Camping Cots vs Air Mattresses [Which One To Choose?]

You must consider your sleeping situation whenever you go on an overnight outdoor trip. You cannot lay down in the middle of a trail and spend the night. You will need to take some type of shelter and something to sleep on.

If you ask me, years of camping have taught me that camping cots and air mattresses make for the perfect camping experience. You can use them to relax, sit, or sleep, and you are bound to feel comfortable when doing each of these things. Still, a few things make one different from the other.

In today’s guide, I will talk about the differences between camping cots and air mattresses to help you decide which is the right one. By the end of this guide, I do not doubt that you will know which of the two you want to take on your next camping trip. So, let’s get right into the guide and learn more about these great sleeping surfaces!

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camping with tent

What are Camping Cots?

 Camping cots are the closes things to camping beds. You can take these beds on your camping trips because they have an interesting frame that you can fold.

The frame is quite bulky and sturdy, so you must keep that in mind if you decide to take the cot on a trip. But there are ultralight backpacking cots that can eliminate this problem. You will find that most frames are usually made from metal or wood. In both cases, they are quite durable and will last you for years after you buy them.

It is not like you need to sleep on the metal or aluminum frame – you get to add a foam sleeping pad on top of the frame to make it more comfortable. You can add a camping pillow, wool blankets, and everything else you want. There should be enough space to fit these things on the cot.

If you tend to camp with a partner or friend, you can also consider getting one of the double camping cots. These are larger and more difficult to transport but make for the best type of portable bed for camping. So, do not hesitate to look into them more!

What are Camping Air Mattresses?

Camping air mattresses are another great option that you can consider for all your outdoor trips. These even come with a few advantages over the camping cots, some of which I will mention further below.

An air mattress is a great option for outdoor leisure camping because it is affordable and comes in various shapes and sizes. You are bound to find one that you will love using. You can even look into the self-inflating mattress as a more convenient option.

But let me tell you more about the benefits that come with the air mattress. One is the storage, which makes the mattress way better than the cot. The air mattress is so light when deflated and packs so small that you can fit it in your backpack. The same cannot be said for the cot.

Another great thing about the mattress is that it perfectly balances comfort and firmness. You can adjust the firmness to your liking, whereas you can increase the comfort by adding pillows and blankets.

The only negative side of the air mattress is that you have to inflate and deflate it whenever you want to use it. To inflate it, you will need to use a pump or compressor, which might not be that convenient for camping trips. But all the advantages make up for this one disadvantage.

hiking in the hills

Which Is Better - Cot or Air Mattress for Camping?

 Many things must be considered in the debate of camping cots vs. air mattresses. These range from the ease of use to the portability and durability, the comfort and the convenience, the price, and availability.

There might not be a clear winner in each category. Still, I want to help you determine the winner by yourself after learning more about the characteristics. So, let’s get into the list of characteristics and determine whether the cot or the mattress is better for you:

Ease of Use

 You have limited resources to work with when you are on a hiking trail or a campsite. You might have a ton of tools and handy equipment at home but let’s face it, you cannot take them all with you. Especially if you are planning on walking to the campsite, you will have to take only the things that can fit in the backpack.

Because of this, it is smart to get outdoor gear that is easy to use. This is an important feature because you should not always rely on tools. You might forget to pack some of them, or you might not even have certain tools. This is where I want to bring the camping cot into the conversation.

The camping cot is a firm sleeping surface you can set in a few seconds. The frame is very easy to use and requires no special setup. You can unfold the frame, add the foam pad to it, and you will be good to go!

The same cannot be said for most air mattresses. To use an inflatable mattress, you need to inflate it. Since most inflatable mattresses are large, you cannot use your mouth to do that. You will need an air pump or portable air compressor you will take with you on trips. That will add to the weight you will be carrying.

If you do not like this option, you can always go for self-inflatable modern air mattresses. They pack small, are very lightweight, and do not need an air pump to inflate. So, they are the perfect alternative!

So, if you ask me about the winner in this category, I would have to say that it is a tie between the camping cots and the self-inflatable air mattresses. Which one you go with should depend on your preference.

