Camping Cots vs Air Mattresses: Which One Suits You BETTER?

When you’re gearing up for a camping trip, one crucial decision is choosing between a camping cot and an air mattress.

Both options offer unique benefits, but which one is right for you? In this article, we’ll compare camping cots and air mattresses in detail, helping you decide which suits your camping needs best.

From comfort and ease of setup to durability and packability, we’ll cover everything you need to know. Let’s dive in and find the perfect sleeping solution for your outdoor adventures.

What’s a Camping Cot?

What's a Camping Cot

Camping cots, often known as camp cots, have been a staple in outdoor gear for centuries.

Originally used by soldiers for their durability and ease of transport, camping cots have evolved to become a favorite among modern campers and backpackers.

These cots typically feature a steel or aluminum frame and a sleeping surface made of ripstop polyester or canvas, providing a sturdy and elevated platform for sleeping.

Key Features of Camping Cots:

  • Elevated Sleeping Surface: Keeps you off the ground, reducing the risk of moisture and insects.
  • Durable Frame: Often made from steel or aluminum, supporting substantial weight.
  • Comfort: Can be used with additional sleeping pads for enhanced comfort.
  • Size Variations: Available in solo and double sizes, although solo cots are more common.

Popular brands such as Coleman, King Camp, Tough Outdoors, and Nature Hike offer a range of camping cots that cater to different needs and budgets.

Despite their bulkiness, some models are designed for backpacking, providing a balance between weight and durability.

What’s an Air Mattress?

What's an Air Mattress

Air mattresses, or inflatable mattresses, have become synonymous with comfortable outdoor sleeping.

Unlike traditional sleeping pads, air mattresses offer a bed-like experience, making them a popular choice for car camping.

These mattresses come in various sizes, from twin to king, and require a pump for inflation, which can be either manual or electric.

Key Features of Air Mattresses:

  • Comfortable Surface: Adjustable firmness for personalized comfort.
  • Portability: Deflates and rolls up for compact storage.
  • Versatility: Suitable for car camping, offering a home-like sleeping experience.
  • Size Options: Available in multiple sizes to accommodate solo campers or couples.

Brands like Nature Hike, Intex, and Olar Hike provide a range of air mattresses designed for durability and comfort.

While they offer superior comfort, the need for a pump and the potential for punctures are considerations for campers.

Price Comparison

Both camping cots and air mattresses come in a wide range of prices, from budget-friendly options to high-end models. This variety makes it challenging to declare a clear winner in terms of cost.

TypePrice RangeExample Brands
Camping Cots$50 – $300+Coleman, King Camp, Tough Outdoors
Air Mattresses$50 – $300+Nature Hike, Intex, Olar Hike

Winner: It’s a tie. Both options offer budget and premium models, allowing you to find a suitable choice regardless of your budget.

Ease of Set Up

The setup process is crucial, especially after a long day of hiking. Camping cots usually have a simple fold-open design, making them quick to assemble.

In contrast, air mattresses require inflation, often needing a pump which may require electricity.

Setup Comparison:

  • Camping Cots: Quick fold-open setup, minimal assembly required.
  • Air Mattresses: Inflation needed, usually straightforward but requires a pump.

Winner: Camping cots. Their simple design allows for a speedy setup, though air mattresses are also relatively easy to inflate with the right equipment.

Comfort Levels

Comfort is subjective and varies from person to person. Generally, air mattresses offer a higher level of comfort due to their adjustable firmness and larger sleeping surface.

However, camping cots provide reliable support, especially when paired with a sleeping pad.

Comfort Comparison:

  • Air Mattresses: Adjustable firmness, larger surface area, suitable for side and back sleepers.
  • Camping Cots: Sturdy support, can be enhanced with a sleeping pad.

Winner: Air mattresses. They provide a more cushioned and adjustable sleeping surface, making them more comfortable for most campers.

Insulation and Warmth

Staying warm during the night is essential, especially in colder climates. Air mattresses typically offer better insulation from the cold ground due to their thickness, while camping cots elevate you off the ground, reducing contact with cold surfaces but increasing exposure to cold air.

Read More Blog: The 23 Best Places To Camp In Northern Michigan (2024)

Insulation Comparison:

  • Air Mattresses: Good insulation, some models have higher R-values.
  • Camping Cots: Reduced ground contact, but require additional insulation in cold weather.

Winner: Air mattresses. They generally provide better insulation, making them more suitable for colder conditions.

Packability and Portability

The ability to pack and transport your sleeping gear is vital for backpackers and car campers alike. Air mattresses deflate and roll up into a compact size, making them easy to store.

Camping cots, while often bulkier, can be lightweight and portable depending on the model.

Packability Comparison:

  • Air Mattresses: Compact when deflated, easy to store.
  • Camping Cots: Bulky but can be lightweight and portable.

Winner: Air mattresses. Their compact size when deflated makes them more packable and easier to transport.


Durability is a key factor in choosing camping gear. Camping cots are typically more durable, with steel or aluminum frames that can support significant weight.

Air mattresses, while made from rugged materials, are prone to punctures and leaks.

Durability Comparison:

  • Camping Cots: Durable frames, high weight capacity.
  • Air Mattresses: Rugged materials but vulnerable to punctures.

Winner: Camping cots. Their solid construction makes them more durable and reliable in various conditions.


Convenience includes gear storage and ease of access. Camping cots often provide under-cot storage space and are easier to get in and out of due to their height.

Air mattresses, while comfortable, lack storage options and sit directly on the ground.

Convenience Comparison:

  • Camping Cots: Under-cot storage, easy access.
  • Air Mattresses: Comfortable but limited storage options.

Winner: Camping cots. Their elevated design and storage capabilities make them more convenient for campers.


Which is better for car camping, a cot or an air mattress?

An air mattress is usually better for car camping due to its comfort and easy packability.

Are camping cots comfortable for side sleepers?

Yes, especially when paired with a sleeping pad to enhance comfort.

Do air mattresses require electricity to inflate?

Some do, but manual pumps are also available for those without electricity access.

Can camping cots support heavy weights?

Yes, many cots have high weight capacities, often supporting over 500lbs.

Which is more suitable for winter camping, a cot or an air mattress?

An air mattress is generally better for winter camping due to its superior insulation.


In the debate of camping cots vs. air mattresses, the best choice depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Air mattresses offer superior comfort and insulation, making them ideal for car camping and colder conditions.

Camping cots provide durability, convenience, and an elevated sleeping surface, suitable for those who prioritize these features.

Ultimately, both options have their advantages, so consider what aspects are most important for your camping experience.

Choosing the right sleeping gear can significantly enhance your outdoor adventure, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep in the wilderness.

Whether you opt for a camping cot or an air mattress, you’ll be well-equipped for a comfortable and enjoyable camping trip.

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