A camping cot is a relatively lightweight, collapsible bed that is ideal for some camping situations. It consists of a metal or wooden hinged frame bed overlaid with strong fabric that serves as the sleeping base. A camping cot collapses easily to fit inside of a car or on top of a car’s roof. Unlike a regular cot which may only fold once and take up quite a bit of space, a camping cot is designed to fold repeatedly and take up as little room as possible. The best camping cots are made of rust-resistant metal and nylon or polyester.
CAMPING COT ADVANTAGES
The main advantage of camping cots is that they keep you elevated off the ground. On rocky terrain this can really boost your overall comfort and ensure a good night’s rest. For some campers who have trouble getting up and down, an elevated bed can make a big difference. They are also great for relaxing and simply lounging about a campsite.
Being off the ground also helps you regulate temperature. Cold air naturally settles and at night the cold ground can also sap away your body heat via conduction. A camping cot can help mitigate both those issues by keeping you off the ground. In warmer conditions, a cot can also help keep you cooler by allowing air to freely circulate both above and below you.
Some campers will also sleep on a cot without a tent. This is a great way to feel more connected to the outdoors.
WHERE CAMPING COTS SHINE
Camping cots are great choices for car camping, canoe camping, or supported bike trips where you don’t have to physically carry your cot very far. They are also great for long term camping situations like base camps and research trips where it’s worth it to pack in extra weight and bulk for extended comfort.
CAMPING COT CONSIDERATIONS
If you’re looking to purchase a camping cot, comfort, weight, and portability are the most important factors. The most comfortable cots are generally heavier and not suited for being carried long distances. Very light and portable cots can be very expensive. Oversized or extra strong camping cots also come at a price premium. Let’s review the considerations in more detail.
One of the core components of a cot is its frame and support structure. Most camping cot frames are made of aluminum which is strong yet lightweight. Heavy duty cots are made with steel frames which can withstand heavier weight before bending or failing under load. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s weight rating before you buy a cot.
Camping cots are designed with three main leg styles. There are cots with vertical legs, military style X legs, and legs connected by a horizontal bar in a C shape. The latter design is often found on cheaper cots and is more suited for indoor use. If you plan on using your cot inside a tent you’ll want to make sure your cot legs have rubber end caps. It’s a common issue for cot legs to puncture, tear, or generally abrade the floor of a tent.
Therm-a-rest even sells separate coasters that attach to the feet of their cots just for this purpose.
Modern cots are made of single layer polyester or nylon fabric which is supportive and easy to clean. Avoid cots with cotton canvas fabric which is heavier and retains dirt and stains. But if you really want that retro look, go for it. You can also buy cots with mesh fabric which is cooler for warm weather camping.
COMFORT AND SUPPORT
Camping cots rely on fabric tension and/or spring systems to provide a supportive sleeping surface. Some tension systems are adjustable so you can dial in your level of support and comfort. Some spring systems can also be fine tuned by adding, removing or relocating the supports.
As mentioned above, there are also cots that come with extra padding. Some are so plush that they nearly resemble recliners. These padded models offer extra comfort but are heavier and bulkier. Alternatively you can use a foam mattress topper or camping pad for extra warmth and cushioning. This is a more flexible option.
Be wary of cheap models with ill positioned crossbars. Everyone knows the pain of sleeping on a pull out couch with a cross bar right under your back.
The average cot dimensions are roughly 25 inches wide and 75 inches long when opened. This is generally large enough to accommodate most adults. However, there are longer cots for taller campers and shorter ones designated as youth models. Extra wide cots are up to 40 inches across and these tend to be the heavy duty models which also support the most weight.
Your average, aluminum framed camping cot is going to weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Choosing a heavy duty, steel or oversized cot will add extra weight. Cots with extra padding will also be heavier. On the other end of the scale are cots that only weigh 2-3 pounds and are designed for back country use.
If you are choosing a cot for a permanent or semi-permanent structure, weight isn’t as big of an issue. But the more you move around, the more you’ll want something that isn’t too heavy.
All cots designed for camping will collapse to a degree for ease of transport and storage. Some fold over into small sections and others disassemble completely. The packed size and weight are what determine portability.
The most portable cots pack down into the size of a 1-2 person tent and only weigh 2-4 pounds. These cots are even marketed as a viable option for backpackers. The downside to these minimalist cots is that they usually sit very low to the ground, may have a lower weight capacity, and may not be as durable. But such is the case with all outdoor gear designed to be lightweight and portable.
Most folding cots will come with a simple carrying bag with shoulder straps to aid transportation.
EASE OF ASSEMBLY
Packing your cot in is the first step. Setting it up is the next. The most simple cot designs are very straightforward; they just unfold along joints and snap into place. Your run of the mill aluminum frame cots work this way.
