25 Key Factors for Choosing the Perfect Camping Cot: Elevate Your Outdoor Experience!

“Where are we sleeping?” Back in the Spring of 2003, I was part of an Army unit that just arrived in Kuwait and this was the first question that came to everybody’s mind. Soon we had an answer. We pulled up to a giant beige tent and realized it wasn’t just for show, it had our metaphorical names on it. I guess when you’re in the middle of an endless desert with nothing but sand surrounding you in every direction there aren’t many options.

Inside we found rows of simple cots perfectly suited for a military stay. I remember it clearly. It looked straight out of a disaster movie. You know what I’m talking about. Groups of people huddled together inside a big warehouse sitting on 100s of metal bed frames. That was our new home.

Camping cot - military

Guess how long we slept on those cots? If you guessed 1 year, ding ding, you’re unfortunately right on the money. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we eventually got to buy some thin mattresses that helped tremendously. Even though it sounds rough, if it weren’t for those cots, we would have been in a world of hurt. Anything beats sleeping on the floor, especially for that long. I like to call that year my first “rugged” camping experience.

For some reason, cots aren’t as commonplace in a campsite as I think they should be. I bet most campers nowadays don’t even think to use one, let alone own one. Ask 20 “die-hard” camping enthusiasts if they have a camp cot and no more than 2 or 3 would say yes. I’m here now to tell you why you should include yourself in that group of 2 or 3.

You see, a comfortable cot can, in my opinion, dramatically improve your stay in the backcountry, particularly if you’re doing a form of car camping. In other words, porting all of your goods and supplies from a car directly to your campsite, usually unloading them within a short walking distance. The most popular form for weekend getaways.

Camping cot - sleeping

If that’s not you or you’re more interested in other types of camping, thru-hiking, or ultralight traveling, the idea of carting around a cumbersome addition like a cot is unthinkable. If you fall under this category, feel free to skip this article. You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise!

For everyone else, there are a ton of reasons why you should at least think about investing in a nice camping cot. One that could be used and reused for years to come. If you invest in a quality model, you may never need to buy another, so not only is it a lifesaver to your back, knees, and neck, but it could also be a relief to your wallet or purse in the long run.

Ultimately, what’s the price of a great night’s sleep after spending an active day hiking, fishing, or exploring? I would argue it’s close to priceless, at least it feels that way. That’s exactly when a camping cot’s value reveals itself. When your joints are aching and your muscles tightening, the pure relief of lying on a comfortable bed is worth a king’s ransom!

Interested to learn more? I hope so! Let’s get this party going and dive into everything you’ll need to know about utilizing cots for camping. Here are some of the many things I plan to cover –

  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages
  • Features
  • What to look for
  • Types
  • Where to buy

By the end of this article, you’ll be a true camping cot aficionado! Ready? Let’s go!


Advantages of a Camping Cot

First, let’s go over the main reasons for snagging up a handy camping cot. There are many, but in the interest of keeping this article within a normal reading limit, I’ll just go over the top 5.

1. Comfort

This is by far the biggest reason a good-quality camping cot is awesome! At least to me. You might feel differently, but sleeping on the hard and uneven ground night after night gets extremely old, fast.

Camping cot - comfort

On the flip side, if you choose to sleep on an elevated cot, all of those sharp rocks, bumpy roots, and jagged terrain will be a thing of the distant past. Gone are the restless nights that can ruin an otherwise great camping trip.

Not only does a great cot keep you from sleeping on the ground like an animal, but most provide better support than a regular ole sleeping mat. Your shoulders and hips will sink and settle into the fabric a hell of a lot better than the earth will. It’s as close to bringing your mattress as you’ll get, well, without actually bringing your mattress.

2. Temperature Regulation

The second best reason is keeping your body temperature at a prime level. The ground is notoriously bad at cooling you down or warming you up. It’ll suck the heat right off your bones if you’re not careful, but if you’re a foot or two off of the ground, you’ll be insulated from these wild swings throughout the day and night.

Camping cot - temp regulation

It all comes down to airflow. This will be a blessing in warmer weather since you’ll want as much of a breeze as you can above AND below you. Also, your body heat can radiate from you in all directions, cooling you down while you’re unconscious. The difference, even of a few degrees, will be quite noticeable.

On the opposite end, staying away from frozen or icy cold ground in a wintery landscape can keep you warm all night long. Those camped in the snow can attest to how cold the ground can be, even in a sleeping bag. Think about it. Would you want to sleep on a giant ice cube all night? That’s basically what you’re doing when the floor is frosted over.

3. Cleanliness

If the first two don’t sway you, how about the fact you won’t be sleeping in or on dirt all night? Even a pristine campsite or campground will have its fair share of dust, mud, soot, and sand. Keeping everything off the ground, especially your sleeping bag and yourself, means less dirt, mud, and critters in and around your sleeping area.

