not be the one for you.

  • After air mattresses, they are the second bulkiest option.

  • They come in one style: firm. Consider putting a pad between your sleeping bag and the cot.  

Using cots is more of a personal preference as not everyone finds them very comfortable. If you ever find yourself stranded, a cot can be constructed from just a few strong branches and a tarp.

Best Cot

The Cabela's Camp Cot with Organizer is a sturdy, comfortable cot that lasts years. This design is similar to the one used by the military but much more comfortable. If you find yourself trying to entertain kids during an unexpected rainstorm, this cot will hold up longer than the tent. It is tall enough to store your gear under it and keep other things you need close at hand in the organizer. It is 74.8 inches tall, 26 inches wide, and 15.7 inches tall. It can also accommodate up to 300 pounds.

Other Factors

There are other factors you want to take into account when purchasing your camping bed. Taking these factors into consideration ensures that not only are you making the best purchase possible, but you are also protecting your overall camping experience.

Before you hit the outdoor supply store, you are going to want to think about tent size, sleeping bags, and the physical environment in which you are camping.

Person inflates a camping mattress on riverbank

Tent Size

One of the most important things to pay attention to is your tent size when choosing a tent.

A castle-sized tent might sound like a great idea — more room for activities! Without friends to help you heat it, though, it quickly becomes an ice castle when the sun goes down. Especially in extreme temperature environments, you're going to want to go as small as possible.

If you don’t have a big enough tent, that seems like an obvious problem, too. It may seem trivial, but sizing your tent is just as important as sizing your bed. If you don’t do either, you be sleeping on the ground with your feet out the door — a mosquito's dream! 

Sleeping Bags 

A great sleeping bag can fix a lot of shortcomings. If your cot is too cold or your foam pad too stiff, a high-grade sleeping bag is your saving grace.

Expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $600 for a high-end sleeping bag.


Level ground is about as rare as a sighting of Big Foot.  

Not having level ground can be a problem when using cots. Like a table, they require stable ground unless you enjoy rocking back and forth every time you roll over during the night.  

Air mats and closed foam mats offer some comfort against this unruly foe, but ultimately you’ll probably want to find some flatter ground in the morning.

Air beds are the best when it comes to protecting you from rough terrain, as long as it’s not too sharp with twigs and needles. If it is, make sure you have a really good tarp underneath to create a barrier, or you might be deflated by morning.   

Eat, Sleep, Camp, Repeat

Making coffee in the morning and enjoying it next to the campfire is only as good as the sleep you got the night before. Whether it’s dealing with lumpy ground, spiky tree debris, or the biting cold, sleeping in the wild poses a near-infinite number of obstacles, which can easily make you want to turn around and go home and abandoning your ideas of escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Follow the guidelines mentioned here, get that sweet sleep you can only find in mother nature, pair your camping bed with a camping pillow, and soon enough, you'll consider yourself a camping fanatic!

From the best hammocks for camping to the best snowboards and skis, let My Outdoor Gear guide you in creating the adventure of your dreams.

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