More innovative cot designs require some slight assembly. For example, setting up the Therm-a-Rest® UltraLite Cot is almost like setting up a tent. You have to snap shock cord poles together, thread them through the fabric, assemble the tension springs, and insert them into the cot body. But even these more ‘complex’ cots are still a breeze to setup and only take a few minutes. If you can setup a tent you can setup a cot.
CONCLUSION – WHAT’S THE BEST CAMPING COT?
Like most things in life, there’s not really a single best choice. Choosing the best camping cot really depends on how you’re going to use it.
If you’re a car camper who likes to bring all the extras and values comfort and luxury in the woods, consider one of the sturdier cots with extra padding. You’ll appreciate the extra comfort while sleeping and can even use it to lounge around the camp fire.
If you’re a lightweight backpacker you might want to consider taking a camping cot into the back country. Both the Big Agnes Helinox Cot Lite and Therm-a-rest UltraLight Cot weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. These are packable cots meant for easy travel. You can even setup one of these under a tarp or bug net and leave the tent at home. It’s definitely an option to think about.
And of course there’re plenty of cot choices for campers somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum. Our camping cot recommendations are below.
OUR CAMPING COT RECOMMENDATIONS
MOST COMFORTABLE CAMPING COT
CHINOOK PADDED OUTFITTER COT
The Chinook Padded Outfitter Cot is one of the most comfortable cots out there due to its built in foam padding and pillow. It weighs nearly 18 pounds as it’s built with a heavy duty, aluminum frame and tough, 600 denier nylon fabric that will hold up well over time. The backrest is adjustable via a couple of knobs so you can raise it to double as a lounger. The feet are also height adjustable so you can level the cot on slightly uneven ground. There’s no assembly required and the cot simply folds open along two sets of joints. The Chinook Padded Outfitter Cot is also comfortable enough to work well as a guest bed at home.
WEIGHT: 17.45 pounds
DIMENSIONS: 80 x 33 x 20 inches open; 10 x 30.5 x 34 inches folded
MATERIALS: aluminum; 600 denier nylon fabric
BEST FOR: car camping
BEST COT FOR BACKPACKING
THERM-A-REST LUXURYLITE ULTRALITE COT
The LuxuryLite Ultra Lite cot is one of the lightest and most packable camping cots on the market. If you want to bring the comfort of a cot into the backcountry, this is the one for you. It has a unique bowframe design that provides support and tension. Setup only takes a few minutes and you can customize where you place the shock cord poles to adjust the level of support and comfort. You can even leave one set of the poles at home if you’re counting the ounces and want to reduce weight. One drawback with this type of cot, though, is that you’re going to lay very close to the ground.
WEIGHT: 3 pounds; down to a minimum of 2 pounds
DIMENSIONS: 72 x 24 inches open; 16 x 5 inches packed
MATERIALS: aluminum; polyester ripstop
BEST FOR: backpacking
RUNNER UP: BIG AGNES HELINOX COT LITE
BEST VALUE FOR THE MONEY CAMPING COT
COLEMAN TRAILHEAD II COT
The Coleman Trailhead II is a basic, no frills military style cot. Like a lot of Coleman products, this cot is all about simplicity and affordability. It won’t be the most comfortable or the lightest, but it will get the job done. This durable, steel framed camping cot is a great starter option.
WEIGHT: 18 pounds
DIMENSIONS: 70 x 30 x 17 inches open; 40 x 8 x 4 inches folded
MATERIALS: steel; polyester
BEST FOR: car camping
BEST HEAVY DUTY CAMPING COT
TETON SPORTS OUTFITTER XXL CAMP COT
The Teton Sports XXL Camp Cot is one of largest and most durable cots out there. It’s built with a combination of aluminum and steel for extra strength and has a durable 600 denier poly canvas top. This oversized camping cot is a great choice for larger campers as it’s wider than a twin bed and able to support up to 600 pounds. If you need a true workhorse piece of gear, this is the cot for you.
WEIGHT: 26 pounds
DIMENSIONS: 85 x 40 x 19 inches open; 42 x 12 x 7 inches folded
MATERIALS: steel & aluminum; 600 denier poly canvas
BEST FOR: car camping, long term camping
RUNNER UP: TEXSPORT KING KOT GIANT FOLDING COT
ENCLOSED CAMPING COT
KAMP-RITE TENT COT
The Kamp-Rite line of tent cots combine the benefits of off the ground sleeping with the protection of a tent. The frame is made of sturdy steel and provides a very large sleeping surface that’s comparable to the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL. The domed nylon canopy provides decent headroom and has mesh panels to allow air flow but keep bugs out. You can collapse the canopy to convert it into a regular cot and also turn it into a lounger via a hinge. While this camping cot seems a bit gimmicky, it’s a serious option for someone who wants to sleep off the ground but not purchase a cot and tent separately. But yea, this cot is obviously very heavy.
WEIGHT: 34 pounds
DIMENSIONS: 90 x 32 x 36 inches open; 36 x 34 x 7 folded
MATERIALS: steel; 190T nylon
BEST FOR: car camping, back yard camping