A Complete Guide To Camping Cots

A Complete Guide To Camping Cots

The next time you’re thinking of camping, consider the camping cot. Camping cots offer the best sleeping experience, while being cheap to maintain and set up.

Cots aren’t just for babies anymore. They’re the best sleeping beds for adults. Cheaper than beds, easier to set up and portable – we now live in an age where convenience is everything. Camping cots are the best convenient beds you can find.

In this guide, we will talk about what is a camping cot, brilliant uses, and reasons why camping cots are better than other alternatives such as air mattresses, that you would have never thought of.

What Is A Camping Cot?

Folded easy bed

Camping cot, camping bed, folding cot… we’ve all heard these words used before to describe the same item. But what exactly is it?

Camping cots are small portable beds commonly used when larger beds are not able to be used. They are generally quite light, made from a metal or wooden frame and covered in canvas, nylon or polyester.

This makes camping cots easy to move around the house or take on a trip. Thus, they are ideal for emergency services, the army, or just people who love to spend time in the outdoors.

Where Camping Cots Excel

Before you buy a camping cot, you need to know all the advantages and uses of it. So let's check it out.


After a long day of hiking, it’s important to get a lot of good rest so you’re prepared for the next day. A feather bed isn’t in the cards and the last thing you want to do is sleep on the cold, hard, rocky ground. Avoid getting a bad back. Make your next camping trip comfortable with a camping cot – no need to sleep on the ground with the slugs and other bugs!

The light weight of the camping cot makes them easy to fold up and carry on your back, making them the best choice when you don’t have to carry your cot for a long distance. Cots are generally one-size fits all (although you can get cots that come in different sizes) so it is easy to calculate how much room in each tent will be devoted to your camping cot.

You can also store your belongings underneath your camping cot, so that they take up less room in your tent.

Army/Base Camps And Research Trips

Long term camping, as required when in the army or as a researcher out in the field, isn’t particularly fun if you don’t have a proper bed for months. In order to perform to our best ability at work, we need a proper night’s sleep.

Adding in the slight extra weight of the camping cot with pillow and foam mattress will provide you with extended comfort and warmth over months. The temperature will change over the months and the camping cot is suitable for all temperatures. The cold air between the cot and the ground will keep you cool in the hot weather.

When it starts to get colder, some camping cots also come with additional foam mattresses that you can slot in to keep to cold out.

If your camping cot doesn’t come with a foam mattress, they are a cheap add-on.

It’ll reduce the number of times you wake up grouchy and make you a much friendlier and agreeable person to work with.

The camping cot with pillow

Emergency Situations

In the event of an emergency, such as after an earthquake, there may be many victims and patients, all of whom need a place to lay down while doctors and nurses attend to them.

The availability and simplicity of setting up camping cots removes an element of stress from an already traumatic event. Camping cots provide quick and easy access to a resting area and serve well as impromptu hospital beds during a time of crisis.

Camping cots provide quick and easy access to a resting area and serve well as impromptu hospital beds during a time of crisis.

The camping cots are a good choice since they are raised off the ground. This allows patients to sit on the edge of the cot for examination. It also decreases the chances someone will accidentally step on a patient since they are not lying on the ground.

Doctors and nurses will also find it easier on their backs since they do not have to stoop all the way to the ground to examine patients.

Extra Guests

Got some extra people staying over the Christmas and not enough beds? Set them up in a folding cot. They take up less space than an air mattress and no tired feet from pumping up your air mattress. Even nana can put up a sleeping cot without any trouble.

Features Of A Good Camping Cot

Camping oversize green cot

Choosing the right type of frame and fabric is important. The camping cotneeds to be folded away easily. Different frames can support different amounts of weight so it is important to make sure you find one that suits your needs.

The fabric needs to be easily washed and comfortable to sleep in. Most importantly, it needs to be easy to move.


The best camping cots will have fabric made of nylon or polyester which can help insulate and keep you warm. Try to avoid canvas as it is quite heavy. Canvas is also a lot harder to clean when it gets dirty.

The canvas camping cot does provide quite the hipster appearance, so if you want to appear trendy among your friends, go for it.


The frame should be rust-resistant, lightweight yet durable. For these reasons, an aluminium frame is the most common material used. If you’re looking for a camping cot that can support a much heavier load, look for a frame made of steel. Steel frames may be heavier but are sturdier.

Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations about how much weight your camping cot can support.

You should also be able to fold the frame repeatedly and reassemble your folding cot without trouble. This will take up less space, making them easy to store under your bed or in your wardrobe. It’ll also be easy to stack on the roof of the car for when you’re taking your camping cot on a trip.

