For many, a simple sleeping bag on the ground when camping is not their idea of fun (or comfort)…
And that’s where camping cots and air mattresses come in – two of the most comfortable and popular pieces of camping gear for a good night’s rest.
But which is better – a camping cot or an air mattress? Like most of life’s big questions, it simply depends.
So, let’s take a look at the camping cot vs air mattress debate and find which option is best for you and your camping style.
What Is a Camping Cot?
A camping cot is a lightweight bed that unfolds and sets up easily.
The frames are often made of steel, aluminum, or wood with nylon or canvas fabric stretched over them as the mattress.
Camping cots are typically designed for a single camper and are smaller than your normal twin-sized bed. However, there are some oversized camping cots that might fit two (small) people on the market. And you can even find bunk camping cots (like bunk beds, but cots) with one cot elevated over the other.
Camping cots are collapsible for easy carrying, making them ideal for camping enthusiasts and backpackers who want to sleep on an elevated platform off the ground.
With that said, they are also fairly heavy, weighing about 15 pounds, so for some, they may not be ideal for long hiking trips.
What Is an Air Mattress?
As the name suggests, an air mattress is a portable, inflatable mattress that is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Also known as an air bed or blow-up mattress, air mattresses have increasingly become a popular option for campers to sleep in comfort.
Fun Fact: Air mattresses have been around since the late 1800s!
A hand-held air pump or air compressor is typically used to inflate an air mattress. And when not in use, they can be easily deflated and folded up into a smaller size for portability and easy storage.
We should note that when we refer to air mattresses in this article, we are referring to larger air beds, not small, thin sleeping pads. A sleeping mat or sleeping pad is often lighter and smaller, making it a great choice for hiking and backpacking. But, for the sake of this comparison, we are talking about airbeds, not sleeping pads.
Modern camping air mattresses come in a range of different sizes, from twin up to king.
Camping Cot vs Air Mattress
So, now that we understand exactly what a camping cot and camping air mattress are let’s learn how these two bedding options stack up to each other.
Each has its own pros and cons, so it just comes down to which one fits your camping style better.
To help you find the best option for you, we created this handy infographic comparing the two.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the 10 most important factors when comparing a camping cot vs a camping air mattress.
The price range for camping cots and air mattresses can vary wildly. For both, you can find budget-friendly models that start around $40 and higher-end models that cost $400 or more.
Price is usually a big factor in one’s buying decision, so luckily for both cots and air mattresses, you should be able to find a good option within your budget.
Both camping cots and air mattresses require some form of setup.
Air mattresses have a relatively straightforward setup process. You remove it from the bag, roll it out, and pump it up. But, it can require electricity for the pump and that might be challenging at some campsites.
Camping cots are usually easy to set up by utilizing a folding design. Most people find themselves able to set one up in a few minutes with little practice, making it an ideal choice for first-time campers and experienced campers alike.
Both camping cots and air mattresses will elevate you off the ground, which can help make it easier to get out of bed, keep creepy crawlies from disturbing your sleep, and make tent camping more comfortable.
With an air mattress, the bed sits directly on the ground and can range in heights from just a few inches to 18 inches or more.
Camping cots feature legs that allow for a large space between the sleeping surface and the ground.
And similarly, the heights can range from a few inches to a couple of feet. The extra height and more solid surface of a cot make it the better choice for a place to sit in your tent.
While both camping cots and air mattresses may seem similar in respect to elevation, the space between the floor and where you sleep at night makes a huge difference in the insulating properties of each, which brings us to…
Air mattresses offer little protection from the cold ground since their very design restricts airflow underneath them.
Camping cots, on the other hand, offer zero protection when it comes to insulation for two main reasons:
- A camping cot typically consists of a strong material (canvas, ripstop fabric, etc.) that is designed to support your body weight, not provide insulation.
- Cold air flowing under the cot can cause heat loss, making it a cold, uncomfortable place to sleep.
