The beginner's guide to buying a travel cot

Never was a piece of baby equipment given a more misleading name. For the majority of travel cots, the term travel and cot should not really be in the same sentence. This is something worth bearing in mind if you are going to do any "proper" travelling i.e. anything other than slinging it in the boot and slinging it out again at the other end (assuming you have a boot big enough to take it). Dragging cot, child, buggy and bag down an endless railway platform is something you only do once, unless you're a sucker for punishment. But before we get started on the particular design features to look out for there are a few questions you need to ask before buying.

Do you really need one?

Not that we're trying to talk you out of it, but if your idea of travelling is the occasional trip to granny's and a fortnight in the summer, then you may not need to invest in one at all. Many hotels, villa companies, even B&B's etc will be able to provide a cot of some description if given enough warning. As for the trip to granny's - you have two options. You can buy one and leave it there (thereby cleverly removing the need to store the darn thing) or you can have shares in one - clubbing together with friends with children of a similar age and taking it in turns to store and use the cot.

If you do want your own cot, which type do you go for?

The latest thing is the pop-up-tent style of cot. Fantastically light, portable, easy to store and coming down in price all the time, this really is a design innovation. It even fits in your suitcase, so why would you buy anything else? The answer is often longevity - some designs are only really suitable for the first few months.

The traditional style of travel cot is effectively a normal size cot that collapses and usually fits into a bag. The attractions of this type of cot are it's suitable from a very young age (some even come with basinette attachments for tiny babies - which seem to be popular even if no one seems to be able to agree on how to spell bassinet/bassinette.) The traditional cot should last until the child is ready for a big bed and doubles up as an emergency playpen for the toddler years. The downsides traditionally are weight - they really aren't that portable; bulk - they don't fold up that small; and comfort - to us they've never looked particularly comfy.

Until relatively recently they were all much of a muchness, but at last manufacturers are waking up to some of the fundamental design flaws. Things to look out for are:

  • Wheels

Now all luggage seems to be on wheels, they've finally cottoned on that it would be a good idea to help poor parents transport cots this way. With cots weighing up to 18kg it doesn't completely solve the portability problem, but it's definitely something to look out for if you are thinking of doing any travelling in anything other than a car.

  • Weight

The traditional travel cots are all pretty heavy.

  • Bulk when folded

Think before you buy, some are more compact than others. Do you have space to store it?

  • Size when open

Some are longer than others. If your child is tall, you might want to look for a longer cot, otherwise he or she may well grow out of a smaller travel cot before being ready to graduate to a bed.

  • Comfort

Comfort is pretty much a case of getting what you pay for. If you're only going to use the cot occasionally then you may want to go budget. If you're never at home, well it's probably worth shelling out. Some have an extra mattress you can buy for additional padding; but having said all that, most children don't complain about comfort, just about having to go to sleep at all!

  • Pockets in the carry bag

As a feature this doesn't sound that important, but it's amazing how many nappies, wipes, toys etc you can stuff in the bag/pockets and this can be crucial if you want room in the suitcase for just a few of your own things.

  • Collapsing/ folding mechanism

All the instruction leaflets will say it's a one-flick easy action whatever - don't you believe it. We're sure all are do-able once you have the knack, but some - particularly grandparents and partners - never seem to get that knack. Do study the nutshell comments and be aware that some are definitely easier to collapse/put up than others. One reviewer warns: "Don't be around the first time it's assembled, then they can't always say you're the only one who knows how to do it!"

Last updated: about 3 years ago