Choosing the Best Camping Cot – The Definitive Guide

post updated October 9, 2017

Do you want to stay warmer, be more comfortable, sleep better… and simply have more fun while camping? Of course you do! The number 1 complaint of campers is sleeping poorly, yet 99% of them have never even heard of a camping cot. Sleeping on a camping cot is the easiest way to dramatically improve your comfort and once you try one it’s hard to go back!

Let’s learn a bit more about choosing the best camping cot for your next outdoor adventure.

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 WORK BEST

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 the extra weight and bulk are worthwhile tradeoffs for extra comfort. Because they have a rigid frame and are off the ground, they are easier to get in and out of like your bed at home. Cots can also extend your living space by allowing you to store your gear underneath them.

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.

FRAME

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.

FABRIC

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.

SIZE

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.

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.

PORTABILITY

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.

 

SO, WHAT’S THE BEST CAMPING COT?

Like most things in life, there’s not really a single best choice. Picking the best camping cot really depends on how you’re going to use it.

COTS FOR CAR CAMPING

Cots are great for car campers who don’t have to lug gear very far and don’t enjoy sleeping on the ground. If you really want comfort and luxury in the woods, consider one of the plush cots with extra padding. The extra comfort provides a better night’s rest and you can even use the cot as a lounger around the camp fire.

COTS FOR BACKPACKING

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 reviews and recommendations are below.

OUR CAMPING COT REVIEWS

MOST COMFORTABLE CAMPING COT

CHINOOK PADDED HEAVY DUTY COT

WEIGHT: 17.45 pounds
FOLDED DIMENSIONS:
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 80 x 33 x 20 inches
COT MATERIALS: 600 denier nylon fabric
FRAME MATERIAL: aluminum
BEST FOR: car camping

the chinook heavy duty padded camping cot offers the ultimate in comfort and luxury in the outdoors

The Chinook Padded Heavy Duty 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. This padded cot is also comfortable enough to work well as a guest bed at home.

BEST COT FOR BACKPACKING

THERM-A-REST ULTRALITE COT

WEIGHT: 3 pounds; down to a minimum of 2 pounds 10 ounces
FOLDED DIMENSIONS: 16 x 4 inches
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 72 x 24 inches
COT MATERIALS: ripstop polyester laminate
FRAME MATERIAL: aluminum
BEST FOR: backpacking

the therm-a-rest ultralite camping cot is the best choice for a lightweight backpacking cot

The UltraLite 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 backpacking cot, though, is that you’re going to lay very close to the ground. But if you are looking for the best lightweight cot, this is the one for you.

RUNNER UP: BIG AGNES HELINOX COT LITE

BEST CAMPING COT FOR TWO / BEST DOUBLE COT

KAMP RITE DOUBLE KWIK COT

WEIGHT: 33 pounds
FOLDED DIMENSIONS: 42 x 11 x 11 inches
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 85 x 55 x 19 inches
MATERIALS: 600 denier canvas
FRAME MATERIAL: powder coated steel
BEST FOR: two person camping, car camping

kamp rite double kwik cot is the best two person camping cot

The Kamp Rite Double Kwik Cot is the optimal choice for fitting two people on a single cot. It’s 55″ across, an amazing 15″ wider than the Teton Sports XXL Camp Cot which is already pretty wide itself. There’s plenty of room for two people to sleep side by side comfortably. Be warned that there is a support bar running down the middle so it can be tricky to cuddle with a partner. This is a structural necessity and common to all double cots. However, a lot of campers place a memory foam pad or inflatable mattress on top to eliminate that issue. With the additional padding, you can even use the Double Kwik Cot as an extra wide cot for a single person.

RUNNER UP: TETON SPORTS XXL CAMP COT

BEST CHEAP CAMPING COT

COLEMAN TRAILHEAD II COT

WEIGHT: 18 pounds
FOLDED DIMENSIONS: 40 x 8 x 4 inches
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 70 x 30 x 17 inches
COT MATERIALS: polyester
FRAME MATERIAL: steel
BEST FOR: car camping

the coleman trailhead 2 camping cot is your basic no frills military style cot - a great value

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 cheap cot is a great starter option especially if you’re unsure about investing in a more expensive cot.

