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How To Inflate An Air Mattress When Camping

Woman pumping up air mattress outside of tent

You’ve probably seen a comedic scene of an unfortunate camper forgetting to bring something to inflate an air mattress, but it isn’t so funny when it’s you. If you’re planning on using an air mattress during your camping trip, you are probably packing a way to inflate it quickly. But what do you do when you forget the mattress pump at home?

How do you inflate an air mattress when camping?

  • Use a campsite electrical outlet
  • Bring a large battery pack or a small generator
  • Use a 12V plug and your car battery
  • Use a battery-operated electric pump
  • Manual pumps, such as for bikes
  • Use your hairdryer
  • Use your vacuum
  • Use a garbage bag

Of course, you’re most likely going to want to use an electric pump if given a choice. However, it’s essential to choose the right electric pump, as some are more suited for camping than others. And what do you do when you forget the pump at home? Keep reading to find out which pump is right for you, as well as some emergency backup plans!

How Can I Inflate My Air Mattress While Camping?

Air mattresses are great for camping, as they offer much better support and comfort than a sleeping bag or pad and can be reused at home when relatives visit. Because they are sizable, they are generally packed while deflated. So, when you get to the campsite, you’ll have to inflate it.

The easiest option is an electric pump, which could be the standard plug-in, a 12V plug for your car battery, or a battery-powered pump. The second option is a manual pump, like a bike pump or ball pump. Any air pump can fill your air mattress as long as you can create a seal between the pump and the mattress plug.

When you’ve forgotten all your pumps at home, you can still inflate your mattress with a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer if you have access to electricity. If you don’t have any access to electricity, you can inflate your air mattress with a large bag.

Inflating An Air Mattress While Camping With Pumps

If you’ve ever inflated an air mattress, whether camping or at home, you’ve probably used a pump to fill it. This is perhaps the easiest and fastest way to do it, but it gets a bit harder when you’re out camping instead of at home, setting up a spare bed for your relatives.

Here are the ways you can fill your mattress at a campsite with a pump, with or without electricity, and their effectiveness:

Pump Performance
Use a plug-in electric pump with an outlet Most effective and quickest
Use a 12V plug and your car Effective, especially for van camping
Use a battery-powered pump Effective, especially without any other power source
Use battery packs or a generator Effective, but requires you to carry them with you
Use a manual pump Not as effective and more tiring

Even though a plug-in electric pump will fill your mattress the most effectively, most campers won’t have access to an electrical outlet. A manual pump is best reserved as a backup, as it will take the longest out of all the pumps.

Inflating An Air Mattress While Camping With Electric Pumps

There are a few different options for you when it comes to using an electric pump, as we mentioned earlier. We’ll go further in-depth on all the electric pumps, their pros and cons, as well as the different situations each is best suited to in the following sections. That way you can make the best choice for yourself.

Inflating an Air Mattress While Camping With a 12V Electric Pump and Your Car

A 12V DC plug is designed for your car’s cigarette lighter. This is the best option for van camping. They’re easy to use; however, they have to remain plugged into the vehicle while inflating the mattress. This can be difficult to manage with larger mattresses.

With most of these pumps, you don’t have to leave the car running, but you may want to. Think of how you can charge your phone without the car being on, except with a larger power drain. This can be stressful on the car’s system, especially on older cars or cars with old batteries.

Many of these even come with an attachment so you can charge off a standard outlet when you’re home, such as the AGPtEK portable quick-fill air pump with 3 nozzles. Multiple nozzles are great for the different sized plugs on the different brands of air mattresses.

Inflating your Air Mattress with an AC Electric Pump and a DC Inverter

For someone who already has a standard, plug-in air mattress pump, you don’t have to buy a special 12V pump. Instead, you can use an inverter. The next section covers the technical aspects of how it works, but for now, just know it allows you to power your standard pump off your car like a 12V pump does.

An example of an inverter for this is the BESTEK 300W power inverter DC 12V to 110V AC car inverter. Because you plug the inverter with the outlets into your car lighter, you can also use this for other electronics.

What Does An AC/DC Inverter Do?

