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Inflating air mattresses when camping may seem easy but there are specific techniques required to ensure that you are filling it to the right amount. The most popular method is using a mattress pump as the majority of air mattresses will come with a pump that has been designed with the specific model in mind.

There is nothing worse than embarking on your camping trip and realizing that you have left your mattress pump at home which means that you will have to find an alternative method.

In this extensive guide, you’ll learn everything there is to know about how to inflate an air mattress and how to do it safely so you won’t have to panic should you forget your mattress pump. 

How To Inflate An Air Mattress

We’ll be delving into a more detailed explanation in this guide but to sum it up quickly, there are a variety of methods you can use to inflate your mattress in the absence of a pump.

Such methods include: using a manual pump, using a campsite electrical outlet such as a vacuum or hairdryer, using a car battery and 12V plug, or using an electric pump that is battery operated among many others.

Naturally, using an electric pump is the best option as it takes less time to complete and minimal manpower. However, the aforementioned options are great for those who don’t have an electric pump or forgot to bring one. 

How To Inflate An Air Mattress When Camping

The most common use for air mattresses is when camping as they provide plenty of support when sleeping on the floor. As air mattresses are large, they have to be transported deflated in to allow for plenty of storage space when traveling. However, when you arrive at the campsite, you’ll have to inflate it.

As mentioned before, the easiest and best option is an electric pump but if you don’t have one or forgot to bring one then a manual pump is the best alternative but it does take longer due to the added manpower required.

Bear in mind that whether you use or an electric or manual pump, you will have to be prepared with the seal to prevent any of the air from escaping. If you have forgotten to bring any kind of pump then using a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer is the last resort for those who have access to electricity.

For those who have no pump and no electricity, using a large bag is the last resort method. Bear in mind that this method can take a long time to complete. 

Using Pumps To Inflate Air Mattresses


As mentioned previously in this guide, using pumps is the best option when it comes to inflating air mattresses. Using pumps is the easiest method and takes the least amount of manpower compared to other methods.

Whether you are going camping or using one to accommodate a guest in your home, here are the different kinds of pump methods you can use as well as the performance you can expect from each.

For versatility, we have included a variety of electric and manual pumps as well as options for those with access to electricity and those without so you can find the best option for you:

Plug-In Electric Pump

Using an electric pump that is plugged in and comes with an outlet is the best option for any environment provided you have access to electricity. Not only is it the most effective but it is the quickest method and takes the least amount of manpower when inflating the air mattress.

12V Plug And Car Battery

If you are going camping in a van then this option is great for those who don’t have a pump. Using a 12V plug that is powered by your car battery, you won’t need electricity but you will still get the same effective performance that is speedy and uses no manpower. 

Battery-powered Pump

Using a battery-powered pump is ideal for those who are venturing into places where there is no electricity. Providing an effective performance that inflates the air mattresses quickly without the strain of manual labor. 

Generator And Battery Packs

Another option for those who have no access to electricity when inflating the air mattress can use a generator or battery packs which are also effective. However, they can take a lot of space when packing the car or van with your things for your trip.

They can also be heavy depending on the size so bear this in mind. 

Manual Pump

The last option for those who have no electrical outlet is a manual pump. Not only does this option require a lot more time due to the manual labor that goes into inflating the mattress but it also isn’t as effective as the electrical options listed above. 

Using Electric Pumps To Inflate Air Mattresses

Electric pumps are the best option and should always be a priority no matter where you are inflating the air mattress.

With each of the options listed above, some pros and cons should be considered and it is important to know them so you can make a fully informed decision on which one works best for you. 

Using A 12V Electric Pump And Car Battery

If you are going van camping then this is the best option for you. You’ll most likely already have a 12V plug as they are integrated with most vehicles as the cigarette lighter. Not only is it an easy method to set up, but it is highly effective.

Remember that the cable has to be connected to the vehicle when inflating the mattress which can be tricky when working with a larger mattress.

