Staff, Courtesy of Coleman
Not necessarily. A cot helps in two major ways that, depending on how sensitive you are to your sleep environment, can mean the difference between a solid night’s rest or several fitful hours enjoying nothing about the great outdoors. Those two things: Temperature and comfort.
Temperature is the biggest difference. Even with an insulated pad, the cold ground pulls heat away from you all night. Getting a few inches or more off the ground can help keep you warmer, and most standard cots are at least one foot high. And when it’s warm outside, sleeping on a cot lets air circulate underneath you for a cooling breeze.
When it comes to comfort, a basic cot will have a bit more give than the ground. For a plushier feel, look for a padded model or bring a sleeping pad. Beyond that, the sleep surface on a cot is smooth. Even the best prepared tent setup is likely to have bumpy ground underneath. With your cot, there will be no more waking up with a root jabbing your back.
What to Consider
Sleep Surface and Size: Many cots have a mesh or canvas bed made from lighter weight nylon or more durable 600-denier polyester. There are also padded foam tops that lend the most comfort but least packability. Then there’s surface area. Some cots come in multiple size options with claimed dimensions that include the frame. The actual sleep surface will be narrower than the listed specs, usually 24 to 30 inches. Bigger tends to be better but also heavier and less compact. Of course, most cots are geared for car camping rather than backpacking, so packability might only matters to the extent that you have enough room in your trunk.
Complexity: A cot is pretty much always more comfortable than the ground, but setting one up is no minor feat. Quite often it takes two people to stretch the fabric sleeping area across the frame. So it’s one more thing to deal with when making and breaking camp, as well as one more carrying case to keep track of. If you’ll be camping solo or just don’t want the headache, choose a model that emphasizes easy setup. Just know that more complex designs typically create more rigid frames and better support.
Wear and Tear on Your Tent: Cots can damage the floor of your tent. If you’ve pitched on hard ground, there will be a half dozen or so metal or plastic legs grinding the floor into the rocks and dirt underneath. If you can spare some rags or something to pad the contact area, it helps. And don’t put a cot flush against any tent walls; it will cause abrasions that could lead to a tear.
How We Selected
I grew up camping in the desert Southwest and the mountains of Japan, experiences that led me to a career in outdoor journalism that included several years as a senior editor at Outside. I evaluated each product’s value and performance based on design, price, weight, packability, sturdiness, and comfort. This list includes several products I’ve used extensively as well as cots recommended by other expert sources.
Coleman Trailhead II
Weight: 21 lb | Dimensions: 75 x 35 x 17 in. |
Capacity: 300 lb
The Trailhead costs one-half to one-third as much as most other cots. So what do you get for $50? A pretty spacious cot, actually. The only real trade-off here is weight. The Trailhead weighs a whopping 21 pounds—nearly as much as the larger Outfitter XXL below. But it’s as comfortable as any other non-padded cot here, though much more of a struggle to set up. (Luckily you’ll have a cot to rest on when you’re done.) It’s also built to last. The steel frame may have kept the price down at the expense of weight, but it can take a beating.
Teton Sports Outfitter XXL
Weight: 26 lb | Dimensions: 85 x 41 x 19 in. | Capacity: 600 lb
This beast is 41 inches wide. That’s three inches more than a twin bed. At 81 inches long, it’s half a foot longer, too. All by way of saying you’ve basically got a bed after throwing a pad on top. If you have a larger stature or are a restless sleeper, this is your cot. Ditto if you’re petite and looking for a cot that will let you spoon your partner under the stars. Of course, the size adds weight. But the Outfitter is fairly easy to set up and is noticeably more accommodating than typical cots once you lie on it.
Weight: 18 lb | Dimensions: 69 x 25 x 15 in. | Capacity: 275 lb
Where do camping cots end and rollaway beds begin? Right at the foot of the ComfortSmart. If you have no patience for stretching the end of a fabric sleeping surface into place during setup, and you bring your own pillow camping, you’ll enjoy the ComfortSmart. It’s basically a thin foam mattress that lies atop a lightweight bed frame, complete with springs. The regular version weighs a respectable 18 pounds, but note that it fits people only up to 5-foot-7. For taller folks or for a slightly higher capacity, go with the 80-by-30-inch Deluxe model. Either way, don’t plan on tucking this away when you get home. Instead of rolling up like a regular cot, this one folds into a roughly two-foot square. Of course, in return for that, you get to take a bed camping, and for a very reasonable price.
Byer of Maine Heritage
Weight: 24 lb | Dimensions: 84 x 30 x 18 in. | Capacity: 375 lb
Why wood? Aesthetics and nostalgia, pure and simple. The Heritage is the spitting image of an old military-style cot. It assembles fairly easily and rolls up in much the same way as other cots. The wood makes the Heritage substantially heavier than most, but it also has a greater capacity. As for aesthetics, this cot runs away with the crown. Unlike with other cots, you could pitch this sucker on your porch or in your yard for an outdoor party and have something that looks like a dedicated piece of outdoor furniture instead of, you know, a camp cot you pulled out for emergency seating.
REI Co-op Camp Folding Cot
Weight: 16 lb 9 oz | Dimensions: 75 x 25.5 x 17.5 in. | Capacity: 300 lb
Despite its steel frame, REI’s Camp Folding Cot is lighter than many standard height competitors. Yet, that solid structure can support a heavier load than many. Another plus? Assembling the cot is as straightforward as unfolding the pre-attached legs. No struggling to stretch fabric here. And at the end of your trip, it folds back down to about the size of a standard camp chair. (The case even has a similar carrying strap.) Some customers report the ripstop polyester fabric is noisy against the frame, so bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.
Best for Backpacking
Therm-a-Rest UltraLite Cot
Weight: 2 lb 10 oz | Dimensions: 72 x 24 x 4.5 in. | Capacity: 325 lb
That thing we said about cots mainly being for car campers? Here’s an exception. Thanks to lightweight materials such as a ripstop polyester sleep surface, both the regular and large models weigh less than 3 pounds and pack down to the size of a sleeping pad roll—small and light enough to easily strap to a backpack. The reflective fabric retains body heat, making this a great option for cooler weather. That said, setup is laborious; there are whole tents that pitch faster. And at just 24 inches wide for the 72-inch model, it’s not exactly spacious. But if you’re looking for the best option for the backcountry, and you don’t mind being just a couple of inches off the ground, this is probably it.
Ultralight and Easy to Assemble
Helinox Lite Cot
Weight: 2 lb 12 oz | Dimensions: 72.5 x 23.5 x 5 in. | Capacity: 265 lb
Helinox specializes in lightweight, compact, and easy to assemble camp furniture. The Lite Cot is no exception. Shock cord inside the collapsible side poles and four legs come together faster than Therm-a-Rest’s UltraLite, and once you slide the poles inside the fabric sleeves, it’s only a matter of clipping the legs on. Although it’s narrow, the lightweight cot is plenty comfortable. That is, if you’re willing to pay for the convenience in the first place.
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