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How to Choose a Cot for Camping

A cot can be an option to get you off the ground on your next backcountry camping trip.
By Marissa Fox ⋅ Review Editor
Monday April 6, 2020
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Picking out the perfect sleeping solution for the great outdoors can be quite the difficult task — hard enough that you might actually lose some sleep over it! Fortunately, we are here to help you find the perfect camping cot for your next adventure, whether you need it for a quick car camping trip or a multi-day outing. We break down the different types of cots available, the pros and cons of each, and what they are best suited for, as well as if you even need a cot or if you would be better served by some other sleeping arrangement.

We will readily admit that a camping cot isn't the right solution for many people.
We will readily admit that a camping cot isn't the right solution for many people.

Cots for Camping? Do I Really Need One?


When it comes to these products, we find that plenty of manufacturers have taken quite the liberty when designating their product for campers, as many are so large and heavy that we have a hard time imagining them on any camping trip that doesn't involve fully-walled tents and semi-permanent basecamps. Even the allegedly "ultralight cots" are quite a bit larger and heavier than the comparable camp bed or camp pad. However, these products do have their place. They can be significantly more comfortable than a camp pad, particularly for side sleepers. Some of these cots are so comfortable that we thought nothing of using them as an extra bed for guests or even taking an afternoon nap on them — for testing purposes, of course.

Cots are a very comfortable way to camp if you aren't restricted when it comes to the amount of gear you can bring.
Cots are a very comfortable way to camp if you aren't restricted when it comes to the amount of gear you can bring.

Cots are also a nice option if there is a benefit to being off the ground. Think desert camping, where some distance between spiders, scorpions, and other creepy-crawlies isn't a bad thing. While these products are nice, we do think of them as a bit of a luxury and 100% wouldn't say that they are a necessary piece of gear for most people, though there are some exceptions. They are great for someone who struggles to sleep on a traditional camp pad. Many cots are a few feet of the ground, making them easier for folks with mobility problems to get in and out of. If you routinely camp in a situation where the weight of your gear isn't an issue, then, by all means, go for a fancy cot and enjoy a restful night of sleep from your lofty perch

Types of Camping Cots


We found camping cots seem to be split into two camps: standard and ultralight. Standard cots are generally 10-30 pounds and are made with a heavy-duty metal frame and a canvas or other fabric bed to sleep on. They are a great option for extended stays or if you want to sleep off the ground but can be a bit cumbersome and hard to carry. Ultralight cots, as the name suggests, are considerably lighter, with a composite frame. These cots fold up small and light enough to strap to a pack, weighing less than 5 pounds or so, but you do make some concessions when it comes to comfort and cost. As with everything ultralight, you can expect to pay a premium.

The Helinox Lite is a little on the large side for our tastes when it comes to backpacking but you can strap it to a pack without too much difficulty.
The Helinox Lite is a little on the large side for our tastes when it comes to backpacking but you can strap it to a pack without too much difficulty.

Step 1: Who's Carrying It?


The first thing to consider when deciding which camping cot to buy is to think about who or what is going to be carrying it. If you are planning on carrying the cot yourself for any amount of distance, then you are going to want to stick with an ultralight model — or rethink if a sleeping pad really isn't going to cut it.

If you only need to carry the cot a short distance, less than 10-15 minutes, then some of the standard cots can also be acceptable. This might be a walk-in campground or even carrying a cot down to the beach for an afternoon nap. If this is the case, then we would recommend going with some of the smaller standard cots and looking specifically at ones that zip nicely into a bag with a carrying hand.

This is the typical size for most cots when packed up.
This is the typical size for most cots when packed up.

However, if you are car camping and weight isn't going to be a concern, then even the largest cots are a good option. This is probably going to be the case for most people using these products, so you should look at other aspects besides ease of transport when making your purchase decision.

A good cot can make your camping experience much more enjoyable.
A good cot can make your camping experience much more enjoyable.

Step 2: How Long Are You Staying?


The next thing to think about when picking a cot is how long you are planning on sleeping on it. These cots can be a bit of a pain to assemble or disassemble, so it can be a bit of a pain if you are having to set them up and break them down every night.

Backpacking cots can be quite frustrating to set up and break down every night.
Backpacking cots can be quite frustrating to set up and break down every night.

However, there are a few models that are substantially easier to break down and put together compared to the rest, so we would suggest you pay attention to how models scored in our ease of setup tests if you are only going to be taking shorter trips or moving camps frequently.

Most cots are better for extended trips than for a single overnight stay.
Most cots are better for extended trips than for a single overnight stay.

If you are going for an extended period, then we suggest you go for a larger, more comfortable model even if it's a bit harder to put together.

The bedside organizer is a nice way to keep your camp from getting cluttered.
The bedside organizer is a nice way to keep your camp from getting cluttered.

Step 3: Smitten by Special Features?


The last thing to consider when choosing the perfect cot is to look for any special features that might be particularly interesting. Now, there isn't much in the way of features that you can add to a cot but there are a few. A handful of cots come with bedside organizers or cup holders, which can be a handy way to keep all your stuff organized or a glass of water close at hand.

Cupholders make everything better!
Cupholders make everything better!

Some other models also come with either rubber pads on the legs to prevent scratching the waterproof coating on the floor of your tent. Other models give you the option to purchase non-marring feet separately or, to be honest, a tennis ball cut with a slit can do the job just as well.

Conclusion


We hope that this has been a helpful guide when it comes to picking out the perfect camping cot. If you can camp comfortably, you're likely to camp more! Plus, your guest with thank you after a night on a comfy cot rather than having to sleep on o lumpy couch, or the floor.

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