Should you invest in a camping cot or hammock? Which is less expensive? Which will keep you more comfortable? Find out which is the better option here!
Between camping cots and hammocks, hammocks are more comfortable, and lightweight, making them better for wilderness camping. Cots are easier to set up, easier to insulate, and are more accessible.
There are a variety of factors that can play into the comparison between camping cots and hammocks. Things like ease of setup, price, and comfort are just a few. Continue on and you’ll learn how each option fits within these categories.
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Camping Cot Vs. Hammocks
Sooner or later, air mattresses may get frustrating. Although they are very comfortable when they’re working correctly, who has had an inflatable sleeping pad that didn’t end up deflating eventually? I was just talking to someone who had a top-of-the-line air mattress that costs up to $100, and … it still leaked. It’s just so common, even in the more expensive brands.
This is one of the main reasons people begin looking into options that cannot deflate. Choices like cots and hammocks can both be quite appealing. You won’t end up sleeping on the ground, and they can be quite comfortable under the right circumstances.
How do you know which to choose? Cots may seem like a great, simple choice but they can be quite stiff and may scrape up the flooring of your tent if you aren’t comfortable. The good news is, you can take a look at our article on using a cot in your tent to learn how to avoid floor holes.
Aside from being careful, it’s worth learning what the pros and cons are of each option. Let’s take a look.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a camping cot looks like, here’s a quick recap. Often, these cots are made up of aluminum frames that have canvas stretched over them for campers to sleep on. As a result, they are simple, durable and easy to use for sleeping on just about anywhere.
Campers often turn to cots in an effort to find something that won’t go flat during the night. It only makes sense, given how frustrating it can be to get comfortable on an air mattress or sleeping pad only to end up flat on the ground within a few hours.
However, they don’t always seem as appealing when compared to other off-the-ground sleeping options, like hammocks. Generally speaking, cots can work well enough for people who sleep easily on their backs and don’t mind a firmer surface. If you simply must sleep in a tent, a camping cot can be a worthwhile option.
Cots, in general, aren’t as comfortable as hammocks, but for some people looking for a firm flat surface for troubling backs, then cots may be the best option. Cots can also be much easier to set up. A full hammock sleep-system can be very complex. A cot usually does require a tent, so if you have a small tent (or a simple dome tent), cots are much easier to set up than hammocks.
Another advantage of cots is that they are off the ground making it easier to lay down on a cot than the ground. This is bonus points for accessibility.
- Off the ground
- Comfortable back sleeping
- Easy Setup
- Highly durable
- Typically designed to sleep a single person
- The underside can get cold due to air flowing underneath the cot
- Uncomfortable for those who sleep on their sides
- Takes up a decent amount space (not ideal for backpackers)
- Often weighs several lbs
Compared to cots, hammocks have a less dense design. Many of us are familiar with the standard kinds of hammocks that we use in our yard. Camping hammocks are much like these but are less obtrusive and can fit in the forest without clearing vegetation. Many camping hammocks are made of a super lightweight parachute material and come with bug nets for cover.
Furthermore camping hammocks are referred to as “gathered in” hammocks, meaning that the ends of the hammock are adjacent rather than forcefully spread apart like backyard hammocks.
Hammocks work well for back and side sleepers and are seriously like sleeping on a cloud. Some people with back issues report complaints with hammocks, but it’s likely because they haven’t learned the secret of hammock sleeping.
Hammocks can have a more straight back if you lay diagonally across the hammock. If you lie on the bend of the hammock then you’ll experience the canoe shape which will likely hurt your back. If you lie diagonally, the hammock flattens out and is much more comfortable.
Check out this video for more information about diagonal sleeping in a hammock:
The hardest part about hammocks is the setup. While it’s fairly straightforward to hang them up between two trees, if you need to fully build your sleep system it can be tricky.
A hammock sleep system includes the following:
- Your hammock
- A ridgeline if you want your hammock shape to improve (check out our article on hammock ridgelines here)
- A tarp or rainfly to keep you dry
- A bug net if you need full cover
- A sleeping pad or underquilt for warmth
Setting up a ridgeline isn’t too bad, but in my experience, setting up your tarp or rainfly can be downright tricky. Your hammock needs to be at a height where it doesn’t lie on the ground, and you need to set up the rainfly at the right height so that you don’t need a ladder to set it up. It takes some practice and experience to get this right.
Lastly, hammocks can be very cold. While cots are also above ground, cots are in tents which are sheltered from the wind. Hammocks don’t have this luxury. It’s necessary if you’re sleeping in weather below 65 degrees to do some insulation such as a sleeping pad or an underquilt.
An Underquilt is pretty much a cocoon that goes around the underside of your hammock (touching your hammock as little as possible). Some underquilts are made to be like a pod that wraps around your entire hammock.
Any sleeping pad in a tent will work for a hammock but you may regret trying to use it. There are several sleeping pads that are cut specifically for hammocks that won’t have any cold spots (rectangles and hammocks aren’t really friends, so sleeping pads can be tricky).
