Why you should sleep on a cot while winter camping

by | Nov 20, 2023 | Winter camping

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We’ve always stuck to air mattresses and sleeping pads when it comes to camping—even in extreme cold weather.

With an R-value of more than 6, that’s plenty enough insulation to keep us warm alongside our -30°C/-22°F sleeping bags.

It wasn’t until we went on a guided dog sled expedition where we used the guide company’s gear that we realized just how great camping cots were to use for winter camping.

The biggest risks of sleeping on cold ground

Pads used on a tent floor beneath air mattresses.

There are risks that come with sleeping on the ground in the winter, even if you have all the right gear.

Loss of insulation

When you sleep directly on cold ground, your body heat is easily lost.

The ground acts as a heat sink, rapidly pulling warmth away from you.

An elevated camping cot helps minimize contact with the cold surface and reduces heat loss.


Sleeping on the ground exposes you to damp conditions, which can make you feel colder and potentially wet your gear.

This is especially true if you’re using a floorless tent like a canvas hot tent.

A camping cot lifts you off the ground, protecting you from moisture.

This allows you to stay dry, cozy, and more comfortable during your winter camping adventure.


Cold, damp conditions can increase the risk of hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading to a dangerous drop in body temperature.

By using a camping cot, you’re reducing heat loss and dampness, ultimately helping to lower your risk of hypothermia.

How cots protect against ground elements

Setting up a camping cot

When you’re not in direct contact with the ground, you ‘re automatically better protected.

Here’s how:


The main purpose of a camping cot is to lift your body off the cold ground, reducing heat loss and providing insulation.

Most cots have a fabric or foam sleeping surface that helps retain body heat, creating a barrier between you and the cold ground.


Cots are designed with an open-air design, allowing for ventilation underneath your body.

This prevents moisture buildup and allows air to circulate, keeping you dry and comfortable throughout the night.


Compared to sleeping directly on the ground, using a camping cot significantly reduces the wear and tear on your sleeping bag.

The durable frame of a camping cot also helps protect against sharp rocks or other ground debris, ensuring your gear stays in good condition for future trips.

Additionally, many cots have reinforced stitching and strong fabrics that can withstand heavy use in rugged outdoor environments.


Camping cots are compatible with air mattresses and sleeping pads, giving you extra insulation and comfort during winter camping.

Although it’s completely optional, you can place your air mattress or sleeping pad directly on a cot for added warmth and comfort.

Types of camping cots

A bivy sack on a camp cot with a lean-to tarp shelter.

There are several types of camping cots available, each with its own unique features and benefits.

Some popular types include:

Traditional camping cot

This is the most basic type of camping cot, typically made from a sturdy metal frame and fabric sleeping surface.

It’s easy to set up and provides a comfortable elevated sleeping platform.

Camping cot with built-in air mattress

This type of camping cot combines the comfort of an air mattress with the convenience of a raised sleeping platform.

It often includes features such as built-in pillows and side tables for added comfort.

Bunk-style camping cot

Perfect for families or groups, a bunk-style camping cot has multiple levels, allowing for more sleeping space in a compact area.

They’re also great for use in larger tents with limited floor space.

Choosing the right camping cot

Setting up a camping cot in the snow

When selecting a camping cot, there are several factors to consider:

Size and weight

Make sure to choose a camping cot that can comfortably accommodate your body size and weight.

Also, consider the weight of the cot itself, as you will have to carry it to your campsite.


If you plan on backpacking or hiking with your camping cot, look for lightweight and compact options that are easy to transport.


For frequent campers, it’s important to choose a camping cot that is durable and can withstand regular use in outdoor environments.

Look for cots with strong frames and quality materials.

Comfort and support

The whole point of using a camping cot is to sleep comfortably while camping, so make sure to choose one with features that will provide proper support and a good night’s rest.

Consider factors such as the type of sleeping surface, padding, and adjustable features.


Camping cots can range in price from budget-friendly to high-end models.

Set a budget that works for you and look for options within that range.

The camping cot we recommend

Holding a Helinox camping cot

A great camping cot that we can vouch for is the Helinox Cot One, which is the model we used on our expedition.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s fully set up:

The Helinox Cot One

To our surprise, we found this cot to be:

Extremely comfortable and warm. We tested this cot on a 10-day dog sled expedition without air mattresses or sleeping pads.

The result?

An incredibly cozy and warm sleeping experience.

Super strong and lightweight. The Helinox Cot One is designed to support up to 320 pounds, while only weighing slightly over five pounds when packed up.

This impressive combination makes it an ideal choice for your winter camping adventures.

The downside to this cot is that it isn’t cheap at $350 USD.

This is the price you’ll have to pay for its lightweight and durable design.

Extra tips for using a camping cot in winter

The biggest problem we faced with our camping cots was that they would sink into the snow ground of our floorless hot tent or wobble around because the ground was so uneven.

If you’re using a cot, you have to spend some extra time and energy shoveling and/or packing down snow before setting up your tent and cot.

If you’re using a floorless tent like a canvas hot tent, this is especially important.

To add more stability, you can use shims under the cot’s legs, which you can get at most home hardware stores.

Here are some extra tips you can use to stay comfortable and warm while sleeping on a camping cot in cold weather:

Choose the right insulation: Combine your cot with a sleeping pad or a thick air mattress for extra comfort and insulation.

Insulated pads can help minimize heat loss and protect you from colder ground temperatures.

Keep essentials close: Winter nights can be challenging, so it is essential to have easy access to your supplies.

Use the storage compartments or pockets of the cot, if available, to keep items like a flashlight, gloves, and an extra pair of socks within reach.

Double up on sleeping pads: For colder winter nights, adding an extra layer of insulation is a smart move.

By using two sleeping pads, you can create additional insulation between your cot and your sleeping bag, reducing the loss of heat.

Layer blankets and liners: Using fleece or wool blankets and insulating sleeping bag liners in addition to your sleeping bag will increase warmth and comfort.

Layer them for better insulation, making sure to have the thickest layer close to your body.

More about winter camping:

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About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

Read more about our story.