Cots are not a new technology. George Washington used one that folded out of a trunk when he traveled during the Revolutionary War. If you grew up watching M.A.S.H., you’ll remember the cot as a key set piece in Hawkeye’s “Swamp.” The military still uses them on a regular basis, but recently they’ve been given new life for the outdoor set. You can find plush versions, with padding and accessories like built-in side tables, and sleek versions actually meant to be used on backpacking trips.
I’ve been using sleeping pads for decades, and they’ve come a long way in that time. They’re lighter, better insulated, and more comfortable than ever before. I have a few favorites that I alternate between on backpacking excursions. But on car-camping trips, my family and I typically use Coleman air mattresses. (Imagine a massive six-person tent with the floor covered in five-inch-thick rafts.) You’d think we’d have the sleeping part of camping dialed by now, but those mattresses come with their own set of headaches: they’re bulky, take up most of the floor space, and slowly lose air throughout the night. In the spirit of trying new things, I ordered the Eureka Camp cot ($110). After weeks of testing, I can confidently say that George Washington was on to something. Getting off the ground and onto a cot has elevated my car-camping experience into the realm of glamping, even though I’m in the same old family tent.
Let’s talk about some obvious advantages of not sleeping on the ground. I don’t care how thick your pad is—if there’s a rock under you, you’re going to feel it. A cot gives you a perfectly flat, even, and raised surface. You’re not made uncomfortable by bumps or spots where your hips compress the pad to the ground. The Eureka Camp cot cradles you just enough to keep you in place while you doze off, which I found limits my tossing and turning through the night. That means you’re probably not going to like this cot if you’re a side sleeper.
The Eureka Camp cot is made from 600-denier polyester, with a leather panel where your head rests. The brand says it can support up to 300 pounds, though I haven’t tried maxing it out. I’m pushing 200 pounds, and it feels plenty supportive. At 14.9 pounds, it’s not light, and it takes up some space in the back of the car—it’s 37.5 inches long and 5.5 inches wide when folded and stored in its bag. But setting it up takes no time at all. Place it on the ground, unfold it, lock the legs, and you’re sleeping like like a baby. It stands tall—17.5 inches off the ground—so forget about it if you’re in a low-clearance tent. Getting off the ground makes you feel like you’re lying in an actual bed, which is a surprisingly civilized touch at a campsite, where everything else is dirty and smells like sweaty socks. The raised platform also gives you a bench to sit on when you’re changing, unpacking, or taking off shoes.
I’m determined to buy three more of these cots so every member of the family can have one. Maybe one for the dog, too. The tent will look like a military barrack, but I could always dress it up by adding some faux-fur throws to the foot of the cots, retro lanterns, and Instagram-friendly wide-brim hats for the ladies. There’s nothing more luxurious than a good night’s sleep in the woods.