The self-inflating air mattress, invented by Thermarest, is an ingenious design that significantly contributes to tent camping.
It's a combination of a foam pad and an air mattress, which cushions and insulates a camper from the ground.
A self-inflating mattress pad is a rectangular piece of open-cell foam (high quality sponge) inside a durable, airtight and waterproof synthetic shell with an air valve for inflation.
It is is roughly 1" to 4" thick and the length and width of the human body.
The open-cell foam core allows air to escape and thus can be rolled and tightly compressed for transport. When expanded, the air pockets allow the foam to act as an insulator, as well as a cushion from hard ground.
The protective shell acts as an "inflatable air mattress" to keep the foam from compressing and to support the weight of a sleeping camper. It also prevents the foam core from absorbing water.
Campers may also refer to these mattresses as Thermorest pads, although a several camping equipment makers manufacture them.
Unlike a standard camping air mattress, a self-inflating pad takes up less room on a tent floor, which makes it more suitable for dome tents.
A self-inflating air mattress can offer the comfort of a much thicker foam camping mattress without an airtight shell. In fact, a thick self-inflating pad is more comfortable than the foam mattresses in many camping trailers.
A thick Thermorest pad also rivals an air mattress in comfort and offers much better insulation.
Self-inflating air mattresses are available in various lengths, widths and thicknesses.
Lengths vary from 3/4 length to full length.
The 3/4 length pad is about 48" long (4 feet) and cushions from the head to the knees. 3/4-length pads are also thin, light and roll up more compactly for transport and are mainly popular with backpackers, who transport their gear via hiking.
For the leisure tent camper, full length pads vary from 72" to 82" in length (6' to 6'10").
Widths for single, self-inflating pads vary between 20" and 36", the latter-size pads becoming more recently available for leisure campers that want a luxury camping bed.
Double or full-size pads are also available in widths of 48" and 54". Couples who want even more width can lay two single pads side by side and even use a double sleeping bag on top.
These pads come in various thicknesses:
|1-1/2" to 2"||Regular|
|3" to 4"||Deluxe or Luxury|
The ultralite pads will probably be too thin for most leisure tent campers. They are designed to save weight and space for backpacking.
The thicker pads are the Cadillac of sleeping pads for leisure camping, but take more space to transport.
These pads are occasionally tufted, meaning that both top and bottom fabric pieces are joined together at regular points in order to keep the inner foam core from shifting.
Self-inflating mattresses, unlike inflatable air mattresses, rarely have flocking (velvety, suede top surface), but may have a coarser fabric on top to keep sleeping bags from sliding around unnecessarily.
Some self-inflating pads have a separate inflatable chamber on one end that acts like a pillow.
These pads, unlike sleeping bags, rarely have attached straps. This is because many manufacturers prefer not to sew the straps into the shell fabric that is forming an airtight chamber. Separate (compression) straps with a fastening buckle or velcro can be purchased for transporting the pad.
Most of these pads, instead of straps, have a carry bag to keep the pad rolled for transport to and from camp.
Self-inflating mattresses were invented by campers for camping. They are very tent friendly and can offer the comfort of a much larger camping mattress.
If you are interested in further information about these mattresses, have a look through the links at the bottom of this page
Self-inflating air mattress brands include AeroBed, Alps Mountaineering, Big Agnes, Browning, Cabelas, Chinook, Coleman, Eureka, Outbound, R.E.I., Stansport, Swiss Gear, Therm-a-rest (Thermarest, Thermorest), Texsport, and Wenger.
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