Not necessarily. A camping 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 camping 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.
Best Camping Cots
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The Expert: 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 currently live in the foothills of Rocky Mountain National Park in Boulder, Colorado.
What to Consider
Sleep Surface and Size: Many camping 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 Evaluated
Using my deep background on camping, 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 camping cots recommended by other expert sources.
|Dimensions||85 x 41 x 19 in.|
|Dimensions||75 x 35 x 17 in.|
|Dimensions||69 x 25 x 15 in.|
|Weight||2 lb 10 oz|
|Dimensions||72 x 24 x 4.5 in.|
|Dimensions||84 x 30 x 18 in.|
|Weight||2 lb 12 oz|
|Dimensions||72.5 x 23.5 x 5 in.|