Cot vs Air Mattress Guide

Sleep is a key element of an enjoyable outdoor camping experience. Many sleeping systems are now available that offer as much comfort as possible to campers. They are designed to replicate the safety and ease you feel at home. Cot vs air mattress though, that is the question…

Regular campers or camping enthusiasts already know the importance of getting enough sleep when on a trip. This is why it is necessary to have the best sleeping system. Several types of sleeping systems are available on the market these days, but the battle remains mostly between an air mattress and a camping cot.

Some standard sleeping systems include sleeping bags, hammocks, sleeping pads, air mattresses, and camping cots. Choosing the right one depends on your camping style and personal preference. By the end of this article, you will be able to figure out why air mattresses or camping cots are much preferred over other sleeping systems. 

So, cots vs. air mattresses: which one should you go for? What are the advantages and drawbacks of camping cots and air mattresses? Let us dive right into the comparison between the two.

1. Camping Cots

Camping Cot

A camping cot is a foldable camping bed designed to give you comfort. These cots can be a convenient replacement for regular beds. They are usually used in military camps and on camping trips. Camping cots should be lightweight, compact, as well as comfortable.

Furthermore, these cots have a foldable wooden or metal frame with nylon, canvas, polyester, or linen cover for comfort. Camping cots are covered with fabric and are primarily made from aluminum. However, you may want to carry a few pillows and a foam mattress for comfort if you’re planning an extended camping trip.

When buying a camping cot, keep an eye out for fabric that is easily washable and comfortable. Both polyester and nylon are excellent choices for that reason, while canvas is highly durable but relatively hard to wash. 

Moreover, cots usually come in two designs, i.e., X or U, and are constructed with an aluminum frame. This is because aluminum is durable, lightweight, rust-resistant, and easily foldable.

Using Cots


  • They can withstand all types of weather conditions
  • Come with extra storage pockets for essential camping accessories
  • Offer under-bed storage
  • They usually take up less space
  • Allow you to sleep above the ground and keep insects away
  • Newer camping cots are more durable, lightweight, and compact
  • You do not require any pumps to use them
  • They keep you cool
  • Offer a place to sit on and rest


  • They are heavier and bulkier, making it inconvenient to carry them around
  • They don’t provide insulation, so they are not suitable for cold weather
  • They are relatively more expensive

2. Air Mattresses

Air Mattress

An air mattress is an inflatable mattress constructed from textile-reinforced plastic, rubber, or PVC. These mattresses can easily be carried and stored in their deflated form. Furthermore, air mattresses are now widely used by campers and homeowners due to their affordable price and compactness.

You can also use them for temporary or full-time home applications, as well as for a wide range of other applications. Moreover, a hand-held pump or air compressor is used to inflate airbeds.

Using Air Mattresses


  • Air mattresses are comfortable and portable
  • They give you control over how soft or firm you want your mattress surface to be
  • Offer bed-like comfort
  • They are more cost-effective than camping cots
  • Available in multiple sizes
  • They are lightweight and easy to store


  • They occupy too much space in your camping tent
  • The mattress needs to be inflated before every use, so you’ll have to carry an air pump with you at all times
  • Overnight leakage may be a problem
  • Some air mattresses make squeaky noises when moved around
  • The mattress is prone to damage through punctures

Cot vs Air Mattress: a Side-by-Side Comparison 

After discussing the basics of these two sleeping systems, it is time to dive deeper into the differences between a cot and an air mattress. Given below are the side-by-side comparisons of the two sleeping systems.

Handling and Setup

Camping cots are easy to set up, so assembling them should not take long. They have foldable designs, which makes them relatively easy to put together and dismantle. You simply need to unfold the frames in the right place, and they will be ready for use. 

However, with an air mattress, you will need to unroll the mattress and inflate it before using it. Also, a drawback that comes with this mattress is that you have to carry an air pump with you everywhere. If you forget to bring the pump or if the valves get damaged, then you’ll have a hard time sleeping.

Alternatively, you can also buy a self-inflating mattress since it comes with an electrical pump attached to inflate and deflate the air mattress. The annoying part is that it makes plenty of noise. If you don’t get easily annoyed by loud sounds, though, then this self-inflating option may be suitable for you.


The comfort level varies from person to person, as everyone has different preferences. However, most campers find air mattresses more comfortable since you can adjust the firmness of the bed. Furthermore, an air mattress is usually big enough for two people, which is convenient if you’re camping with a partner.

