A travel cot is a must-buy for parents who want their children to sleep comfortably while they are away from home.
What is a travel cot and what is it used for?
A travel cot is, well, just that really – a newborn bed that folds down into a carry bag or case to be used when travelling.
It can be used as either an addition to, or as a replacement for, a traditional newborn crib, but is usually smaller in size.
Travel cots typically have metal or plastic frames with breathable mesh or woven fabric side panels and a stable bottom, which usually comes with a firm (and possibly thin) mattress that can be folded down and packed away.
You'll often find a mesh window or two so that you can keep an eye on your baby and the covers are usually machine-washable.
Heavier travels cots may even have wheels and also come in a travel bag where other baby essentials can be stored.
Newborns can sleep in travel cots and some products even come with specially-designed bassinets. If you are planning on using it long-term, then looking at a travel cot that can adapt and grow with your baby is a good idea.
Why buy a travel cot? Do I actually need one?
Before diving into the world of travel cots, check whether you actually need one. Travel cots can be expensive and take up unnecessary space in your house, so if you’ll only use it for two weeks of the year, it’s worth looking for alternatives.
Newborns have even more options – a co-sleeper, Moses basket or the carrycot attachment of a travel system could all double as travel sleeping solutions.
As well as saving you money, this option has the added bonus of providing a familiar environment for your child, encouraging them to settle more easily.
However, if you and your little one will be away from home often, a travel cot will allow you to set up a bed for your baby anywhere, knowing they will be sleeping in a safe and comforting environment that feels and smells familiar wherever they rest their head.
Travel cots are also useful when staying with family (think grandparents) or friends overnight, as you’ll have everything you need without them having to worry about bedding, and even for general day-to-day use.
When you go on holiday, check if a travel cot comes with your accommodation. Hotels, holiday cottages and apartments are usually well equipped for families so buying a travel cot could be a waste of money.
What about safety and comfort?
Safety and comfort are, of course, the most important factors to consider when buying a travel cot.
Travel cots are meant for sleep, so comfort is crucial. If travelling is a rare occurrence, your child may find it unsettling to be in a new cot, so the comfier they are the better.
If you plan to buy in-store, ask to see the cot being assembled. Check how sturdy it is and if the cot has wheels, make sure they can be locked or tucked away when not in use.
You should check that your child cannot climb out of the cot and that there are no corners where your child’s clothes could become caught, posing a risk of strangulation.
Choking hazards are also something to look out for so make sure that small parts, like zips, are well covered and can't be swallowed.
The Lullaby Trust provides expert advice on safer sleep for babies, and says that all travel cots must comply with British Standards Institution (BSI) safety standards regardless of how old they are. If there is no safety standard number on the travel cot then you shouldn’t buy it.
Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions, even if you buy second-hand. If the travel cot comes without a manual then you should be able to find it on the manufacturer’s website.
Are travel cot mattresses safe?
The travel cot's original mattress is perfectly safe to use, but it needs to be firm, entirely flat and waterproof with no soft or cushioned areas, particularly around the baby’s head.
There shouldn’t be any loose or bulky bedding in the cot which could cause overheating either and the ideal temperature for a baby’s room is between 16 and 20 degrees.
Sleep positioners and pillows should not be placed in any cot and babies should be placed on their backs with their feet at the foot of the bed.
A Lullaby Trust spokesperson says, “Soft mattresses are known to increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) as they make it harder for babies to lose body heat, which can cause them to become too hot.
You may find that the mattress in the travel cot feels thinner and harder than standard baby mattresses, but don’t be tempted to place folded blankets or a quilt under your baby.”
A sleeping bag or well-fitted swaddle is the safest option for use in a travel cot as it is harder to securely tuck bedding into a slimmer mattress.
How much does a travel cot cost?
Prices range from £20 to over £100, so your budget will likely depend on how much you'll use it.
If you're likely to use it daily, then you may want to invest a little bit more, although the most expensive travel cots aren't necessarily the best. On the flip-side, if you think you'll use it a couple of times a year, then you may want to set a stricter budget.
Models like the Red Kite Sleeptight cost as little as £30, but if you're after something with more bells and whistles then the Baby Bjorn Easy Go retails at £219 and lasts well into the toddler years.
Can I buy a second-hand cot?
You could justify spending money on a more expensive travel cot by checking its resale value, or you could buy second-hand.
Second-hand travel cots can go from anywhere between £10 and £80. If you decide to take this route then follow travel cot safety advice and check its condition before buying.
You should make sure that the travel cot isn’t damaged or broken, that the frame is intact and that there aren’t any sharp edges that could cause injury to your baby.
Ask if you can assemble the travel cot and fold it down to make sure all the mechanisms are working properly and, while it is up, check that the cot is sturdy enough and that your baby will be safe and secure while inside.
