Camping is often considered an activity for the “tough ones” because you have to compromise on a lot of things you normally have at home.
You don’t get a soft bed to sleep on, a warm bath to soak in after a tiring day, and a well-prepared tasty meal. In the wilderness, you have to sleep on uncomfortable surfaces, have no shower for days, and have a dry ration of food.
When it comes to sleeping, we can make things a little better by choosing the right gear to sleep in. Some people prefer air mattresses, others go for foam pads, and some prefer to carry camping cots.
A lot of people have been comparing cots and air mattresses lately, and it’s time to see both through a TruCamper’s experience and see which one is a better camping option overall. [if you don’t particularly like air mattresses for some reason, here are 5 alternatives to air mattresses that you can use]
QUICK SUMMARY: If you like slightly firmer and elevated bedding, go for a camping cot. If you want something soft, comfortable, and a bit bouncy, an air mattress is your choice. Camping cots are a good fit for warm, humid, or rainy weather due to the elevated structure and air circulation properties, but for chilly winter nights, an air mattress provides a better R-value.
Now, before we dive into details, let’s first tell you a bit about both.
A camping cot or a camp bed is a flat, foldable, lightweight bed that has been popular since the mid-’70s. US army troops mostly used it in warzones as they needed sturdy, comfortable, and easy-to-carry beds.
These beds are constructed with aluminum, steel, or alloys, with stretched the rip stop-canvas on top which is by far the most heavy-duty canvas fabric of all.
The most amazing thing about these beds is that even after decades of modifications and new additions to the array of sleeping gear, it is still considered one of the best designs of beds for areas that require easily elevated beddings.
These beds are a relatively newer invention. It was first introduced in the 19th century as an alternative to heavy hair-filled beds.
Most air mattresses or blow-up beds are constructed with PVC and other synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are hydrophobic, sturdy, stretchable, and lightweight. These properties of fiber help these beds in quick inflation and deflation.
These beds also have a textile-based top layer, reinforced by layers of rubber and other synthetic material, to support inflation and provide the feeling of home beds.
They have a hollow chamber in between, which is filled afterward by an air pump.
Comparison: camping cot vs. air mattress
Let’s compare both camping cots and air mattresses, considering different factors, and try to understand which one is a better option for camping.
Like every comparison, a lot of things boil down to “personal choice” but a fair and in-depth opinion coming from years of experience might be able to give you some push in the right direction.
Comfortable night’s sleep
Comfort is rather subjective than objective.
Selecting one as more comfortable is not easy. But, If I tell you my opinion, I’d say air mattresses provide a night of far better sleep than camping cots. Why?
Because even though camping cots have the advantage of providing elevation to the body, we cannot ignore the fact that the firmness of stretched canvas is uncomfortable to sleep on and makes you wake up sore.
Our bodies are habitual of the natural softness and coziness of beds, which is why it isn’t easy to fall asleep on a cot.
But in the case of a blow-up bed, the best thing about them is that they give you the feeling of sleeping on the bed because of the bounciness of the bed, the mattress topper design, and the upholstery covering.
The other reason air mattresses are more comfortable is that you can control the inflation, which affects the tightness and firmness of bedding. So, by not filling it, you can enjoy comfort.
The width of an average camping cot is around 25-35 inches, which is quite wide. But campers who toss and turn a lot generally require more space than that.
On the contrary, air beds have sizes (height, length, and width) similar to that of home mattresses (queen and king size), which is why they provide more area to move during sleep.
So unless you want a really firm bed with a pre-set elevation angle, I’d suggest you choose an air mattress because they are far more comfortable.
Quality & durability
Compromising on quality and durability can get you into a lot of trouble during your trip.
One major problem that users of air mattresses have reported time and again is the problem of puncture or sudden/ unexpected deflation.
This can happen to even the most expensive air mattresses because air mattresses tend to rest close to the ground with numerous pointy objects like wooden pieces and stones. These objects rupture the layers of the mattress, making it deflate.
