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Buyer's Guide to Travel Cots

Size, weight and being easy to put up are all essentials in a good travel crib or cot.


Posted: 9 June 2008
by Laura Lee Davies

Although some people use their travel cots as a day playpen at home, they come into their own as a useful, safe bed for your child until he is about three years old. (Slightly younger if he is tall for his age, slightly older if he is shorter, or simply enjoys the adventure of sleeping in it!)
Hauck Dream n Play Travel Cot
Hauck Dream n Play Travel Cot £59.99

As with any other cot, once you think he is capable of climbing out, it's safer to put him into a bed (with a bumper) so he won't fall.
Make sure you buy a cot that's easy to clean (most are nylon) or have removable covers that you can machine wash. Accidents will happen.

The main concerns with a travel cot are: is it comfortable for your baby, how easy is it to use (ie to put up and collapse back down), and how easy is it to travel with? You'd be amazed at how heavy and bulky many travel cots really are!

Comfort
First things first. Is your baby going to get a decent night's sleep?
Although a few babies simply do not take to travel cot sleeping - partly because they are in a big bigger cot than they're used to, partly because travel cots place them nearer to the ground which can prove a little draughty - most will adjust to it. In the earliest months, you might find it easier to take your crib or a bassinet away with you, as a travel cot will seem enormous to a baby under three months old.

When looking at travel cots, have a good feel of the base, where the baby will be sleeping. Many bases are padded with a material that's thinner than a usual mattress in order to make them more portable. However, these bases can be rather crinkly and noisy when an older baby or toddler is turning in his sleep. They may also feel harder to lay on. If they are plastic, check they come with a cotton cover, otherwise you will need to get a mattress cover yourself that is not too sticky and sweaty for your baby to lay on.

Mesh sides
All travel cots have at least one mesh side panel so your child does not feel totally enclosed.

The mesh is completely safe, soft and will allow your child to look out at the view. Although if you're staying in a hotel room, the view might just be a wall or the side of your bed!

Some have mesh on all four sides, which can be a blessing for curious babies. However, having two solid (still soft, but usually nylon) sides does allow you to position the travel cot away from a draught or to cut out sources of light when you are staying in different places.

Easy to set up
Most travel cots have collapsable sides and a base that will also fold down, so that the whole cot is easy to put up and down quite quickly.

Some manufacturers' designs can be a little confusing and you should follow the instructions carefully. For example, some are designed so that the top rails will not snap straight until the base is properly folded out into the open position. If you don't notice this, it's very easy to think the whole thing is broken as the top rails with remain floppy.

Some designs have clips that you need to turn and click open or shut. These can be very stiff as they need to be strong. Try one out in the shop to see if it'll be too stiff for you - you won't always have a strapping muscleman/woman around to help you! Once these are snapped into position, they will be too hard for your baby to fiddle with and collapse, though you must make sure they are in a fully locked position so that they can't suddenly open or close and trap your child's fingers. (Models like this do have fold over covers for each side lock, but these are usually secured in place with velcro, so a toddler could easily uncover them. As stated before, however, if they are fully locked, your toddler will not be able to interfere with the mechanism or hurt himself.)

Other designs have click-open and click-shut top rail mechanisms that you open and close through the fabric, so the locks are not exposed. Many of these are less stiff to handle.

Easy to carry
All travel cots come with a carrybag. These fit snuggly to the cot and usually look like long square sausage bags.
The weight of most travel cots can be an issue. It's fine if you are just carrying to it your car, but if you are travelling by train or air, you will either want to find a light model or to book a holiday where there is a travel cot waiting for you at the other end.

Graco Compact
Graco Compact £49.99
Despite the advances in buggy design to make them as light as possible and much less bulky when folded, this technology rarely applies to travel cots! You will rarely find a model that weights less than 8.5 kg and often they will weight more like 15 to 17 kg! The Graco Compact weights 9.1kg and folds out only slightly smaller than their regular travelcots do. Hauck do a Dream N Play range which weighs 11kg, which isn't super-light, but does mean you have extras which turn the cot into a playpen.
The real star when it comes to weight is the Roomo which has an aluminium frame and weighs just 7.2kg.
However, if you really want to downsize the weight, you could try the rather quirky inflatable cot from Holi-Doze! It weighs just 4kg, although you do have to take the electric pump with you. Despite looking more like a paddling pool, it does have one mesh side and a cotton base, plus is conforms to British bed safety standards. It costs around £59.99.

Size matters
Most travel cots are over a metre long but the width and height will vary slightly. Look at the dimensions when open and when folded, if space is a concern. (If you enjoy campervan holidays, you may want to opt for a smaller model, though none of them are particularly compact.)

Pop-up cots
When your baby is very small, a pop-up cot can be a useful solution. They weigh between 1 and 2.5kg, they pop up easily, and are smaller and therefore less daunting for a baby who is used to a crib at home. Some are only suitable until your baby can sit up (six to seven months) but others are safe to use until 18 to 24 months, so they can be a relatively cost effective way to buy if you don't want to jump straight to a full-size travel cot.

Samsonite Pop-Up Bubble Travel Cot £49.99
Samsonite do a range of pop-up cots, all of which are easy to use, and some which come with little extras. They are available from most baby product retailers, as are the funky Nomad travel beds, which are more pricey but have a UV-protective cover in case you want to take them for beach naps, and come with a snuggly sleeping base. LittleLife also do an easy to open cot designed as part of their adventurer ranges, suitable for use when camping.
The main thing to bear in mind with pop-ups is that at least a regular travel cot has small legs to stand on, whereas these have no lift from the ground, so you will want to make sure they are placed securely on a soft-ish surface.

Optional extras
Hauck and Graco lead the way in offering whizz-bang extras to make your travel cot into a crib for smaller babies, or a play centre for non-sleeping quiet time.

  • Bassinet: As mentioned above, a regular sized travel cot can seem very deep and strange to a new baby. Some models come with a crib you can fix securely across the top of the cot for use up to three months. (This stows away when not in use.)
  • Wheels or castors: Once up, travel cots are easier to move into a position you're happy with if they have wheels. Many models come with two wheels so you can lift them and move them around pretty easily. Some come with lockable castors.
  • Toy bars or play centres: Graco and Hauck have models which include a toy bar or an activity centre you can fit to the side or top of the cot for when you want to use the cot either as a playpen, or to keep a small child amused as they doze off to sleep.
  • Vibrate feature: Graco do a model which has a vibrating mattress to lull your baby off to sleep. Others have a night light fitting.
  • Cot top changer: Some models come with an optional cot-top changer for nappy changing. This is useful if space is limited while you are away.
  • Mosquito net: Some ranges offer a mosquito net that fits snugly to the cot, for travel to exotic climes.
Baby Einstein Cot
Baby Einstein Cot £79.99
Price range
Without all the flashy extras, you can expect to pay between £45 and £100 for a travel cot. This might seem expensive, but it depends on how much use you expect to get out of it. It can be used as an extra bed for small children when you have visitors at home, as well as for use on the go. But is the bulk and weight of a travel cot going to mean you only use it on car excursions and that you're more likely to rent one when you go on holiday? You should think about that before buying.
Travel cots are pretty durable, so you shouldn't need to buy another one in the three years or so that you'll be using it. (Ours still looks new and our second child is beginning to grow out of it!)
Pop-up cots can cost between £28 and £100.

Another option for older toddlers is to position a proper bed with a bumper on it, when staying away from home. For the buyer's guide to bumpers, click here.


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