Gear 101: Are Backpacking Air Pumps Worth It?

Backpacking Air Pump: Close-up of a camper using an electronic backpacking air pump to inflate their sleeping pad

In this post, we'll take a look at:

In this post, we’ll dive into the world of backpacking air pumps. We’ll explore their advantages, and help you decide whether they deserve a spot in your backpack.

I decided to write this post after reading discussions on different ultralight backpacking forums where this little device sparked quite a few heated debates.

So, is this gadget an ultralight backpacker’s best friend, or just extra baggage? Let’s find out.

Understanding Backpacking Air Pumps

Backpacking air pumps are compact and useful tools created for inflating items such as sleeping pads and pillows. These devices are straightforward, with only a few components.

They are designed to fill your sleeping pad approximately 6-8 times before requiring a recharge, thanks to their small battery, which is about half the size of your smartphone.

Unlike traditional methods that involve blowing air directly from your mouth into these gear, air pumps offer a more efficient and hygienic alternative.

Backpacking Air Pumps: The Good

When you blow air into your gear with your breath, the warm, moist air can lead to condensation inside, potentially causing mold over time. Air pumps help prevent this issue by using the drier air from the environment.

Thus, the primary role of backpacking air pumps is evident: they simplify the inflation process for your sleeping gear along with other benefits:

  1. Cold Weather Comfort: In cold weather, manually inflating gear with warm breath can lead to issues when the air inside cools and contracts, making it feel like your gear is deflating. Air pumps help maintain a consistent level of inflation in such conditions.
  2. Altitude-Friendly: At high altitudes, where the air is thinner and it’s easier to become lightheaded, using an air pump can be a more comfortable and safe way to inflate your gear.
  3. Versatility: Many backpacking air pumps often include various nozzle attachments and a built-in camp light, helping you save weight on other gear. They can also be used to stoke a fire when the weather is rough.

Backpacking Air Pumps: The Bad

While backpacking air pumps have advantages, consider drawbacks and factors before adding one to your gear. Here are key points to remember:

  1. Device Noise: One downside often associated with backpacking air pumps is the noise they make. The motor inside these pumps can generate a noticeable sound, roughly around 75 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise level of using a vacuum cleaner at home.
  2. Compatibility Issues: Some backpacking air pumps may not fit all inflatable gear. Check nozzle compatibility with your mattress or pad.
  3. Adding Extra Gear: Including an air pump as an electronic device might contradict your ultralight philosophy. Evaluate whether the benefits of the pump justify the additional weight, the space it occupies in your backpack, and the added complexity it brings to your trip.

Additionally, it’s important to note that some models may have a relatively lengthy inflation time of 3-4 minutes for your sleeping pad. Furthermore, if the pump is connected to your power bank, you cannot run it while charging; it simply won’t turn on while plugged in.

Alternative to Air Pumps: The Pump Sack

Backpacking Air Pump: A camper using a pump sack to fill up their sleeping pad

In addition to relying on an electronic air pump or your lungs, you have the option to enhance the durability of your inflatable gear by using a pump sack. Let’s explore the pros and cons:

  • Pump Sack Pros:
    • Lightweight and compact (around 1 oz (28g) lighter on average).
    • No need for batteries or electricity.
    • Minimal noise, allowing for a quiet camping experience.
  • Pump Sack Cons:
    • Requires physical effort to inflate gear.
    • It can come off while you’re inflating your gear, even when it’s not fully inflated. This has frustrated me more times than I can remember.

As evident, pump sacks offer similar performance to backpacking air pumps but may demand a bit more skill for inflating your gear.

On average, there’s a slight weight advantage to using a pump sack, and a notable advantage is that it never runs out of battery.

Bottom Line and Final Thoughts

Given the versatility of electronic pumps, which can even serve the dual purpose of kindling a fire, it might be advisable for beginners to opt for an electronic pump. We’ve observed that some beginners encounter challenges with using a pump sack and often switch to inflating with their lungs halfway through.

However, if you’re an experienced ultralight backpacker who values every ounce and appreciates a more simplistic approach, the pump sack remains the superior choice.

Whether you choose electronic pumps or manual methods, ensuring well-inflated gear is essential for a comfortable outdoor experience. Both options have their merits, so consider your preferences and experience level when making a decision.

Not sure where to find a backpacking air pump? Consider checking out Flextail. If you’re in search of an ultralight inflatable sleeping pad, check out our TOP 5 guides.


What are the advantages of electric backpacking air pumps?

Electric backpacking air pumps offer several benefits for campers. They provide efficient and hassle-free inflation, saving time and effort compared to manual methods. These pumps excel in moisture control, preventing condensation inside gear, which can lead to mold over time. In cold weather, they maintain consistent inflation levels, and at high altitudes, they offer a safer and more comfortable option. Many also come with various nozzle attachments and extra features, adding versatility to your gear. Despite some noise, the convenience and efficiency make them a valuable addition to your camping gear.

How does a pump sack work?

A pump sack operates through a straightforward manual process: you capture air by either scooping it or letting the wind fill the sack, seal it, attach the nozzle to your camping gear’s valve, and then squeeze or roll the sack to transfer the air into your gear, inflating it. This method is lightweight, compact, and doesn’t rely on batteries or electricity, making it a convenient choice for campers. However, it does require physical effort and may take longer for larger items compared to electric pumps.

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