What To Put Under An Air Mattress While Camping?

An air mattress is a good investment if you want a comfortable sleep while camping. That is why many campers prefer an air mattress over a sleeping pad. But an experienced hiker or camper would tell you that an air mattress alone isn’t enough. You would need something to put under it.

As comfortable as air mattresses are, they are also vulnerable. They can get punctured and they can get cold. You would need some padding to protect them. So, what are some good options to put under your mattress to keep it safe and warm? Keep reading to find out.

Why put something under your mattress?

You would want to put something under your air mattress for the following four reasons:

  1. To protect the mattress. This is the most important and common reason to put something under an air mattress. Sharp objects like rocks and sticks can puncture the mattress easily.
  2. To insulate the mattress because air mattresses tend to get cold. Putting something under the mattress lifts it from the cold ground. Although, this is not the right way to stay warm on an air mattress if you are getting cold. Later on this bit.
  3. To keep the air mattress from getting dirty.
  4. To keep the air mattress from sliding in the tent.

What you want to put under depends on what you are aiming for among the above-mentioned reasons.

How to choose something to put under?

Camping is different from living at your home. You have to carry things with you. Carrying the least amount of weight is always a good idea. When choosing to put something under your air mattress, you should consider the following things:

  • Weight and Pack size: When you are carrying things to a camping site, you have to keep the weight and pack size in mind. Car camping mattresses are already heavy and take up a lot of space. Anything that you bring to use specifically with the mattress will be added weight and take up more space. Air mattresses are used more in camping instead of backpacking. But even if you are car camping there has to be a limit to the weight and pack size of the things you carry. Less weight and pack size allow room for more essentials and make it easy to manage things.
  • Thickness: The thickness of the layer you put under your air mattress depends on the terrain you will be camping on. Camping on rocky and rough terrain would require a thicker layer to adequately protect the mattress from being punctured. If you are car camping or camping on a beach, you might not need a layer at all.
  • Versatility: A single item that can be used for multiple purposes is ideal for camping situations. You would want something that you can use throughout the day and then put it under your mattress when it’s time to sleep. It would save you save weight and space.
  • Slipperiness: This may come to you as a surprise but the slipperiness of the layer you put under your air mattress is important. Air mattresses are slippery themselves. They can slide a lot in the tent based on their material. If you put a layer that is as slippery as the mattress, you would be having a tough time keeping the mattress and the layer static. Make sure that whatever you put under the mattress isn’t slippery.

What to put?

You can use the following things as a layer under your mattress.


Tarps are among the best options you can get to put under your air mattress in a tent while camping. If you are a serious camper or a backpacker, you probably already have a tarp. Since tarps are made specifically for outdoor use, they are lightweight and pack small.

They provide excellent protection from sharp objects and can be useful overall in camping and backpacking trips. Tarps are large enough to easily fit under an air mattress, from twin to queen size. But tarps don’t provide insulation from the cold ground.

But tarps are waterproof so they would keep your mattress from getting wet. A tarp like the REDCAMP Waterproof Camping Tarp 4-in-1 costs somewhere around $20 – $25 and is extremely versatile and lightweight.

Dri Dek

Dri Dek is a branded material used in several situations. It was made to provide comfort and protection in slick areas. It is a plastic material that comes in the form of tiles. The tiles can be joined together to form a large mat. It’s kind of looks like a Lego base plate.

But it will keep your mattress lifted from the ground and keep it safe from a sharp object. The holes in the tiles are also good for ventilation if you are camping in a hot climate. But the same holes can also make the mattress cold. You would need to add more insulation in such a case.

Since they are made to protect people from slipping, you know they won’t be sliding around the tent and also keep the mattress in place. You can also use them throughout the day as a mat. The tiles are lightweight but they are bulky as they don’t pack down. They might even be an expensive option compared to the rest. But these tiles are an effective and versatile solution.

Other companies have also started to offer similar products but Dri Dek is a good place to start.


Foam is another good option to put as a layer under the mattress as it is lightweight, inexpensive, easier to pack, and easier to carry. There are different types of foams so you can choose the one based on what you want.

If you want to insulate the mattress from the cold ground, you can get thick foam sheets. Although, they would help more if you put them over the mattress rather than under it. This will be discussed later. Foam sheets provide insulation but they are bulky to carry.

If you want to protect your mattress from being punctured, you can get foam sheets that are used to wrap furniture during transportation. Such foam sheets are thin, featherlight, and provide excellent protection as they are used to protect furniture.

Foam sheets are also available as puzzle mats that can easily be shortened and extended based on use. They are lightweight and easy to carry and manage. They provide excellent protection from sharp objects, keep the mattress clean, and are extremely versatile. Foam sleeping pads are also a good and cheap option.

Camping Cot

Camping Cot is a good option for camping. It provides the ultimate protection from dirt and sharp objects. But cots are heavy and expensive. A simple cot like the Coleman Trailhead II is a cheaper option while premium ones like the Helinox Lite Cot will cost you much more.

Inflatable cots are available that are more comfortable and relatively lightweight but more expensive. The Goosenest Inflatable Cot from Big Agnes is an excellent example of an inflatable cot. If you go for the Goosenest Double-Decker Inflatable Cot for more comfort, it will cost you even more but will give you the ultimate comfort.

Cots are not for backpacking trips. They are better for camping or car camping where you don’t have to carry weight on your shoulders. Your vehicle will do the lifting for you.

Car Floor Mats

Putting your car’s floor mats under your air mattress is a clever idea. It won’t cost you anything and can be a handy option if you are unable to make a proper arrangement for a layer to put under your mattress. Keep in mind this is not the best option. It will get you through the night, but you can’t use it as a permanent option.

The right way to insulate an air mattress

A common rookie mistake to stay warm on an air mattress is to put something under it. If you want to stay warm on an air mattress, you don’t put insulation under the mattress, you put it under yourself, that is, over the mattress.

Here is a reality check: you can’t keep the mattress warm. The temperature of the air in the mattress depends on the ambient temperature of the campsite. While insulating the mattress from the cold ground does keep it from getting super cool, however, if the night is cold, then the mattress would be cold.

The best way is to keep yourself warm instead of trying to keep the mattress warm. You might see people putting Mylar blankets under the mattress for insulation. These people are wasting their time. Mylar blankets reflect heat coming from a heat source.

There is no heat source under the mattress, just the cold ground. However, you are a heat source over the mattress. Mylar blanket under you, over the mattress, would reflect your heat back to you keeping you warm. Other insulation techniques will also work similarly.