5 Creative Ways to Blow Up an Air Mattress Without a Pump

An air mattress is a perfect way to rest comfortably when you’re roughing it in the great outdoors. Sometimes in the frenzy of packing all the tents, food, and other camping gear, items get forgotten. If you’re bringing an air mattress, the pump is one of the easiest things to forget. Even if you’re using the air mattress at home, pumps break down or get lost. If you have a deflated air mattress and no pump, what are your options?

There are 5 ways to get air into your portable mattress if you don’t have a pump. Some of them require an electrical source but there are a few that don’t. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about inflating a mattress without a pump. Sleep comfortably in any situation on your next camping trip with these 5 creative strategies to inflate your air mattress. 

Two people and a dog sleeping on a mattress.

An air mattress makes camping a much more comfortable affair.

Electric vs Analogue Methods

If you’re using the air mattress to stay off the ground on a camping trip, having a source of electricity will give you a few more options. For most campers, this only requires an adaptor so that a pump or substitute can plug into a car’s cigarette lighter. Solar power or portable generators are also an option. The tools that you can use to inflate an airbed without a pump aren’t too common on camping trips.

You can use a hairdryer, for instance, but it’s unlikely you’ve packed one in your bag unless you’re glamping in a fancy yurt. Of the 5 methods we’ll talk about, two of them require an electricity source. Those two are better for use around the house or at cabins and other places with modern conveniences. The three analog methods will be more useful for people who want to take their air mattresses with them on camping trips in the backcountry.

Pro-tip: Self-Inflating Air Mattresses

If you haven’t purchased an air mattress yet and want to avoid the possibility of forgetting a pump altogether, consider investing in a self-inflating airbed. These models have an airtight case around a foam center and one-way valve openings. When the valves are open to inflation mode, air enters the mattress and inflates it. 

All you need to do after that is close the valves and your bed is ready with no electrical pumps or much effort at all on your part. Deflating and packing a self-inflating mattress is also simple. Turn the valve to its deflate setting and slowly fold the air mattress one section at a time, putting weight on it to force the air out. 

Some of these self-inflating air mattresses might be more expensive, but if you’re concerned about having nothing but a deflated air mattress to sleep on, the extra cash is worth it because you won’t have to worry about an external pump at all.

5 Creative Ways to Inflate Air Mattresses Without a Pump

People face the dilemma of inflating their air mattresses without a pump in a variety of situations. Here are the 5 best ways to solve this problem with and without electricity available. 

1. Vacuum Cleaner

If you’re at home or anywhere else you can plug into electrical outlets, a vacuum is a great way to inflate an air mattress. You will need a vacuum with a reverse or exhaust mode to get air into the mattress. It’s also very likely you’ll need an adapter to make sure the hose of the vacuum cleaner can get enough air into the inflatable bed. They sell specific adapters for this purpose. For a more DIY method, you might be able to use duct tape as long as you can create a tight seal that prevents air meant for the mattress from escaping into the air. 

Many air mattresses come with valve cap adapters for this purpose. If yours does, attach that one and plug in your vacuum cleaner. Make sure the vacuum is clear and completely clean so you don’t fill your airbed with dust and dirt. Remove the bag or canister and run the vacuum for about 30 seconds to make sure the hose is empty. The vacuum should also have a hose attachment that’s long and thin, which will make it easier to get air into the mattress. Unfold the mattress completely so that it will inflate evenly and then turn on the vacuum cleaner in exhaust mode. 

Watch out for signs of inflation that’s too quick. Some vacuum cleaners have too much power to replace air mattress pumps, but others have low power settings that will fill up the bed without putting too much stress on the seams.  Although this isn’t a convenient option for camping trips, a vacuum cleaner is something most households have access to. So if you can’t find a pump for your air mattress at an indoor location, this is a great method to know how to use. 

2. Hair Dryer

Another option you should consider if electrical outlets are nearby is a hairdryer. Some manufacturers even sell cordless battery-powered models on Amazon that are ideal for camping and traveling. Bring an extra set of batteries and you’ll have an ad hoc electric air pump to bring with you just about anywhere. Connecting a hairdryer to the valve of an air mattress can be tricky. Some models align just right and others don’t. Try duct tape if there’s any around. If not, you may be able to tie a knot around the hairdryer and over the air mattress valve and get enough of a seal for air to flow into the bed.

One neat trick is making a cone out of paper or any other flat, pliable material. The small tip of the cone will fit into many air mattress valves and prevent air from escaping as the bed inflates. Make sure you aren’t using hot air to inflate your air mattress. The majority of hairdryers have cold air settings. You should use this mode to inflate an air mattress because hot air could damage the material of the bed and creates a more appealing environment for bacterial growth. 

Unlike vacuum cleaners, hairdryers should be used at nearly their highest setting to ensure enough air gets into the mattress. This will depend on the model you use, but make sure you have enough batteries to run the hairdryer on high power for long enough, especially if you plan to use it for other things on your trip.

Practice closing the valve on the air mattress quickly before air can escape. If you’re using any kind of DIY adapter, this becomes even more important. You’ll need to disconnect whatever pump substitute you’re using and get the valve closed ASAP so the bed will stay inflated to a comfortable level.

A person using a leaf blower on some stairs.

You can use a leaf blower to inflate an air mattress without a pump.

3. Leaf Blower

For a combination of the power of a vacuum cleaner and a bit of the hairdryer’s portability, try a leaf blower. It might require lugging around a heavier fuel source, but it will inflate the bed much more quickly. A leaf blower can also be used to stoke campfires and clear campsites, so it might be a helpful tool in more ways than one. 

