Inflatable tents are becoming more and more popular, especially as they become more reliable. We’ve moved on past the era of inflatable tents that could puncture easily, or even explode, and today’s tents are solid, built to last and super-convenient.
They have a number of other benefits over standard tents too, including being easier to assemble, and generally more sturdy too.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be the automatic choice for everyone. They aren’t perfect, and in this guide, I’ll take you through the biggest problems that you could face with an inflatable tent.
What is a blow-up tent?
Blow-up tents, normally called inflatable tents, are exactly how they sound – tents that can be used for camping that need to be inflated. They use air tubes, instead of metal poles, as their support beams.
This means that they tend to come as a single unit, rather than needing different bags. You’ll also need to spend time inflating them at the start of your camping vacation.
How do inflatable tents work?
Instead of using metal poles as supports, inflatable tents have a series of air tubes that act as beams instead. You inflate these to high pressure and they become solid support structures, helping your tent to stand tall.
You’ll need to make sure you pack a pump with you, because inflating them manually can take a lot of time.
Inflatable bubble tents are a little different. These are a little more like giant snow globes than tents.
With a bubble tent, instead of inflating the tubes, the whole tent inflates! That means that you have to keep a blower running constantly, which presents a whole other series of problems.
So in this article, we’ll just focus on the standard inflatable camping tents that come with inflatable tubes in place of the poles.
What are the main inflatable tent problems?
Here’s a look at some of the common issues you might encounter with an inflatable tent – and how they stack up against standard tents.
1. Inflatable tents are heavy
Inflatable tents are heavier than traditional pole tents.
In some cases, a similar-sized tent might weigh twice as much when deflated.
The heaviness of inflatable tents is because of two reasons. Firstly, the materials used in the air tubes are a lot thicker than the material on a standard tent, because a puncture is a much more serious problem.
On a standard tent, a minor hole isn’t that big a deal. On an inflatable tent, it could mean waking up with your tent deflated on top of you.
So, thicker rubbers and plastics are used to help prevent small scratches becoming holes.
Then with larger standard tents, they’re often split between different bags since they can be assembled as separate units and zipped together.
You can’t do that with an inflatable tent, it has to be one single unit. Which means one, big, heavy tent inside one, big, heavy bag.
This does make inflatable tents a little less desirable for mobile camping. If you’re intending to hike, then that’s a lot of weight to be carrying around with you. Especially when you consider all of your other equipment too, such as your inflatable sleeping bag or air mattress.
But on the other hand, it does mean that everything is contained within a single bag – there’s no risk of losing anything.
2. You need to carry a pump with you
To inflate a tent, you need either a manual of an electric pump. These aren’t the kind of inflatables that you can blow up using just your lungs.
Inflatable tents need a PSI of between 6 and 9 normally, while the human lung can manage a pressure of around 2.5 PSI at most.
This means you need to make sure you always carry a pump with you. You can’t get by if you forget one – you’re not going to get that tent inflated yourself – trust me!
There are two types of pumps for an inflatable tent: an electric pump and a manual pump, which could be a t-bar pump or a foot pump. An electric pump needs electricity, obviously, and so won’t work if the site has no access to electrical power. You can buy pumps that can be powered using your car though.
A manual pump can be used anywhere, but it’s a lot more tiring.
And this all relates to the previous point as well – not only is the tent heavier, but you need to factor in carrying a pump with you as well.
3. Setting up during rain is harder
Camping vacations don’t guarantee good weather. In fact if you’re an experienced camper, you probably know that rain is pretty common!
Setting up an inflatable tent can be a little bit harder in the rain. Either you’re using an electric pump, which you need to keep shielded from the elements, or you’re using a manual one.
Doing any kind of exercise in the rain becomes harder – muscles get tired quicker as clothes get wet and heavy – so manually pumping up a tent in the rain (whilst making sure the inside stays dry) is quite the task.
Whereas putting together some metal poles isn’t quite as taxing.
So, if you tend to camp somewhere where you never get good weather, you might want to consider if an inflatable tent is right for you.
4. Inflatable tents are more expensive
Inflatable tents are some of the most expensive tents on the market – often costing hundreds of dollars more than a standard equivalent. The cost of these tents can be attributed to the relatively advanced technology used to make them.
Also, they can withstand different forms of weather, from storms and strong winds to scorching sun. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about breakages with inflatable tents as they don’t have poles.
They tend to be a lot more robust when they’re assembled. You might assume that metal poles are strong, but remember they need to be lightweight to be carryable. Inflatable air tubes are larger, and so are really tough when inflated to the right pressure.
With the convenience of an inflatable tent (provided you have an electric pump) and the more robust design, it’s no surprise they’re more expensive. And if you camp regularly, they’re a good investment.
5. Inflatable tents are harder to pack away
If your vacation has been fun but tiring, you’ll know that the time to pack away a tent can be one filled with dread.
And that’s the same with a standard tent too – but with an inflatable tent, there are no shortcuts you can take.
You need to get every last bit of air out of the tent, otherwise it’s not fitting inside the bag. You can’t try to get away with leaving a couple of air pockets, or it’s just not fitting in.
Plus, leave in air pockets, and when you try to compress the tent you risk popping it.
So, you need to take the time to fully deflate it. Electric pumps normally have a deflate setting, so use that.
If you have a manual pump instead, you’re just going to have to patiently squeeze the air out.
6. Inflatable tents are more limited in size options
Standard tents come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – pop-up tents, domes, multi-compartment tents, L-shaped tents, tents that can attach to RVs and so on.
Inflatable tents, not so much. They tend to be fairly standard in size and shape – either as a dome or a regular arched rectangle. And they sleep 3-6 people normally.
If you’re a solo camper, an inflatable tent is probably overkill. And if you tend to camp with your extended family, you might not find one big enough.
And while you could always buy two inflatable tents, that means twice the issues listed above!
Frequently Asked Questions
The main difference between inflatable tents and traditional pole tents is that pole tents use plastic or metallic rods to prop up the tent, while inflatable tents use air tubes. Because of this, inflatable tents tend to be more robust, as the pressurised air creates solid tubes.
Inflatable tents are made using premium thick rubber and plastic, and are one single unit rather than being split into smaller compartments. That means they are manufactured to a higher standard and tested more thoroughly, hence the higher price.
Inflatable tents are limited in shape and size due to the nature of how they are made – you have to have a single unit that doesn’t puncture. Unusual designs, or larger structures, means more chances of a weakness somewhere that becomes a puncture.
Inflatable tents are a good choice for people who camp in groups of 2-6, and that use a spot where they can park alongside the tent, minimizing carrying. They are robust and stand up to weather well. For hikers, solo campers or large groups, they may not be suitable.
Inflatable tents are a really good choice for regular campers, despite this list of drawbacks. The positives outweigh the negatives, which is why they’re growing in popularity so much.
Each of these drawbacks has a solution – even the expense can be justified if you want a tent to be re-used lots of times that you know will last.
So don’t let these put you off. Inflatable tents are a good choice against standard tents. As long as you’re well-prepared.