Picking the right air mattress bed for camping has everything to do with the type of camping you have in mind with manufacturer being, perhaps, a distant runner up. Why isn't the manufacturer more relevant? Well, to remain competitive in any market, manufacturers have to try to keep up with their competition. Those who cut corners in "sensitive" markets rarely thrive. But what do I mean by sensitive markets?

I consider a sensitive market to be any product or service in which failure to perform can result in above average suffering or discomfort for the consumer, thereby costing any opportunity for future sales. You could expand on that a bit by including markets in which a consumer is likely to make a return for refund on products at a rate above the usual average.

Many companies (of all types) feel pretty comfortable making money back guarantees because the truth of the matter is that the majority of consumers, even if dissatisfied, don't tend to follow through with the effort required. Two variables can significantly shift consumer habits in favor of making the effort and they are product expense and degree of suffering. A cheap pocket knife that becomes too loose after only a few uses, for example, isn't likely to result in a return claim. It cost the consumer little and doesn't represent a major inconvenience. But, a failed air mattress bed is entirely useless to a consumer and represents a fairly expensive inconvenience.

With all that in mind and barring a shopper really scraping the bottom of the barrel in a search for an air mattress, you will likely find yourself relatively happy with your choice should you decide between one major manufacturer's air mattress bed over another's. Providing, of course, that you purchase models with similar intent and claims.

As you shop, recognize that some air mattress beds aren't intended to be hiked long distances. Though the more conditioned among you may be able to get away with it, the average hiking camper will generally be encumbered at or near their limits and the few extra pounds a battery-powered pump and a heavier air bed represent simply isn't practical. The most luxurious air beds will also be the heaviest. If you pick it up in a box in the store and think it feels heavy, that weight won't miraculously lighten when you're hiking.

For distance hiking, choose air mattress beds specifically made for the task. These will most often be sold as sleep pads, or inflatable sleep pads and come in a variety of thicknesses from 1 to 3 inches or more. Given their exposure to harsher conditions than air beds made for vehicles, camping sleep pads tend to be made of more durable materials. Many models have shape "memory," meaning that the pad wants to assume an inflated state. That makes blowing them up a quick and easy affair and eliminates the need for a heavy pump to be packed along. These air beds are also extremely light and, in some cases, can pack 2.5 inches of comfortable thickness into a tote the size of a Nalgene® bottle.

Your luxury potential goes up considerably should your camping plans include your vehicle. If you plan to sleep in your SUV, Pickup or Mini Van, you might want to start your search for air mattress beds specifically designed for your model vehicle. While customized and, therefore, more expensive, these can really help optimize space. If you opt for a standard air mattress bed for camping (4 inches and up in thickness) ensure that the included pump allows for a aux/cigarette lighter power connection.

Finally, look for topping or comfort coatings that will contribute to a good night of sleep, but avoid gimmicks. One model I own advertised a raised pillow on one end. This "pillow" amounted to little more than a barely noticeable, sloping thickness on one end. Definitely not what I'd describe as a pillow. Besides, if you're traveling and camping in a vehicle, a standard foam pillow can be rolled and tied to a very convenient size and will spring back to its original form when ready for use. Relevant features should include rapid inflation, durable materials, quick-release air valves for easy deflation, an included patch kit and duffle for transport.

Happy camping!