If you have your car running while you inflate the mattress then this won’t decrease the power from the car battery too much compared to if you turn the car engine off.

Leaving the car’s engine running will mean that you’re not putting on as much strain on the car which is ideal if you have an older model.  

Using A DC Inverter And AC Electric Pump

Using a DC inverter and AC electric pump means that you will have everything you need regardless of where you are inflating the air mattress as it is similar to the previous option. The inverter makes it easier to connect the pump to the car via the car lighter insert in the way that 12V pumps are powered up.

The main difference is that this option is a lot more effective and powerful when it comes to how much air is pumped through making it a quicker process. Using an inverter means that you can also connect any kind of air mattress to the car so you can minimize the amount of manpower used when inflating it. 

How AC And DC Inverters Work

AC and DC inverters may seem similar but they work in slightly different ways. AC stands for the alternating current which is what is provided in the average American household via the two-pronged outlets that you purchase for everyday items in the home.

On the other hand, DC stands for the direct current which is provided by the cigarette lighter in the car meaning that the power flow travels straight towards the air mattress whereas AC outlets travel in a reversed direction meaning that it can take a longer amount of time.

When inflating your air mattress, using a DC inverter will mean that you can use the power directly from your car which is then transferred to the air mattress quickly. 

Inflating Your Air Mattress Using A 12V Electric Pump And Car Battery

Now that you know how effective it is to use a 12V electric pump and car battery, you’ll be able to have your air mattress set up quickly without any strain, especially if you are camping in an RV or van.

The great thing about this method is that you can either inflate the air mattress inside the vehicle or take it outside and do it there where there is a bit more room. Bear in mind that you want to make sure that the mattress will be able to fit back inside the tent or van without sticking out or bursting from sharp edges.

It’s best to make sure that you have purchased an appropriately sized air mattress before going on your camping trip to To prevent any disappointment or mistakes from happening.

If you park near the campsite then you won’t have to worry about walking a long distance with your air mattress meaning that it won’t be exposed to the outside weather and won’t strain your muscles if you have purchased a larger and heavier size.

Make sure you have your tent set up if you are using one so you can put the air mattress inside once it has been inflated. Once inflated, place it in the tent and stake it down so it won’t move. 

Inflating Your Air Mattress Using A Plug-in Electric Pump

Using a plug-in electric pump to inflate your air mattress is quite different than the previous option as they are normally designed for being plugged into the wall for mattresses that are set up in the home rather than camping.

However, for those who plan on using their plug-in electric pump, you will have to make sure that there is an outlet somewhere on the campsite that allows for you to plug in your pump so you can inflate the air mattress properly.

If you are unsure whether there is one available, call the campsite’s information desk and they will be able to advise you on whether there is one and if there is, where it is located so you can make sure you are as close to it as possible. Other options available to you are purchasing a generator or battery pack to power up the pump. 

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using Electric Pumps

Now that you know about the various options available when it comes to using an electric pump, it’s important to learn about the advantages and disadvantages that come with each option.

In this section, we’ll be delving into the pros and cons that come with using an AC inverter, plug-in air pump, and a 12V air pump. Here is what you need to know about each choice of electric pump:


AC inverters have a wide range of advantages with the main one being that they run off your car making them the best choice for those who are going camping in their van or RV.

You can also benefit from plugging your other electric devices into it while it doesn’t require an outlet as it runs off your car. You also don’t need a new pump when using it.

However, bear in mind that you do need to ensure that your vehicle is running and it is also the most expensive option meaning that it isn’t accessible to those on a strict budget. 

Plug-in Air Pump

Plug-in air pumps are the most common type of electric pump as they are more accessible on the market making them easier to find. They also have a lower price as well as a longer lifespan while providing an effective and quick performance.

The only disadvantage that comes with this option is that they do require an outlet as they are usually designed to be used in the home rather than for camping trips. 