AC power, which stands for alternating current, is what you get from the standard, two-prong outlet you have at home. Your car cigarette lighter, however, provides DC power, which is direct current.

The difference between the two currents is that the electrons in the electrical current’s flow are consistently moving straight forward in DC power. AC power is an electrical current that continually reverses direction, you can learn more about inverters by reading our post.

An inverter takes the AC power and stops the oscillation. This “straightens” the power, like unraveling a ball of yarn straight across the floor, turning it into DC power. Once it’s in DC power, you can use your car’s lighter.

If this all sounds too complicated, that’s okay. Summarizing all of the details, an inverter changes the power coming from the car to be usable by the pump. You’ll want to leave the car running while the pump is running because the inverter uses more power than a standard 12V DC pump would.

How to Fill Your Air Mattress with a 12V Electric Pump and Your Car

If you are sleeping inside your van or an RV, it should be relatively easy to inflate the mattress inside. If you don’t have quite enough room inside to inflate it comfortably, you can also bring it outside.

One thing to keep in mind before you fill your air mattress if you’re tent camping is whether it will fit through your tent door or not. Larger mattresses, such as a queen or king-size, may not fit through small or average-sized tent doors.

If you don’t think your mattress will fit inside the tent after it’s been inflated, you’ll need to go through a few steps to set it all up.

  1. Park close to your campsite if possible. You’re going to need to carry the tent back to the campsite, so the closer you are, the better.
  2. Set up your tent without staking it down and spread the air mattress out inside.
  3. Inflate the mattress with your pump.
  4. Carry your tent and inflated mattress back to your campsite and stake it down.

You’ll have to keep this in mind with the next option as well, as a campsite’s outlet probably won’t be close to your campsite. However, a 12V pump and the following are the only pumps requiring an external power source.

Inflating an Air Mattress While Camping with a Plug-In Electric Pump

Standard air mattress pumps are intended to be used in your living room, where you can easily plug into the wall, not out in the depths of the woods. However, if you’re less of a “deep in the dark, scary forest,” type camper, and more of one that prefers a real restroom versus a tree, your campground may have electric sockets.

Any campground with real bathrooms, showers, or RV hookups typically has somewhere you can plug-in. If you don’t know whether the campground will have a plug or not, you can call the office and ask if there are any outlets near your campsite.

Finally, you can also purchase a battery pack or generator to power your plug-in pump. These two are great options if you want to use a plug-in pump away from popular campsites that have accessible outlets.

Other Posts of Interest

Pros And Cons Of Electric Air Mattress Pumps For Camping

With all these options to pick from, it can be overwhelming to decide which is best for your needs. Before we move on, we’ll break them down quickly.


12V Air Pump AC Inverters for Air Pumps Plug-in Air Pumps
Runs off your car Runs off your car Fills faster
Doesn’t require an outlet Can plug other electronics into it Has a lower initial price
Comes with AC adapter, typically Doesn’t require an outlet Has a longer lifespan
Best for van camping Doesn’t require a new pump Generally more accessible and easier to find


12V Air Pump AC Inverters for Air Pumps Plug-in Air Pumps
Requires your vehicle to run Requires your vehicle to run Requires an outlet
Tends to break quickly More expensive

If you won’t have your vehicle or an outlet nearby, battery-operated pumps, battery packs, or generators are your best bet.

Inflating an Air Mattress While Camping with a Battery-Operated Pump

Battery-operated pumps are the best option for camping farther away from civilization. You can purchase more than one battery for your pump if you’re going out for a more extended trip. Bringing one or two batteries will be lighter and easier than trying to bring a generator or battery pack.

However, these pumps aren’t always the best option. Most pumps only take their brand’s battery, unlike if you use battery packs. Before purchasing one, I’d recommend you look into how well the brand’s batteries do.

When Should I Use A Battery-Operated Pump To Inflate My Air Mattress While Camping?

Battery-operated pumps are great because, unlike the previous two, you don’t have to be connected to any outlet. You won’t have to drag the air mattress back to your tent or bring your tent to any power source.

The FLEXTAILGEAR – MAX pump plus portable air pump is rechargeable by USB, which makes it much easier when you go to recharge it. The OlarHike portable quick-fill electric air mattress pump is more typical of what you’ll find in a battery-operated air pump.

