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Reviews > Sleep Gear > Pads and Air Mattresses > Cascade Designs LuxuryLite Cot > Test Report by Kerri Larkin
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
Image Courtesy of Cascade Designs
Back in my youth, I used to throw a tarp on the ground and sleep with no problem at all. Then I injured my back at work. Suddenly I could no longer sleep in comfort. Since then, I've been on a constant search to find a way to get a comfortable night's sleep. I've tried self-inflating mattresses (they almost all self-deflate during the night), cots (an engineering degree needed to erect and a crane to transport), so called four-wheel drive mattresses (read huge, heavy, and cumbersome), and finally found gold in a hammock. The problem is, though, in Australia there aren't always two obliging trees and I've yet to find a solution to that problem. Enter, the LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot...
The LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot (hereafter referred to as the Cot) promises a lot and the Cascade Designs website best explains the features:
My Cot arrived in a black nylon stuff sack with "Therm-a-rest" printed on one end and a circular cardboard tag saying, "LuxuryLite Cot". Opening the stuff sack revealed a beautifully packed Cot with all the components nestled inside the nylon feet. There are a total of twelve nylon feet, one cover, two shock-corded poles to make the frame, and sixteen anodized aluminum poles which form the bows. Eight of the anodized poles are black (male poles) and eight are gold (female poles).
The nylon cover appeared to be in perfect condition with no loose threads. I have to say, it does look flimsy to be supporting my weight, and looks as though it will be very hot to sleep on due to being waterproof nylon. There is an upside and an underside to the cover meaning it can only be used one way. The underside is black and the upside is grey. The long edges of the cover are rolled and stitched to form a sleeve for inserting the frame poles into. There are small circular holes at appropriate lengths along the sleeve into which the bows can be inserted. The edges of the sleeves are double stitched.
There are two shock-corded aluminum poles of 13 mm (1/2 in) diameter which form the side frames by sliding in to the sleeve on the cover. They snap together very easily and form a fairly rigid pole.
The 16 anodized aluminum poles are, as mentioned above, colour coded to male and female. One male and one female are clicked together to form a single bow. The ends of this bow are inserted through holes in the nylon feet and click in to place with a very positive engagement and an audible 'click'. A double bow is made by adding a second bow to the same foot, i.e. two bows in one set of feet.
After tipping the contents of the stuff sack on the floor, I found a somewhat crumpled page of instructions at the bottom of the sack. These are on a single piece of paper with English on one side and French on the other. The instructions are clear, concise, have great illustrations, and best of all, don't appear to have been badly translated from a foreign language! What more could I want?
The instructions cover how to insert the shock-corded poles into the nylon cover, assemble the single and double bows, how to attach the bows to the frame (and where), and how to assemble both the lightweight and standard setups. Having done the procedure once, it's unlikely I will need to refer to the instructions again, however, I did initially get the assembly wrong as I was too eager to try it out without reading the instructions. More about that later...
Should the instructions ever be needed again, they can be downloaded and printed from the Cascade Designs website. There's also a useful video showing how to assemble the Cot.
As I mentioned above, I was too eager to read the instructions fully so when I first assembled my Cot, I had located the bows in the incorrect hole. This left me quite a lot closer to the ground when I laid on the bed. After reading the correct way to do it, I reassembled the Cot without further incident. So how does it go together? As it turns out, very well is the answer. Although I can't manage it in anywhere near the claimed three minutes yet, I'm sure I will get to that target with more use and familiarity.
First, the shock corded poles are snapped together. These are then inserted in the sleeves of the cover. This can be a little tricky as the poles want to keep poking out through the small circular holes in the cover. It also feels as though I need to be quite careful doing this threading in order not to tear the cover, which is probably a lot stronger than it seems. One of the problems with having used older equipment is equating weight and bulk with strength, yet many modern materials are far stronger without that bulk and weight. It will be interesting to see if I do have any problems with tearing the cover during use.
One potential problem in assembling this Cot is having to lay it face down on the ground. If the ground is wet it means the side I sleep on will get wet. If the ground is rocky, I'm concerned I may puncture the nylon cover. I'll be interested to see what happens to my Cot during the test period.
