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How to Choose a Self-Inflating Mattress

Apr. 05, 2024

A good night's sleep is essential, even when camping, where activities often involve long drives, hiking trails, enjoying the surf, or relaxing by the campfire with a glass of wine. Therefore, selecting the right mattress is crucial.


For those staying near the base camp, opting for a mattress elevated above the ground in their camper is a straightforward choice. However, if you enjoy off-road adventures, hosting overnight guests, are prepared for overnight hikes, or have older children camping independently, finding a comfortable portable mattress close to the ground becomes paramount.




Hikers have long extolled the virtues of self-inflating mattresses, while us less savvy campers tirelessly struggle with airbeds, only to find ourselves deflated in the middle of the night.


It may seem counterintuitive that a thin strip of foam, sometimes just an inch thick, could provide more comfort than a well-inflated air mattress four or five inches thick. However, airbeds are prone to leaks and require manual inflation — a challenging task if you're relying solely on your own lungs.


Self-inflating mattresses, on the other hand, conveniently roll up into compact packages, inflate themselves as the name suggests, and surprisingly offer a comfortable night's sleep.


There are two primary types of self-inflating mattresses: bonded and non-bonded, also known as 4WD mattresses.


Self Inflating Bed



A bonded self-inflating bed comprises a foam rubber layer attached to and encased within a polyester container, sealed with valve caps to ensure air and water resistance. Rolling up the mattress tightly with the valve caps removed expels the air, resulting in a compact, lightweight package. Replace the valve caps to maintain its small size for transport.


To set it up, simply remove the valve caps, unroll the mattress, and leave it while attending to other tasks. Within 30 minutes to an hour, the foam rubber will regain its shape, drawing in air to inflate itself. Replace the valve caps, and voila! You have a fully self-inflated mattress.




The 4WD or non-bonded self-inflating mattress consists of loose rubber pieces within the outer container, making it bulkier but more affordable. It inflates to a thicker package, typically around 80-100mm.


While there are other minor details to consider, self-inflating mattresses are generally straightforward and efficient. Despite their thinness, typically around 20mm, they offer surprising comfort.


A quality self-inflating mattress should provide insulation from minor ground imperfections and support for key body areas such as hips, shoulders, knees, and arms. Unlike airbeds, they are less prone to punctures due to their less taut structure, minimizing the risk of disturbing your sleeping partner. Most punctures can be easily repaired.




One of the critical considerations with any ground bedding is its thermal insulation. During the night, ground temperatures plummet, and without adequate insulation, body heat dissipates, leading to discomfort and disrupted sleep.


Regrettably, airbeds quickly adopt ground temperatures, and typical bedding, including sleeping bags, offers little assistance. In contrast, self-inflating mattresses serve as effective insulators. The foam core's properties prevent the loss of temperature from the air cells inside.




While self-inflating mattresses offer convenience, comfort remains subjective, and preferences vary among individuals. The mattresses are adjustable to some extent, depending on personal preference.


Some manufacturers caution against overinflating, as it may cause the inner container to detach from the foam, resulting in failure. Others assert that adding a few breaths of extra air won't pose any issues. Therefore, if you prefer a firmer mattress, it's advisable to consult the manufacturer beforehand.


For those desiring a softer feel, begin with maximum inflation. Lie on the mattress and gradually release air by slightly opening one valve until it reaches a comfortable level, then close the cap, and you're all set.




When making a purchase, seek out mattresses with robust, well-crafted seams and rounded corners, as they are less prone to developing leaks compared to those with sharper, angled corners.


Additionally, opt for a mattress that requires more effort to roll up. Although this may entail extra work, it indicates that the foam inside is of higher quality, tougher, and less likely to deteriorate or lose its structural integrity, ensuring better support for your weight.


Size also matters. Many self-inflating mattresses are made for hikers, so they’re often small, to say the least. For comfort and insulation, it’s better to choose a mattress that’s long and wide enough to separate you entirely from the ground with room to move in your sleep. Self-inflating mattresses are available in single, king-single, queen and king sizes, as well as longer and shorter size and varying thicknesses so choose which suits your needs.




Maintaining a self-inflating mattress involves several dos and don'ts. Utilize carry bags specifically designed for self-inflating mattresses to prevent abrasion during transportation. Avoid using high-pressure pumps to hasten inflation, as this can damage the interior. While adding five to 10 breaths may expedite inflation, it's advisable to consult the manufacturer beforehand. Ensure valves are closed and roll up the mattress to move air to the far end before reopening the valves.


Place the mattress on a ground sheet or tent base to shield it from sharp objects and refrain from using DEET-based insecticides, sunscreen, or chlorine, as these chemicals can cause delamination.


Covering the mattress with a sheet or sleeping bag during use prevents sweat and oil accumulation. If cleaning is necessary, wipe with a sponge and warm water or, if needed, use a mild detergent.


Store the mattress flat and unrolled with the valve caps removed to facilitate moisture escape and allow the foam cells to regain shape, expediting the inflation process when setting up camp. Ideal storage locations include under a bed or atop a cupboard.


Avoid storing the mattress while damp or wet to prevent mildew or mold growth.


Ensure valves remain free of dirt or debris and avoid over-tightening plastic caps. If a valve appears to be leaking, fully undo it before retightening to ensure proper threading.


Avoid prolonged exposure to full sunlight, as UV rays can shorten the mattress's lifespan.

Self Inflating Bed