These pumps aren’t ideal for extended camping trips unless you have a way to recharge the battery or bring multiple batteries. Some batteries tend to drain even when they aren’t in use, which is why it’s so important to buy a quality battery. However, with the right batteries, you won’t need to worry.

If you’re going away from civilization and electricity but want to travel light, these will be your best friend. It won’t last as long as a generator would, but it also won’t weigh as much. Unlike the previous types of pumps, you also won’t have to worry about any cords.

How to Fill Your Mattress with a Battery-Operated Pump While Camping

Of course, you’re going to have the easiest time with filling your mattress if you can bring the pump inside the tent with you. This may be one of the best aspects of this type of pump, as you won’t have to be carrying an inflated mattress across the campsite.

Once your tent is set up, you can inflate your mattress:

  1. Spread your mattress out inside your tent, making sure nothing is in its way.
  2. Check to make sure your pump is charged and ready to go, then fill the mattress.
  3. Make sure you aren’t stepping on any part of the mattress while filling it.
  4. Check the firmness and plug it closed.

The other beautiful thing about battery-operated pumps is that you can always refill your mattress with little effort. Air mattresses tend to slowly leak air out of them. With a wireless pump, you won’t have to try and drag the whole mattress over to an outlet to top it off.

Why Use Battery Packs Or A Generator To Power Your Electric Pump To Fill Your Air Mattress While Camping

Most of us have battery banks for our cell phones, but you can also purchase larger ones with outlets on them. These are ideal for charging up your pump while you’re out camping.

Why should you use a battery pack to power your electric pump while camping?

  • You can use it for other electronics when not running the pump.
  • You can use a plug-in pump or use it to recharge a battery-powered pump.
  • They are relatively inexpensive.
  • Some even come with a solar charging option.

However, if you’ll be going out for a while, you’ll want a generator, as it’ll give you more energy for a more extended amount of time. Why, then, should you buy a generator?

  • You can use it for more electronics than with a battery pack.
  • You can refill your air mattress during your entire trip without worrying about running out of battery.
  • They are also available in solar charging options.
  • Depending on the size, you can run it during your entire trip for whatever you may need.

If you are only out for a short time, you’ll save money by going with the battery pack. Long trips, however, are made much more comfortable with a generator.

Inflating an Air Mattress While Camping with Manual Pumps

This is the second-best option after electric pumps. After this, you’re going to be trying a few creative ways to fill your mattress.

There are a few options available when it comes to manual pumps you could use on an air mattress. The most common is a bike pump. such as the BV bicycle ergonomic bike floor pump with gauge & smart valve head. The biggest struggle you’ll encounter is creating a good seal between the pump and the plug.

Larger, standard pumps can also be used, such as a hand pump. They work the same as a bike pump by pumping the handle up and down to force air out into the mattress. You’ll still struggle to create a seal, but it’ll fill much faster with a larger pump.

Finally, if you have the patience to, you can also use a ball pump. However, these tend to be very small and will take quite a while to fill up a whole mattress with it.

How to Fill an Air Mattress With a Manual Pump While Camping

If you’re already carrying some pumps for bikes, balls, or anything else, you don’t have to worry if you can’t find an electrical outlet. These are perfectly acceptable for filling your air mattress. You’ll want to have something on hand to help you make a good seal.

To fill your air mattress with a manual pump, follow these steps:

  1. Lay out your air mattress and open the plug.
  2. Set your pump up on a level surface and connect the pump to the plug.
  3. Once the connection is tight, and air won’t leak out, you can begin filling it.
  4. Keep pumping until the mattress is firm enough to be comfortable for sleeping on.

A manual pump will take longer to fill the mattress than an electric one will, and you may find yourself wondering if you’re making any progress. As long as you can’t feel any air escaping from the connection point, you should be filling the mattress slowly.

Blue tent with a blue air mattress inside

Inflating An Air Mattress While Camping Without A Pump

If you’ve forgotten your pump at home, don’t worry. We have a couple of suggestions, some of which are a bit more practical than others. If you have electricity at your campground, there are a couple of machines you could use. Even if you don’t, you can still fill it with the “garbage bag trick,” which I’ve saved for the end.

