What is a travel cot?
A travel cot is a collapsible cot that can be folded down, stored in a bag and taken on holiday or packed in the car. Most travel cots have a plastic or metal frame and mesh sides, and come with a lightly padded mattress. Some have wheels or castors. A travel cot can also double as a playpen.
A travel cot can be an essential bit of kit if you plan on travelling with your baby or toddler or you make regular trips to cot-free homes.
How long do you plan to use it?
The length of time you intend to use your travel cot for will help determine which one you buy. Different travel cots are suitable for specific age ranges and using them outside of the guidelines is not safe.
If you want an option to use from birth, your newborn can sleep overnight in a travel bassinette but these are only suitable for the first few months, as they are quickly outgrown. Some buggy carrycots are approved for overnight sleeping and may even have a stand you can purchase so you can use the carrycot like a Moses basket, such as the Mamas & Papas Mylo. However, you may need to buy another mattress, approved for overnight sleeping, so make sure you double check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Most standard travel cots can be used with a newborn baby if the cot is supplied with a bassinette insert. This allows the mattress to hang in the cot at waist height, rather than sit on the base of the cot. A bassinette insert is suitable from birth to around 3 months.
If you’re after an option to use for your older baby or toddler, you’ll need to check out the size of the cots you’re interested in. Travel cots differ widely in size. Some of the most compact cots are light to carry and easy to store but for this reason will only last from around 3 months to 18 months. Others are bigger and you can use them from 3 months or 6 months up to 3 years or even 5 years of age, as with the Bushbaby Nestegg Pop-up Travel Cot. However, most pop-up cots, such as the Samsonite Pop-up Bubble Cot, are a great option for camping but they usually only last from 6 to around 18 months due to their size.
Make sure you check the manufacturers guidelines before buying and try before you buy to make sure the travel cot is tall enough, long enough and to your liking. A basic guideline is, if you think your toddler could tip the cot over, stop using the cot.
Do you need to carry it?
If you travel by plane or train, it’s likely that you’ll have to carry the travel cot. Some travel cots can be really heavy (around 10kg), so look for a lightweight version (around 2.5kg). Also check how the cot folds – look for one that’s compact and has a carry handle or shoulder strap.
Some cots have wheels on the storage bag, which can make it easy to transport.
If the travel cot is going straight into the car, your only concern is the size of your boot (and how much luggage you’re taking). Ask to see the cot folded down in the shop first and check out the dimensions.
Do you want to use it for more than sleep?
If you’re visiting a house that hasn’t been child-proofed then a bigger travel cot that doubles as a playpen would be incredibly useful.
Some travel cots also work as a changing station and have a clip-on, wipe-clean attachment that fits over the cot.
A few travel cots on the market can also be used as beach shelter, complete with UV sun sheets.
Do you need rapid set-up?
If you often arrive at your destination late at night, or you need to contain your baby straight away – think campsite or hotel room full of hazards – you’ll need to get the travel cot up quick. Ask to see the travel cot being assembled in the shop to get an idea of ease of use, or if you have a young baby look for a pop-up cot like the Samsonite Pop-up Bubble Cot, Koo-di Pop-Up Bubble Cot or the Koo-di Travel Bassinette. The last thing you need at the end of a holiday is a travel cot that you can’t fold down. To avoid the stress of trying to collapse the cot every which way possible, practice before you leave home.
Will you need to move it?
Being able to move your travel cot easily is a real bonus, especially if you’re sharing a hotel room, or you need extra space during the day.
Some travel cots have wheels or castors, which makes them pretty portable. If the cot has four wheels, two of these should be lockable to stop the cot moving by accident. A common feature is having two wheels and two standard legs, where to move the cot you simply lift up one end and push it along.
Do you need it to keep insects out?
If you’re holidaying in tropical climes, or where there are lots of insects, you should opt for a travel cot that can be fully enclosed. Most travel cots are designed with fabric mesh sides that will keep some bugs out but an open-topped cot doesn’t cut it if insects, and particularly mosquitoes, are a problem. Zip-up sides or a zip-up top will help you solve this problem. Buying an insect net cover is also an option.
Do you want an easy-to-clean option?
Regular use, air travel and slinging your cot in the back of the car will probably leave it looking a little shoddy, so go for a travel cot with removable machine-washable covers, or a wipe clean fabric.
Choosing a dark colour might also be wise – cream or beige is sure to suffer at the hands of a toddler or a baggage handler.
Do you need a mattress?
Travel cot mattresses are notoriously thin and hard, so you might want to buy your own mattress. However, remember that you’ll have to carry it, too, so check how easy it is to fold or stow. All mattresses should be aired and kept clean and dry, and most travel cot mattresses are wipe-clean.
Some parents make the mattress more comfortable by putting a towel under the sheet and according to the FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) this is a suitable way of adding extra padding, as long as the towel is the same size as the mattress, it fits tightly and the mattress underneath is waterproof.
Do you want to buy second-hand?
If you’re only going to use your travel cot a handful of times it’s worth looking at a second-hand option. But before you grab a bargain there are a few points to remember:
- All travel cots should comply with British Standards Institution (BSI) safety standard BS EN 716:1 2008, regardless of age. If you can’t see this number on the cot then don’t buy it.
- The seller should supply original instructions, or ask them to print them off the web (most manufacturers publish them as a PDF). Some cots have instructions printed on the base.
- Ask for a demo and practice unfolding and folding the cot. The lock system on the pull up/push down style of cot can sometimes wear.
- Inspect the condition of the mattress carefully. The mattress should be waterproof.
- Check the mattress size – ask to see the mattress folded out in the cot, and folded up in the cot. There shouldn’t be any gaps around the edges. Also, the top of the mattress should be 50cm below the cot’s top rail.
- Look over the frame for damage. If it’s a metal frame, check there are no sharp edges.
- Make sure the carry bag is supplied – travel cots are virtually impossible to carry when not in the bag!
Where do you start?
To help you choose the right travel cot for you baby we’ve undertaken in-depth reviews of travel cots. We’ve also complied round-ups of 10 of the best suggestions to save time: