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Best air mattress for 2021

We inflated and slept on some of the most popular air mattress models from Intex, SoundAsleep, Lightspeed Outdoors and more. Here's what we learned.

If you're frequently hosting overnight guests but don't have room for a regular bed for them to use, an air mattress could definitely come in handy. The best air mattresses offer adequate back support, overall comfort and the semi-secure feeling that the whole thing isn't going to deflate overnight. An inflatable mattress is also convenient if you're camping and don't want to put your sleeping bag on the cold, hard ground -- you could even throw one in a truck bed for sleeping under the stars. 

We've taken the most popular mattresses on Amazon and other major retailers (including Target and Walmart) and put them through a battery of hands-on testing to see which might potentially offer a comfortable sleep. This includes repeatedly inflating and deflating air beds, evaluating their durability and construction, and subjecting them to the rigors of camping and a series of acrobatically inclined children's sleepovers to test them for comfort, air pressure and how puncture-resistant the air chamber is (after all, air leaks are counterproductive to a great night's sleep).

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To narrow down the best air mattress options, we confined testing for our buyer's guide to queen size mattress models, rather than twin size to standard size and included comfort and price comparisons.

Best air mattresses, compared


Best overall Best value Least pungent Best luxury pick
Model SoundAsleep Dream Series Intex Comfort Plush Elevated Dura-Beam (22-inch) Lightspeed Outdoors 2 Person PVC-Free Air Bed Mattress REI Kingdom Insulated Sleep System 40
Buying info See at Amazon See at Walmart See at REI See at REI
Pump type Electric Electric Battery Manual
Price (queen size) $150 $104 $52 $299
Inflated height (inches) 19 22 7 6
Warranty One-year manufacturer's warranty 90-day warranty, limited to manufacturer defects One-year manufacturer's warranty Eligible for replacement/refund within one year of purchase
Weight limit 500 600 N/A N/A

You can find most of the warranty information and basic specs, including dimensions and weight capacity, on manufacturer or retailer websites. I've included that kind of information here as well as the kind of qualitative details that are harder to glean without first-hand use. This includes specifics that range from comfort, such as high air bed and air coils, to how long an air mattress takes to inflate to how firm it can get, as well as my impressions of its durability and pungency (yes, that's a thing). Have a look.

SoundAsleep
  • Price: $150
  • Pump type: Electric
  • Height when inflated: 19 inches
  • Warranty: One year

This popular, highly rated SoundaSleep Dream Series inflatable air mattress isn't cheap -- but it does what mattresses are supposed to do. Priced at $120, the SoundAsleep air mattress is more expensive than most of the other models we tested in its height range, but it's durable and if you ask us, it's the overall best air mattress on the market. Though we take Amazon customer reviews with a grain of salt, this mattress has more than 11,000 five-star reviews testifying to its durability and comfort. (Fakespot, which grades the trustworthiness of Amazon testimonials, gives this bed's reviews an "A.")

SoundAsleep calls this a double high air bed, and it is on the taller side -- you're sleeping a good 18 inches off the ground. An air coil design helps this mattress to maintain its shape but like many inflatable bed models that come with an integrated electric pump, it's plenty heavy, weighing about 19 pounds. This quality air mattress has 40 internal air coils for added durability and support. The built-in pump is loud but powerful. It took a reasonable 3.5 minutes to fully inflate the mattress -- and I mean fully -- and about the same to deflate it.

The SoundAsleep Dream is made of rigid plastic that's still easy enough to fold up and stuff into the included nylon drawstring sack that serves as a carry bag, which is great for camping. But it's also one of the more pungent beds I tested, and people who are sensitive to off-gassing may want to choose an alternative.

When you order directly from SoundAsleep, there's a 30-day no-questions-asked return period. If you buy from Amazon or SoundAsleep, you get a limited one-year warranty that covers manufacturer's defects (but not punctures or holes made on your watch). You'll need to pay for shipping the mattress back to SoundAsleep.

The bottom line: This SoundAsleep Dream series mattress is not a cheap mattress, but it is worth the money. It is a raised air mattress when fully inflated, well-constructed and has strong customer reviews. Recommended. 

Intex
  • Price: $104
  • Pump type: Electric
  • Height when inflated: 22 inches
  • Warranty: None

Intex has struck a compelling balance between price and value with the Comfort Plush Elevated Dura-Beam. Though it's on the cheaper side, the Intex Comfort Dura-Beam is sturdy, impressively firm, with horizontal air chambers -- and ultimately it's comfortable enough to sleep on.

The integrated, plug-in pump isn't as fast an inflater as others but it's plenty powerful and the bed ranks among the firmest blow-up mattresses that we tested. The top and sides of the mattress are coated in a velvety treatment that Intex says makes it more puncture resistant. That may be true, but it also means that if you do spring a leak, you'd better hope it's on the bottom panel, which is the only place a patch will stick.

