Air-mattress inflator types
Air mattresses can be inflated by several means:
Blowing up an air mattress
Depending on the size, inflating an air mattress by blowing into the valve may not be practical, so campers should instead consider a pump or inflator.
Blowing into an air mattress introduces more moisture into the air chamber than using a pump or inflator. Because an air mattress is usually folded and stored after use, the excess moisture can lead to mildew buildup inside the air bed over time.
Inflators are inexpensive and save a lot of huffing and puffing (and dizziness) to prepare a comfortable camping bed.
Manual pump inflators
Hand pumps and foot pumps are also available to inflate mattresses.
These are shaped similar to the corresponding bicycle pumps, but have much larger air chambers to speed inflation.
Manual pumps can, however, take several minutes and a lot of hand or foot strokes to fill an air mattress.
On a very warm day, this can be a bit of a workout, but is a good chore for families to assign to an eager, young camper with lots of energy.
12V air-mattress inflators
An inflator is different than a pump, because it does not pump air into the mattress. It instead uses a fan to force air into the air chamber.
A 12 volt inflator is about the size of a masonry brick and has an electrical cord with a cigarette-lighter jack. It also has a hose with an inflator attachment to mate with the valve stem of an air mattress.
A 12V inflator should, hopefully, never run out of power. When in use, however, it is tethered to the car cigarette lighter.
Upon arrival at a campsite on a rainy day, this could mean pumping up an air mattress outside—usually on the hood of the car to avoid muddy ground—and bringing a wet mattress into the tent.
Campers who intend to inflate an air mattress outside of a tent need also to make sure that the tent door opens wide enough for the inflated air mattress to pass through.
By the way, if a 12V inflator does run out of power, campers will have bigger problems than inflating an air mattress—for example, starting the car!
Battery-powered air-bed inflators
A 4D cell battery-powered inflator will need new D-cell alkaline batteries from time to time, but is the handiest method for inflatable camping mattresses.
Campers can just carry the folded air mattress from the car to the tent and drop it inside to be inflated at a later time.
A battery-powered inflator can fill an air-mattress in a few minutes.
Campers will probably hear the motor of the inflator straining as the air in the mattress reaches the full point and the pressure builds up. This is the cue to switch off the inflator and plug the mattress valve.
These inflators last a reasonable amount of time on a set of batteries—enough for several camping trips, possibly a season.
If the batteries die, you could find yourself inflating the mattress with your lungs—not fun!
4D battery-powered inflators usually do not have a separate 120V AC wall plug adaptor or 12V car option, so once you hear the inflator motor running more slowly, be sure to have a replacement set of batteries on hand.
The D cell batteries can also be used in other camping equipment.
Recessed pumps in air beds
More expensive inflatable air beds may sport a built-in, recessed air pump (inflator) that inflates the bed in a few minutes.
This built-in inflator can either powered by either household batteries (4D) or vy 120V AC.
Campers who are looking to inflate the mattress in your tent will probably be more interested in the battery-powered option. A 120V inflator is normally for indoor use and comes with a standard plug for a wall outlet.
For campers who already have an indoor guest air bed with a 120V built-in pump, and would prefer to use it for camping, 12V-to-120V inverters are widely available. These plug into a car cigarette lighter and invert the 12 volts to 120 volts and can provide light current at 120 volts for small electrics.
Sealing the valve after inflation
Almost all camping air mattresses have a double-locking valve.
When finished inflating an air mattress, push the valve stem into the mattress so that it collapses and seals against the stop behind it. This will block air from escaping
Remove the inflator attachment from the valve stem and then insert the valve plug (cap) into the valve stem.
Due to the air pressure in the mattress, this double-locking feature also keeps air in the mattress from forcing out the valve plug, when a camper lies on it.
Air mattress inflator vs. emergency mini compressor
When shopping, campers should make sure to get an air mattress inflator and not an emergency mini compressor for a vehicle tire. They may appear similar.
The compressors generate a lot of pressure on a tiny volume of air, and are designed to inflate automobile tires to 35 psi or greater, not an air mattress to a few psi.
A mini air compressor would take forever to fill an air mattress—and would easily burst one—if you could ever wait long enough to find out!
Air mattress inflators add convenience to tent camping. Now campers can have a comfortable air mattress ready to use within a few minutes. An air mattress and inflator will pack down smaller than any other type of camping mattress.