Camping cot - cleanliness

Don’t get me started on rain or magical rivers that can pop through your tent at 3 in the morning. If you’re on a camping cot, a mini flash flood could spring forth while you’re sleeping but you’ll go unfazed since the water will flow underneath you.

I feel we can agree that keeping your bedding clean and dry is much easier than washing off or patting it down after every adventure, especially if you’re in a damp, humid, or muddy environment. Who wants that hassle? Not me!

4. Storage Space

Something that doesn’t immediately come to mind as a benefit to cot use is the added storage space you gain. Tents aren’t exactly spacious, even if there are fewer sleepers than what the tent is designed to hold. Your backpack, clothes, and other supplies you want to keep inside take up a ton of room.

Camping cot storage

But, if you store everything, or most of your clunky items, underneath you, you’ll have plenty of room, in the famous words of Brennan and Dale, for more activities! At the very least, it’ll keep your tent tidy. It’s easy to misplace a flashlight or charger when everything is in a giant heap on the ground. A cot helps keep everything organized.

5. Versatility

Cots aren’t just for camping. In fact, another big plus to buying a camping cot is how useful they are for pretty much any occasion. Need a second bed for a last-minute sleepover and don’t want your guest to sleep on your couch? Boom, bust out the cot! Want to get some sun in your backyard but don’t want to lay on the grass? You guessed it, cot!

Camping cot - versatility

Even at your campsite, they can be used for other things besides sleeping. It’s incredibly common to make friends with fellow campers and invite them over for a beer or snack at your campfire. The problem arises if you don’t have enough seats. Believe me, some standing and some sitting will get awkward, quickly. But with a cot, now you have a bench! Boom, problem solved!

Disadvantages of a Camping Cot

You might be saying to yourself, “I’m sold, going to order one right now!” but not so fast. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with camping cots. Just like the good, there are some reasons you may not want to buy one. Let’s go over, what I feel are the 4 important ones.

6. Size and Weight

Cots aren’t exactly tiny. There’s a reason you’ll rarely see a backpacker lug one around on a long trek. The bigger and more comfortable ones don’t fit in bags, packs, or on your back and are usually too bulky or heavy to carry for long periods of time by hand. This of course makes sense, it just comes down to what you’re doing and how much gear you can accommodate.

Camping cot size and weight

Even if you’re using a car, you might not want to take a cot with you, depending on the type (which I’ll go into a little further down). You may have a small trunk or little space in the back of your SUV where a large cot simply doesn’t fit and a sleeping pad does. Or you might be a minimalist who doesn’t want to pack a lot of “stuff” that takes away from your relaxation time. The point is cots are one more thing to worry about.

7. Setup Time

There’s a wide range of available cots out there and they all come with different types of set-ups. Some unfold while others inflate. The intricate ones need even more work to put together like inserting supporting poles into fabrics and more. You can even find duel-use bunk bed cots that turn into a makeshift couch! Check them out, they’re quite impressive.

Camping cot - setup

If you’re a person who hates putting your tent together in the first place, you might not want to add to your duties and incorporate a cot into your camp. Sometimes you just want to get everything in their place as quickly as possible and hit the hay. The idea of inflating a cot could be the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day or drive.

8. Cost

This is probably one of the biggest deterrents for most, especially if you’re new to camping or lean toward the penny-pinching end on the money spectrum. As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” A typical camp cot is about $100 but if you want to get fancy, it’ll be easy to spend $400-$500. That’s a hefty price to pay, no matter who you are.

Camping cot - cost

Usually, high-quality cots are pricier than sleeping pads. If you are on the fence about purchasing one, think of it as an investment. How light of a sleeper are you? What’s the price of comfort? Only. you can answer if it’s worth it or not.

9. Compatibility with Small Tents

Tents come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Dome, cabin, backpacking, sun shades or canopy covers, and more! A common feature among them all is limited space. Even if you have an 8-person tent, 8 people aren’t going to fit comfortably inside, especially if they’re all using cots and have loads of gear. A good piece of advice is to use one designed for more people than are in your group.

As you get smaller in tent size, this issue gets bigger. If you’re using a 2 or 3-person dome tent then forget about it. A cot is not going to work. You’ll spend more time navigating around it than you’ll want to, especially with another person sleeping next to you. To me, cots work best in large cabin tents, or extra-large dome tents. As long as you check the dimensions of each, you should be fine.

What to Look for When Purchasing a Camping Cot

Now that we’ve gone over the pros and cons of utilizing a camping cot, let’s go over which features to consider when shopping for one. Ask yourself what’s most important, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Some of these might not be an issue but it’s good to go over them nonetheless.

10. Dimensions

How much room is this thing going to take up? How heavy is it? Will it fit in your tent? How often are you going to use it? These are the questions you need to answer before making the proper decision. Even though camping cots aren’t known as being super heavy or massive, they aren’t exactly puny or feather-light either.

