There’s quite the variety of backcountry air mats out there, and a lot of different ways to inflate them. Here’s a breakdown of some of the main techniques to blow up your mat and make a cozy sleep system for the night.



This technique has been around for awhile. My old Therm-a-Rests are designed to self-inflate. You simply open the air valve to allow the foam to expand, and in the process, air is sucked into the mat. However, you’ll most likely end up adjusting the firmness by blowing more air in.

Happy Camper on a sleeping matKevin Callan

Pump Sack

This one seems simple enough. To inflate your sleeping mat, you attach the pump bag valve to the sleeping mat's intake valve. Then, open the back of the bag and capture air, and then squeeze the bag like a Scottish Highlander would to a bagpipe, pushing the air into the mat. Repeat several times until your mat is firm, and then remove the pump sack. This method avoids putting your mouth on the valve, which avoids adding moisture to the sleeping mat. However, I’ve had several camp partners try this technique, and all have cursed loudly during the process. It takes a lot of time, energy and patience to fill the bag with air.

foot pump air matiStock

Integrated Foot Pump

My Nemo Cosmo air mat has one of those integrated foot pumps. I like it better than the pump sack. It seems faster and easier. You compress the pump with your foot or the palm of your hand or even between your armpit. Air is then drawn in the one-way valve once pressure is released, and rebounds with each stepping action to ensure efficient firmness. It definitely gives your lungs a rest. To deflate it, you close the inflation valve and open up the deflation valve on the opposite end. It will expel the air in seconds. The only disadvantage is that the foot pump adds some bulk to the mat while stuffing it back into the storage sack.

flextail pumpKevin Callan

Tiny Air Pump

My latest purchase is the new FlexTail Tiny Pump 2X It’s a pocket size air pump (and vacuum pump) that inflates my mat in just over a minute, reaching 4kPa air pressure and 180L/min airflow. It’s charged by a USB plug and has approximately 20 to 30 minutes of blow time (inflates a single mat 40 times per charge). It also deflates the air out of the mat, and has a flashlight attached. It’s a handy little device, and not too expensive ($39.99). The pump also comes with various attachments for all kinds of inflatables. Check out my review on my KCHappyCamper YouTube channel.