Are Cots Good For Winter Camping? + Tips For Winter Cot Camping


Cots make sleeping in a tent much more comfortable, but is it worth bringing your cot on a winter camping trip? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to insulate your cot for winter camping.

A cot made cozy. From Sea Willis on Flickr

Cots can be successfully used while winter camping if they are prepared with additional insulation between the cot and the sleeping bag. Cots are ideal for many who want the extra comfort of a cot while camping and many choose to use a cot for winter camping.

With some places in the United States (such as Minnesota, Maine, and Oregon) reaching freezing temperatures, camping in the winter can get cold. While camping in the winter can be a worthwhile experience for the abundance of wildlife, uncrowded trails, and raw experience with nature, there are some tips you should know for winter camping. 

Winter camping on a cot needs special attention because of the extra airflow. However, there are several ways to insulate your cot for winter camping and numerous different materials and gear to choose from. Read on to discover what to use as insulation and tips on how to best insulate your cot for winter camping.

Are Cots Good For Winter Camping?

There are two major opinions for using camping cots during the winter: 

  • Some say cots are absolutely essential, even in winter camping
  • Some state that you’re going to freeze and some have experienced cold-cot syndrome.

So… Those are two very different opinions. Don’t fear, let’s talk about why cots can work really well for winter camping and what you need to do to avoid freezing on your cot.

Benefits Of Using A Cot For Winter Camping

Because of the numerous benefits of using a camping cot, campers swear by their cots and use them no matter the weather. While sleeping pads lie on the ground and are a barrier between your body and the ground, cots are elevated.

Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, camping cots are portable beds often made from aluminum frames and stretchy canvas.

Camping cots are considered an upgrade from a simple sleeping pad or inflatable mattress. I’ll share why in a few points:

  • With a cot, you don’t have to worry about your air mattress deflating in the middle of the night
  • Flat back = happy back (for many sleepers. Tent floors are not known for being super even, and so a cot can make a huge difference in how your back handles sleeping outside. The cot will give a bit more and provide a flat surface for sleeping.
  • Since cots are elevated, it’s easier to get in and out of bed. As we get older this gets more and more important.
  • With a camping cot, you won’t have to worry about chunks of ice or frozen ground jabbing your back, side, or stomach. For that matter you can avoid all those roots and rocks that plague you for normal tent camping.
  • Because cots are elevated, there is more room in the tent to store your gear—just slip your stuff under the cot. Also, because you are likely to have snow in the winter, having your cot off the ground prevents your sleeping bag, clothes, or body from becoming wet from melted snow. This can also block airflow under the cot which we’ll see is very important.
This is a summertime picture, but you can see how the cot is a flat surface and would be a lot more comfortable than the bumpy ground

Why Might Cots Be Cold In The Winter?

A cot is a double-edged sword. The ground in cold weather is… well.. cold! So, it makes sense that getting off the ground is the best way to maintain your body heat and stay warm on even the coldest nights. But getting completely off the ground by using a cot may have the opposite effect if you’re not careful.

In short, cots can make you really cold!

Because of the average 4 to 12 inches of height on a collapsible cot, the extra space invites cold drafts of air between your body and the ground. While this draft of air may be great for hot summer nights, it’s not so great for keeping warm in freezing winter temperatures.

The primary role of your sleeping bag is to insulate your body and prevent heat from escaping. If a sleeping bag is the only thing between you and your cot, your sleeping body will compress the sleeping bag and the sleeping bag won’t be able to do its job. Thus, the extra space between your cot and the ground steals your warmth and you’re likely to get really cold.

However, there are some easy ways to combat the cold air and remain comfortable on a cot during the cold winter months.

How To Insulate Your Cot For Winter Camping

Insulation is key to staying warm on your cot during the winter. Below are some helpful tips and tricks to successfully insulating your cot.

The steps to insulate your cot should be relatively simple. Depending on the type of trip you’re taking (backpacking, drive-in, glamping, etc.), you’ll want to choose either a lightweight (see our post here if you want to see some excellent options for lightweight cots) or a regular cot because the nature of your trip will likely influence the type of cot and insulation you choose.

If you’re backpacking, you’ll probably want something more compact, but if you’re driving, you’ll have a lot more freedom with how much you can pack.

You’ll also want to buy insulation based on your budget, and you can find plenty of information on how to do that in the following section.

What Should I Use For Insulation?

Winter campers who use cots have come up with several ways to insulate during the colder months. While adding extra layers means spending extra cash, the added layers can keep the chill out.

Inflatable Sleeping Pad

While no one likes to wake up in the middle of the night to a deflated mattress, the inflatable mattresses can be useful on top of your cot as a barrier that helps spread out any sleeping bag compression. The extra support can be comfortable, but some campers have reported falling off their cot in the middle of the night because the mattress tends to slip around. 

Ideally you want a sleeping pad that is insulated. A plain inflatable sleeping pad will be a bit better, but not much better. An insulated sleeping pad will be much more impactful

Average cost: Anywhere from $30 to over $150 per mattress. Keep in mind that the more expensive air mattresses are generally the ones specifically designed for ultralight camping, will fit on your cot, and won’t require an air pump. You may also find blow up mattresses for under $20, but these may not be meant for camping and are likely less durable. 

