Sleeping Bag vs. Camping Cot: What’s Better for You?

Key Points

  • Finding the right gear for your adventures is vital, even sleeping gear like cots and sleeping bags.

  • When choosing whether a cot or sleeping bag is right for you, consider the benefits and downsides of each and decide which supplies the best sleep.

  • There are quality cots and sleeping bags to provide the right fit for any terrain and your particular sleeping requirements.

Author and environmental advocate Edward Abbey once wrote, "Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit." Although people aren't as well adapted to living outdoors as in the past, spending time outdoors still maintains physical, mental, and emotional health. Spending time outside is more primitive, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice all luxuries when enjoying nature.

Finding a balance between modern luxuries and spending time in nature requires having the right gear for your trip's activities, weather, and terrain to ensure you are comfortable while enjoying the outdoors. Choosing the right gear involves researching several options.

A reliable bed is essential gear for an outdoor adventure. Popular options are sleeping bags and cots, two of the oldest forms of outdoor beds. They've both been around for a long time but are now available in various shapes and sizes and offer many features. Reviewing all those options may seem overwhelming, but it lets you find the perfect fit for your needs.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags are popular due to their versatility and portability, but have some disadvantages. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of sleeping bags to ensure this bed type meets your needs.

Benefits of Sleeping Bags

  • Warmth: Sleeping bags provide insulation to keep you warm on cold nights. They trap body heat and create a cozy environment for a comfortable sleep.

  • Portability: Sleeping bags are lightweight and compact, making them easy to carry and move. They fold into a small size, allowing you to pack them in a backpack or camping gear bag without taking up much space.

  • Versatility: Sleeping bags suit various outdoor settings, including camping trips, hiking adventures, and outdoor sleepovers. They are suitable for different weather conditions, allowing you to add layers for extra warmth.

Drawbacks of Sleeping Bags

  • Limited freedom of movement: Sleeping bags provide a snug fit but restrict your movement while sleeping. This is uncomfortable for individuals who prefer more space or move around in their sleep.

  • Insulation challenges: Depending on the sleeping bag's temperature rating, it may not provide sufficient insulation in extremely cold conditions. It's important to choose a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the expected weather conditions.

  • Cleaning and maintenance: Proper care and maintenance of sleeping bags is time-consuming and challenging. Follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions to ensure the longevity and performance of the sleeping bag.

Sleeping bags offer warmth, portability, and versatility for outdoor sleeping, making them a good option. They are best suited to outdoor activities in cold weather and with limited packing space, like backpacking or mountain climbing.

They may have limitations restricting movement and insufficient insulation. It's essential to consider your specific needs and the expected weather conditions when choosing a sleeping bag.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Camping Cots

Camping cots are another popular option for outdoor sleeping. They are sturdier than sleeping bags but also bigger, which is a factor to consider.

Advantages of Camping Cots

  • Comfort: Camping cots provide a comfortable elevated sleeping surface, keeping you off the ground. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with difficulty getting up from the floor or who prefer more support.

  • Space and storage: Camping cots offer additional storage space beneath the cot, allowing you to keep your belongings organized and off the ground. This maximizes space in your camping area and keeps your gear easily accessible.

  • Ease of assembly: Most camping cots are easy to set up. They typically fold and unfold, saving time and effort when setting up your sleeping arrangement.

Disadvantages of Camping Cots

  • Bulkiness and weight: Camping cots are bulkier and heavier than sleeping bags, making them less convenient for backpacking or hiking trips where weight and space are a premium.

  • Limited terrain suitability: Camping cots are not suitable for all terrain. Uneven or rocky surfaces pose a challenge when setting up or using a cot, limiting the areas where you can sleep comfortably.

  • Price: Camping cots are more expensive than sleeping bags. If you're on a tight budget, a camping cot is not the most cost-effective option for your outdoor sleeping needs.

Camping cots offer comfort, storage space, and easy assembly. They are bulkier, less versatile, and more expensive than sleeping bags. Cots are ideal for long-term stays, like base camps, but not so good if you plan a week of hiking with a new camp every night.

Consider where you're going, what you're doing, the weather forecast, your specific needs, and your budget when deciding whether a camping cot is right for you.

The Best of Both Worlds

There are instances — budget permitting — when combining a sleeping bag and cot is a good idea. Sleeping with both feels like a luxury, especially if you struggle to get adequate sleep outdoors. This "double-play" provides more comfort and a sleeping experience more like your bed at home.

The cot provides a raised sleep surface, allowing for more temperature control, while the sleeping bag supplies additional cushion and warmth. It isn't feasible to use both in all outdoor activities — such as the aforementioned hiking and climbing expeditions. If your outing lends itself to this arrangement, it's worth the extra money and weight.

This is an ideal set-up if you don't have to carry your "bedroom" with you during your trip and it's waiting back at camp after a long day of exploring.

Care and Maintenance for a Sleeping Bag

Another key consideration is the amount of effort it takes to clean and maintain your bedding. This varies considerably for sleeping bags, depending on the brand.

Proper care of sleeping bags ensures their longevity and performance. Some sleeping bag care instructions are as simple as machine washing, drying, and storing; others require more effort.

Here are some tips to keep your sleeping bag in good condition:

Read the Instructions

Carefully read the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and maintenance. Some sleeping bags may have specific care requirements outlined in the literature accompanying the sleeping bag.


Spot-cleaning minor stains or dirt is usually sufficient. Use a gentle detergent/soap and a soft brush/cloth to clean the affected area. Vigorous scrubbing can damage the fabric.

