How to Stay Warm on an Air Mattress while Camping?

Air mattresses are squeaky uncomfortable balloons that no one likes to sleep on. They lose air and cheap ones make those awful sounds as if you are crushing chicks under your weight. Seriously, why do they even exist?

To make matters worse, they are cold. Using air mattresses in the winter or even during mild weather is torturing you. You will wake up in the middle of the night shivering. If you are dealing with or about to deal with an air mattress, then you should know how to keep an air mattress warm or you will be having a difficult time.

Why do Air Mattresses Get so Cold?

Air mattresses are inherently cool because the temperature of air remains consistent with the temperature of the environment around them. If you are using an air mattress in cold temperatures, the air inside will remain cool.

Now, you may think that your body heat should make the air inside the mattress warm, and it does, but it isn’t that simple. There isn’t much space inside the mattress to separate the hot and cool air. The hot air exchanges heat with cool air which exchanges that heat with the surroundings and the cycle continues. In short, your body tries to cool an infinite amount of cool air which it can’t. As a result, it can get really cold on an air mattress.

Air Mattress vs. Air Pad

If air mattresses are such a bad place to sleep, then, aren’t air pads the same? After all, they are also filled with air just like a mattress. These thoughts might be causing an itch in your brain by now. However, air pads are different from air mattresses.

Air mattresses don’t provide any kind of insulation. As a result, the heat from your body can easily escape leaving you cold. Air pads, on the other hand, are built differently. They, or rather, all sleeping pads have an R-value that determines the season and the temperature in which the sleeping pads can be used.

What is an R-value?

The R-value of a sleeping pad is the measure of the insulation and warmth that it provides. Sleeping pads usually have an R-value range of 1.0 to 5.0 where 1.0 is the least warm and 5.0 is the warmest. Sleeping pads for extremely cold temperatures can have an R-value of more than that. For example, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm has an R-value of 7.2. You can check our picks for the best winter sleeping pads in here.

Manufacturers use different methods to make sleeping pads warm including the use of reflective surfaces in air pads. Air mattresses don’t have any kind of insulation.

What can you do to Stay Warm?

You should avoid sleeping on an air mattress during cold weather in the first place. But there are some cases where you can’t avoid an air mattress. Here are some of the ways you can stay warm on an air mattress.

Use a Sleeping Bag

Using a sleeping bag is the best way to stay warm on an air mattress. Sleeping bags aren’t effective on their own. But once coupled with another layer, a pad or a mattress, in this case, they can keep you warm.

Unlike sleeping pads, sleeping bags don’t have an R-value. Instead, sleeping bags are labeled with the least amount of temperature they can provide warmth in. For example, the REI Co-op Magma 30 is operational down to 30°F, below 30°F, it won’t be able to keep you warm. For lower temperatures, you will have to go with REI Co-op Magma 15 or 10. You can find out more about ultralight sleeping bags here. The thickness of the sleeping bag also adds a layer of comfort.

If you think you are at risk of dealing with an air mattress, the sleeping bag can be a lifesaver. Sleeping bags are lightweight and pack compact because they are designed for backpacking. They can also be used if you are doubtful that the bedding in your hotel room is contaminated with bed bugs.

Place Sheets on the Mattress

Sheets are the most cost-effective and easy way to stay warm on an air mattress. Most people probably have sheets with them. The thicker the sheets the better the heat retention you will get. Foam sheets are among the best option because they are lightweight and packable.

Mylar blankets or space sheets as they are called are another great option to stay warm on the air mattress. Just place the sheets on the mattress and lie down. They are inexpensive and extremely lightweight so carrying them won’t be a problem.

Mattress Toppers

Mattress toppers are a great way to stay warm on an air mattress. But mattress toppers are not a viable option for camping. Mattress toppers are heavy and bulky but they are easy to use. Just place them over the air mattress and you are good to go.

There are various types of toppers depending on need and space. They can turn an air mattress into a serviceable bed that can keep you comfortable and warm. The best toppers are memory foam toppers. They conform to your body shape providing you with extra comfort.

There are mattress pads specially made for camping purposes that allow you to skip the air mattress altogether. But again, they are heavy and bulky. A mattress pad like the BETTER HABITAT SleepReady Floor Bed with memory foam is a more suitable option for car camping than for backpacking.

Add Layers of Clothing

This one is obvious. If it’s cold, wear more clothes. The clothes keep you warm. But adding more layers of clothing is not for everyone. Some people find it difficult to fall asleep with too many clothes on. Clothes can feel restricting and might not be cold enough to add layers of clothing. But nevertheless, it is an option that you can use in desperate times.

Add a Hot Water Bottle

If you have access to hot water then a hot water bottle is an inexpensive but effective option. It is recommended that you keep the hot water bottle for 15-20 minutes in the sheets before getting in bed. However, if you plan to keep the bottle throughout the night, cover it up, otherwise, it might burn your skin.

How NOT to Warm your Air Mattress?

Many people try to insulate the air mattress by covering it or putting Mylar blankets under it. This is the wrong way of staying warm on an air mattress. You will be spending too much energy on insulating the mattress and would still remain cold.

You can protect your mattress from the cold ground but the air in the mattress also gets cool by the ambient temperature of the environment. Trying to insulate your mattress won’t do you any good. The right way to stay warm on an air mattress is to insulate yourself from the mattress instead of insulating the mattress from the environment.

Final Thoughts

You should avoid sleeping on an air mattress during cold weather in the first place. But if in some cases you can’t, you would have to work on keeping yourself warm. A sleeping bag is your best option, especially, if you are camping. Sleeping bags are also the most versatile option for you.

You can also mattress toppers, although, they are heavy and bulky. Foam sheets or Mylar blankets are a good option to insulate yourself. They are lightweight and can pack tight if done right. Putting on more clothes or keeping a hot water bottle in the bed if you have access to hot water are inexpensive options.

But whatever you do, don’t try to insulate the mattress. You can insulate the mattress from the ground but you can’t keep it insulated from the environment. The best way is to insulate yourself from the mattress.