How to Inflate an Air Mattress While Camping: With or Without Power


You’ve discovered the secret to comfortable camping: Air mattresses! But, if you’re camping, how are you going to blow up your air mattress? Electric outlets aren’t always available, and to be honest, most air mattresses are designed for living room floors, not tents.

Inflating your air mattress while camping is possible through campsite electric outlets, car battery 12V air pumps, battery packs that can power an electric air pump, manual air pumps, and as a last resort, your own breath.

That’s a lot of ways to blow up an air mattress! Which method is best? Well, it depends on what resources you have and how long you’re going to be camping. Let’s dive into electric-powered ways before we get into non-electric methods

Ways to Inflate Your Inflatable Mattress With Electricity While Camping

Picking Campsites with Electricity

Let’s start with the easiest method. If you have an electric air pump (many air mattresses come with them) that you plug into your wall outlet, then you can use this electric air pump at your campsite if your campsite has electricity.

If you’re looking at campsites, they often will state whether a campsite is “electric” meaning it has an outlet that you can use for various things, including an electric air pump for your air mattress!

This is the easiest way to make sure you can pump up your mattress while you’re camping. Since the outlet is not guaranteed to be close to where your tent is, you have a few options:

  1. Bring your air mattress to the outlet and inflate the mattress before bringing it into the tent
  2. If your tent door is too small to fit your inflated mattress, you can bring your tent with the mattress inside directly to the outlet.
  3. If you don’t want to do that, you can also use an extension cord from the outlet to the tent.

Using a 12V Electric Air Pump Made for Car Batteries (Plugs into 12V DC Socket)

Campsites with electric outlets are nice, but they are definitely not everywhere you might want to camp. One way to get past this is to buy a 12V DC air pump that is designed to be used with your car cigarette lighter.

Intex makes an air pump that can be used (see the price on Amazon) while plugged into a wall outlet and also while plugged into your car. If you’re looking for a versatile pump that can work with many different situations, this is an awesome, easy option.

You should be able to inflate your mattress without turning on your car, but it is always a better idea to do it while the car is turned on. Operating an electric air pump with the car off puts stress on your car’s electrical components.

Using a DC Power Inverter With an AC Electric Air Pump

Another option is to use a DC power inverter. DC power inverters (like this one from Bestek on Amazon) are made to connect to a car’s 12V socket and provide AC power (the two-prong outlet we are accustomed to seeing in our wall electrical outlets at home).

If you already have an air pump that connects to AC power, only, then you might consider a power inverter since they allow you to plug in your home devices while you are using your car. These are not fit for use unless the car is running, so make sure and start your car before you use it.

Using a Battery-Powered Air Pump

Another option, rather than dealing with an air pump that has to be connected to the car in order to work, is to use a battery-powered air pump.

These battery-powered pumps are recharged by plugging into the wall, or can even be recharged by your running car (on the way to your campsite, if you want to multitask 😁 ).

Out of the battery-powered air pumps that I looked at, I was intrigued by FlexTailGears Max Pump Plus (see on Amazon) because of its high ratings, as well as its low profile. It can even be used as a battery bank to recharge your phone, which is cool!

I wouldn’t count on this if you were camping for more than a week and are needing to re-inflate your mattress several times without charging it, though.

Using a Power Bank With an AC Electric Air Pump

Another option is to look at a bigger power bank that you can use for multiple purposes. Someday, I love the idea of working outdoors in a remote location where I can focus. There aren’t a lot of options for something like that right now for me, but as I was doing research for my article on how to play Xbox while you’re camping (you can actually do this with a big power bank), I found out about these amazing power banks.

For example, the Aeiusny 400w Power Bank can support a laptop for several hours. In fact, I found that this power bank can support an Xbox including sound and a TV for a few hours.

These power banks can support the electric air pump that came with your air mattress, and these power banks allow you to inflate the mattress inside the tent without an extension cord.

I wouldn’t recommend getting a power bank unless you are planning on camping for long periods of time and you want a way to charge your phone or use other electronics.

Charging With Your Car

These large power banks can often be charged while plugged into your car. The time it would take to fully charge your power bank makes this not feasible if you are already at the campsite. If you’re on a road trip, though, this can be charged easily while you are en route to the next location.

Charging With the Sun

These power banks are often called solar generators (which is a bit of a misnomer) because they are built to support solar panels. If you check out the Amazon link above to the Aeiusny power bank, you’ll be able to see compatible solar panels that you can use.

Another incredibly well-rated solar generator is made by Goal Zero (REI link), and touts that it can even power a mini fridge. If you’re concerned about getting stuck somewhere without electricity, these solar generators should give you peace of mind.

Using Your Car Tire Air Compressor to Fill up an Air Mattress

If you don’t want to buy another air pump, you can actually use a small air compressor made for your car tires. Many people have a small air compressor for emergencies if their tire goes flat in the middle of nowhere.

In order to use an air compressor to fill up your air mattress, you can use this adapter that can convert a Schrader valve to a valve that can fill up your air mattress. This same valve can be used for a bike pump as well.

A similar downside to using a bike pump is that these an air compressor used for your car is that these air compressors are made for high-pressure low airflow tires. Using an air compressor made for your car tires will take longer to pump up your air mattress than with a high flow air compressor.

