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How to Inflate a Down-filled Air Mattress

Big Agnes Pumphouse Stuff Sack
Big Agnes Pumphouse Stuff Sack

A lot of winter campers, myself included, use a down filled air mattress (DAM) for extra warmth as part of our sleep system. With R-values of 5 and above, they really boost your comfort level when it is below freezing.

How to Inflate a Down-filled Air Mattress

The problem with inflating a down air mattress is that you don’t want to blow into it and introduce moisture that will degrade the insulating properties of the down fill. If you have “accidentally” done this, perhaps out of impatience, you can revitalize your down air mattress by drying it in a dryer, set to low heat, with the valves open.

The right way to inflate a DAM is to use a pump to inflate it with ambient air. Winter air is much drier than your breath and won’t degrade the down insulation.

Some down air mattresses such as the Exped Downmat 7 or Downmat 9 now come with a built-in pump, while others such as the Warmlite or the Ultralite KookaBay DAM (18.2 oz) require that you use an external pump, such as the Big Agnes Pumphouse, to inflate them.

The Pumphouse is a stuff sack with a nozzle-like fabric tube at one end that is universally sized to fit onto any air mattress valve. There’s a cord-lock at the end of the nozzle extension that lets you secure it under the base of a valve so it won’t come off during inflation, a common problem for me with the old Exped pump system.

Here’s a short video that shows how to use the Pumphouse to inflate an air mattress:

My friend Jason Klass recently posted an article about another pump for filling air mattresses, called the Instaflator. It’s a long plastic tube which lets you inflate an air mattress which one “pump” of air. It’s kind of cool, but it serves no other purpose in your pack and is so long, that you may need to stand outside your shelter to inflate your air mattress.

For my money, I like The Pumphouse better because it serves multiple purposes and you can use it in a shelter regardless of the weather outside. Effort-wise, it only takes 15-20 pumps to inflate an air mattress, which probably won’t kill you if you’ve managed to hike most of the day to your campsite.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

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  1. I purchased the pump house on clearance for my many agnes mattresses. I'm the family set up gal many times so this was hopefully going ot save me some breath….more time to talk. I found it to be a little awkward and reverted back to blowing it up- the plus to carrying this is that it is waterproof so a stuff sack and water reservoir. got to have more than one purpose to be worth packing.

  2. Want to see something really gross? Blow into a a Big Agnes Clearview mattress a few times to inflate it. The mattress is see through and you can see your spit running around inside it. You can imagine how that would degrade an insulated pad.

  3. The big agnes has primaloft instead of down….I think if you just do the dryer thing or even use a pump at home a few times after returning from a trip, it should do the trick

  4. You'd think so. Unfortunately, I did the dryer thing 2 weeks ago and now my exped downmat won't stay inflated all night which kind of sucks because it cuts down it's R value by about 50%. Not saying that the Big Agnes won't do better, but I wouldn't recommend it based on my experience. (I literally thought about recommending the same thing for DAMs, but decided to test it empirically, before writing it up on my blog).

  5. I don't see how a dryer is going to get all the moisture out through the little inflate, deflate valves. After an outing I inflate my BA AirCore with a shop vac, wait a half-hour or more and suck out the air and repeat at least 3 more times.

    I found my exped leak at the edge of the deflate valve; I think that's a common area for leaks. I know now not to leave it in the BA bag sleeve and roll them up and compress them together.

  6. That's where I was going to start looking for the Exped leak. I figure some shaving cream applied to the valve or sleeve will show the bubbles. It's not like you can immerse a DAM in water to find the leak! The valve probably cracked in the dryer bouncing off the baffles.

  7. Any easy solutions to make a DIY "Pumphouse" out of an existing stuff/dry bag?

  8. Shouldn't be that hard. You just need to put a snout on the end of the stuff sack with a cord lock at the end to prevent the air from escaping. Warning: I don't sew!

  9. I ordered one of the Instaflators after seeing Jason's review. I have used it several times and it is definately one of those "why didn't I think of that" items. The length is definately awkward (I am having visions of using it in an AT shelter in rain or snow- ugly) but it couldn't be easier to use. I can fill my full size NeoAir with one filling of the Instaflator (plus a little more to be fair) without a single breath in just a few seconds. From a UL perspective, I don't like the single use functionality and plan on experimenting with to see if I can attach a nozzle to a sil-nylon stuff bag, but to be honest, it will stay packaged with my NeoAir until I find a better solution (please don't tell my UL friends). I would love to find a happy crossover of a bigger reservoir (less refills) and mult-use capabilty that would justify the weight on a long hike.

  10. I purchased an Instaflator for this purpose as well and I trimmed it down for my purposes and it weighs less than 1 oz. I trimmed the length of the plastic and cut of the attachments that I didn't need. Trimmed the little plastic tube too.

    Yes it takes more than one 'pump' to inflate now, but it is a lot less awkward to handle and it weighs less as well.

    I would like to think of something else to do with this thing to make it dual purpose, but for the weight and convenience of inflation – I'm good with a 1 oz luxury item.

  11. This is very helpful, now I know how to inflate an air mattress right.

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