What’s the best thing to sleep on in a tent?
Some elements of camping are out of our control when it comes to a good night’s sleep, such as wind and unexpected noises, but don’t let an uncomfortable sleeping surface be one of them! There are several sleeping options available when it comes to camping. My own personal preference is a camping cot, but there are also alternatives such as camping mattresses, hammocks and sleeping pads. Some sleeping options may be more appropriate for your needs than others, but it really is worth taking the time to choose and invest in a great bed for camping. A good night’s sleep rounded off by a quality cup of coffee around the campfire before breakfast… I can’t think of a better way to start of the day!
When deciding what to sleep on in a tent, you may like to consider:
- Your budget.
- Space limitations (both in packing/transporting your gear and inside your tent).
- Weather conditions. Some sleeping options are warmer than others.
- Sleeping position. I prefer to sleep on my back and due to a previous injury, a firmer surface is more comfortable for me. Think about how you like to sleep.
- How big are you? (Both height and weight).
- Are you sharing your bed with another person?
What is a camping cot?
A camp cot (also referred to as a camp bed) is a lightweight, folding bed that looks similar to a stretcher. It’s compact and portable with short legs, allowing you to sleep up off ground level. Camp cot fabric usually consists of canvas or polyester and in most cases, it is pulled taut when the bed is extended for use. This creates a nice, firm surface for laying your bedding or sleeping bag on top. If you prefer a softer surface, or if you are more of a side sleeper, you may prefer to combine a camp cot with your preferred mattress on top.
What should you look for in a camping cot?
First and foremost, check out the size. Most camping cots have a pretty good capacity for weight and sturdy legs, but it’s always worth checking their recommended weight rating if you’re a larger camper. The most common problem I see is people who get a cot that’s too short in length. No one wants their feet dangling off the end of the bed.
The Redcamp model of camping cot provides a little more width than some others (33″) and is rated for an adult weighing up to 500lbs.
Camp cots can vary quite a bit in their size and weight when folded up, so if you’re pressed for space, it might be worth paying a little extra for a lighter frame or more compact design. The Marchway Ultralight weighs less than 5lb and folds down to 16.9 x 5.5 inch sack.
As discussed earlier, the thickness of the sleeping surface of your camp cot can vary, so depending on what you plan to be sleeping in on top of the cot, you may want something with a little built in padding.
One of the advantages of a camp cot is that the elevation off the ground when in use, means you can store other belongings underneath, making a little more room in your tent. This isn’t possible when sleeping on camping mattress or sleeping bag set up that is on the floor. When living in a tent, every bit of extra storage space is important!
How much is a camping cot?
Camping cots range in price from less than $100 for a basic, but quality set up like the Coleman 765353 Trailhead II Military Style (pictured) to over $1000 for the top of the range folding cots for serious campers or those who want something a whole lot sturdier. My advice is to go for something low to mid-range like the Lilypelle, which sells for just over $100, when you’re just starting out, as it will help you get a feel for what you do and don’t like about your chosen sleeping set up. Try borrowing a camp cot from a friend first if you can and you’ll have an idea of where to start.
What is the best mattress for camping?
Camping mattresses usually consist of either inflatable air beds, or self-inflating mattresses. Each have their own pros and cons and I’ll explain a bit about them below. there are other alternatives, such as sleeping mats or pads, but these are much thinner (although more portable for those hiking between sleeping destinations). I will go in to more details about these options in a later article.
What is an air bed?
An air bed is sometimes referred to as an air mattress, blow-up bed or an inflatable mattress. Made of PVC plastic, it is super compact for storage, then able to be inflated when required to create a firm, air filled mattress for sleeping on. Air mattresses can either sit low to the ground, so you are 6 inches from the floor or then place on top of a folding cot, or much higher, giving the feel of being on a normal bed, like the SoundAsleep Dream Series.
Some of the bigger units incorporate an internal pump, but most air mattress require a portable pump to inflate them to the desired pressure. Pumps can vary from manual air pumps to battery or rechargeable units, and even ones you can operate through the cigarette lighter port in your car. Portable pumps can be inexpensive and lightweight, but are sometimes noisy as hell. Remember to get your bed blown up (or topped up) well before bedtime or you’ll be that annoying camper that sounds like they’re vacuuming while others have turned in for the night!
Benefits of sleeping on an air bed when camping:
- Extremely portable & take up barely any space when packing.
- Easy and fast to pack up.
- An affordable option, if you’re on a budget.
Disadvantages of air mattresses when camping:
Requires a pump of some sort.
Can get cold to sleep on as the air inside cools at night.
Risk of puncture.
Bulky inside the tent once inflated.
Overnight air leakage may require a top up every day or two to maintain firmness.
Are camp cots better than air beds?
If you’re settling in for a few nights in a row and you have the space and budget to allow for a camp cot, then the answer is yes. A decent camp cot gives a much better night’s sleep up off the ground, is warmer, flatter, more supportive and lets you store some gear out of the way underneath. A basic cot can also be coupled with your camping mattress of choice. If you then find yourself short on transport space and heading for a quick overnight stay, you can always slum it and thrown your mattress on the ground, leaving your camp cot at home!
What is a self inflating mattress?
A self inflating mattress is made of very dense, but compressible foam, wrapped in an air-tight cover with valves that can be opened and closed. When the mattress is stored, the foam is compressed by rolling the mattress and as much as air as possible squeezed out. To inflate the mattress, the valves are opened, allowing air to be drawn in to the foam via negative pressure. It takes several minutes for the mattress to fully inflate, but once expanded completely, the air valves are tightened to seal in the air and create a semi-firm surface for sleeping on.
Are self inflating mattresses comfortable?
Personally, I moved from an air bed to a self inflating mattress after a back injury and found it to be a huge improvement and provide more lumbar support. I have had other campers tell me, however that they prefer air mattresses because they can be inflated to a firmer level than the self inflating foam variety.
If you are sharing your mattress with another person, the self inflatable style is a better choice, because there is less movement when your bed partner rolls over or moves in the night and less noise too. (some air mattresses can be a little squeaky). If you’re planning on some sweet tent-style loving, I would also opt for the more stable foam mattress.
If camping in cooler conditions, self inflating mattresses tend to be warmer as you aren’t lying on a big mass of cold air.
A final word about the best thing to sleep on in a tent:
Wherever possible, try before you buy! I’ve learned the hard way so many times by buying something only to realize once I started using it that it doesn’t meet my needs! Buy second hand, borrow or look for great end of season deals, then once you know what you want, don’t be afraid to invest serious dollars in to a good camp bed. Feeling rested makes such a difference to you overall camping experience!
Oh, and once you’ve had that great night’s sleep and you’re wondering what to make for breakfast, check out my article on easy camping breakfasts for some inspiration! Sweet dreams!