With the cover laid on the ground upside down, the next task is to attach the bow and feet to the cot. With the standard setup, four single bows and two double bows are needed. There is a hooked part on the feet which is inserted into those circular holes in the cover and is then pushed against the side frame. With one foot in place, the tricky part begins: to get the other foot to attach to the frame, the bow must be pulled up in the middle while simultaneously pushing down on the free foot. This creates, well, a bow in the pole allowing the foot to snap into the opposite frame. It takes a fair amount of pressure to get a sufficient bow. When the second foot is in place, the result puts significant lateral tension on the frame, making it quite rigid. These single bows are placed in the first and third holes from each end of the cover. The centre two holes are where the double bows are placed, to give extra support under the hips and back.
My first problem with the Cot was in trying to attach the double bows. These require significant strength to bend sufficiently to get the foot hooks to engage in the frame poles. Due to a previous elbow injury, I don't have a lot of strength in one arm and at first I was unable to pull hard enough to bend the bow sufficiently. It took a fair bit of practice to be able to do this.
Once assembled, the cot can easily be carried with one hand. I'm sure it would be light enough to make a great kite on a windy day! It's probably fairly easy to get on to the Cot when it's on the ground, but when on a wooden floor (or the slippery nylon tub of a tent) it can easily slide away from me. When I laid on the Cot for the first time it creaked and groaned, but certainly held my weight. Nifty! First test passed. When I had the bows incorrectly assembled I found there was only a finger-width between my hip and the floor. With the bows correctly assembled, there was at least two or three fingers between me and the floor. I'm guessing there would be even more clearance for a lighter person.
The first thing I noticed on laying down was that this is a very narrow bed. When laying on my back, my arms flop over the sides with the frame poles digging in. I wriggled and squirmed but could not find a comfortable way to lay on my back, although I'm quite a lot wider than a 'standard' person. Fortunately, I'm a side sleeper and once I rolled on my side it was a whole different picture. There's enough room to draw my knees up a bit and it's comfortable enough to scoot over to one side of the Cot to give my arms somewhere to go. I did notice that by drawing my knees up it took the weight off of the last bow, which lifted off the floor a little then banged against the floor when I moved.
Okay, so finally I'm at the important bit: how comfortable is the Cot? I'm pleased to say that from my minimal experience so far (a fifteen minute nap) it's very comfortable. In many ways it feels similar to my hammock in that the material conforms to my body shape and thereby practically removes pressure spots from my body. Once I found the 'sweet spot', I felt no pressure on my hips or shoulders, and my back felt quite supported. I did notice I need a higher than normal pillow to get my neck comfortable though. It will certainly be interesting to try this Cot for my first full night.
Although the marketing says this Cot eliminates creaking bed frames I still found it to be quite noisy when moving on the bed. With the bows correctly positioned, the Cot is taught enough to act like a drum and I also found a bit of creaking around the frame. I'm guessing a lot of this would be eliminated if sleeping on ground, but it's quite noisy on a wooden floor.
I'll also be interested to see if my weight causes the feet to start burying themselves in the ground when I lay on the Cot. Potentially, this could see me in contact with the ground rather than hovering above it.
Although the nylon cover was initially quite hot and sweaty against my skin (it was very humid when I did my initial test), I found the parts of my body in contact with the cover began to become chilly after a while. It may be that insulation, like a sleeping pad, is required for comfort in colder weather. Fortunately, it's already autumn here so I'll be able to assess this during the test period. I noticed on the website that Cascade Designs also sell a breathable mesh cover for the Cot, which is designed for warm weather use.
The LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is a fascinating idea: allowing campers to be up off the floor in a comfortable non-self-deflating bed. It's certainly light enough and small enough to pack in place of a self-inflating mattress, and, from my first test, appears to be more comfortable.
I've used the LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot on two overnight camping occasions so far. Both were car-based camping trips to Yuragir National Park on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. This is a magnificent area of coastal heath which is regenerating after years of intensive sand mining. There are very few trees in the area and almost all vegetation has been regenerated from seed of local species. After ten years it's hard to believe the area was once completely denuded. It does make it hard to find somewhere to hang a hammock, though, so the Cot has been ideal for these trips.
Conditions on both trips were mild to cool with daytime highs around 22 C (71 F) and overnight lows of 10 C (50 F) and 6 C (43 F) respectively.