BEST HEAVY DUTY CAMPING COT

TETON SPORTS OUTFITTER XXL CAMP COT

WEIGHT: 26 pounds
FOLDED DIMENSIONS: 42 x 12 x 7 inches
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 85 x 40 x 19 inches
MATERIALS: 600 denier poly canvas
FRAME MATERIAL: steel & aluminum
BEST FOR: car camping, long term camping

the teton sports outfitter xxl is an extra wide and heavy duty camping 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 also 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 heavy duty cot is a great choice.

RUNNER UP: TEXSPORT KING KOT GIANT FOLDING COT

BEST TENT COT

KAMP-RITE TENT COT

WEIGHT: 34 pounds
FOLDED DIMENSIONS: 36 x 34 x 7 inches
UNFOLDED DIMENSIONS: 90 x 32 x 36 inches
COT MATERIALS: 190T nylon
FRAME MATERIAL: steel
BEST FOR: car camping, back yard camping

kamp-rite-cot-tent-camping-cot

The Kamp-Rite line of tent cots combine the benefits of off the ground sleeping with the protection of a tent all in one package. There are other brands making tent cots, but Kamp-Rite makes the best. 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 also collapse the canopy to convert it into a regular cot and even turn it into a lounger. While this camping cot seems a bit gimmicky, tent cot camping is slowly gaining in popularity. It’s actually a great option for those who are not used to camping in a tent or sleeping outside.

CAMPING COT FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Should I choose a camping cot, air mattress (air bed), or air pad?

Cots and mattresses are very comfortable but don’t provide insulation. In fact, blow up mattresses can even leave you colder due to convection sapping your heat away. Camping cots and blow up air mattresses also keep you a bit off the ground so it’s easier to get in and out of them like a bed. Air pads are generally not as comfortable and closer to the ground, but come in various levels of insulation. Air pads are also the lightest and most packable option so ideal for backpacking. Backpacking specific cots are packable but air mattresses are heavy, bulky, and not meant to be very portable. If you’re car camping or base camping, cots and inflatable air mattresses are great choices. If you’re backpacking, air pads (and backpacking cots) are your options.

How do I stay warm sleeping on a camping cot?

If you’re unable to stay warm using just a sleeping bag, you need extra insulation between yourself and the cot. Sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping air which is a great insulator. But the insulating material that’s underneath you is compressed and unable to loft up to trap air. Instead, you can add a foam sleeping pad or insulated air pad for extra insulation.

My camping cot is squeaky, what should I do?

When under tension, cot frames can squeak at the joints or where they rub against the sleeping surface. The solution is to use a dry lubricant spray that won’t leave any messy residue.

Are camping cots comfortable?

Yes, they definitely are! Comfort is the primary reason campers choose cots over sleeping on the ground. To maximize comfort, try a padded cot or use extra cushioning (foam or air pads).

How much do camping cots cost?

There’s a fairly large price range for camping cots. The most basic cots start around $40. The higher end cots (larger sleeping surface, stronger materials, extra padding, etc.) can cost over $100. No matter your budget you can probably find a camping cot to suit your needs.

Are camping cots difficult to setup?

Modern cots are well designed and should only take a few moments to properly setup. Some of the backpacking style cots are slightly more involved but even those are a snap to assemble.


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Showing 4 comments
  • James Fur

    Is it OK to use the chinook cot in a tent? I’m afraid of ripping a hole in the floor.

    • Alan C.

      Hey James – it should be OK but it really depends on the thickness of your tent floor and what you’re camping on. Soft forest duff is forgiving. Rocky terrain is less so. Out here in California I’m often setup on abrasive granite and have had to patch up my tent floor numerous times. If you’re worried you can buy rubber furniture coasters or even use small pieces of scrap carpet or thick fabric.

  • Sheila Wolfe

    Thank you for your wonderful information! My 65 yr old husband has 2 artificial hips and needs a cot that is high off the ground as it is difficult to bend down very far to get onto a standard height cot. Plus he weighs ~240, 5’10” tall. What do you recommend? THANKS!!!

    • Alan C.

      Hi Sheila,

      I’m glad you found the information on cots useful! Unfortunately I’ve never found many cots that go beyond the standard 19″ height.

      There are a couple choices at 20″ tall that you might want to try. They both can support your husband’s weight.

      Timber Ridge XL Camp Cot – http://amzn.to/2zuuOm5
      Texsport King Kot – http://amzn.to/23zMYZN

      Good luck!

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