Although a cot with an insulation pad is possible to buy, this isn’t standard.
The takeaway? It’s slightly warmer to sleep on an air mattress than a cot since the air mattress restricts airflow underneath it and has an air barrier between the camper and the cold ground.
Unless you camp in cold weather often, this may or may not be a big deal. And a quality sleeping bag and/or blankets will help here, as well.
Comparing the comfort of camping cots to air mattresses is highly subjective.
With that said, in my experience, air mattresses are more comfortable than camping cots for a few different reasons:
- Air mattress firmness can be adjusted to accommodate varying needs – from soft to extra firm.
- Some air mattresses are large enough for two campers, which is beneficial if you’re camping with a partner.
- Preferred for stomach and side sleepers.
Check out our guide on how to make an air mattress more comfortable for expert tips to improve their comfort level!
Camping cots can be quite comfortable to sleep in as well, depending on the model.
You don’t need a mattress pad on your cot for most models, but if you have room for extra equipment and the desire to haul one with you on your camping trip, you can definitely up the comfort level of your cot by placing a mattress or foam pad on it.
You can also find oversized or double cots that will accommodate two campers, but they are often more expensive and not as comfortable as a two-person air mattress.
Air mattresses definitely have the advantage when it comes to size options since they come in various dimensions, including everything from a twin to a queen, up to a king, and various heights.
Camping cots are typically designed for just one person. I have yet to find a king-size camping cot. But, as mentioned above, double cots are an option (though expensive).
While it depends on the model and size, both camping cots and air mattresses fold down or deflate to a fairly similar size that allows for easy storage.
In my experience, air mattresses might have a slight advantage here as, depending on the size of the air mattress, they can deflate to a slightly smaller size than a cot. But, keep in mind you may, depending on the model, have a pump, hose, and other accessories to store with your air mattress.
Surprisingly, both camping cots and air mattresses weigh roughly the same (after including the air mattress pump and other accessories). Of course, this will vary by model and the size of each, but the difference is usually negligible.
They also both typically fold or deflate down to a portable size and come with handy bags to carry them in. I wouldn’t recommend either for beginners taking long hikes through varying elevation levels, but for your typical tent camping experience, they are both quite portable.
Modern camping cots and air mattresses are designed with durability in mind.
Air mattresses are made from synthetic fabric for durability, but there is always the risk of leaks and punctures.
Additionally, camping cots are made with a solid steel bed frame and canvas or ripstop fabric for maximal durability. And, of course, you don’t have to worry about your cot deflating… +1 for cots.
Both usually have no problem supporting 300 pounds or more.
Lastly, I want to look at which type of sleeping structure offers the most convenience, meaning which one is the easiest to use and has the most convenient features. This is again another subjective detail that depends on your camping style.
Camping cots offer additional convenience by utilizing features such as:
- Built-in gear pockets and additional storage under the cot as they are raised up off the ground.
- Typically, a higher elevation making it easier to get in and out of.
- No need for electricity.
- Easy to pack.
- Comes with an easy carry bag.
On the other hand, most air mattresses offer convenient features such as:
- A wide variety of sizing options making it easy to find the perfect size for you.
- Automatic, hands-free inflation with an electric pump.
- More comfortable out of the box than cots, so there’s no need for additional padding.
- Easy to pack.
- Comes with an easy carry bag.
Which Is Better: Cot or Air Mattress for Camping?
So, are camping cots worth it? Or is an air mattress better for camping?
As you can see, it really just depends on your needs and camping style. There are pros and cons to both camping cots and air mattresses.
If you need to share your bed with others, often camp in cold weather, and/or want the ultimate in comfort, then an air mattress might be your best bet.
If you need something a little more durable with better storage capabilities and that’s easier to get out of, then you might want to look at camping cots.
If you still can’t decide, consider an airbed cot, which combines an air mattress and a cot!