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Hands-on Gear Review
REI Relax Airbed Review
Cons: Manual pump is a bit of work, no insulation, lacking support.
Bottom line: The best choice among air beds for its firm feel and low cost.
The REI Relax Airbed is a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) constructed air bed that is affordable and easy to use. It is very similar to the Lightspeed 2-person air bed in construction, size, and price. While REI claims that it is queen sized, we found it to be merely a double, although it comfortably sleeps two people. It comes with a large manual hand pump included, meaning you don't need access to a power outlet or batteries to pump it up, but also meaning that you will need to invest a little bit of time and muscle to make this bed sleep-able. Compared to the other two airbeds tested for this review, this one ranks among the best, but we have to admit that they all come with a handful of detracting qualities. Overall, we think this is a solid product at an attractive price, but we recommend you read the full review before you commit to purchasing an air bed over a more expensive, but higher performing foam cushioned self-inflating air mattress.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Air beds like the REI Relax Airbed are great because they sleep two people, are easy to use, and are far more affordable than many of the self-inflating or adaptable car camping mattresses in our review. However, they come with some serious drawbacks that make them, in our opinion, an inferior option to the other products tested for this review. For one, they have no insulation, and thus easily transfer cold from the ground or the air into your body. But more importantly, they don't have any foam or another form of cushioning to support your body or dampen the "bouncy castle effect" of sleeping with two people on an inflatable mattress.
Compared to the competition, the REI Relax Airbed did pretty well. Don't get us wrong, it is nowhere near as comfortable or warm as our Top Pick for Couples, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10, but it scored higher in our testing than the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Air Bed. We thought it was slightly more comfortable than the Lightspeed 2-person because it has a softer plush face fabric, and its firmness feels more supportive. We especially liked that it is made of durable TPU instead of PVC, a material that has been linked to human health concerns, as well as proving to be one of the most environmentally damaging substances to both produce and dispose of. If you want an air bed, then this is a great choice.
We gave the Relax Airbed 6 out of 10 points for comfort. While this is lower than any car camping mattress that is not an air bed, it was the highest of the air beds in our review. The manual pump allows you to fill this mattress up much tighter than you are able to using the battery powered pumps of either the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable air bed or the Lightspeed 2-person. With a super full mattress comes a taut firmness that helps support the body, minimizing the amount one sinks into the bed and offsetting much of bouncing and rocking that comes from two people shifting about on an air bed like this. It also has the softest polyester face fabric of any of the airbeds reviewed.
Ease of Use
While this bed is still relatively easy to use compared to a self-inflating air mattress such as the REI Camp Bed 3.5, it does require manually pumping by hand. The pump that comes included with the bed looks a bit like a pump designed for a river raft or a bike pump, and requires you to spend between three and five minutes manually pumping to inflate the mattress. We are not going to lie, pumping this mattress up might take your breath away! But it comes with other advantages of not needing power or batteries, and allows you to sleep on a firmer surface.
To inflate, simply roll the bed out, hook up the hose from the pump to the smaller inflation valve, and get pumping. You might want a friend to take turns with you. About 100 effort-filled pumps later, you are ready to go to sleep. Luckily, the valve has a rubber flap that does a good job trapping the air as you fiddle with screwing the cap back on.
To deflate, you can use the deflate end of the manual pump by shifting the hose around, but why would you want to? It's much simpler to open the large deflate valve and squish the air out. Then fold it into quarters and roll it up. We gave this airbed 8 out of 10 for ease of use.
Constructed with no foam insulation or reflective materials inside the mattress, the Relax Airbed has an R-value of 1.0 This is the same amount as the rest of the airbeds we tested but is nothing like the 9.5 R-value of the MegaMat Duo. The low insulation limits the use of this mattress to outdoor sleeping in summertime only, and then only in warm climates. We spent one memorable late summer night sleeping on this mattress in the back of our van when the temperatures were in the 40s, and even with a down mummy bag zipped to the throat we felt cold. The next night we switched to a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream, with a 6.8 R-value, and slept like a dream, perfectly warm. So it's 4 out of 10 for warmth.
In theory, this air bed should be slightly more versatile than its competitors, simply because its manual pump does not require the use of a power outlet or batteries. However, the manual pump it comes with is so large and bulky you would never want to carry it away from the car anyway. This bulkiness, combined with the lack of insulation, limit its use to inside, or warm climate summertime car camping, and so we gave it 4 out of 10 points.
The Relax Airbed had the third smallest packed size, tied with the ALPS Mountaineering Rechargeable Airbed. It was slightly larger than the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Dream, but smaller than all the other non-airbeds in the review. This is convenient since you can sleep two people on this mattress while taking up very little space in the car to transport it. Call it 7 out of 10.
The lack of insulation is really the limiting factor with this air bed. Except if you live in a very warm climate, you will not want to use this mattress outside of your house except during the summer. It also makes a great spare bed for when guests come over to stay, and can be a very affordable full-time mattress for those in need.
The Relax Airbed retails for $119, which is $10 less than the Lightspeed 2-person. Since we think it is slightly more comfortable, and it scored slightly higher in our overall ratings, we think this presents a good value. That said, if you are a single person, we think it would behoove you to spend another $10 and get the REI Camp Bed 3.5, as it is without doubt a more comfortable car camping mattress.
The REI Relax Airbed was our highest rated and favorite air bed that we tested for this review. While it is very similar to the Lightspeed 2-person, the ability to consistently fill it fuller made it more comfortable for us. We loved that it is made of TPU, a far more environmentally and safer chemical compound than PVC. While air beds are simply not as comfortable, warm, or versatile as the other car camping mattresses we tested, they are affordable, and for those who want to buy one, this is the one we recommend.
REI Kingdom Sleep System
REI Relax Airbed Single
— Andy Wellman
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