CAMPING | The Ultimate Guide To The Best Camping Beds, Air Mattresses & SIMs

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Getting a good nights sleep is the key to happy camping! Whilst being that bit closer to nature is scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve your sleep, a comfortable nights sleep under canvas isn’t a given, and with so many camp bed and mattress options, which is best camp bed option for you?



1. Ready Beds & All-in-one Beds

This kind of bed generally consists of a self inflating or inflatable air mattress with an attached sleeping bag. Most are specifically designed for camping and are as such easy to transport and carry.

Some have sleeping bags that can be zipped away from the base and whilst they are a popular choice for children, there are an increasing number of options available for adults in single and double configurations.

Adult deluxe ready bed
Single Adult Ready Bed All In One Camp Bed
  • All in one solution
  • Easy to carry and transport thanks to integrated carry bags/straps
  • Lots of fun children’s designs available
  • Single and a few double options available
  • You’ll usually compromise on sleeping mat comfort and sleeping bag warmth
  • Can sometimes feel a little restrictive
 

2. Self Inflating Sleeping Mats (SIMs)

A self-inflating sleeping mat is essentially like a thin air mattress with a layer of foam padding inside. When you open the valve, air is sucked in, immediately inflating the mat, and you usually need to top it up by blowing a little extra air in using your mouth or by closing the valve, partially rolling it back up and then opening the valve again.

SIMS are a popular choice due to their small size and low weight, which makes them ideal for backpackers, festivals and wild campers. You’ll find that every camping retailer will have a good selection of SIMs on offer, and their prices vary wildly, from just a few pounds for something not much more substantial looking than your average yoga mat, to hundreds of pounds for expedition quality SIMs from the likes of Therm-a-rest.

Check out our review of the Outwell Dreamboat Double SIM and the Vango Comfort 10 SIM.

Vango Comfort Grande 10cm Self Inflating Mat £76
Vango Comfort 10 Self Inflating Camping Mattress
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to carry/pack
  • Ideal for backpackers, expeditions and wild camping
  • Options for every budget
  • Foam layer provides good insulation, especially from thicker SIMs
  • Maximize tent sleeping space as they are generally narrow
  • Fast to inflate with no pump needed
  • Cheap versions are not padded enough to provide good levels of comfort
  • All but the very thickest (10cm +) SIMs can be uncomfortable for side sleepers
  • Limited insulation from cheaper models

3. Standard Air Mattresses

Standard air mattresses/airbeds are a hugely popular choice as they offer a great combination of comfort and value. They are also small and light to transport and easy to get hold of. Although they aren’t impossible to inflate by mouth, a pump is definitely recommended, which should be factored in to your purchase price, and most will lose air overnight during use and will require topping up for continued use.

Coleman maxi comfort camp mattress
Coleman Maxi Comfort Double Airbed
  • Very inexpensive and readily available
  • They roll/fold up very small making them easy to transport
  • Lightweight
  • Lack of insulation can be addressed by using extra layers/blankets etc.
  • Single, double, queen and kingsize options all available
  • Air pump needed to inflate (manual, rechargeable or electric)
  • Air often leaks out during use
  • They take up more space than a sleeping mat or SIM so you might struggle to reach full occupancy using air mattresses
  • Cheaper models can puncture easily
  • Poor insulation so they can often be cold to sleep on
  • Life-span tends to be quite poor (a few uses rather than a few years, though there are rare exceptions)

4. Double-Height Air Mattresses

Double height mattresses keep you well off the ground, making it feel more like you are getting into a real bed and as such they can be a very good option for those with mobility issues. As well as looking and feeling more like a ‘real’ bed, double-height air mattresses are very comfortable.

Due to their size, they can take considerable time to inflate, so a 12v or battery-powered pump should be factored into the purchase cost, inflating with a foot pump takes approximately 17 years.

The new Vango Blissful is a clever air bed that ensures you won’t wake up on a deflated mattress, leave it plugged in, and it will keep your bed topped up so it won’t end up all soft and spongy. Just bear in mind, it requires mains power, so is only an option for those who camp with an EHU.

Vango Blissful luxury double airbed
Vango Blissful Raised Camping Air Mattress (Please note, EHU needed)
  • Very comfortable to sleep on
  • Extra height makes them ideal for those with mobility issues
  • Lack of insulation can be addressed by using extra layers/blankets etc.
  • Single, double, queen and king size options available
  • Air pump needed to inflate (manual, rechargeable or electric)
  • They take a long time to inflate up so best used with a powered pump
  • Many already have an electric mains pump attached, making them unsuitable for camping (unless you have an EHU)
  • They can be cold to sleep on so you’ll need to insulate your back/top of the mattress in cold weather
  • Fairly expensive and suffer from same durability issues as basic single air mattresses
  • Variable quality of seams and valves can result in inconsistent performance, even from same model and brand
  • You may find that the sides bow out, increasing the overall width of the airbed meaning you’ll need plenty of space inside your tent.