Which travel cot is best?
Pop-up travel cot
A pop-up travel cot is a compact option for a newborn as these are easy to transport and fold down small enough to be carried in your luggage. They are also extremely light, weighing around three kilograms, and they pop up by themselves, as the name suggests.
However, a cot like this will only last until your baby is 18 months old and will cost between £70 and £100, so if you’re looking for something with longevity then a traditional travel cot may be more suitable.
Traditional travel cot
Traditional travel cots are usually suitable for children up to three years of age, but weight ranges can vary.
This style typically weighs between six and 12 kilograms. Although far more transportable than a standard cot or crib, they’re generally too big to go in your hand luggage and tend to take up a large amount of boot space.
The only cot that bucks this trend is the Phil & Teds Traveller which, at 2.8kg, is one of the only cots on the market that is lighter than the majority of newborn babies.
But if you are looking for something that is closer to an actual cot, and is likely to be more of a semi-permanent fixture at the grandparents’ house, then the likes of the BabyBjorn Easy Go, Joie Kubbie Sleep or Baby Dan will offer greater longevity.
As they’re closer to actual beds, these are the most sturdy, and may even come with extra features. The downside is that they are more difficult to transport – we wouldn’t recommend travelling with these unless you’re driving.
Choosing a cot that is durable and will last for years could be top of your agenda if you plan to have (or already have) more than one child.
For those who like to explore the great outdoors, there are brands that offer cots suitable for camping, such as the Littlelife Arc 2 or the Koo-di Sun and Sleep Pop-Up.
Take a look at our travel cot reviews where we reveal which five cots won our coveted Mumsnet Best badge for 2019.
Other things to consider when buying a travel cot
The main point of a travel cot is to know you can travel with it easily. Heavier and bulkier travel cots are best saved for the car, although do check the size of your boot first.
If you tend to use public transport or regularly holiday abroad, then you’ll want a cot that’s lightweight, easy to carry, and possibly fits into an overhead locker of a plane. For camping or hiking, a compact travel cot is a must.
Pop-up cots are the way to go when it comes to size and weight. Pop-up travel cots are extremely light and fold down small enough to pop in a decent-sized shoulder bag and carted almost anywhere.
If weight is of little concern, then opt for a more traditional travel cot with good longevity instead.
2. Assembly and storage
Travel cots by nature are usually easy to put up and fold down.
With most, you have to pull the sides into place before pushing the base flat, locking the wheels and manoeuvring it into position.
Pop-ups are the easiest in terms of assembly because they spring into shape themselves, but some come in separate pieces and others, like the Littlelife Arc 2, uses poles like a tent.
The amount of space you want your cot to take up may also influence your decision.
To fold down a more traditional travel cot there are usually release locks on all four sides of the frame. Once loosened these will cause the frame to go slack, and the middle of the cot can then be pulled up, creating an oblong shape that is typically fairly compact.
Some models have mattresses that wrap around the frame before they go into a travel bag. Most cots will usually fit into the boot of your car, the back of a cupboard or under a bed once folded, but pop-up cots tend to be more compact and easier to carry.
Babies create mess – and a lot of it too. Look for a removable mattress that comes with a fitted sheet, which you will be able to stick in the washing machine.
Some travel cots have removable side panels, but if they don’t then wipe clean with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. For stubborn stains you can use household detergent but make sure you remove all traces of the product and that the soiled area is clean and dry before placing your child inside the cot.
4. Extra features
Many larger travel cots double up as a playpen which is great for keeping your child safe while you get on with jobs at home or if you're visiting somewhere that isn't child-proof.
Some come with changing tables, mobiles, and bassinets for newborns, and are heavier as they need to be sturdy to hold the attachments.
You’ll also find that the added extras will need to be carried separately once the cot is folded down adding to the weight. Brands which offer attachments like these include Joie, BabyBjorn and Graco.
Some travel cots, like the Arc 2 also come with added extras like built-in mosquito nets for camping and hot climates, and others act as a UV sunshade so they are perfect for protecting your child whether they are napping on the beach or in the garden.
Why you should trust us
Mumsnet has been making parents’ lives easier since 2000 and, in those years, we’ve seen, tried and reviewed countless products. We’ve watched trends come and go and safety features become more and more slick. Our testing is best in class – we rigorously test each product with real children in real-life situations as well as standardised lab-style testing and we're confident that our testing leaves no stone unturned. This means that parents don’t need to compare reviews or hunt around for other opinions. They know Mumsnet has it covered.
About Mumsnet Reviews
All Mumsnet product reviews are written by real parents after weeks of research and testing – this includes recommendations from the Mumsnet Talk boards. We work hard to provide honest and independent advice you can trust. Sometimes, we earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. However, we never allow this to influence our coverage. Read our how we test page to find out more.
All prices correct at time of publication