The simplest cots unfold along their joints and can be secured into place without any assembly required. These are usually your standard aluminium cot. Check the location of joints and crossbars on your camping cot! It will not be very comfortable sleeping on a cot with a hard bit of metal poking you in the back all night.

The legs of the camping cot come in different styles: X shaped legs and U shaped legs.

U Shaped Legs

U shaped legs are typically found on frames that can be folded two or three times, with the legs folding into and underneath the frame. The design of these legs allows the camping cot to distribute the weight of the sleeper more evenly.

These frames are ideal for indoor use since the better weight distribution reduces the amount of stress placed on the carpet. Cots with U-shaped legs do not require any assembly, so are ideal for beginners.

X Shaped Legs

These are the cots most commonly used by the army. They are very popular with campers and can be found in all sizes.

If you’re looking for a comfy king-sized cot, then they will come in the style of X-shaped legs. Heavy-duty cots to support large weights also typically have X-shaped legs.

X shaped legs on a camping cot.

Leg assembly of these types of frames is also quite fiddly, so it is important to read up about assembly of this type of cot before you go camping with it.


With the camping cot raised above the ground, this allows cool air to get in underneath while you are sleeping. The best camping cots are better insulated against the cold draft coming from underneath. This may come in the form of an extra built-in foam mattress or a thicker mat.


Standard cots for everyday use generally come in one size however, other sizes can be available. Try to find one that is suited to you. If you are someone who tends to roll around in your sleep, it may be worth investing in a wider cot to prevent bumping into the side rails in the night.

Difference Between Air Mattresses, Sleeping Pads And Hammocks

Using a camping cot is just one option out of many others, if you do not have access to a bed. So what are the similarities and differences between them?

The only similarity is that they all provide a sleeping platform. That’s it. Beyond their common function, there are many differences and here are the pros and cons of each one.

Camping Cots Vs Air Mattresses

An air mattress (or air bed) is an inflatable mattress. Air mattresses are usually made from plastic (such as PVC) or rubber. They are usually stored deflated and rolled up, so they take up a lot less space and are a lot lighter to carry on a camping trip or to keep stored for guests.

Since they are filled with air, they are quite buoyant and can also be used for lounging in a swimming pool, unlike a camping bed.

Advantages of air mattress:

  • More portable and easier to store than a camping cot
  • Extra fun use as a water toy

Disadvantages of air mattresses:

  • Need to be inflated
  • Can slide around
  • Prone to tears
  • No storage space under the air mattress – so items in your tent take up a lot of space.

The biggest disadvantage in an air mattress is inflating them.

Some mattresses require you to blow up the mattress using a valve. Not ideal if you’re asthmatic or are extremely tired from a day’s worth of hiking. Imagine having to blow up two air mattresses. Shudder.

Other mattresses have a pump of some sort, usually operated by the foot. Slightly better than blowing up a massive balloon, but you are sure to have sore arms and/or feet by the end of the inflating session. Again, you would not really want to inflate more than one air mattress in this manner.

Sleeping platform in tent

Fancier air mattresses are self-inflating; they either have an electric pump or you just have to open a valve on the side of the mattress.

Self-inflation occurs up to an extent however – if you want the mattress fully inflated, you will need to do that manually.

Another disadvantage of air mattresses is that they may slide around in the night if you move around too much. With cots, the legs don’t allow for the cot to move, no matter how much you toss and turn.

Furthermore, since the cot has legs, you can store bags underneath your cot while you’re camping so they’re out of the way and you have more space in your tent.

Air mattresses are not made of impenetrable material. It is still possible for them to tear when mistreated but these tears can be fixed. This can still cause a bit of a surprise in the middle of the night when your mattress suddenly deflates.

Although air mattresses are typically placed on the floor, it is possible to find air beds that are raised slightly off the ground. These ones are intended for use over a short period since the bed base is air and not solid.

Camping Cots Vs Sleeping Pads

There is not much difference between a sleeping pad and an air mattress. Compared with an air mattress, sleeping pads are usually smaller and are less thick. Sleeping pads can be either inflatable or made of foam and come in a variety of sizes.