On the other hand, camping cots are also quite comfortable. Many campers use lightweight sleeping pads on top of the cots for maximum comfort. Moreover, many cots are designed for one person only, but you may be able to find some two-person models as well.

Generally, two-person mattresses are relatively more comfortable than double cots. That is because there’s a metal bar running down the center of these cots for support.

Sleeping Position

Similar to comfort, sleeping positions also vary from person to person. Some common positions include sleeping on the back, stomach, or side. The camping system you chose should provide comfort and optimal support when sleeping. If you’re a side sleeper, you will need a sleeping system that offers a medium firmness. Therefore, an air mattress could be your companion in this regard.

Side sleepers won’t be too pleased with camping cots. This is because the fabric used for these cots causes the surface to be hard, making it difficult to lie down on your side. On the other hand, back sleepers can maintain a neutral head, spine, and neck position. Sleeping on your back is probably the healthiest option, primarily due to the postural benefits it offers in this case.

As a result, back sleepers are often recommended to sleep on a firm surface. For this purpose, a camping cot is the most suitable.


Air mattresses are relatively easier to store and transport. The bed simply needs to be deflated, folded, and stored. Their rivals, the camping cots, also take the same amount of space as an air mattress but offer more storage space. It also provides under-bed storage, and some cots even come with storage pockets to keep any accessories.

A note to keep in mind is that camping cots take up a lot of space when folded. As a result, they are relatively heavy, making them inconvenient to move around.


The difference between the durability of an air mattress and a camping cot is a debate to consider. A sleeping system should withhold its structure and last you a long time.

Keeping durability in mind, the camping cots are definite winners. These cots are not only highly durable but also super sturdy. Their durable aluminum frame gives them the longevity they need.

On the other hand, an air mattress is vulnerable to punctures by sharp objects. It is also prone to overnight leakage problems. However, buying an air mattress with a thicker PVC layer is recommended since it lowers the risk of leakage.

Furthermore, some air mattresses also come with a coil system that stabilizes the bed and reduces the chances of sagging. As a result, the lifespan of your mattress can be significantly increased.

Heat Loss/Retention

Camping during the winter can be a daunting task. You will need to keep yourself warm while you’re sleeping, and being in contact with the ground quickly pulls away from your body heat. Therefore, air mattresses are not suited for cold conditions.

In the hot weather, the air is needed to keep you cool at night. In this case, air mattresses can be of great help since they are best for dry, precipitation-free weather. Furthermore, you can place a pad with a high R-value on top of the air bed to provide more insulation.

In contrast, camping cots have spaces that support airflow, enabling heat loss in hot weather conditions. The downside is that users may have to experience the draft from the tent during the winter. However, you can use a bed cover that goes all the way to the ground to keep the cold air away. 

Generally, camping cots with some minor additions can be great for all types of weather conditions.

Elevation From the Ground

Sleeping too close to the ground can impact air circulation and heat retention. This is why sleeping pads are not suitable for camping. 

On the other hand, an air mattress gives you bed-like comfort. However, it won’t feel as good if you are camping in rainy conditions. Being in contact with the ground in any way during such weather can be uncomfortable. Therefore, you can use a foam strip as an insulator and put it on top of the mattress for protection.

Additionally, having a self-insulating mattress can be of help during chilly weather. Although you might still feel cold, it may not be as bad as sleeping directly on the ground. 

Then again, camping cots are high above the ground, varying from 4 to 22 inches. This elevation, in turn, enhances air circulation during the summer and keeps you safe above the ground in case of any rainfall. However, its main drawback is that it increases heat loss in cold weather.

Conclusion: Which Sleeping System Should I Buy?

Air mattresses offer excellent comfort with extra space and don’t strain your muscles while sleeping. At the same time, cots are relatively durable, provide additional storage, and keep you elevated from the ground in case of rainy weather conditions. Therefore, we can say that both of these sleeping systems have their perks and shortcomings.

However, among the range of sleeping systems available on the market, camping cots and air mattresses are two of the most preferred ones by campers. We’ve already discussed the reasons in this article, but if you’re still confused between the two, then it all comes down to personal preference. 

If you prefer to sleep near the ground so you don’t fall down mid-sleep, then air mattresses will do the trick. However, if you would rather sleep elevated, then you’ll surely be better off getting a camping cot.

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