Ways to Inflate an Air Mattress Without a Pump and with Electricity

If you’re camping with electricity, you don’t have to buy a pump. You can use your hairdryer or vacuum cleaner instead. While they’re rather unconventional options, you can certainly inflate an air mattress with either.

How to Fill an Air Mattress with a Hairdryer While Camping

If you have a hairdryer, you don’t need a pump. The only struggle you may encounter is creating a good seal around the mattress plug and the end of the hairdryer.

The process to fill it with a hairdryer is relatively similar to a plug-in pump:

  1. Spread your mattress out and plug in your hairdryer.
  2. Create a seal between the hairdryer end and the plug, with your hand or tape.
  3. Fill it appropriately and seal it up.

You should keep an eye on your hairdryer. Your typical hair dryer may take a while to put out enough air to fill a mattress. Hairdryers aren’t typically made to run for very long, so you should watch to make sure it doesn’t overheat, even if you’re using the cooling option.

How to Fill an Air Mattress with a Vacuum Cleaner While Camping

You probably don’t bring your Dyson with you while camping. However, if you keep a small, handheld vacuum or a “shop vac” on hand while camping, you not only will have the cleanest tent, but you’ll be the hero when someone doesn’t have a pump, or a pump breaks down. This is also great if your kids want to go camping in the yard, and you don’t have a pump.

If you happen to have a vacuum with you, you can inflate your mattress by using the reverse mode. This blows air out of the vacuum instead of sucking it up. It’s worth noting, however, that you’ll want to check and see if it has a reverse mode, as not all vacuums do.

Follow these steps to fill your mattress with a vacuum:

  1. Make sure you’ve cleared all debris out of it. To do this, you can flip it into reverse mode and blow everything out for a couple of minutes.
  2. Spread your air mattress out and open the plug.
  3. Make sure you can get a decent seal between the vacuum and the plug. If you have any tape handy, you can wrap that around the connection point to help seal it.
  4. Fill your mattress.

Of course, you’ll need to have some power source for the vacuum, so you’ll want to stick to campsites with outlets, bringing a generator or battery pack, or reserving this method for those backyard campouts.

Ways You Can Inflate an Air Mattress Without a Pump and Electricity

When you’ve forgotten your electric and manual pump, your hairdryer, and your vacuum, grab the biggest plastic bag you can find. As I learned in this video by DaveHax, you can use the bag to “capture” air and then force it in your air mattress.

Before you try to blow your mattress up with your lungs, try these steps to fill it up with a garbage bag:

  1. Shake the bag out, so it’s wide open and captures as much air as you can.
  2. Clamp the top shut, so you have a bag full of air.
  3. Place the top of the bag in front of the mattress plug and wrap it around the plug, being sure to create a tight seal.
  4. Push the air out of the bag and into the mattress.
  5. Repeat until it’s full enough to be comfortable.

This may take a while, but you should see the mattress slowly inflate with each bagful of air. You also want to find the biggest bag you can, as the more air you can fit in the bag, the faster the mattress will fill.

In Conclusion

There are many options available to pick from to fill your air mattress while camping. The following information outlines which option is best suited for what type of trip or camper.

  1. Use a campsite electrical outlet with a plug-in pump – when you are in campsites that offer outlets near the tents.
  2. Bring a large battery pack or a small generator – when you’ll be without an outlet or your vehicle.
  3. Use a battery-operated electric pump – when you’ll be without an outlet or your vehicle and don’t have room to carry battery packs or a generator.
  4. Use a 12V plug and your car battery – when you are RV/van camping or when you’ll be camping near your vehicle.
  5. Use a manual pump – when you don’t want to purchase another pump or in emergencies.
  6. Use your hairdryer – when you’re staying in an RV or “glamping” ground.
  7. Use your vacuum – during an emergency or when you’re backyard camping.
  8. Use a garbage bag – when you have absolutely no other way to blow up your air mattress.

You should always bring a backup device to inflate your mattress, whether it’s a bike pump or a garbage bag. After all, the one time you don’t bring a backup will be the one time you need it.

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Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.