On both occasions I used the Cot with my Tarptent Double Rainbow tent. The Cot fit well and there was still plenty of room for my pack.
I've used the Cot on two other overnight occasions but these were sleeping at friends houses: it makes a nifty guest bed!
After the third time I put the Cot together to demonstrate it to a friend, I found one of the black metal tubes used to form a bow had a significant bend in it. I was a bit flummoxed by this as I'd put it together the same way each time. The only difference had been the bow placement: this time I'd put the double bows in a different position to see if it would be more comfortable on my hips.
I emailed Cascade Designs Customer Service to report the problem and to ask a couple of other questions. A few days later I received an email from the Australian distributor asking for more information about the problem, and if I could call them. The distributor was initially reluctant to do anything seeing as the Cot had come from the US and not from him, and he was newly appointed and didn't have any spare parts as yet. He told me he would look into it. A couple of days later I received an email saying that he had ordered the parts and would forward a new bow to me as soon as it arrived from the US. About two weeks later I was surprised to find a package arrive containing not one, but two new bows. Now I have a spare! None of my other questions were answered either by Cascade Designs (US) or the Australian Distributor.
I was also surprised to receive an email from Bruce Warren, who invented the Cot, who'd seen my review on BackpackGearTest.org. He sent back a couple of my photos showing how I'd set the cot up wrongly. This may have contributed to the bent bow, but I had thought I'd been very careful to follow the instructions correctly. Apparently, I hadn't.
The following is a direct quote from Bruce's email with his recommendations:
As you can see from the above, despite my best efforts I'd managed to put the bows together upside down. I'm pleased to say I've had no further incidents.
Right out of the box the LuxuryLite was pretty comfortable, but I found it to be quite narrow for a large body. There is more than adequate support and even with my weight, I haven't touched the ground yet. The fabric appears to almost mold to my body shape, giving a firm, yet pressure free support. Because I normally have trouble sleeping in a bed, I was curious as to how I would last on the Cot. I found it does take some getting used to, but then so does every new bed.
I still find it hard to adjust the double bows into place as they need quite a bit of arm strength, but I'm learning a few postural tricks to help rather than relying on brute strength. Practice has also made me a lot faster at setting up the Cot and I'm closer to the advertised time of three minutes, but I'm probably still a bit slow due to checking everything twice now.
Getting on to and off of the Cot requires a bit of suppleness, which I'm lacking, however, it's very forgiving in terms of putting weight on a single spot to lever myself up. As mentioned previously, the fabric of the Cot kind of cocoons me a bit so I've never felt like I would fall off like when using some inflatable mats. Speaking of which, it can make the Cot surprisingly comfortable by putting a mat on top. I've tried both self-inflating mats and closed cell foam pads. Both work just fine at giving a little more padding around the hips and shoulders. Of course, that does add to the weight if backpacking.
I have found the Cot fabric to be a bit slippery when on a slope. I'm a restless sleeper and toss and turn a fair bit, and I found myself slowly sliding towards the end of the Cot one night. I wondered if a few ribs painted on with silicone might stop that, but haven't tried that as yet.
One of the other issues that occurs with this Cot is a familiar problem to hammock campers: cold air under the Cot can sap the heat away. It was a welcome feature in summer, but now that winter is here it's not so welcome. The best solution for me has been to use a closed cell foam pad between the Cot and sleeping bag to add some insulation.
In terms of durability, I'm seeing no signs of wear or tearing around the slots in the cover where the bows clip in. I'll continue to monitor that. I also haven't seen any appreciable sag in the cover, which seems just as tight as it was on day one. I like that.
Now summer has gone and I'm using a sleeping bag rather than just a sheet, I'm finding the Cot more comfortable. Lying directly on the fabric was a bit warm at times.
Perhaps my biggest difficulty in getting a good night's sleep on the Cot is finding somewhere to put my arms. I'm normally a side sleeper, which I find to be the best position if I can arrange my arms in a hug-like pose. If I try to lay one arm out flat like I would on a normal bed, the side pole tends to dig in and my arm is left hanging in space. If I lay on my back, I'm wide enough that my shoulders and hips are nearly the same width as the cot, which doesn't leave much room for my arms again. It's best if I lay them across my chest like a 'Rest in peace' position, but even then the side poles tend to dig in to my arms. While it's no big deal for the first couple of hours, it gets more uncomfortable as the night wears on.