Did you know they make 2-person camping cots? Crazy right? Well if you’re planning on sleeping 2 or more, you’re going to need a queen-sized version plus the storage space required to transport it.

Always consider how much weight you can carry and how much space you have. If you’ll be camping out of your car, a heavier and more luxurious cot might be great, but if you’ll be moving from camp to camp, an ultralight cot is probably best. Pretty straightforward.

11. Weight Capacity

Not all cots are created equally. Some have limited weight limits depending on their use. Always check to see what the weight limit is for the cot you’re going to buy. If you’re a bigger person, the smaller cots should be avoided.

When calculating, take into account your gear as well. Some people like to sleep with their entire load on the cot with them each night. That could be an extra 30-50 lbs (13-22 kg). Most cots list their maximum weight capacity so it shouldn’t be hard to find. If you exceed this, you’ll run into issues with durability and comfort. When in doubt, get the stronger option.

12. Frame Material

This coincides with weight a bit, but it’s best to look for sturdier materials like aluminum or steel. You might find a cheap and flimsy option that’s constructed out of hard plastics, but I guarantee you it won’t last.

When choosing, keep in mind aluminum is lightweight and rust-resistant but more expensive. Steel on the other hand is stronger and cheaper but much heavier. Whatever you do, make sure the camping cot is well-made from a reputable company. The sudden jerk of collapsing on the floor in the middle of the night is not going to be fun.

13. Fabric Material

When you’re choosing a great camping cot, shoot for durable and rip-resistant fabrics like polyester or nylon. Again the cost might be higher, but you’ll only need to buy it one time, for a long time. Countless balmy options might last you a few nights or weeks, but don’t be surprised if the seams come undone or your keys rip through a thin cotton liner.

Some cots come with a padded or quilted surface sewn or built right in for added comfort. These are great for that little bit of “extra” you need but make sure the material is water-resistant and quick-drying. Nothings worst than packing up a water logged piece of equipment.

14. Ease of Setup

I know I spoke about this in the disadvantages section but it’s worth going over again. As you look for your perfect camping cot, take a second and watch a video or two on how they assemble. A cot might look simple and intuitive but end up being a headache to throw together.

Inflatable cots take time and, well, air to inflate. If so, does it require a pump or can you do it the old-fashioned way and use good ole lung power to get it going? Does the cot require tools to fasten together, or does it simply unfold right out of the box?

Ask yourself if the design makes sense to you and always practice setting it up once you get it. It might be tricky at first, but after a few tries, you shouldn’t have a problem.

15. Packed Size

This depends on what you’re using the camping cot for, but it’s a good idea to always check the cot’s dimensions while it’s folded up. If you have a giant van or RV, this probably isn’t an issue, but if you have limited storage space on your back or inside your vehicle, opt for a model that’s compact and suited for travel. 

Some, like the bunk bed example I gave earlier, take up a ton of room. If you’re bringing multiple cots, space might dwindle quickly. Keep it in mind as you look online.

16. Additional Features

If you want a deluxe camping experience or simply lounge around, there are plenty to choose from loaded with extra features. Cushioning, added storage, adjustable positioning, drink holders, and much much more. Of course, this adds to your comfort and convenience, but like with everything else in life, it’ll cost ya.

Some of these features might be useless to you as well. Do you need a drink holder on your cot? Seems a bit a much to me. When it comes down to it, get what you need, not what you might need. Here are some of the most common add ons –

Padding and Quilting

If you love falling asleep on your favorite lounger back home, opt for a sleeping cot that comes fitted with additional padding like the Kingdom Cot 3. As you can see, the added material is built right in. There’s no need to put an air mattress on top of it. You still can though :).

Other cots come with full-on mattresses or close to them. If you suffer from the princess and the pea syndrome, it might be a good idea to get a padded cot.

Storage Pockets

These come in handy for storing your flashlight, phone, keys, or water bottle at arm’s length throughout the night. If you’re somebody who loses things easily, especially when it’s dark out, pick a cot with this feature.

Side Tables

Going even further on the convenience train are cots with attachable side tables. Great for book lovers, coffee drinkers, or anyone who needs a place to put larger items a side pocket might not hold. If this is you and you can find one at a reasonable price, go for it! The Coleman Pack-Away is popular choice!

Adjustable Legs

The legs of some come individually adjustable which helps a ton when you’re camping on an uneven or slanted surface. It might be worth your wild to pick one of these up if you’ll be camping in the mountains or on overly rocky surfaces.

Different Types of Camping Cots

Ok, let’s quickly go over the main varieties of camping cots. I won’t go too much into this, but you might be wondering about a few of these so I think it’s appropriate to at least touch the surface.

