Forget leaky lilos: modern air beds have decent valves that mean the bed stays inflated and won’t deposit you on the floor, and some – like the Aerobed below – take portable comfort to a whole new level, with an inbuilt valance (really) and a mattress protector.

We tested most of the air beds indoors, as well as camping and at festivals. They were a roaring hit at the latter, where the air beds struck the perfect balance between comfort and carriability: sleeping on the equivalent of a double bed, with a sheet and duvet, has become the new festival benchmark for one of our (formerly) hardy reviewers.

First of all we looked out for the dreaded air leak. Recognising that it’s almost impossible to stop beds leaking completely, we allowed a little sag (particularly if there were being used by two people), but not all-out overnight deflation. 

Then we tested for comfort, something that’s hard to perfect with an air bed: we looked out for the dreaded wobble, a sort of instability that only afflicts overinflated beds. We preferred beds with multiple air chambers or a bit of foam, because they had an added sense of stability and bed-like familiarity.

Beyond that, the choice comes down to what you want to use your air bed for, and where you’re going to use it. Because many are completely filled with air, they lose out on some of the technical insulation you get with camping mats, for example. 

Of course, that’s not an issue if you’re sleeping on carpet: but it can quickly become one if you’re outdoors. Trust us: even with a brilliant sleeping bag, it’s amazing how quickly the cold can seep into your bones on a badly insulated mattress. 

We’ve recommended some camping-specific beds below, which have added insulation, but if you want the comfort of a bed-sized mattress outside – at a festival, for example – put a thin foam mat under the mattress for warmth (one with a silver reflective side is best).

It’s also worth considering who will be sleeping on the air bed: your fanciest friends might feel a bit put out if you put them on a low mat like the Robens at the end of a dinner party; conversely, you would look ridiculous trying to smooth out the valance on your Aerobed at the foot of Scafell Pike. Pick something sturdy if children are going to sleep on the bed – or if a teenager might drag it to a festival.  

A quick word on inflation: some of the mats below are self-inflating, and we’ve specified that. If they’re not, you will need to buy a separate pump to blow them up. Hand pumps are the cheapest but the hardiest; battery-powered pumps are time-honoured – rechargeable lithium ones are great; but we swear by a simple 12-volt charging pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car for ultimate ease if you’re car camping. 

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Coleman extra durable double air bed: £49.99, Costco

Really the only thing you need to know about this superb air bed is that you can run it over with a quad bike and it won’t suffer any damage. Our reviewer decided not to test that out themselves – there are plenty of videos on YouTube if you want to check – but has put this mattress through enough festivals and camping trips to believe it. Coleman’s extra durable bed is just the right height for comfort without being so high you get the air bed wobble; it’s perfectly firm and about as close to a real bed as you can get on a camping trip. It’s also quick and easy to pack up and roll away, not absurdly heavy (at just under 3kg), and inflates quickly and easily – we tested with a 12v car pump and the rechargeable battery pump that Coleman recommends. A great price for an air bed that will survive anything you can throw at it.

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AeroBed ultra divan double air bed: £250, John Lewis & Partners

The ultimate guestroom air bed, Aerobed’s divan double – which is the same height as a standard bed and comes with a cotton valance and a mattress protector – looks almost disconcertingly like an actual double bed. This is not an air bed for camping: its pump plugs into the mains, and is remote controlled, which means inflating it is literally as simple as pressing a button. You can increase or decrease pressure as well using a small panel at the end of the bed to get just the right level of firmness. It doesn’t feel exactly like a sprung mattress – although at maximum firmness it’s among the closest of the beds we tested – but looks so good your guests may well not notice. It deflates in seconds thanks to the brand's self-named “whoosh” valve, which we loved: children and particularly immature adults will enjoy the rapid descent.

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Outwell wonderland double air bed: £185.99, Outwell​

The most comfortable one we tested, the Outwell wonderland, packs an air bed plus memory foam mattress in one portable package. The air bed itself is a standard, no-frills 12cm tall air mattress, but the game changer is the memory foam topper that acts as a kind of thin mattress that sits on top. The two are held together by a soft, zip-close quilted cover. The memory foam topper makes this bed extra special: our reviewer thought it felt much closer to a real bed because of the added support, and it also felt much warmer when we tested it outside because there’s more between you and the ground than just air and plastic. At 8kg, you wouldn’t want to carry it into the wilderness, but it would be the perfect bed for a long camping holiday.

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Quechua inflatable camping bed base: £49.99, Decathlon

We were borderline obsessed with this brilliant idea from Decathlon, an inflatable bed frame to which you attach your favourite camping mattress to create something between an air bed and a camping bed. The inflatable frame is reinforced with sturdy little struts, and the bars that go across the frame – that you lay your mattress on – feel really secure: they don’t collapse in when you lie on them, which was our main concern. The best thing about this bed is that it feels much more like a normal bed – from the way it responds when you move around, for example, to the breadth of places you feel supported. The frame will take any mattress under 70cm wide: we found that foam mats (like the multimat in this review) worked better than air inflated mats. 