12V Air Pump

Lastly, 12V air pumps are another great option for those using their vehicle for their camping trip as they run off the car’s power and don’t require any outlet when using it. They usually come with an AC adapter most of the time which makes them one of the best options for camping in an RV or van.

On the other hand, you will have to ensure that your car is running when using them and the quality of some of the options has been known to be questionable as they have shorter lifespans. 

Using A Battery-operated Pump

Using A Battery-operated Pump

If you are camping away from any electrical outlets and are planning to have your vacation far from civilization then equipping yourself with a battery-operated pump is your best option as well as spare batteries should they run out.

This will mean that you will still have power and won’t have to waste a lot of time or manpower using manual options that aren’t as effective.

Bear in mind that battery-operated pumps may be better than manual pumps but aren’t as effective as fully electrical pumps that can be plugged in. Also, remember that battery-operated pumps may require unique batteries that are specifically designed for the brand you choose. 

If you are planning to use a battery-operated pump when camping then this is the best option if you know that there is no electrical outlet and you plan on staying far away from any highly populated areas.

The great thing about battery-operated pumps is that you won’t have to worry about dragging your air mattress from the electrical outlet to your tent.

Some modern battery-operated pumps can be recharged via a USB power bank but most of the options available on the market will usually follow the traditional replaceable battery format so you can purchase multiple batteries to accompany the pump.

They are best used for shorter camping trips as you will want to make sure that you have enough power to last the whole time you are there in case of emergencies; however, purchasing high-quality batteries will ensure that you get the longevity expected. 

Inflating Your Air Mattress Using A Battery-operated Pump

Now that you know what to expect from a battery-operated pump, it is equally important to know how to inflate your air mattress properly so you don’t have to waste any extra energy or manpower.

The great thing about this option is that you can spread your air mattress inside your tent meaning that you don’t have to expose your mattress to the weather. Check that the pump has been fully charged and that it is switched on before starting to inflate the mattress.

Remember to ensure that nothing is weighing the mattress down while it is being filled before checking that it is firm and plugging the seal shut. 

Using Generator Or Battery Packs

In this section, we’ll be delving into everything you need to know about using a generator or battery pack as your method for inflating your air mattress. They may not be the best options available but they are ideal for use in campsites and do have some advantages that should be considered.

The main advantage that comes with using generators and battery packs is that they can be used for other electronic devices as well as running the pump. You can choose whether to apply them to a battery-powered pump or a plug-in pump depending on how much power you wish to drain from them.

They are also available at affordable price points making them great for those on a strict budget and some are available with solar charging options which is ideal for the Eco conscious who want to minimize their carbon footprint. 

If you are going on a longer camping trip or want to power more electrical devices then purchasing a generator will be the best choice for you as they have more energy and power for longer than battery packs.

They are also more adaptable with a wider range of electrical devices than battery packs and you can also refill the air mattress should you need to during your trip. If you purchase a solar-powered generator then you can charge it by leaving it out in the sun so it will always be charged.

On the other hand, generators are heavy and large so if you are going on a shorter camping trip and are traveling light then battery packs are the right choice for you. 

Using Manual Pumps

If you don’t have an electric pump or are going camping in a place that does not have any electrical outlet then using a manual pump is the best option. Manual pumps fill the air mattress at a slower pace compared to the electrical alternatives as well as requiring more manpower.

The most common kind of manual pump available that can be used to inflate an air mattress is a bike pump. If you are going on a cycling camping trip then this means you can have the convenience of only bringing one pump with you which means that you don’t have to take as much and can save space in your packing for other things.

A tricky part of using a manual pump is making sure you are prepared with the plug so you can seal the mattress as quickly as possible so as not to lose any air. 

Using A Hairdryer

One of the quirkier options for those who may have forgotten their pump but have access to an electrical outlet is using a hairdryer. The one main disadvantage that comes with this option is that you have to ensure that you secure the plug with a tightly closed seal in order to prevent the air from escaping.