The Intex Comfort Dura-Beam is also one of the tallest air mattresses we tested, measuring 22 inches high when fully inflated. There's a little lip around the periphery that suggests there's a protective barrier designed to keep you from rolling off (it won't). But the bed is quite stable. The movements of a person on one side shouldn't bother a companion. The mattress comes with a duffel bag for storage. And, compared to the others, I didn't find it particularly pungent.

The retail price for this mattress varies between $50 and $135. There are plenty of air mattress reviews for this model that mention leakiness but there are many more five-star customer reviews on the site than lower-rated ones. Still, Fakespot rates it a "C," which suggests that there may be some degree of "deception involved." Intex covers this air mattress with an exclusion-filled, 90-day warranty.

The bottom line: This is a reasonably priced, tall air mattress that's relatively comfortable to sleep on when compared with a regular mattress. Recommended.

Lightspeed Outdoors
  • Price: $52
  • Pump type: Battery-operated
  • Height when inflated: 7 inches
  • Warranty: One year

Designed for camping, the Lightspeed Outdoors Air Bed Mattress lives up to its name: At six pounds, pump included, this temporary air mattress option is undeniably lightweight. This camping mattress comes with a storage bag and a compact, battery operated pump, which takes four D cells (not included). Compared to a typical plug-in air pump, the Lightspeed bed comes up short. I let it run for more than six minutes but could never get this mattress as fully inflated as I wanted. (The "deflate" setting on the air pump is similarly inefficient. I'd recommend saving the batteries and rolling up the mattress to expel air manually.)

Lightspeed Outdoors emphasizes that this camping air mattress is Phthalate- and PVC-free, constructed instead out of Thermoplastic polyurethane which feels more durable and smells less plasticky than the material used for most other air mattresses. If you're sensitive to chemical smells or off-gassing, this mattress deserves special consideration.

This air mattress for camping measures 55x79 inches -- slightly smaller than the technical queen size dimensions of 60x80 inches -- but I didn't have any problem getting standard sheets to fit snugly. And though Lightspeed doesn't specify its weight capacity, I suspect it's more or less in line with the others I tested. My two kids and I (combined weight: roughly 320 pounds) assembled comfortably on it.

Note that I observed that the Amazon price for this mattress varied between $40 and $100 while I was working on this article, with some colors being more expensive than others.

The bottom line: Best suited to car camping, the lightweight and reasonably priced Lightspeed Outdoors air mattress is far cushier than a sleeping pad. It's noteworthy for its use of alternative materials and will make a good choice for those sensitive to the pungent off-gassing of many plastic air mattresses. 

REI
  • Price: $299
  • Pump type: Manual
  • Height when inflated: 6 inches
  • Warranty: One year

According to REI, this is not an air bed: It's a "sleep system." At $299 for the queen bed, it's an expensive one at that. But we found it worth the price if you're looking for a super-firm, durable mattress that comes with dedicated linens and a comforter.

The sleep system includes an insulated queen air mattress, a fitted sheet, a top sheet, a quilted comforter and, somewhat surprisingly, given the price, a hand pump. The mattress is sturdy and well-constructed. And using the included Bravo hand pump, I was able to inflate it until it was absolutely taut. Yes, it took about two and a half minutes of vigorous, aerobic pumping -- and that doesn't include multiple hands-on-knees timeouts -- to inflate it.

Still, the degree of firmness you can get from the Sleep System is distinctive from other mattresses. Most of the other air mattresses we tested, and especially those that came with a battery-powered pump, were impossible to fully inflate, making for a sleep experience that ran the gamut from slightly saggy to fully dispiriting. Though it requires hard work, REI's manual pump is by far the most powerful and effective one we tested. Deflating was quicker and easier, and the mattress itself -- separate from all of the included linens -- is relatively light and compact.

REI's bedding is bulky but nice. The fitted sheet includes elastic bands at the corners, to keep it in place, and the comforter and top sheet can be connected with the kind of toggle and loop you'd find on a tent fly. As a result, everything stays where it's supposed to. REI says that the sleep system's insulation (3.6 R-value) will keep you warm in temperatures down to about 40 degrees. That's more than adequate if you're sleeping inside a house or apartment, but I suspect cold weather campers would want additional blankets or a sleeping bag.

The bottom line: This is a very expensive air mattress -- but it's well-made, comfortable to sleep on and suitable for both indoor and camping use. The manual pump takes a lot of work to operate but gets the mattress firmer than any other we tested.

Other air mattress options

Walmart
  • Price: $25
  • Pump type: Electric
  • Height when inflated: 12 inches
  • Warranty: Unclear

The epitome of a cheap air mattress, the $25 Bestway air bed is compact, lightweight and relatively quick to inflate with its integrated pump.