Machine Washing

If your sleeping bag is machine washable, use a front-loading washing machine on a gentle cycle with lukewarm water. Use a mild detergent made for outdoor gear. Fabric softeners or bleach can damage the insulation.


After washing, gently squeeze out excess water and air-dry your sleeping bag. Avoid direct sunlight, which causes fading and damage. You can also use a large, well-ventilated area or a dryer on low heat with tennis balls or clean sneakers to fluff the insulation.


Store your sleeping bag in a dry, clean place, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. To protect loft and insulation, avoid compressing the bag for long periods. Use a breathable storage bag or hang it loosely to maintain its loftiness.

Professional Cleaning

If your sleeping bag has special features or delicate materials, it's best to consult a professional outdoor gear cleaner for proper cleaning and maintenance. The manufacturer may have professionals available to advise you.

Following these care and maintenance tips ensures your sleeping bag remains clean, functional, and ready for your next outdoor adventure. Caring for your bag lets it care for you.

Care and Maintenance of Camping Cots

Camping cots are durable and reliable outdoor sleeping options but require care and maintenance to ensure longevity and performance. They require different cleaning methods because they're made of fabric and metal.

Here are some tips to keep your camping cot in good condition:

Clean Regularly

Remove debris, dirt, or dust from the cot's surface and frame using a soft brush or cloth. Wipe it down with a mild soap and water solution to prevent buildup and maintain its appearance.

Check for Damage

Regularly inspect your camping cot for signs of wear or damage. Look for loose screws, tears in the fabric, or bent frame parts. Address any issues promptly to prevent further damage and ensure the cot remains safe.

Dry Thoroughly

If your camping cot gets wet, dry it thoroughly before storing it. Moisture leads to mold or mildew growth, damaging the fabric and compromising its structural integrity. Allow it to air dry in a well-ventilated area.

Proper Storage

Store your camping cot in a dry and clean area. Avoid storing it in direct sunlight or extreme temperatures, as this can degrade the fabric and materials. Use a storage bag or cover to protect it from dust and debris.

Follow Weight Capacity

Don't exceed the camping cot's weight capacity. Overloading the cot can cause damage and compromise its structural integrity, potentially leading to accidents or injuries.

Following these care and maintenance tips extends the lifespan of your camping cot and ensures it provides a comfortable sleeping surface for your outdoor outings. Sturdy frames make cots a dependable bed that keeps you away from the reach of crawling insects.

Best Sleeping Bags on the Market

When choosing a bed, consider the best brands and products. As with all gear, some options are better than others. Here are three sleeping bag options that are well-loved by outdoor enthusiasts:

Cats Meow Sleeping Bag

by The North Face

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The North Face Cat's Meow Sleeping Bag

The North Face Cat's Meow Sleeping Bag is known for its incredible warmth-to-weight ratio, making it ideal for backpacking adventures. It features compressible insulation and a roomy design for maximum comfort.

Trestles 15° Sleeping Bag

by Marmot

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Marmot Trestles 15° Sleeping Bag

The Marmot Trestles 15° Sleeping Bag offers excellent temperature regulation and comfort with its synthetic insulation and spacious fit. It also has a unique fold-down second zipper for easy ventilation during warmer nights.

Questar Sleeping Bag

by Therm-a-Rest

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Therm-a-Rest Questar Sleeping Bag

Designed for three-season camping, the Therm-a-Rest Questar Sleeping Bag combines warmth and versatility. It features treated down insulation for moisture resistance and a thoughtfully designed draft collar and tubes for added comfort.

Best Cots on the Market

Some camping cots are better than others. Depending on materials, effortlessness, and warranty, some are simply worth the extra investment. Here are the three best cots according to outdoor lovers everywhere:

ComfortSmart Camping Cot with Sleeping Pad

by Coleman 

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12/06/2023 12:59 am GMT

Coleman ComfortSmart Deluxe Cot

The Coleman ComfortSmart Deluxe Cot offers a comfortable and sturdy sleeping surface, durable steel frame, and thick foam mattress. It's easy to set up and fold down.

Outfitter XXL Camp Cot with Pivot Arm

by TETON Sports

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TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Cot

The TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Cot is built for larger campers, with a weight capacity of up to 600 pounds. It provides ample space for a comfortable sleep and features a sturdy steel frame and a durable 600D Oxford canvas fabric.

Portable Camping Heavy Duty Cot

by KingCamp Outdoors

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KingCamp Portable Camping Heavy Duty Cot

The KingCamp Portable Camping Heavy Duty Cot is designed for heavy-duty use, with a weight capacity of up to 440 pounds. It has a durable steel frame and a thick foam mattress for comfort. The cot is easy to set up and fold down for convenience.

Whatever You Choose, Sleep Soundly

There are plenty of quality options for sleeping bags and cots, so you can't make a bad choice. Before buying, make sure you've considered whether the product meets your sleeping needs, is appropriate for the terrain you frequent, and handles the area's expected weather.

The most important things about your cot or sleeping bag are the bed's long-lasting durability and whether it provides a good night's sleep, which you need to have a fun and safe adventure. A March 2023 study by the National Library of Medicine found that insufficient sleep and poor quality of sleep negatively affect the mind's ability to respond to situations. This highlights the importance of finding a comfortable outdoor bed.

Cot or sleeping bag — whichever you choose, you can sleep soundly knowing it's a reliable home away from home.

For camping gear suggestions and more, check out My Outdoor Gear.

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