It can be hard to decide between an air mattress and a camping cot. I wish I could give you a clear-cut answer but certain sleeping systems are more appropriate for certain situations.
You don’t need to agonize over the decision for hours; you just need to understand the pros and cons of each choice, so you can figure out which one you want to invest your money in.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to make the right decision for you. Let’s get started!
Air Mattress vs. Camping Cot - Which One to Choose?
Air mattresses and camping cots are suitable for different things. There is no right or wrong option but let me give you some pointers to get you thinking.
When to choose an air mattress
I would choose an air mattress if I were sharing my bed with a partner, as air mattresses tend to be wider, which means you don’t have to worry about falling off the edge!
If you prefer blankets over a sleeping bag, an air mattress would also be a better choice. For a camping cot, you really need a sleeping bag; otherwise, your covers could trail on the floor and get dirty.
I would also choose an air mattress for colder conditions because air mattresses tend to hold more heat.
Also, I might put a thin insulating sleeping pad under my air mattress if it was freezing outside.
I toss and turn a lot at night, so an air mattress would be more comfortable for me. They are usually thicker than camping cots, so they give you support when you sleep on your side.
I go camping with my dog and it takes only one misplaced claw to puncture an air mattress. So, don’t forget a patch kit if you’re going to put your kit through a rough time!
When to choose a camping cot
I would choose a camping cot for hot weather camping because cots offer excellent airflow beneath your back, so you don’t get overheated.
If you’re camping in cold weather, make sure you have an extra warm sleeping bag for a cot.
Also, consider putting an insulated sleeping pad between you and the cot.
I would also go for a cot if I had a lot of kit. That’s because you can store things underneath your bed to maximize the room in your sleeping compartment.
A camping cot can also be suitable for wet and stormy weather. If your tent floor starts leaking, you’ll be raised high enough to stay nice and dry. With an air mattress, it takes only a small leak to soak your bed.
I would choose a camping cot only if I were on a car camping trip and had plenty of space in the trunk, as cots are bigger and heavier than air mattresses.
The upside of this is that cots are quick and easy to set up. You just have to unfold them rather than pump them up, and you don’t have to worry about punctures.
My personal preference is an air mattress but that’s probably because my family always used them when I was growing up.
There are definitely some situations in which a camping cot would be more appropriate, so I advise you to go with your gut.
If you’re still undecided, here’s a complete list of pros and cons to help you!
Air Mattress - Pros & Cons
- Takes up less space than a camping cot
- Lighter than a camping cot
- Better for side sleepers
- Better heat retention
- Can be really comfortable
- Good for couples - easier to get a double air mattress
- Can use sheets and blankets - feels more like a normal bed
- Can deflate in the night
- Takes longer to set up than a camping cot
- Not as durable as a camping cot - vulnerable to tears
- Mattress will get damp if the tent floor leaks
- Can be quite noisy if you turn in the night
Camping Cot - Pros & Cons
- Strong and durable
- Don’t have to worry about punctures
- Can be easier to get in and out of bed when it’s raised off the ground
- Keeps you away from any moisture on the floor
- Cooler for summer camping - air can flow beneath your back
- Kit can be stored underneath the cot - makes your tent more organized
- Heavy and bulky
- Takes up a lot of space - suitable only for car camping
- Tends to be quite narrow - not great for couples or larger builds
- Not the best for side sleepers
- Doesn’t hold much heat - not the best for cold weather camping
- Can be squeaky
- Can be more expensive than an air mattress (but this depends on the model)
- Would be better with a sleeping bag - some people prefer blankets
Are Cots More Comfortable Than Air Mattresses?
Some people find cots to be more comfortable than air mattresses. Other people (like me!) find air mattresses a lot easier to sleep on.
Cots are great for people with reduced mobility because they’re raised off the ground, so it’s not such an ordeal to get in and out.
Some people also feel more comfortable being raised because they’re farther away from crawling insects.
(Sorry to say this but pretty much any critter on the ground can make it up and into your cot if they're determined. Snakes can even climb walls!)
It all depends on the model you buy. Some camping cots are narrow and unstable, and they don’t offer much support.
Other brands have nice, thick, built-in mattresses, and they aren’t going anywhere once you’ve set them up.
It’s the same for air mattresses. Some of them are noisy and uncomfortable, but others create almost the same feeling as sleeping in a proper bed!
So, make sure to check out plenty of user reviews and compare the specifications before jumping ahead with a purchase.
Alternatives to Air Mattresses and Camping Cots
If you’re still not convinced by either of the sleeping systems, you might want to check out a couple of other options.
Foam Sleeping Pad
Foam sleeping pads are great because you don’t have to worry about punctures.
You can get thick memory foam sleeping pads if you’ll be car camping or something much lighter and thinner for backpacking.
The skinny pads aren’t always comfortable, especially if you are a side sleeper. But when it comes to wild camping and thru-hiking, your sleeping setup will inevitably be less comfortable than when you’re at a car camping site.
If trees or a hammock stand are available, hammocks are a terrific way to spend the night.
You can get hammocks with built-in bug nets, so you can enjoy the open sky without letting the local mosquitoes bite you to death.
You might be surprised at how comfortable hammocks are. Plus, they keep you nice and cool, as the air can flow beneath your back, just like with a camping cot.
They aren’t expensive, and they pack down nice and small. But some people just cannot relax if they are sleeping in the open, so don’t worry if they are not for you!
Is it warmer to sleep on a cot or an air mattress?
It’s usually warmer to sleep on an air mattress than on a sleeping cot. However, the best way to be sure is to check the R-value. Beds with a higher R-value will keep you warmer.
You can also insulate yourself by placing a thin reflective sleeping pad between your back and your sleeping system.
Can I put an air mattress on a cot?
Depending on the air mattress and the cot, it might be possible to use them together in some cases.
I generally wouldn’t recommend it, though, because you might find that the air mattress slides right off and you get dumped on the floor during the night.
Some cots are nice and thick, so you just might need to find a more comfortable model.
Can you sleep on a cot long-term?
It depends on the cot and the person. So long as your cot offers enough support and you don’t wake up with back pain, there’s no reason you can’t sleep in a cot long term.
Just bear in mind that it’s hard to sleep on your side in a cot, so this might get annoying if you’re using it for a while.
How can I make my camping cot more comfortable?
You can make your camping cot more comfortable by using a good pillow to support your neck. You can also use a nice, thick sleeping bag and consider using a sleeping pad to reduce aches and pains.
Just make sure the sleeping pad fits the cot properly and that it’s not too slippery when you’re using it with your sleeping bag.
How can I make my air mattress more comfortable?
Don’t be tempted to over-pump your air mattress. This will put too much pressure on the valve and break it. Instead, consider using a topper.
You can also use proper sheets, pillows, and blankets. It will almost feel like being at home!
You can’t be sure which sleeping system is right for you before you give them each a go.
If you have friends or family members who already own air mattresses, camping cots, foam pads, or hammocks, don’t hesitate to ask if you can borrow one for a nap!
I loved the idea of a camping cot, but I felt pretty unstable once I got on it. So, while this article gives you some helpful pointers, it comes down to trying out your options and seeing what works best.
I hope you feel better equipped to make your purchase, and I wish you many happy camping adventures!
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Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.