One thing to remember if you are using your car with an air compressor is to make sure and keep your car turned on while you are using it so you don’t over drain your battery.

Ways to Inflate Your Inflatable Mattress Without Electricity

So, as you can see, there are a lot of methods of using an electric air pump while you’re camping. But what about if you don’t have or want to use electricity? Let’s find out!

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Using a Manual Pump to Inflate an Air Mattress

A manual pump has a lot of advantages over an electric pump. The main being that you never have to worry about finding a site with electricity. If your campsite has electricity, great! You can use your electric pump, but if you can’t find one, or the electric outlet doesn’t work, then you can use your manual pump!

From personal experience, it takes a bit of effort to pump up an air mattress with a manual pump, so be prepared to sweat a bit to get your air mattress pumped up.

Using a Double-Action Pump

If you’re wanting to manually pump up your air mattress, you should get a double-action pump.

What’s the difference between a regular bike pump and a double-action pump?

A double-action pump inflates when you’re pushing the handle down, and as you’re pulling the handle up. These pumps require more effort but you are inflating your inflatable much more quickly.

Also, these pumps have wide hoses and nozzles and are designed for low PSI but high airflow. Which is ideal for blowing up an air mattress. (but almost impossible to use for a car or bike tire)

Often these double-action pumps have an inflate and a deflate mode, which is also ideal for inflatables because being able to completely deflate your air mattress is important so you can fit your air mattress in your car.

Put the hose on whichever side to inflate/deflate

Can You Use a Bike Pump to Inflate an Air Mattress?

You can use almost anything that creates pressured airflow to fill up an air mattress. If you don’t want to go buy a new pump, you can get away with using a bike pump if you use an adapter.

If you are using a bike pump with a Schrader valve (this is the most recognizable bike tire valve in the U.S.), then you can use this adapter (see the price on Amazon)

While you can use a bike pump to fill up an air mattress, you are signing up for a lot of work. A bike pump is a low airflow, high PSI device. They are made for tires that don’t hold a lot of air but hold the air at high pressure. This is the same for car tires.

High Airflow Foot Pumps

I think I may have just come up with the coolest band name of all time.

Ladies and gentleman… please welcome…”

The High Airflow Foot Pumps!

Okay maybe not.

Anyway, high airflow foot pumps are basically constructed like a bellows and they are made to move a lot of air. You operate a foot pump with your foot (as you might expect).

These can be easier on your back if you have a place to sit and use the foot pump. No electricity required.

Airhead makes highly-rated foot pump here, sold on Amazon. Since these pumps are made for high flow, they can’t pump more than 2 psi.

DIY Air Pumps

There are tons of ways to get air into an air mattress, the most obvious being your own lungs. This is not ideal since air mattresses are made to be very tall, and you’ll likely feel lightheaded trying to inflate one this way. In a pinch, though, this works.

Another fun way that’s somewhat popular to watch others do is by using a trash bag. By putting a hole in the corner of a trash bag and securing the trash bag to the air mattress with a rubber band (probably use a few I’d say), you can inflate the air mattress by catching air in the trash bag and then forcing it into the air mattress.

These methods aren’t super practical, but, if you were caught somewhere with a trash bag, an empty air mattress, and a rubber band, you could definitely make this work. This guy makes it work with some work:

How to Inflate an Air Mattress with a Built-in Pump Without Electricity

I’ve been wondering this, myself! An air mattress with a built-in pump doesn’t have an obvious connection point for a manual pump. So does that mean this air mattress is useless if you don’t have electricity?

I decided to find out.

I have a double-action air pump from Sevylor–Sevylor doesn’t really sell these pumps, but they bundle them with their inflatable kayaks. Since we bought one of their kayaks, we happened to have one.

If you’re an REI member, you can pick up a dual-action pump that’s very similar by Advanced Elements here. Your nearest REI might have one in stock for you to check out as well. Although appearances will differ, they are basically the same.

A double-action hand pump

Our pump conveniently came with a whole bunch of nozzles that could be used for different types of inflatables. This is common of many double-action pumps.

Spare nozzles for many types of inflatables

Looking at the Air Mattress, it has a built-in pump that you can plug in and turn on without needing to find the air pump. I’ve really enjoyed having this air mattress since we can never lose the air pump.

Looking at the back, there is a dial that you can twist to change it from inflate to deflate mode. I dialed knob to the right to change it to inflate mode. At this point, you can actually use this port to inflate the air mattress.

Built-in Pump of an Intex Queen Air Mattress

The double-action hand pump actually didn’t need any adapters and plugged directly into the back of the air mattress. With a bit of sweat, I was able to prove that you could inflate the air mattress. I got tired and since I wasn’t planning on sleeping on this, I didn’t blow it up all the way.

Double-action hand pump successfully blowing up an Intex Queen Air mattress

Cool! If we’re ever in a place where we can’t inflate the air mattress with electricity, we can use our hand pump to get the job done!

I will admit… Using this pump is pretty tiring. I recommend pumping when it’s not too hot and not too late and you’re sleepy and grumpy and want to go to bed.

Peter Mitchell

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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