Not all sleeping pads are inflatable, so there is no worry of deflation present in air mattresses. Since sleeping pads are placed on the ground, it provides more insulation than the air flow which is present underneath camping cots and also the air in an air mattress. However, there are still some disadvantages of a sleeping pad…

Advantages of sleeping pads:

  • Provide more insulation
  • Cheaper
  • No worry of deflation
  • Comes in a lot of sizes

Disadvantages of sleeping pads:

  • On the ground
  • Not as much padding
  • No storage space underneath a sleeping pad
  • Not as easy to get up

With sleeping pads being on the ground compared with air mattresses or camping cots, you will be near all the bugs crawling around. Unlike a camping cot, there is no storage space underneath a sleeping pad, so all your belongings will spread out around your tent and clutter the area.

Sleeping pads are smaller and less thick and they do not offer as much padding compared with air mattresses.

This could make for a long night on a rocky surface if you’re outside – not much better than just sleeping without the sleeping pad!

Blue sleeping pad for camping

It’s not as easy to get up in the morning with a sleeping pad. We are so used to sitting up in bed and swinging our legs over the side of our bed every morning, we don’t even think about it. On a sleeping pad, you can’t swing out your legs and stand.

With a camping cot, you can wake up and get out of the cot just like every other morning. You can even tie up your shoes while sitting on your cot – something you can’t do on a sleeping pad.

Camping Cot Vs Hammock

A hammock is a type of sling made from canvas and suspended at the ends by two trees or poles. The fabric has enough strength to support your body weight while also being lightweight and easy to fold up and pack into your belongings.

The hammock is quite different to the other options that are listed above. Despite the romance of sleeping in a hammock on a tropical island, they are not very practical and here are the reasons why.

Advantages of hammocks:

  • Keeps you cool in the summer
  • Novel

Disadvantages of hammocks:

  • Can’t set up inside a tent
  • No insulation
  • Mostly suitable only for good weather
  • Not sleeping on a flat surface
  • Hard to get in and out

Hammocks are big. They need two supporting structures in order for you to hang them up. Therefore, it’s not possible to set them up inside a tent, unlike a camping cot. To successfully sleep with a hammock, a tarpaulin will be required if it starts to rain. Some hammocks come with their own built-in shelter for added convenience.

There is no insulation at all in a hammock. Both the hammock and the camping cot is raised off the ground so it’s great for keeping away from the bugs. But this means a lot of cold air flowing around you in the middle of the night.

Hammock for camping

Camping cots are suitable in all seasons, but hammocks are mostly only suitable in the summer.

Sleeping in a hammock is a real experience as you’re not sleeping on a hard and flat surface.

It may take a bit of time to adjust. This can leave you waking up in the morning with aches rather than feeling fully relaxed.

Lastly, it’s not as easy to get in and out of a hammock. You have sunk into a little dip in the hammock overnight. Now the very first task to tackle in the morning is how to climb out of a hammock without doing a 360 degree flip. With the sleeping cot, you only need to swing your legs out and go about your day.

Accessorize Your Camping Cot

Camping is becoming very popular now and as can be expected, a whole range of accessories have been introduced to make our camping experience more enjoyable. There is the bog standard pillows and sleeping bags. Sleeping bag liners are a great addition to help keep out the cold.

Luxury cots can come with extra padding, providing extra comfort and warmth to the user. These cots are heavier and larger (and also slightly more expensive) so are not very practical for a three day camp. If the cot is being used for an extended period of time, then a little extra effort and money can go a long way into making your nights more comfortable.

For something more flexible, you can use a foam mattress or a sleeping pad with your camping bed. They’re lighter, easier to transport and it will keep the cost of your camping cot low. The addition of a foam mattress can also remove the pain of sleeping on badly positioned crossbars on your camping cot.

For cots with X-shaped legs, it is possible to find caps and reinforcements for the ends of the legs (if they are not already provided).

These fortify the frame and prevent too much bending of the legs, as the legs are positioned at an angle to the ground and are prone to bending from extended use.

Sleeping bags for camping

The caps on the ends of the legs also prevent your camping cot from sliding around too much. In the event that the cot does end up moving around, the caps prevent the legs from catching on the fabric of the carpet.

Camping cots are made of metal and as with most metal objects with joints, they can become squeaky over time. Just a bit of lubricant can remove the squeak from those joints.

It is recommended that you use a Teflon or silicone spray and not oil when lubricating the camping cot. This is because the oil leaves the joint wet, which can accumulate dirt and also get onto fabric which comes into contact with the joint (e.g. the fabric of the cot or your clothes).

Which Camping Cot Should You Buy?

Now that you are armed with basic camping cot knowledge, you are ready to find your first camping cot suited to your needs.

Be sure to check out the camping cot buying guide for recommendations and best picks from a variety of camping cots for different uses, such as the basic camping cot for a first time camper or something more refined for the more experienced hiker.

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