Air bed buying guide

Air bed buying guide

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

Guide written by:

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

259 guides

While air beds are generally reserved for occasional use, they should still be as comfortable as possible! Whether you're looking for a spare bed or a camping bed, you'll have to think about size, mattress density, materials, top surfaces and inflation methods. Follow our guide for all you need to know about air beds.

Important features

  • Uses
  • Size
  • Thickness
  • Materials and flocking
  • Inflation methods
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Also known as inflatable beds, air beds are essentially air-filled mattresses. Cheaper than traditional mattresses, they aren't suitable for everyday use, but serve as the perfect spare bed for occasional overnight guests. They are also ideal as a camp bed for a few nights of camping, or an evening under the stars.

Air beds take up minimal space once deflated but should still be chosen with their intended purpose in mind. Do you need a bed that's lightweight and easy to move around? Or would you prefer a model that is quick to inflate and easy to store? The choice is all yours.

Whatever you decide, it's important to consider the dimensions of the air bed, how many people will be using it and its thickness. The thickness of the mattress will determine how comfortable it is and the amount of insulation it provides from cold, uneven surfaces. An airbed must be made of strong materials and its upper surface should  feature a soft finish, such as suedette, velour or laminated cotton. This flocked surface can be used to cover horizontal or vertical beams, or a coil beam construction.

Last but not least, you must choose the inflation system. If you go for a model that does not feature a built-in air pump, the mattress must be inflated by mouth (for the bravest among you) or using a hand or foot pump. You can also use a separate electric pump.

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Electric pumps

Since inflatable mattresses can be used to serve so many different purposes, it's important to identify your own needs.

Air mattress for a spare bed

Naturally, the airbed must be comfortable but it should also be easy to pack away quickly. By adjusting the level of inflation, these beds can even adapt to the individual comfort requirements of different people.

Air mattress for camping

These air beds should be lightweight, easy to carry and the right size for you, single size or double.

Please note: inflatable pool mattresses are only suitable for use in the water. They are not designed to be used as a bed and will not be comfortable to sleep on.

The size of the air bed must be suited to the person intending to use it. If you plan on using your air mattress as a spare bed for guests, make sure you choose the largest model possible. A double air bed is always more comfortable, even when used by a single person. However, you should also check there is enough space in your tent or home to accommodate the air bed.

The thickness of an air mattress will impact your sleeping comfort: the greater the distance between you and the ground, the less you will feel the cold or bumps on uneven surfaces. This will also play a role in how easy the air bed is to use. Thicker airbeds are higher which will make it easier for you to get in and out of bed.

For an air bed intended for indoor use as a spare bed (or for more regular use), a thickness of between 38 and 56 cm is usually recommended. For camping or less frequent use, you can choose a thinner mattress of 16 to 35 cm.

While you can find even thinner airbeds, they will offer less comfort.

While most air beds are made of soft plastic, the bottom should be as hard-wearing as possible, especially if you plan to use the mattress in the great outdoors. Vinyl or PVC beds are therefore good options. The mattress air chambers may be arranged in horizontal or vertical beams, or form a coil beam construction.

For additional sleeping comfort, you can buy a flocked mattress – and it looks nice too! The upper surface material will determine how soft your air bed is. Suedette, velour or laminated cotton sleeping surfaces are particularly popular. However, when it comes to materials, your choice will simply depend on your own tastes and the level of comfort you're after.

There are two main types of airbeds: models with a built-in pump and those with an external pump (usually sold separately so be sure to check).

Air beds with manual or external pumps

These air beds can be inflated by mouth or using a hand or foot pump. Alternatively, you can use an electric air pump that can inflate the bed in minutes. That said, keep in mind that electric air pumps are more expensive and are better suited to home use since you need to have a power supply nearby.

Air beds with built-in pumps

Integrated inflation mechanisms mean you don't have to carry an air pump around with your airbed, so these models are particularly ideal for camping. Built-in pumps are either electric or operated by foot by exerting pressure at a specific point on the mattress. If you occasionally camp in places without electricity, it's best to opt for the latter model.

Whichever model you choose, mattresses with an integrated air pump offer another key advantage: they usually have a reverse system that allows you to both inflate and deflate quickly.

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Guide written by:

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne, 259 guides

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

Après avoir travaillé au service de presse de France 2 et de la Cinq, j’ai choisi de laisser parler ma plume en m’orientant vers le journalisme et l’édition. Aussi éclectique dans mes goûts que dans mes écrits, passionnée de décoration et de bricolage comme d’histoire et de sciences, j’écris depuis plus de vingt ans sur ces thématiques. À mon actif : des ouvrages didactiques, romans et nouvelles, et de très nombreux articles brico déco regorgeant de conseils et d’astuces, expérimentés dans la vieille maison que je rénove peu à peu.

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