All that being said, if you can work past the setup, hammocks are a dream to sleep on. If you’re properly insulated and sheltered, you’ll have the best nights camping you’ve ever had. I’d recommend though to try sleeping in a hammock in the summer to ensure that your body can handle them well and so you can mess around with getting the right setup.
Additionally, keep in mind that hammocks can be even more limited in size than cots. Generally, they can only hold one person. That means no sleeping together and that pets cannot snooze with you. You’ll also need to be able to find somewhere else to change because there’s no standing up or even sitting in the hammock. Although there are hammocks that advertise as “double-wide” or for two…
Let’s be honest. Those are really just for one person. In fact, I really recommend getting the double-wides anyway. They are more comfortable.
Hammocks are super comfortable but they can be more tricky to get in and out of (especially if you’re not used to it). You control the height, though, making these the most flexible for accessibility purposes.
- By far the most comfortable
- Easier on side sleepers
- Avoids damp ground
- Privacy is limited
- Space is extremely limited
- Trees are needed for setup
- Difficult setup for full sleep system
Which One Is More Comfortable?
Generally speaking, a hammock is going to be more comfortable for sleeping than a cot. However, it is worth considering your sleeping habits while you decide which is the ideal option for you. Back sleepers can do well enough with a cot, while side sleepers may prefer a hammock.
The reason for this is that cots often have hard bars or frames keeping them up. This may not be as much of a problem on the back, but it’s going to place a lot of pressure on hips, shoulders and other pressure points. Meanwhile, hammocks don’t have uncomfortable frames. As a result, they are more friendly to side sleepers.
Aside from the issue of firmness, both of these options are pretty decent. When it comes to features like temperature and issues with deflating, they are prime choices. You’ll just want to make sure that you select the option that will suit your body the best. Remember that you can try adding some cushion in the form of blankets or padding to a cot if desired.
Which One is Easier to Set Up?
Between cots and hammocks, it’s far more likely that the typical camper will have an easier time setting up a cot. They do require more effort in the sense that cots often need to be placed in tents, requiring you to set up the tent, the cot and any rain protection you may want.
On the other hand, hammocks are going to require knowledge on tying knots or using the tools provided to ensure the hammock is sufficiently connected to the nearby trees. However, the hammock doesn’t need a tent, but you might need to set up a rain fly to avoid getting rained on, a ridgeline to hang your stuff and to improve the “hang” of your hammock, and maybe even an underquilt to keep you warm.
There are things you’ll need to learn in order to become a great hammock camper. Tying knots, knowing how to set up the hammock to provide the most comfort, and even when to use a hammock ridgeline. If you’re unsure of what a hammock ridgeline is, take a look at our article on the subject to learn how it can be helpful for hammock sleepers.
I’ve mentioned that hammocks are more difficult to setup--I should say that once you have your system down, it’s not really a big deal. Just the initial learning curve is difficult--If you’re willing to take the time to learn the ins and outs of hammock setup, you’re sure to see payoffs in the end.
Which One is More Expensive?
Saving money is something that is important to most of us, even when we’re camping. As a result, it can sometimes be worthwhile to look for camping tools that come at a lower cost without bringing down your comfort levels too much.
Those who want the least expensive option can really benefit from camping in a hammock. Some of the most basic options can come in at around $20-$30 while choices that include additions like rain flies can hang out at around $50-$75. Now, compared to the cost of even a smaller tent, that’s quite a bit of savings. Even if you buy some rope and hardware and an inexpensive underquilt (around $70 to get all of that), that’s a bona fide sleeping system
On top of that, most cots tend to be more expensive as well. This is especially true if you want one of the more comfortable options or ones that are able to hold two people. At a minimum, extremely basic cots can be found somewhere around $40, but are often in the range of $70 or more.
What About Bad Weather?
Generally speaking, hammocks and tents can be pretty similar in regard to how they respond to bad weather. Naturally, it’s worth considering hammock and tent styles as well as what kind of condition they’re in.
It’s a good idea to seek out a camping hammock that is covered. At a minimum, this can help to keep bugs and debris out of your sleeping space. Beyond that, it helps to keep breezes and rain at bay. A rain fly is also a great option for keeping the rain away, whether you’re in a hammock or a tent.
In general, though, it’s hard to beat a tent for protection from the elements.
Regardless of what you’re sleeping in, it’s important to stay warm when the weather is cooler. Both cots and hammocks allow for a greater amount of airflow, which can become cold very easily.
For a cot that might include bringing extra blankets. A sleeping pad is still a good idea for a cot (doesn’t have to be inflatable), as it provides important insulation. Meanwhile, hammock users can choose to add underquilts or hammock sleeping pads.
Additionally, you can keep better control over your hammock temperatures using underquilts and top quilts. To learn about the differences between these options, take a look at our article on the subject here.