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Camping Conundrum: Should You Use a Sleeping Bag, Air Mattress, or Cot?

A tent set up with cots and sleeping bags in the forest.

If you love camping, but sleeping on the ground is no longer working out for you, there are some other—way more comfortable—options. Camping is fun for the young and old, but you don’t have to leave behind every luxury.

There are three basic options when it comes to sleeping arrangements when camping – you use a sleeping bag on the ground, an air mattress, or a cot. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look.

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping on the ground, snuggled up in a cozy sleeping bag is fun and adventurous when you’re young. For some, however, as you get older, sleeping on the ground becomes painful. Not only is it hard to get comfortable (especially if the spot you’re camping on isn’t exactly flat), but getting up and down off the ground can be painful on joints and muscles.

Sleeping bags are great for the young, or if you want to go a little rustic with your trip. You want to have one, even if you’re using an air mattress or cot (it’s the best way to stay warm), but if you’re focused on comfort, it’s just the start.

Air Mattresses

Your basic air mattress that sits only a few inches up off the ground will give most people the same discomfort as getting up and down off the ground itself. There are air mattresses that are farther up off the ground, and almost resemble the look of an actual bed. This is a pricier option, but worth it if getting up and down from low spots is giving you pain. Both types of air mattresses can be purchased in varying sizes, whether you need something to sleep one person or two.

The biggest disadvantage is their durability. Air mattresses can get holes from seemingly out of nowhere, leaving you flat on the ground in the morning. Even the best air mattresses seem to deflate some overnight, so you’ll have to pump it up some each day (make sure you get a battery-operated pump if you don’t have access to an outlet).


Cots offer you a bed-like experience and come in different comfort levels and sizes. A cheap army-style cot may not be as comfortable as something more expensive. You can also buy cot-style frames to put your air mattress on.

Although cots are great in that they are sturdy, usually pretty comfortable, and keep you off the ground, there are things to pay attention to. While you may find a cot that will sleep two, be sure to look at weight restrictions. Too much weight on your cot may break it or at least bend it enough to render it nearly impossible to break it down and fit it in a bag. Cots are also the heavier option, so if you’re doing some hiking, you may want just a sleeping bag and some ibuprofen.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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