Cot vs Air Mattress For Camping – Which Is Better


I  have seen some people asking this question about a cot vs air mattress for camping. So what do you think, which is better? Here I give some of my thoughts on this issue.

I guess it is fair to say that this is a completely individual thing and nobody can tell you what better for you is. If you are used to using one or another option then you know what you want. But if you are still undecided, here are some facts to consider.

Slumberjack Big Lux Cot comes with an integrated pad.
Slumberjack Big Lux Cot comes with an integrated pad.

Some wrong statements I noticed about pads

“A pad is on the ground and it provides more insulation than air under you.”

This is not so simple. Here you have conductivity playing the role. Without going into details (more on Wikipedia); you lose around 50 times more body heat to the ground than to the air under you.

So if you are on the ground you need far more insulation; on a cot you can manage with a very thin pad.

“Pads are cheaper.”

This is partly related to the previous statement. You have to be well insulated if you are on the ground, so you will need an expensive pad.

On the other hand, you can have a cot for $40 or so. Just look around in this site, there are many with the price in this range. You can go with an inexpensive cot, but you cannot sleep on a cheap pad which will not insulate you properly.

“If you are on a cot, you still need a pad under you for thermal insulation.”

This is so in a cooler environment. But think of what I said above; this is about conductivity and you need far less insulation on a cot.

“A pad is more comfortable.” 

I am not completely sure about this. This will depend on what kind of sleeper you are. Do you sleep on the back, or are you a side sleeper? But in any case, to be comfortable a pad must be thick. So check this Exped MegaMat Outfitter 10, this is one of the most comfortable pads currently on the market. But it costs over $320.

“A pad is lighter and less bulky”.

Is it really? Many of them are lighter than cots for sure, but such light and less bulky pads are not so comfortable, and they will not insulate you well if you sleep on the ground. They are also narrow and thin. Those comfortable pads are heavy; take the above mentioned Exped’s pad as an example, it is 3 lb 15.5 oz (3.16 kg).  OK, this is an extreme; the Klymit Insulated V is 35 oz (992 g), this is a great pad and you will be fine with it regardless where you camp.

But there are very light cots as well. Have you seen this list of backpacking cots? All of them are below 3 lb (1.36 kg). Though the truth is, they are so light because they are very small and narrow. So yes, if you are a tall person, you will have to choose something bigger (and heavier).

Jet Tent Bunker Cot - here you have all included: tent, cot, and pad.
Jet Tent Bunker Cot – here you have all included: tent, cot, and pad.

Is it really cots vs air mattresses

How about those thick air mattresses? There is no doubt they are very comfortable, and they are usually very affordable. It is no surprise that they are so popular.

I have seen in the descriptions of many camping tents that they stress how many air mattresses they can accommodate. The manufacturers usually use the queen size mattresses as a measure for the tent’s size.

But look at this also from the following perspective:

Such (air) mattresses take lots of space in a camping tent. When you put them on the ground, this area is lost. Take only one example, this Alprang 6 tent; the manufacturer claims it can fit two queen size mattresses. But if you do so, you will not have any space left. The tent’s size is only 10 x 9 ft.

This is not necessarily so with a cot, you still have a lot of area under a cot to store your camping stuff.

On the other hand, have you ever seen a bunk cot? Did you know that some of these can transform to a bench? See this model here, and they have it also for kids. You can use them as bunk cots, as single cots, and as a bench during the day.

The point is, you can still use your favorite air mattress but lift it from the ground, use some of these double camping cots. Some of them are really large and can accommodate even a queen size mattress. You can also use a double sleeping pad with such large cots, here is a list with some impressive models.

The drawback to a typical camping cot is that it’s heavy and bulky, but if this is about car camping, it is definitely worth it.

Note also that some cots are sold with (air) mattresses. See some great examples with air mattresses here, or check this list of cots with mattresses in general.

So as you realize, it does not have to be either cots or mattresses, or cots vs mattresses; you can use them both. This will help you to stay organized, and you can still sit on the cot, this is far more comfortable and easier than sitting on the ground in particular after some age (yes I am talking from my personal experience and age).

Air mattresses can leak. I have seen somebody’s statement “Every air mattress I’ve ever slept on has left me sleeping on the dirt by morning.”

I guess this is a bit exaggerated, if you invest some money and buy a reliable sleeping pad or mattress, you should be fine. See some of the best models on the market here. But yes, they can leak and you can get in trouble. If you combine them with a cot, you might be doing better; at least you will not be “on the dirt by morning”.

The bottom line is, the cots are built in a variety of sizes and types, you have them in hundreds here in the site and you can realize this. So if the weight and bulk is not your concern, e.g., for a car camping, a cot could be your choice, with or without a pad or mattress.

Thank you for reading. It would be great to hear what you think, so please use the comment box below. Have a nice day.


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