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Robens highcore 80 air bed: £59.95, Trek Inn

We love Robens’ camping gear: the German brand always seems to have some of the best tech for a budget price. So we were really excited to test out the highcore 80, new for 2019, which our reviewer thought was the most versatile air bed that we tried. It isn’t as tall as, say, the Aerobed – about 9cm fully inflated – but we actually thought that gave us a better night’s sleep, because the bed felt a bit more secure. It was also deliciously warm – easily as warm as a technical camping mat – thanks to the insulation. The valve lets you adjust the firmness easily – because it has a one way airflow to let you adjust breath by breath – something that tends to only come with more expensive mats. It’s light, at 720g, making it the perfect mat for camping or backpacking, if you haven’t got too far to walk.

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Sea to Summit ether light air bed: £175, Sea to Summit

Our reviewer was genuinely astonished when she inflated the ether light for the first time: it just seemed to keep rising and rising, up to about 10cm height in the end. That’s not far off the height of a normal air bed like the Coleman: and this bed weighs in at 420g, and packs down very small. We’ve loved Sea to Summit’s air sprung cells ever since we tried our first from the brand. The little dimpled pockets really do feel like a proper sprung mattress. Our favourite thing about this bed is how warm it was: tricky to achieve with 10cm of air between you and the cold ground, but achieved here with a thick insulating layer. There are all the usual perks of a Sea to Summit mat – the one-way valve, for example, that lets you finesse firmness, and the pillow lock system, which is compatible with Sea to Summit inflatable pillows. Our reviewer – who admittedly is a seasoned camper – would be happy on this in a guest bedroom.

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Campingaz smart quickbed double air bed: £39.99, Amazon

A really clever, innovative air bed by Campingaz, this comes with built in pillows – a small but extremely useful feature, as anyone who’s had a pillow slip off the back of a camping mat before will tell you – and, amazingly, little storage compartments beneath the pillows, inside the mattress. It falls down on a few details – it loses air overnight, for example. Not too dramatically, but noticeably so that you'll need to pump it up again in the evening ahead of the next night’s sleep. It’s also a little cold – you definitely need a mat underneath if you plan to use it in winter weather. But overall this is the perfect bed to take to a festival: it’s comfortable but not colossal, and the hidden compartment might well be the best solution we’ve seen to the problem of where to safely store your valuables.

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Vango shangri la 10 double air bed: £250, Vango​

An absolute classic, Vango’s plush air bed scored highly in our review because it was comfortable, sturdy, and best of all – self inflating. It inflates to a height of about 10cm in just under a minute – although we found it needed a couple of extra puffs to get it as firm as we liked, but that’s easily done. It felt really sturdy and comfortable and spacious, while the memory foam gave it a welcome layer of support. Generally speaking our reviewers didn’t bother putting a sheet on all the air beds they tested – but we tested one here and found that, thanks to the square box-shape construction, it felt remarkably like a proper bed. It felt warm enough to us tested in the summer – probably thanks to the memory foam layer – but we would suggest a foam mat underneath during the winter. Overall a perfect bed for camping and the occasional sleepover.

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Thermarest mondoking 3D air bed: £146.95, OutdoorGear​

If you’re used to Thermarest making super-minimalist camping mats that weigh almost nothing but barely lift you off the ground, then this one will come as a pleasant surprise. One of the most luxurious air beds we tested, it self-inflates up to about 10cm, with a thick foam core for warmth and support and a stretch knit outer. We found it to be one of the few beds that we really didn’t need a sheet on, which will help to justify the slightly larger pack size and weight compared to a standard Thermarest mattress – about 2.5kg. We also like that it attaches to other Thermarest mattresses to create a bigger-than-double bed: ideal if you’re sleeping in a large family tent or having plenty of floorspace in your spare room.

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Halfords flocked air bed: £8.50, Halfords​

Absolutely ideal for sleepovers, festivals or lounging around in the garden, Halfords’ cheap and cheerful air bed covers all the bases – it’s got plenty of clearance, at 18cm in height, it’s super soft to the touch, so you won’t need a sheet, and it’s got sprung dimples to make it feel a bit more like a proper mattress. It inflates and deflates quickly, and for the size, rolls up to pack away easily. While it might lose some pressure over time, we didn’t find it leaked as much air as we’d expected – it managed a full night without deflating, better than some more expensive beds that we tested. It has a touch of the classic air bed wobble, and it doesn’t feel as sturdy as the Coleman, but at £8.50 it’s a really good budget option.

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The verdict: Air beds

A time-honoured classic, nothing can beat the Coleman extra durable double air bed for durability, comfort, price and all-round versatility. If you want your air bed to be a bit more of a guest-room feature, the lovely Aerobed ultra divan double is a pricey but pretty option. If you want something a bit more portable, Sea to Summit ether light air bed was impressively comfortable for the weight.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.