17. Standard Cots

This will be the main style of camping cot you’ll come across. A traditional version usually features a metal frame and a fabric sleeping surface and not much more. It’s extremely basic. The one main thing it does is keep you off the ground.

They usually offer good support and baseline comfort. Unless you’ll need a specialty camping cot, this is most likely the type you’ll buy. A lot of camping cots fall under this category in one way or another.

18. Ultralight Cots

These are the little guys that weigh practically nothing and pack down easily and efficiently for storage inside or outside of your backpack. Since size and weight are the main priorities, comfort, and versatility take a back seat in importance. They are more expensive than a standard cot and normally aren’t as strong or rugged.

Unless you’ll be hiking or backpacking for days on end, carrying everything you need with you, don’t buy one of these for a regular camp outing.

19. Military-Style Cots

These are the stout and sturdy older brothers of a standard cot. They are built tougher with hefty steel frames and a heavy-duty canvas. The downside to them though is even when they’re packed down, they take up a lot of room and are heavy as hell. The entire point of them is consistent and harsh wear and tear.

So if you need something that’ll last for years and don’t want to spend a lot of money, this type might be for you. You can easily find one in an Army surplus store or online.

20. Folding Cots

Nowadays, most versions fold up in one way or another so this is more of a generic term than anything else. However, some old-school folk might only count ones that fold in half as a “folding camping cot” like the one below. I’m not a stickler like that but to each their own. 

There are a few different ways to fold up a camping cot so when you’re looking for the best option, try and find the one that looks like it’s the easiest to handle. They can range from basic to luxurious, but they’re all foldable somehow.

21. Inflatable Cots

If a traditional cot and an inflatable sleeping pad had a baby, this is what you’d get. They combine the support of one with the comfort of the other. These are nice for campers who have a lot of time on their hands but don’t want to bring multiple items. An all-in-one stop shop!

The downside is they tend to be bulkier and obviously require some sort of pump to make use of but they are probably the most pleasant way to sleep each night. They tend to range around $200-$300 so not exactly cheap either.

22. Tent Cots

As you may have already guessed, these are tents that are built with a cot foundation. Instead of setting the cot up inside the tent, the tent is on top of the cot, an all-in-one. The beauty of these is the ease of setup since you’re carrying fewer individual items. You can easily unfold it in a few steps since the two contraptions are essentially one unit.

The downside to these things is they are pretty cramped inside and you’ll probably have to store your gear outside since there’s hardly any extra room. Even the 2-person options skew to a tighter interior. Plus you’re stuck with it. Very few can be broken down separately. It all depends on what you’re looking for. 

Where to Buy a Camping Cot

There are many, many places to snag one but I highly recommend going with top-quality brands that have good reputations and specialize in the outdoor space. My top three retailers are REI, Coleman, and Backcountry. There are plenty more to choose from but if you don’t know where to start, check them out first.

23. Outdoor Retailers

Other popular spots include Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Camping World, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. They all offer a wide range of camping gear, including the best camping cots! If you have a store nearby, go visit. It’s always a good idea to get your hands on a piece of equipment, especially if you don’t have experience with it.

Usually, their staff is very knowledgeable so if you have questions, which I’m sure you will, they’ll be able to help you find the exact cot that’ll fit your needs.

24. Online Retailers

If you’re like most shoppers nowadays and do your purchasing online, check out the aforementioned retailer’s websites. They all have one. If none of those suit your specs, you can always visit general retail websites like Amazon, or Walmart.

If you do decide to go down a more generic route, reading up on all of the customer reviews is a must. The prices are going to be cheaper, so I feel it’s more of a gamble buying from one of these online sources.

25. Second-Hand Options

If you feel like rolling the dice and are strapped for cash, check out second-hand stores like Goodwill or websites like Craigslist and eBay. You might get lucky and find something great, but there are no guarantees.

Don’t be surprised if most are missing elements like a carry bag or need a little light maintenance to get into working order. Unless you have a great deal of time and patience, consider this your last resort.

Final Thoughts

I think cots are great, and are one of the best camping “extras” one can get. If you’re able to squeeze one in, both figuratively and literally, then I highly recommend investing in a good one. They’re handy indoors and make a huge difference outdoors! As long as you know what works for you and you do your proper research, you’ll have a good time!

Think about which features you want and which you can do without. Create a budget and start looking around. If you have any doubts, try and get yourself down to a retailer to test a few out. Also, read the user reviews, both good and bad, before deciding.

Don’t rush it. As long as you read some reviews and find a good-quality option that’s cozy, easy to set up, and portable, you’ll make a fantastic choice! Don’t forget to bring a pillow! 

With that, I wish you the best of luck on your next outdoor adventure. I hope it’s a good one!

Happy camping!

Author

  • James Ryan

    A seasoned hiker and adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. An extrovert and creative at heart, James is most definitely a "People Person". He started this blog in the hopes of making somebody's day just a bit brighter!

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