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Enter the airbed

A good sleeping bag is only part of the story if you want to achieve night-time nirvana. A relaxing night’s sleep demands you use something to insulate yourself from the cold, hard ground. Enter the airbed.

An air bed so effectively cushions against any bumps in the ground that even a fairy tale princess would not be able to feel a pea underneath. Supplied in different heights, the smaller ones are perfect for life on the move when carrying a larger version would be impractical. You can also obtain oversize versions that use more than one chamber to bring sleeping height close to that of your home bed − perfect if aching bones prevent you easily getting up from ground level.

We all know an airbed is basically a big synthetic bag that holds air, but it does come with a few challenges. While its small pack size is ideal for transportation and storage, you will need to remember a pump to inflate it. Luckily, some incorporate either a manual or electric pump…
If you do need a separate pump choose one that provides volume rather than pressure. Airbed one-way valves tend to be a standard type so any suitable manual or electric pump should include the necessary adaptor. Simply undo the cap, plug in and pump. Undo the whole valve to deflate…


Over inflating your air bed will put excess pressure on the seams, which could cause a blow-out. The same goes for bouncing and jumping on the air bed. Under inflating your air mattress will mean it will sag in the middle and not offer the right support. You need to find the happy place where the air mattress feels firm, is free from creases, and the seams don’t look shiny or stretched.

Synthetic surfaces are slick and uncomfortable in the heat. Smaller airbeds may be prone to slipping so might have a non-slip base while comfort is preserved by a next-to-skin finish on the upper surface, leading bigger airbeds to be known as flocks. Here, the peach finish also helps prevent your sleeping bag slipping at night.

The problem with a large bag of air is that it wobbles with every movement and you might find yourself propelled to the tent ceiling if sharing with a partner who gets into bed last. They are also not very stable − sit on the edge to put on your socks and you might find yourself on the floor.
Stability was improved in smaller airbeds by using multiple horizontal air pockets and gave rise to the old Lilo-style mattress. Deeper airbeds may well have contoured sides that provide a firm edge. And, for ultimate support, some connect upper and lower fabrics with internal columns or hand tied restraining cords. 

One thing you may well experience is cold. This is caused by convention air currents sapping body heat as they circulate between you and the cold ground and they can also cause condensation to form underneath on the groundsheet. This is easily overcome by adding an insulating payer between your airbed and the tent floor – a fleece blanket is ideal.

While airbeds are basically simple designs some include comfort features like a raised pillow section. Personal taste dictates choice but there are a few options that might tempt. Some sort of easy-clean cover might be required if used by children prone to nightly accidents; a fitted double sheet could attach two singles to create a double; Memory foam or quilted toppers improve comfort and insulation, to name a few…

Tough materials ensure a good airbed will stand up to the rigors of camping life for years and that is why we use quality polyester and hard-wearing PVC for our Outwell products. Good practice will also help longevity. Store dry and clean in a cool dark place away from vermin. Protect the valve from dirt by always replacing its cover – they are easy to service if dirt does stop them seating correctly. Keep away from sharp objects. Consider changes in air pressure as the day heats up and undo the valve to relieve stress. Much is down to common sense but in the unlikely event of failure most punctures can be easily treated.  


It’s easiest to clean your air bed while it’s inflated. Use a soft brush or your hand to sweep away any loose dirt (if you’re at home, you can vacuum it). Sponge down any dirty marks with water and a few drops of mild detergent. Don’t use harsh chemicals, which could degrade the material. Dry the air bed thoroughly before you pack it away.

It’s much easier to fix problems at home rather than at the campsite so check your airbed for leaks or splitting before you head off on holiday. Simply pump up and leave it inflated overnight. If it’s heavily deflated in the morning, you have a puncture. Air beds are designed to deflate a little overnight so if it’s only slightly deflated, the chances are it’s ok. 

Leaks can usually be easily, quickly and cheaply fixed with an air bed puncture repair kit. Here’s what you need to do:
To find the puncture:
1. Fill a water bottle with water and a couple of drops of mild washing detergent
2. Spray the mixture all over your inflatable mattress
3. Roll the air mat from the bottom up – bubbles will form around the leak
To fix the puncture:
1. Wipe off all the soapy water and let it dry
2. Attach the puncture patch following the instructions on the air bed repair kit 
3. Inflate the air bed to check the leak is covered – if not repeat until the puncture is fully sealed.