Despite my poor performance with assembling it, the LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is still going strong. I've used it in the field and as a guest bed and it handles both roles with aplomb. It is supportive and comfortable, although a bit narrow.
Wow! The Cot has had plenty of use in the last two months as I've done a bit of traveling and camping. First was three nights at my parent's farm where I slept inside the house, but on my Cot. Although it was cold outside, inside didn't get much colder than 12 C (54 F). I was on a carpeted floor, so noise was minimal and the carpet helped keep things a bit warmer, I think.
Next, was a two-night trip to Platypus Flat campground in the highlands of the mid-north coast of New South Wales (Australia). It was pretty cold these two nights with temps around 0 C (32 F) the first night and 2 C (36 F) the second night. The nights were both clear but with heavy dews.
I then used the Cot for another two nights when staying in a motel (it was way more comfortable than the sofa bed!), with temps around 16 C (61 F) overnight.
Finally, I used the Cot for an overnight camp in Boambee State Forest where again, it was around 2 C (36 F) overnight and very damp.
I've grown accustomed to using the Cot now and find it can be reasonably comfortable given that I'm both large of body and a side sleeper. I have found that I need an insulating pad on top of the Cot as I get very cold through the cot fabric, just like in a hammock. A simple closed-cell foam (CCF) pad has been enough to stop that problem when I'm traveling light but a thicker, insulated, self-inflating mattress is the last word in comfort for me.
The simple CCF pad provides a small amount of extra padding to allow my hips some further comfort, and stops the cold leaking in. For me, the easiest way to 'make the bed' has been to use my down sleeping bag as a quilt over the top of me. I usually sleep with a thermal base layer, a thick shirt and pants, and a fleece jacket over the top. With the down bag over the top I can generally be comfortable down into the -5 C (23 F) range in a normal bed, however, I started feeling cold at about the 20 C (68 C) when using the Cot alone. The addition of the CCF pad allowed me to be comfortable down to the 2 C (36 F) mark with just my thermals and down bag.
Using an insulated self-inflating mattress gave me a heap more comfort for my hips and meant I didn't wake with much of a sore back. I have a chronic back problem, as I mentioned above, so this is not a reflection of the Cot that I have a sore back it's rather the opposite. The fact that I could wake without too much pain suggests the Cot is a very good product.
I've gotten used to sleeping with my arms folded across my chest, or hugging myself when on my side, but still find the side rails dig in a bit if I'm not careful exactly how I lay. As I'm mostly a side sleeper, this was the biggest issue I found, however, the use of a sleeping pad eliminates much of the problem. It may seem a bit crazy to carry the Cot and a sleeping pad, but the level of comfort gained far outweighs the weight penalty.
I'm pleased to report I've had no further problems with the feet or rods as I'm diligent in my inspection before putting the Cot on the ground. I'm also pleased to say that I haven't noticed the Cot sinking into the ground as I'd feared it might. I was concerned that poking the poles through the fabric cover of the Cot might cause fraying and tearing, but there is minimal evidence of that so far. In fact, the Cot looks as brand new as the day I first unpacked it. This may be in part due to always using it in a tent with a ground cloth, or in a home environment, but it feels as though this Cot is durable and tough enough that I really don't have to worry about it too much.
In summary, The LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot is reasonably comfortable, practical, easier to set up than a lot of full-sized camp cots I've tried, and stows into a really small package. Although it does require some strength to set up the bows and feet, it's worth the effort. Some caution is required to ensure the assembly is correct to prevent bending the bows. The cot is super light to move around, and pretty darned light in a pack for what it provides. Some lightness is lost when winter camping due to the need for an insulating layer but there may well be lighter solutions than those I tried. The Cot gave me a comfortable night's sleep in a tent or in a guest room, and is just as accomplished in either role. In all, I've been very impressed with the Cot and will continue using it on all trips which require a tent rather than a hammock. I'm also certain it is going to see lots of use as a simple guest bed too.
That concludes my Long Term Report on the LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot. Finally, I'd like to thank both Cascade Designs Inc and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this item.
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