If you’re interested in using a regular blow-up mattress, you can check out our article here that talks about how to do this with and without electricity while camping.

Underquilt

Used by those who hammock in cold weather the underquilt is attached underneath the cot. The underquilt effectively creates a hot air pocket that will keep your underside warm. See our article here if you want to learn more about underquilts.

If you’re considering using a hammock rather than a cot, you should check out our article here.

Average cost: $40 to $75; however, there are options around $30 and some that are far over $100. You can check out a whole bunch of options on Amazon here.

Wool Blankets

This is a super easy and common tactic many cot campers use: wool blankets have been known to keep campers warm on their cot during the winter. Simply lay one or more down on top of your cot and crawl into your sleeping bag.

Average cost: wool blankets can be anywhere from $20 to over $300. However, you can get a good wool blanket that will last a while for under $100.

Insulative Sleeping Pad

Many campers are already familiar with the sleeping pad. The best type of insulating sleeping pads are the ones with closed-cell foam. This type of foam has air pockets (cells) that don’t collapse so the foam is dense and designed to keep out the cold. 

While the cot is generally considered to be an upgrade from your sleeping pad, it doesn’t mean you need to throw out your pad. Instead, place the pad on top of your cot to use as a barrier between your cot and sleeping bag.

Some campers even use two sleeping pads, but this can lead to slipping around at night and falling off your cot.  You can wrap some webbing around the cot and the sleeping pad(s) to get around this issue. If you tie off the webbing under the cot you won’t sleep on webbing knots, which is a plus!

Average cost: you should be able to find a decent insulative sleeping pad between $40 and $60.

Reflective Technology

A reflective barrier, such as Reflectix (Lowe’s) flexible insulation, can be used as a barrier to keep your body heat in. Some campers have used this on the floor of their tent with a foam pad on top. It’s controversial though among some campers on how effective this is. Some swear by it so I thought I’d put it here.

Average cost: about $0.40 to $0.50 per square foot depending on how much you buy. 

Foam Insulation

If you have a lot of space in your car, you can pick up some foam insulation from your local hardware store. While this may be bulky, having the foam pad on the ground can almost ensure a warmer night.

You can even use a foam mattress topper. These will not be as insulative as camping foam pads since they are designed to trap air, but they will be more comfortable.

Average cost: Around $20 for a 4 x 8 foot board.

5 Tips For Staying Warm On a Cot During The Winter

If you’ve decided to use your cot for your next winter camping trip, follow these easy tips to ensure a warm, cozy night.

Insulate

You’ll want to avoid losing any heat, so make sure to choose a layer of insulation between you and your cot. Depending on the temperatures you expect and whether you’re backpacking or glamping, make sure to choose an insulating later that fits your needs.

If you’re backpacking, choose an insulating layer that’s lightweight and can fit in your backpack, like a wool blanket, sleeping pad, or underquilt. If you plan to drive to your campsite or have only a short walk, you may have more freedom for larger, bulkier insulators, such as foam pad or reflective sheet.

Layers On The Floor

The name of the game is stay off the bare ground, so adding moving blankets, wool blankets, reflective technology, or insulation pads to the tent floor is a sure way to keep insulated at night. Additionally, adding these extra layers may also prevent your cot from ripping the floor. You can see our post here if you want to see some other tactics to avoid wrecking your tent floor with your cot.

Combine Layers

If you’re expecting colder temperatures, it’s a good idea to combine different forms of insulation. By putting a sleeping pad on top of your cot, you’re creating that heat-saving barrier, so why not add some more layers? Many winter campers have found that adding a wool blanket on top of sleeping pad and cot has worked well.

An underquilt can be added to hang under the cot with any insulation you choose as well. 

Higher R Value

The higher the R value, the better your gear does at insulation and retaining your body heat. When shopping for winter camping gear, look for sleeping bags and sleeping pads that have an R value of 4.0 or higher.

Hand And Foot Warmers

For added warmth, you can consider bringing some hand and foot warmers. Some campers have reported using these at night and putting them in pockets and socks. But because the gap between the cot and floor can steal the heat from these too, make sure to choose a spot off the bottom of the cot. 

Hand and foot warmers are a rather cheap way to keep your fingers and toes warm (a pack of 80 pairs isn’t that expensive–see it on Amazon).

Sources:

https://www.frostburg.edu/faculty/rkauffman/_files/images_preppers_chapters/Ch09-03-SleepingGear.pdf

https://www.reflectixinc.com/about-reflective-technology/performance-information

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/sleeping-pads.html

Air mattress cost (also just looked up ads on google) https://www.sportsmans.com/camping-gear-supplies/cots-pads-hammocks/sleeping-pads/therm-a-rest-neoair-all-season-speedvalve-air-mattresses/p/p49847

Foam insulation: https://www.homedepot.com/b/Building-Materials-Insulation-Foam-Board-Insulation/N-5yc1vZbaxx

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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