The way that you inflate the air mattress using the hairdryer is by spreading the mattress out as far as possible and create your seal using tape or your hand in the absence of tape. Once this has been done, switch on your hairdryer and observe as it fills the air mattress.

Bear in mind that hair dryers aren’t designed to be used for long periods of time which means that you need to ensure that it doesn’t overheat. It’s best to use the coolest option to prevent overheating from happening. 

Using A Vacuum

When we say vacuum, we don’t mean the one you have in your home but if you like to go camping regularly, you may have a handheld vacuum among your belongings. As well as ensuring that your tent is as clean as possible, handheld vacuums can also be used to fill your air mattress.

Not only is this a handy option for those who don’t want the strain that comes with manual opinions but it means that you don’t have to worry about using any other device so you can save space in your belongings.

You may be wondering how a vacuum will work as it draws air inwards; however, using the vacuum in the reverse function means that you can blow air into the mattress easily.

When using a vacuum to inflate your air mattress, make sure that you have removed all debris from it which can be done by switching on the reverse function and blowing the contents out for a few minutes.

This will ensure that nothing gets into the air mattress that can disrupt the air distribution as well as any debris that can break through the mattress surface. Once this has been done, make sure that the mattress has been spread out and use tape as a seal between the vacuum and the open plug before filling the mattress using the reverse function.

Vacuums do require a power source so you will need to ensure that you have an electrical outlet nearby or use a battery pack or generator if not. 

Last Resort When You Have No Pump Or Electricity

If you have forgotten to bring a pump and have no electrical outlet where you are camping, you may find yourself panicking as there seems to be no way to inflate your air mattress. However, fear not, as there is a last resort option you can undergo.

This method is by using the largest plastic bag you have which will trap the air that is released from your mattress into the bag which you can then pump back into the mattress.

This method can take a long time to complete but following these instructions carefully will ensure that you will inflate your mattress as quickly as possible.

The first thing you need to make sure that the bag is wide open to catch as much air as possible before sealing it as shut as possible so you have trapped the air. Make sure that the top of the bag has been wrapped tightly around the plug to ensure that the two are sealed before pushing the air from the bag into the mattress.

Repeat this process until you have successfully inflated your air mattress. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use An Air Mattress For Camping?

Air mattresses are really common among avid campers whether you are staying in a van, RV, or tent. This is because they provide plenty of support if you are sleeping on the floor.

There are downsides to air mattresses but on the whole, they can prevent you from experiencing muscle aches and provide a more comfortable and enjoyable experience overall. 

How Do You Keep An Air Mattress From Getting Cold While Camping?

One downside to air mattresses is that they tend to get cold while you are camping. However, there are plenty of solutions to prevent this from happening. One such solution is using a thermal blanket which can keep the surface of the air mattress warm without causing it to overheat.

What you sleep with will also determine the temperature of the air mattress as well. For example, sleeping bags that have been made from memory form and open-cell structures will expose the air mattress to the cold air, even if you are heated up. 

Why Does My Air Mattress Deflate While Camping?

When you go camping, especially for longer periods of time, you may notice that your air mattress deflates more and more each day. This is because no air mattress is completely airtight as there has to be little room to breathe.

When you lie down on the mattress, small amounts of air will be released and the more you use your mattress, you’ll notice that over the days and nights that it doesn’t have the firmness it had at the start of the tip. Another reason why air mattresses deflat is due to cold temperatures from the outside air. 


Overall, knowing what options are available is extremely important as you can choose the right one for you depending on what kind of resources you have as well as where you are camping. This will mean that you know what to expect as well as the best ways to prevent any disappointment.

Whether you choose to go on a van camping trip at a populated campsite that features electrical outlets or venture far into isolated woodlands in a tent, there are plenty of options for you to consider. Remember that opting for electrical options are always the better options when possible and that manual pumps should be used as a last resort. 

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