This also happens if the seam or valves of the air mattress are faulty, so as soon as you lie on the bed, it ruptures from your weight. (If you’re tired of your air mattress’s deflation, check out our blog on air mattress alternatives, including camping cots)
This sudden rupture can affect not only your sleep but the whole trip as you got to arrange a new bed or fix the existing one.
The camping cot has a better, sturdier, and light-weight design so it hardly ever ruptures or tears. It even shows better results if the usage is rough.
The aluminum frame and ripstop canvas base are both extremely sturdy materials and hardly ever break. This is why a camping cot is more durable and better in quality.
Value for money
This is one of the most significant factors because your choice of sleeping gear depends highly upon your budget.
It’s hard to say which one is cheaper or which one is on the pricier side because both vary a lot in the range of quality.
If we keep it simple, air mattresses are slightly cheaper than camping cots but do they provide good value for money? No, because, in my opinion, a camping cot is a way better long-term investment than an air mattress.
The structure, quality, and durability of camping cots are better. Once your air mattress is punctured, it will never go back to the way it was.
If you keep your cot clean from mold and mildew, it can be used for more than 3-4 years. But the maximum life of an air mattress is 6 months to a year.
So, even if you buy a good air mattress with a built-in pump and good size, there are chances that it will not last as long as a camping cot will.
So, the air mattresses are cheaper, but the camping cots provide better value for money.
Portability and ease of use
When it comes to portability, camping cots, and air mattresses both have their own advantages.
Air mattresses are lighter in weight. But to pack or port it, you need to deflate the mattress, which requires 2-5 minutes. Once it’s completely deflated, it just takes up a few inches of space, and isn’t it all about space while traveling?
Similarly, to use an air mattress, you need to inflate it appropriately, which can take good 7-8 minutes in the case of queen size bed.
Even then, you have to be really careful when pumping because overinflation causes mattress seams to break.
On the contrary, to use or pack a camping cot, you have to fold or unfold it and put it in your trunk or tent. But here’s the catch- an average camping cot is relatively heavier than an air mattress because of its frame.
Another reason why a camping cot is better is that air mattresses take up a good amount of space on the ground, whereas a cot being elevated provides space to put stuff beneath the X-frame, which is more convenient as small tents have lesser space.
So, a camping cot is easier to use, but an air mattress is lighter in weight, compact, and easier to port.
All season suitability
Weather plays an important role in your choice of camping gear. Amongst camping cots and air mattresses, none is good for all sorts of meteorological conditions.
Let me simplify it for you.
Camping cots are best for summer. They are elevated, single-layered firm beddings that are non-insulated and provide optimum air circulation, which makes them ideal for summer but quite bad for winter. Because for winters, you need bedding that is warm, cozier, and keeps you all curled up. Adding a few warm layers of blankets or sleeping pads can make it a bit warmer.
So if you want snuggly bedding for winter, you should go for air mattresses. Despite being on the ground, most air mattresses provide a better R-value than cots. Coleman air beds provide an R-value of 2.75 which is enough for a camper to stay warm during mild winters.
Though in extreme winters, you should take an air mattress with a velvet top, and a few blankets and keep something between the ground and the air mattress as a sleeping pad to prevent cold conduction.
Now for the rainy season, camping cots are the best due to the elevation. You cannot sleep on the air mattress when water puddles up onto the ground.
As I said, each has its own benefits.
Conclusion – Which is better, camping cot or air mattress?
Both camping cot and air mattress have their own capabilities and drawbacks. But, we cannot really say which one is good for everyone because both are designed to provide comfort in different circumstances.
|Factors||Camping Cot||Air Mattress|
|Ease of use||✔|
|Good for summer||✔|
|Good for winter||✔|
|Good for the rainy season||✔|
|Value for money||✔|
To find the one that is better for you, eliminate the factors that seem less important to you according to your circumstance, and you’ll have a choice of your own. I hope you had a good read!
Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page