On the downside, this air mattress is only available in one size -- and it's not comfortable at all. It sits low to the ground at 9 inches high, and the pump isn't powerful enough to inflate it fully, so it makes for a rather squishy ride. The tubular design gives it the look of a pack of hot dogs, and the one raised, horizontal hot dog that's meant to approximate a pillow rest sets the mattress askew, which makes it more unstable.

The Bestway air bed has plenty of negative reviews on Walmart.com that cite slow air leaks, fast air leaks, burst seams, spontaneous bubbling and terrible customer service -- as well as dozens of very positive ones. And though Bestway's comically vague manufacturer's warranty doesn't instill confidence, given the price, warranty isn't a crucial consideration here. Still, Walmart's policy states that most products can be returned with their original packaging for a full refund within 90 days.

The bottom line: If you're looking for the least-expensive air mattress available, this is it. But unless you're a narcoleptic, don't expect to get a decent night's sleep on it.

Walmart
  • Price: $78
  • Pump type: Electric
  • Height when inflated: 17 inches
  • Warranty: 90 days

The Beautyrest Hi Loft twin air mattress comes equipped with a plug-in electric pump that screws on to the mattress. Once attached, it inflates the mattress in about two minutes -- though not as fully as I would've liked. Once it's inflated, you need to quickly unscrew the pump and replace the valve cap. It's not the most elegant solution.

The Beautyrest has the same pack-of-hot-dogs design as the Bestway air bed and the precarious feel of a pool float. (Many companies that make air mattresses also make inflatable pools and pool accessories. Go figure.) It lacks the stability of other air mattresses and I nearly tipped it over by laying too far to one side. Simmons lists its dimensions at 80x60x17 inches, but my measurements put it closer to 76 inches long, which means that anyone taller than 6 feet will likely hang off the end.

The mattress is constructed from a softer type of vinyl than others, which is easier to roll up and fold into a compact, storage-friendly shape.

The bottom line: Other inflatable air mattresses are more stable and more comfortable in the $70 range.


What to look for in an air mattress

There are a few general things to consider when looking for the best air mattress. Price will be the primary criteria for most people searching for the best air mattress. You can get a queen-size bed for as little as $30, while the most expensive air mattresses can cost hundreds of dollars. But a higher price doesn't always mean a tall air bed, a better air mattress, better air pressure, a self-inflating mattress, a better sleeping surface, more comfort or a decent night's sleep.

Most air mattresses have a built-in electric pump that plugs into a wall socket. Some have a battery-powered external rechargeable pump, which usually runs on four D-cells. And a few come with a manual hand pump. The plug-in pumps are usually powerful but heavy and loud. Battery-operated pumps are lighter and don't require a wall socket but are typically less effective and less capable of fully inflating a mattress. A manual pump or a flat pump, on the other hand, can deliver a degree of firmness the others can't match and needs neither batteries nor outlet -- but will require a significant amount of physical labor to operate.

Though most queen-size air mattress options measure approximately 60 inches wide and 80 inches long, height is both a variable and a selling point. In fact, it may be a primary consideration for older or disabled people who would have trouble getting on or off a bed that's too low to the ground. Likewise, a mattress that's overly mushy will be harder to dismount.

If you've ever tried to get a good night's rest on a crappy air mattress before, you know that the touchstone for quality is how reliably it holds air. And nearly every air mattress is beset by customer reviews complaining about air leaks. You can tell that this is an industry that's been traumatized by these complaints: Every bed we tested was imprinted with disclaimers, pleading about how all air mattresses stretch when you inflate them and that you shouldn't just assume that they're leaking if they temporarily lose that initial level of firmness.

And yet many air mattresses, whether they're stretched out or not, do leak over the course of a night. Repeatedly. And even if you top them off. This mitigates the credibility of some manufacturers' claims. And there are some beds that are simply more durable and better constructed than others. But airtightness is tricky to judge -- even after you inflate an air mattress -- and may reveal itself only over time. As such, most manufacturers offer a one-year warranty or guarantee. A few extend that to two years. Others will give you 90 days and throw in a few vinyl patches to cover up a puncture wound.

Frequently asked questions

How do I choose a good air mattress?

Always look at product and customer reviews when you're shopping for a good air mattress. It's beneficial to get the perspective of real customers and product reviewers who have physically slept on the air mattress because they can give more honest insight on whether or not it's a good product. 

Can you sleep on an air mattress permanently?

Air mattresses are a good short-term solution when you need a comfortable place to sleep that's not the ground or a couch, but they aren't meant to be slept on every night. Air mattresses can lack proper support to keep your spinal alignment over the long term and promote back pain. 

Where can I buy an air mattress?

You can find air mattresses both online and in-store, it just depends on how you prefer to do your shopping. Amazon has some great options, but you can also check your local Walmart or REI. 

More for sweet dreams

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.