Caring for a self-inflating mattress involves three main points: inflation, transport and storage...
A self-inflating mattress does not require any sort of inflator or pump to inflate. Just open the air valve(s), and the inner foam core expands to its original shape, drawing air into the chamber.
This self-inflating process can take anywhere from a few minutes to hours, depending on the thickness of the foam and on how long it has been compressed.
Once the foam has fully expanded, close the valve and lie on the pad. If it feels too soft, a breath or two of air can be added to firm up the mattress.
Larger pads usually have two valves to the same air chamber. Open and close both to self inflate and to seal the inflated mattress shell.
While inflating a self-inflating mattress that is new or has been stored compressed for a long time, you can occasionally grab one end and give the pad a few gentle whips to encourage the foam to expand.
Valves on self-inflating camping mats seal differently than the valves on inflatable air mattresses. Twist valves on self-inflating pads usually have a screw cap that twists approximately a quarter turn clockwise to close and counterclockwise to open. The air enters through slots in the top of the cap.
For transport the pad is rolled up and compressed similar to a rectangular sleeping bag. The valve is closed and the pad stays compressed.
Unlike a sleeping bag, a single, self-inflating pad isn't folded in half before rolling, so the rolled pad is usually wider, but smaller in diameter than a rolled-up sleeping bag. A transport bag or attached compression straps are then placed around the rolled-up pad to keep it from unrolling during transport.
A double, self-inflating pad, however, does get folded in half before being rolled up and strapped or bagged for transport. These are not common, but are used occasionally by couples.
Thin pads roll up the easiest. Rolling up a thick, self-inflating pad, so that it can fit into a carry bag, is somewhat akin to squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube:
Be sure to carefully pack the rolled pad, so that it doesn't get punctured during transport.
Unlike an inflatable air mattress, a self-inflating mattress is stored fully inflated with the valve(s) open.
Once home from a camping trip, it's easy to treat the rolled-up pad like a sleeping bag and put it in the corner or on the shelf until the next trip, but over time this will shorten the life of the pad.
If it is continuously stored in a rolled up, compressed state, the foam core may eventually get crushed and lose its ability to fully expand to its original shape. This can also happen to any folds in the pad, so do not store the pad folded, either.
Better self-inflating mattresses will have high-quality, foam cores. This foam will be able to better recover from a long-term compressed state.
Before storing the pad, take a moment to unfasten the straps and open the valve and let the pad self inflate.
Since self-inflating mattresses are stored fully inflated, they cannot be stored in a compact space. Here are some ideas for storing them:
While lying flat, pads can be stacked on other pads or with unrolled sleeping bags.
Double, self-inflating pads are unfolded, as well as inflated for storage, so they will need the largest space. Couples who want to sleep together, may find it more convenient to use a double sleeping bag on twin, self-inflating pads.
Storing the pad fully inflated also allows it to self inflate in the shortest period of time when you set up camp.
Leaving the valve open during storage allows moisture inside the shell to evaporate out.
To get the best performance from a self-inflating pad, remember these three states for the pad: