Camping Cots vs. Air Mattresses: What’s Best for Your Outdoor Adventure?

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Key Points

  • One of the most important ways to ensure you have a great camping adventure is to get enough sleep and comfort.

  • Two very popular sleeping options are air mattresses and cots, but which one to get requires you to know what you need for sleep and how you travel.

  • There are benefits and drawbacks to using either option, along with the opinions of sleep experts, that you should consider before making your decision on which one is the right fit for you.

Any physical activity, especially those done outdoors, requires you to get an adequate amount of sleep. Without enough sleep, your physical performance and mental clarity suffer. When doing an activity outside, you are taking the risk of unexpected interruptions due to weather, wildlife, and other factors. Not having enough sleep can prevent preparation for or having the energy to deal with such surprises.

According to sleep expert and NIH neuroscientist Dr. Merrill Mitler, “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.” This illustrates just how reliant we are on the need to recharge. In fact, Mitler goes on to say, “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies.”

To ensure your safety and to better the quality of your outdoor experience, it's imperative that you get the required amount of quality sleep, which is eight to nine hours. It's hard enough to get good sleep, but that difficulty increases when sleeping outdoors because you're away from your comfy bed. Further, the weather and sounds of nature can create more sleeping hurdles, depending on your sleep preferences.

While you may not be able to avoid the temperatures and noises of nature, you can create a comfortable sleep space. Two of the most popular outdoor sleeping options aimed at getting comfortable sleep are camping cots and air mattresses. Both options are reliable, but which one is right for you is dependent upon what your adventure includes, how long the trip is, and what you need to sleep soundly.

What's the Difference?

You may think that a cot and air mattress are the same thing or serve the same purpose, but each one has different features that make them right for different outdoor adventures. It's important to examine the differences between cots and air mattresses to know which one is right for your adventures.

A cot is a portable bed frame that provides elevated support for sleeping. It is typically made of a lightweight, foldable material, such as metal or wood, with a fabric or canvas sleeping surface. Cots are popular among campers and outdoor enthusiasts as they offer a more comfortable and elevated sleeping surface than sleeping directly on the ground.

An air mattress is an inflatable mattress that provides a comfortable sleeping surface. It is typically made of durable PVC or rubber material, and it inflates using a manual or electric pump. Air mattresses are popular among campers and travelers as they provide a convenient and portable bedding option that is easily deflated and packed away when not in use.

Comfort Is Key

Cots and air mattresses offer different comfort features that cater to different sleep preferences and outdoor adventures, so everyone is sure to have a different preference. Both options are comfortable but by different standards.

Cots focus more on creating an elevated sleeping experience, which can offer better support and improve comfort compared to sleeping directly on the ground. The sturdy frame of a cot provides stability and prevents sinking, ensuring a more consistent level of support throughout the night. Additionally, cots often come with fabric or canvas sleeping surfaces that can add extra cushioning and breathability.

On the other hand, air mattresses offer adjustable firmness levels, which allow users to customize their sleeping experience. By simply adjusting the amount of air in the mattress, users can create a softer or firmer sleeping surface according to their preference. The inflatable nature of air mattresses also provides a cushion-like feel that is more comfortable for some individuals.

Clearly, the comfort of cots and air mattresses depends on personal preference. If you prefer a more elevated and stable sleeping surface, a cot may be the better option. However, if you value adjustable firmness and a cushiony feel, an air mattress may offer a more comfortable sleep experience for your outdoor adventures.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Part of each person preferring one or the other has a lot to do with the benefits and drawbacks of each one. These points can affect budget, portability, and durability.

Benefits of Using a Cot

Using a cot for camping offers several benefits. Firstly, they allow you to sleep off the ground. This not only offers better insulation from cold surfaces but also keeps you away from crawling insects and dampness.

Cots also provide a more stable sleeping surface with consistent support throughout the night, preventing sinking or discomfort. This is important for people who require a firm and secure sleeping surface.

They are also designed to be lightweight and foldable, making them easy to transport and set up. Cots have durability, as they are typically made from sturdy materials such as metal or wood. They can withstand most rough terrain and frequent use, making them a reliable choice for outdoor adventures. Overall, using a cot can greatly improve your comfort and quality of sleep while camping.

Drawbacks to Using a Cot

There are a few drawbacks to consider when using a cot for camping. For one thing, cots are bulkier and take up more space compared to other sleeping options because of their frames, making them less convenient for backpackers or those with limited storage space.

Additionally, setting up a cot is more time-consuming and requires more effort compared to inflating an air mattress. Cots may also be more expensive than other camping sleeping options, especially if you're looking for a high-quality and durable model.

Another drawback is that cots may not be suitable for all terrain types, as uneven or rocky ground can make it difficult to find a stable surface for setup. Cots can also limit your flexibility in terms of finding a suitable spot to sleep, as they require a flat surface for proper use. These drawbacks are certainly something to consider, but cots still offer many benefits that make them a comfortable sleeping option for camping trips.

Benefits of Using an Air Mattress

Using an air mattress for camping offers several benefits. Air mattresses provide a comfortable sleeping surface that adjusts to your desired firmness level, making them the closest option to a real mattress. By simply adjusting the amount of air in the mattress, you can create a softer or firmer sleeping surface according to your preference, giving it a nearly luxurious feel when you're in nature.

The inflatable nature of air mattresses also provides a cushion-like feel that is more comfortable for some individuals who like a softer surface to sleep on. Additionally, air mattresses are lightweight and highly portable, making them suitable for backpacking or travel. They are easily deflated and packed away when not in use, saving valuable space.

Air mattresses are also generally more affordable compared to cots or other camping sleeping options. Lastly, they are set up quickly and require less effort compared to setting up a cot. Overall, using an air mattress can provide a comfortable and convenient sleep experience for your outdoor adventures.

Drawbacks of Using an Air Mattress

There are a few drawbacks to consider when using an air mattress for camping, like how air mattresses are more prone to punctures compared to cots. Sharp objects or rough terrain can cause leaks, compromising the integrity of the mattress.

Additionally, air mattresses may not provide the same level of support as cots, especially for individuals who prefer a firmer sleeping surface. The inflatable nature of air mattresses also means that they may require a pump to inflate, which is an extra item to carry and is inconvenient if there is no access to electricity or if the pump malfunctions.

Another drawback is that air mattresses are colder to sleep on, as air circulates under the mattress, leading to a potential decrease in insulation. Finally, some air mattresses may have a noisy or squeaky surface, which is disruptive during sleep. Despite these drawbacks, air mattresses offer a portable and adjustable sleeping option for camping that is perhaps the most like sleeping in your bed at home.

Which One Fits Your Adventure?

Aside from finding the right fit for your comfort, you should consider which option is best for your adventure and the area you plan to stay in.

Camping with a cot is suitable for a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and general camping trips. Camping with an air mattress is suitable for a variety of outdoor activities, including backpacking, hiking, and camping.

In terms of the area that you plan to adventure in, you should consider how the weather and terrain affect which one you choose. For uneven terrain, an air mattress is better because cots require even ground. For rocky or densely vegetated terrain, a cot is better because it is above the ground, preventing rocks from piercing an air mattress. Areas that get a lot of rain may require you to use an air mattress because the water could ruin the fabric on a cot.

With the clear shifts in weather patterns across the globe in 2023, it is especially important to prepare yourself for unexpected weather on your adventure. In areas that are prone to unexpected storms, it's better to take an air mattress. For areas with more consistent weather or snowfall, you can count on a cot.

Folding bed inside the tent in the morning

Pick the Right Fit

Now that you know what details to consider in picking the right fit, you can make a final selection. Once you decide which option is right, you only need to decide who to purchase your cot or air mattress from.

Pair your camping cot with the perfect sleeping bag and camping pillow, and you'll be well on your way to a good night's rest! If you're camping in cooler temps, though, be sure to go with an insulated camping bed.

Top Camping Cot Brands

The top three camping cot brands are Coleman, Teton Sports, and ALPS Mountaineering.

  • Coleman has durable construction and comfortable designs, with a wide range of options.

  • Teton Sports cots boast durability and innovative features that enhance comfort during outdoor sleep.

  • ALPS Mountaineering is a reputable brand that offers rugged and reliable camping cots that withstand rough conditions and provide a comfortable sleeping experience in the outdoors.

Top Camping Air Mattress Brands

The top three camping air mattress brands are Therm-a-Rest, Intex, and REI.

  • Therm-a-Rest offers a wide range of lightweight and durable options that provide excellent comfort and support during outdoor adventures.

  • Intex has a variety of models available, including ones with built-in pumps and innovative features like dual-chamber construction for enhanced stability.

  • REI Co-op air mattresses have outdoor enthusiasts in mind, providing comfort, durability, and ease of use for camping and backpacking trips.

Get Packing

Whether you decide to go with a cot or an air mattress, both have the potential to cater to your comfort needs. All you need to consider is which one is right for your adventures to ensure you get quality sleep, so you can focus on having fun on your adventure.

No matter what your adventure needs are, there's something for you at My Outdoor Gear.

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