Portability

I have mentioned a few things about the portability of camping cots and air mattresses. But I want to give you more detail on the topic, so let me start by sharing a few words about camping cots.

When it comes to portability, I do not consider camping cots to be a good option. This is only if you are going to the campsite on foot. The frame is always bulky and heavy, whereas the foam mattress can be quite large.

You will have a tough time carrying both things to the campsite, especially if you also take a heavy backpack. But the cot will be a great option if you plan to go to the campsite in a car. You will have more trunk space, meaning you can fit both the frame and the pad in the trunk. 

Now, if you compare the camping cot to the mattress, the mattress is a clear winner in this category. This goes for both walking to the campsite and driving to it. Many air mattresses are so small and lightweight that you will not even notice them. Moreover, they can come with their own travel bag that you can use for convenient transport.

If you ask me, nothing beats the mattress in portability. Even the twin-size air mattress will still pack smaller and be more lightweight than the cot. So, I would choose the air mattress as the winner in terms of portability.

Durability

Regarding durability, there is a clear distinction between camping cots and air mattresses. From the beginning, I can tell you that the camping cot has a huge advantage over the air mattress. Here is why!

I mentioned that most camping cots have metal or aluminum frames. These frames will take years to wear out. They do not cause damage, do not rust, and do not bend. The only thing that might not be that durable is the actual pad.

But you can always replace the pad with a new one. You can make one yourself since they are so simple, but you can also buy a ready-made one. They should not cost that much, but you will need to make sure that the size of the pad fits the size of the frame.

If that much is clear, let me move on to the mattress. Air mattresses offer many great qualities, but durability is not one of them. The materials allow the mattress to tear and damage very easily. You will need to carry a repair kit on all trips if you do not want to end up on the ground in the middle of the night.

This is a real bummer because the mattresses are so comfy. If you put them near a rock or leave them on uneven ground, they might get scratches and deflate. Nothing short of a repair kit will save you, and you will need to replace the mattress as soon as you get home.

So, the clear winner in this category is the camping cot. If you are looking for a durable sleeping option for camping trips, you cannot go wrong by getting a cot!

Are Camping Cots More Comfortable?

 As someone who has slept on both camping cots and air mattresses, I can confidently say that both can offer you a good night’s sleep. Since both are quite spacious, you can get into your preferred sleeping position and get comfy. In the morning, you will be as good as new.

Whether you go with the camp cot or the mattress depends on your preference. Both can give you enough space, with larger air mattresses sometimes offering too much space. If you plan on sharing the mattress with someone else, you will love this extra space.

While the space can contribute to the level of comfort, so can the materials of the surface. The pad on the camping cot can be a bit more comfortable, but that is not a general rule. A ton of self-inflating air mattresses make it seem like you are on a cloud.

I recommend taking your time and trying the cots and mattresses before choosing one. That way, you will see which one you like best and which offers you greater comfort.

Can I Put an Air Mattress on a Camping Cot?

 From blow-up beds to beds with folding frames – the cot and mattress are a staple of outdoor gear. Many people internal debate about whether to go with one or the other. But why make that decision? Why not go for both?!

When winter camping, the air mattress can be a better choice because you can put it in the tent and use it there. When camping in hot weather, you can choose either the mattress in a tent or the cot outside of the tent. Also, during summer, you can choose to pair the air mattress with a cot frame and get the best of both worlds!

Yes, you can do this. All you need to do is put the inflatable sleeping pads over the frame of a camping cot, and you will be good to go. You can take off the mattress whenever needed and replace it in case it damages. In the meantime, you can enjoy your surroundings from your comfortable camping bed.

Wrap-Up

Thank you for sticking with me through this guide. I hope you learned a lot about camping cots and air mattresses. Even though I cannot tell you which one makes a better camping bed, I hope the characteristics discussed will help you make that decision for yourself.

Have you ever tried sleeping on an air mattress or a camping cot? If you have, share your experience with the other readers and me! If you have not, let me know which one you want to try first. I cannot wait to read everything you put in the comment section below!

Andrew Mullen

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