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What is the Best Camping Bed – avoiding aches and pains

Sleeping under the stars doesn’t mean compromising comfort and giving up a good nights rest. Sleeping directly on the ground can be hard, lumpy, and can get very cold and wet. Choosing the right bedding can dramatically increase your overnight camping experience.

The best camping bed to avoid aches and pains depends on your needs and budget. Listed below are the pros and cons of sleeping pads, air mattresses, cots, and hammocks.

No matter which sleeping option you choose, you must remember to choose flat, even, dry land, preferable on soft grass. Remove any and all sticks, rocks and what ever else might get in the way of a good nights sleep or puncture a hole in your gear, and always place a tarp under your tent.

Sleeping Pads

There are three types of sleeping pads, inflatable, self inflating, and closed cell foam. Sleeping pads come in different weights, sizes, cushioning, and insulation. Insulation is one of the pads most important jobs–make sure to look for the R value when purchasing. The higher the R value, the more insulation, 4 being good, 7 being very high.

Inflatable pads are very lightweight and compact. They are the number one choice for ultralight backpackers and hikers. They can be pretty comfortable and convenient, but quality inflatable pads come with a higher price tag, and are still susceptible to punctures. Though they do come with repair patches that are easy to fix in the field, inflatable pads may not be the best insulators.

Closed cell foam pads which look like some yoga mats may not offer the most cushion and can be bulky. They are extremely durable, good insulators, the least expensive, and double as a cushioned seat when folded or rolled up.

Self inflating also known as open cell pads are like a crossbreed between inflatable and closed cell foam pads. They are more durable than inflatable pads, but are still prone to punctures. They roll up nice and tight so they’re not as bulky as a closed cell pad, but add more cushion making them a bit more comfortable. Self inflating pads are usually the widest, warmest, and don’t tend to lose air overnight.

Air Mattresses

Air Mattresses are basically over sized inflatable sleeping pads, and my preferred sleeping option. Air mattresses are not ideal if camping in the back country, because they are too heavy and bulky to carry on long hikes. Choosing the right air mattress can feel like you never left the comforts of home.

The price of an air mattress can range from $10-$300, and I promise you get what you pay for. First thing you need to decide is what size mattress you need? How many people will be sleeping on it? Will it fit in your tent? Does it need to be tall for ease of getting in and out of bed and for added comfort and insulation?  Do you want it to be low to the ground to save packing space and weight?

Once you know what kind of air mattress you’re in the market for, now you need to look at the quality. Stick with brand names like Intex or Coleman. Air mattresses that come with a built-in pump are usually of higher quality, and foot pumps can take too much effort and time to set up.

How much is the weight capacity? Is it enough to support the user or users? The air mattress should have a network of internal air coils or chambers which support and insulates you from the cold ground. The higher the coil count the better. A queen mattress should have a coil count of 30 or more.

Due to the weight of the sleeper and changes in air temperature, mattresses can deflate overnight and compromise your sleep. If you want to be fancy, get a mattress that comes with sensors that automatically pumps more air into the mattress when the pressure drops.

For added luxury chose a mattress with a plush top for additional comfort and weight distribution. Opt for one that is topped with velveteen fabric and is waterproof to prevent slipping of bedding and the awful sound rubber makes when tossing in bed.

Looking for the ultimate comfort? Add a memory foam topper, but be careful, you may never get out of bed and sleep away your camping trip.


Cots can be very comfortable. They lift you off the ground keeping you warm in cold weather, and cooler in hot. They give you extra room in your tent allowing you to store gear underneath, and can double as a lounger by the fire. Like most camping gear there are many options, and your final decision should be based on your needs.

Most cots are 25″ W x 75″ L which fits the average person. There are larger, wider, and smaller models to accommodate taller, heavier adults, or small children. Of course this will affect the price.

Cots are more suitable for stationary camping weighing in at 15-20 lbs for standard lightweight aluminum frame. There are ultralight weight options that are more compact and only 2-3 lbs, but are not as durable. If you need something heavy-duty go with a steel frame, these are also best for larger adults. Always check the weight rating.

Cots come in different fabrics and may not differ much in quality or feel. My personal opinion is to stay away from canvas fabrics. To me they are the most comfortable and breathable, but they are heavier, difficult to clean, and tend to stain and trap odors.

Which ever fabric you choose, pick one that allows you to change the tension of the fabric allowing you to adjust to your desired support level. Some cots come padded for extra cushioning. Keep in mind the more features the heavier, and more expensive it gets. You can always bring your topper from home for a more flexible option for your cot.

There are 3 main leg styles. Military X legs, vertical, and horizontal bar in a C shape which are not suitable for outdoor use. Which ever design you choose, just make sure they come with rubber caps on the end of the legs to prevent tearing on your tent floor. Rubber caps may be sold separately.

I personally love sleeping on a cot, however, because of its storage size not only in my trunk but in my house, and the fact it only sleeps one, I got rid of mine and I stick with pads and air mattresses.


Hammocks are fun and a great way to bring down your pack size, because with the right hammock you can leave your tent at home. Like all gear you must first decide what it’s intended use is, and always check that the weight limits and dimensions are capable of supporting its user.

Hammocks are not suitable for all terrain. You must be camping where you know there will be trees not only 10-20 ft apart, but at least 8″ thick.

There are 3 basic types of hammocks. Open models which are basically just hammocks and only recommended for mild weather or lounging around the campsite. Ultralight models which double as a shelter and are great for more experienced back country explores, but are smaller, less comfortable and durable, and most don’t come with all the bells and whistles as the expedition models.

For added comfort and shelter from the elements, go for expedition model that is larger, comes with a rain fly, and mosquito netting.

Hammocks can get chilly fast from the cold air circulating underneath you. Some models come with under quilts which is basically a blanket that hangs right below you, or stretch straps which keep your sleeping pad in place. If not, you can always bring your sleeping bag for added cushion and warmth.

Not all hammocks come with their own suspension system and this may have to be bought separately. If so, make sure you buy a system that uses trunk straps, not rope. The wrong material can damage the tree that is supporting the hammock.

A hammock my not be comfortable for everyone. If you can not sleep on your back or side all night I recommend going with a different sleeping option.




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