Camping Sleep Systems - Buying Guide

Airbeds vs Camp Beds vs Self Inflating Mats

With so much choice available, airbeds, camp beds and mattresses have offered camper’s a viable choice between three sleep systems - each with their own advantages and disadvantages.  Sleep systems have had huge innovation and research and design over the years, which have moved them forward into the 21st century.

A good night’s sleep is essential to the success of any camping expedition, whether it is a mountain ascent or a family camping trip. It is important to choose the right sleep system for your needs, to ensure you are properly insulated from the cold ground, and comfortable.


Airbeds are the most traditional form of sleep system, using air to create an elevated sleep platform, which will keep you off the ground whilst you sleep. Often used at home as spare beds, air beds are very popular, and are available in a multitude of sizes, shapes and designs. The main advantage of an airbed is ease of use, the compact pack size when not in use, and portability. However, they do have their drawbacks, and they are prone to weakness and deflation, leaving you flat on your back in the morning.


Flocked PVC

A budget style of airbed, which has a flocked topper, for additional comfort, and to prevent your sleeping bag from sliding from the air mattress. These are usually the most budget friendly sleep mats.

Cotton Airbeds

More durable and robust, and less likely to develop a leak or puncture. However, they are more expensive than regular flocked PVC airbeds. For the cost of a cotton airbed, you can most likely purchase a quality sleep mattress.

Built-in Pump Airbeds

Some airbeds now feature a built-in pump, which can be plugged into your mains or 12v, to take the trouble from inflating and deflating the airbed. 


Blissful Airbed - Furthermore, there are new innovations in the airbed market, such as Vango’s awesome Blissful double airbed. The Blissful has a built in pump, which will allow you to inflate and deflate your airbed. The pump also has an auto-top up feature, which will prevent the bed from deflating in the night, even if it has a leak, the pump will just top the airbed pressure back up silently whilst you sleep.


  • Compact pack size
  • Easy to use
  • Available in a plethora of sizes


  • Can be prone to punctures.
  • Can be hard to locate airbed punctures.
  • Heavy
  • Uncomfortable compared with sleep mats.
  • Air pump may be required to inflate / deflate.

Camp Beds

Camp beds have been in the market for some time, starting with the basic army bed, which is designed to get you off the ground, and give some elevation from the cold ground. Camp beds have evolved since, with better ranges of double, xl and more comfortable camp beds. You can now find beds with memory foam toppers and mats attached to the top of the camp bed, for additional comfort and insulation.

Types of Camp Beds

Army Camp Beds

Basic camp beds, which require setting up, which can take some patience, as they can be quite fiddly.

Steel or Aluminium Camp Beds

A folding camp bed, which unfolds, and then the steel or aluminium ends, give the camp bed its strength and structure.

Easy Set up Camp Beds

Namely the most popular style being the Posadas camp bed by Outwell, which simply unfolds and quickly sets up.

Double Camp Beds

Double camp beds have become highly popular. Essentially, it is two single camp beds, joined together. It is important to know, this type of camp bed has a steel bar running directly down the centre splitting the bed into two camp beds. Ideally, it is good to use a double camp bed with a sleep mat or air mattress on top.

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  • Elevation from the ground.
  • Insulation from the ground.


  • Cumbersome pack size
  • Heavier than airbeds or sleep mats.
  • Sometimes can need setting up

How to Make your camp bed more comfortable?

Sleep Mattresses

There are two types of sleep mattress available, both are typically made from foam, and offer a basic or premium comfort, depending on the quality of sleep mat that you choose.

Roll Mats

The most basic style of camp mattress, usually available for less than £10. This is the most basic style of mattress, which will just provide a base of insulation from the cold ground underneath.

Self Inflating Mattresses

A self inflating mattress is a much more luxurious style of mattress. The SIM is an enclosed memory foam, which has valves on the end, which allow for inflation, and deflation of the mattress. The memory foam will expand, and offer a much greater comfort than a cheap sleep mat or an airbed.  Mattresses are available from a 3cm depth, all the way up to a 16cm depth, the larger the depth the larger the pack size of the sleep mattress. There are different pack sizes, which are ideal for different styles of campers. 

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Small Pack Size Mattresses

These typically offer less depth, and comfort, but they will pack down small, making them ideal for backpackers, Scouts and cyclists, who need a portable mattress.

Luxury Mats

This style of mattress has a larger pack size, but often has a greater depth, and will offer much better comfort and luxury. The more depth, the more insulation that you have from the ground, which will make you warmer, and more comfortable.

Examples of Luxury Mat

  1. Vango Shangri-La 15cm Single / Double - this is Vango's luxury sleep mattress, with a 15cm depth, memory foam and a 3D design. This mattress is as comfortable as a bed at home.
  2. Outwell Dreamboat Single / Double - the Dreamboat was the first luxury mattress available, offering a 12cm deep sleep mattress with a soft feel finish. The new design of the mattress offers a hot / cold design, which allows for the mattress to be used throughout the year. One side is for cold weather, and offers more insulation, and the alternate side, is a summer side, which is more breathable to keep you cooler.


  • No pump involved
  • Uses valves to inflate and deflate the mattress.
  • Better insulation from the ground
  • Memory foam offers more warmth.


  • Can be prone to small holes
  • Some valve systems are better than others.
  • Can be difficult to pack away.


Each camper has a preferred set up, personally I like the combination of both a sleeping mattress and a camp bed, as the camp bed will give great elevation from the cold ground, but the self inflating mattress will offer the comfort to make your sleep set up really luxurious. However, this set up is only ideal if you are travelling to your camping location by car, as the pack sizes and weights are heavy.

Each system or product has its own strengths and weaknesses, but some people prefer self inflating mattresses and some people prefer airbeds. I would highly recommend going into a store to see what you prefer, and what feels more comfortable.

Categories: Buying Guides