Check out 7 Of The Best Luxury Camping Beds & Mattresses


5. Folding Camp Beds

Frequently used by the military, this style of bed offers great value and good levels of comfort, providing you’re happy sleeping on your back or don’t like to spread out too much. Stretched canvas is generally attached to a folding Aluminium frame. To erect, typically two Aluminium poles are placed either end and slot into position to pull the canvas taut and keep the whole frame rigid.

Whilst this style of camp bed is heavier and bulkier than the other options we’ve looked at so far, most come with storage/carry bags, making them a great choice for people who are frequent car campers, i.e. transporting their camping gear in a car and not having to carry it. One of the big benefits of this style of bed is that they don’t deflate overnight so once it’s up, you don’t need to think about it again and you’ll get more life out of this style of bed than your average air mattress.

Zempire Twin Speedy Camp Bed
Zempire Speedy Folding Camp Bed
  • No faffing around with pumps required
  • They can be purchased cheaply
  • Quick to put up
  • Fairly sturdy
  • The extra height keeps your back away from the cold floor
  • Comfort is improved greatly if you use a sleeping mat or SIM on top
  • Storage space created under the bed (great for stowing rucksacks etc.)
  • Usually single, though there are some double options available
  • They are fairly narrow, so not too comfortable if you prefer to spread out
  • Not comfortable for side sleepers due to lack of padding
  • Generally much heavier to carry than an air mattress
  • They are fairly big to transport so only suitable for car camping

6. Carp Fishing Beds

Whilst a fishing bed might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of camp beds, Carp fishermen have been keeping a secret from the rest of us, and that’s the key to a comfortable night of sleep outdoors. Known as Chairbeds, Carp fishing beds are designed to provide somewhere comfortable to sit hour after hour, and they serve a dual purpose as they convert easily from a chair to a bed.

Fishing beds are seriously comfortable. Most have adjustable legs, so are great for use on uneven ground, and look out too for a padded sprung base, which makes it easy to adjust the firmness. For even greater comfort, top-end fishing beds include thick memory foam pads. They also make an excellent choice for heavier people, and there are extra long and wide options too.

The compromise however comes in terms of their size and portability – they are big and fairly heavy and only to be considered if you’re using a vehicle to get to and from the campsite, and even then you’ll need to make sure you have enough space, both inside your car and in your tent.

Robens Tala camp bed
Robens Tala Folding Camp Bed
  • Quick to put up
  • Ideal for use on uneven ground as the legs independently adjust
  • Padded mattresses make for a very comfortable nights sleep
  • The extra padding of the mattress keeps you warm
  • Most are much wider than a standard single camp bed, making them ideal for those that like space
  • Most can easily be converted into chairs or day beds making them very versatile
  • Elastic bases can often be adjusted to your preferred firmness
  • Single and extra-wide options available
  • They are big and take up a serious amount of transportation space
  • Extra size means they are a bit heavier to carry than other styles of camp bed
  • Single size beds are often wider than standard and so take up more room inside the tent
  • They are expensive compared to some other options
  • Carry bags often aren’t included as standard
  • Looks wise, you get to choose from very limited options; mainly olive green!

Our camping sleeping set up

Our sleeping set up depends on what kind of camping we’re doing and whether it’s just me or both of us. Generally though, we use the Outwell Pasodas folding double camp bed with the Outwell Dreamboat double SIM on top.

For shorter trips or when space is at a premium, we use the Vango Comfort SIM straight on the floor or if I’m on my own, I take my super comfy fishing bed.

Summary

The kind of camp bed or mattress that you choose will depend largely on your budget, how much space you have and the level of comfort you seek. Cheap options like standard air mattresses/airbeds are great for those on a budget and for short, infrequent camping trips. Whilst regular campers will find that investing in a good quality SIM or a carp fishing bed can make more sense.

Whatever option you go for, added padding and insulation can make a huge difference to your comfort, so do consider adding a memory foam mattress topper to air mattress, or placing your SIM on top of a camp bed to enhance your comfort for example.

Whilst shopping online is convenient, we strongly recommend trying before you buy. So go along to your local camping shop, fishing superstore or visit somewhere like Go Outdoors first. Remember too that big camping shows provide the ideal way to get hands on and try out sleeping options to make sure you choose the one that’s absolutely right for you.

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Shell Robshaw-Bryan
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