Snowblowers are just as good as leaf blowers at inflating air mattresses without a pump. For people in colder climates, it’s a good way to get some use out of the snowblower when there’s no snow on the ground. Shop vacs are also an option.

Since a leaf blower is typically so much larger than the valve on an inflatable air mattress, creating an adapter to channel the air into the bed is difficult. You might be able to take a DIY approach and cut larger plastic bottles in half or cut holes in them and then place the top in the valve with the leaf blower on the other side. 

The biggest trouble with using a leaf blower or a snowblower to inflate your air mattress is that it’s unlikely you’ll be in a situation where you have access to a leaf blower but not a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer. Still, it’s good to plan for every possibility just in case. You want to make sure you start with the lowest setting on a leaf blower or a snowblower.

These machines are meant to send objects scattering a great distance and you could easily cause damage to the seams on your air mattress if you start at a high power setting. It’s also easy to overinflate the mattress when you use a large machine like a leaf blower or snowblower, so make sure to leave it a bit underfilled to prevent damage. 

4. Manual Pumps

On camping trips and in cases where electric outlets aren’t available, it’s handy to have a manual pump available. These come in many varieties and they do require a bit of planning, but many campers invest in small manual pumps to inflate their air mattresses at campsites without having to worry about finding a source of electricity. 

Hand pumps, foot pumps, and bicycle pumps are all common tools used to inflate air mattresses when an electric pump or alternative isn’t available. Foot pumps are far easier on the user because they don’t require bending over or kneeling in an awkward position. Hand pumps, especially the kind designed for backpacking and camping, are often so small the user has to get into an awkward position to use them.

With a foot pump, all you need to do is connect the hose to the mattress valve and then step on the pump repeatedly. Some models have an inclined shape so you don’t have to step straight down repeatedly. Rather, you can inflate the air mattress with a motion that’s similar to tapping your feet. 

Bike pumps require a more involved action but usually have a fairly high air output so you can inflate an air mattress faster with one. They’re a bit bulkier than hand pumps or foot pumps which is why backpackers prefer the other two to bike pumps. 

Although they take a bit more effort than electric pumps, manual pumps are a much better option for people who take their air mattresses into the backcountry. They’re low maintenance and cheap enough to replace easily if they should ever wear down or break. 

A woman with a blanket around her.

Settle in with your favorite blanket once your mattress is inflated.

Plastic Bag

Of all the pump alternatives, the plastic bag method is certainly the least well-known. It’s also by far the best one to know how to do in case you’re ever in a situation where there’s no electricity and no one thought to bring a manual pump. The bigger the bag you use, the faster the air mattress will inflate. What you’re doing is filling the bag with air and then putting pressure on it to send that air into the mattress. Follow these steps to inflate an air mattress with nothing more than a plastic bag:

  • Unroll your mattress and make sure it’s completely flat. 
  • Take the plastic bag by the handles or around the top if there are no handles. 
  • Shake it out and pull it through the air so that it fills with air. 
  • Close your hands tightly around the open end of the bag to trap the air inside. 
  • Take the valve cap off the opening and wrap the open end of the bag around it.
  • Make a tight seal so no air escapes. 
  • Compress the bag so the air inside it goes into the mattress. 
  • Repeat until the mattress is fully inflated. 

You’ll be surprised how quickly this process works. If you’re curious, give it a shot at home so you know how to do it on a camping trip if need be. You should see some inflation in the air mattress with each bag full of air you send inside. The best way to prepare for this method is to bring a garbage bag along. You can use it to leave no trace by collecting all your trash inside it once the air mattress is inflated. 

How to Pack an Air Mattress for Camping

For ultralight backpackers who sleep in hammocks or even camp without a tent, bringing an air mattress on a trip to the backcountry might sound completely insane. If you want to travel with as little as possible, there are some smaller models, but sleeping mats and hammocks will probably be a better choice pound for pound. 

Campers who drive to their campsites and just want to spend some time in the wilderness often use air mattresses because they allow camping trips to go on for a longer time. Uncomfortable sleeping makes people irritable and more likely to call it quits on a camping trip. 

If you’re in the latter camp, packing the air mattress the right way will make things much easier. Many air mattresses come with their carry bags. That’s convenient enough if you just need to bring it from a car to a campsite, but if you are planning to bring a smaller air mattress in your backpack, packing it the right way will allow you to bring other necessary items as well. 

Pack the air mattress first and then add smaller items around it. Most backpacking backpacks have external straps for a sleeping bag, so use them whenever possible to save space in your bag. The mattress can be used to protect more fragile items and insulate the food.

Take the mattress out of any additional packaging if you want to put it in a backpack. You can even pack it in a figure-8 shape and place other gear in between it. Practice rolling your air mattress at home so you know how to fit it inside your backpack. 

Final Verdict

Air mattresses are a great way to add some comfort to a camping trip. They’re also convenient for visitors and temporary sleeping spaces in the event of some emergency. A deflated air mattress is about as useful as wet matches. Use one of the 5 methods discussed in this guide to inflating your air mattress without a pump next time you’re camping or need to make some extra room for temporary sleeping space around the holidays or while you’re moving houses. 

Not all of these methods are applicable in every situation, but there’s at least one method that’s possible in most circumstances. Inflating an air mattress with a plastic bag is the most versatile method and one any outdoor enthusiast should familiarize themselves with to be as prepared as possible.

Bonus tip: Watch how this camper inflates his air mattress with a garbage bag!

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