Babies sleep a lot, and it's not always convenient for them to do it at home in their cot. While they might have a quick sleep in their pram when you are out during the day, what about when you visit friends or family overnight, or take a trip away? Then you'll need somewhere comfortable and safe for them to sleep – which is where portable cots come in.

What's the difference between a portacot and a regular cot?

Portacots are specifically designed to be used for a baby when a regular cot isn't available. They are made of four fabric or mesh sides, with a removable mattress, and fold up for transportation.

Can I use a portacot all the time?

The answer, sadly, is no. While a portacot is handy when you are travelling or away from home, a standard cot is a much better bet for every day.

  • They're more durable than portable cots and can accommodate larger babies, so you'll get more use out of them.
  • An average two-year-old will be slightly larger than the recommended size for most portable cots, whereas a regular cot (especially one with a bed-conversion kit) can be used till they're three or four years old.
  • They're higher off the ground than a portable cot, so you don't have to bend so far to pick up the baby. After lugging a heavy baby in and out of a low-lying portacot your back will thank you when you return to your standard cot!

Are portacots safe?

Portable cots can be dangerous. During our most recent review we could only recommend eight of the 25 models we tested.

What are small travel cots?

Small travel cots are very lightweight, easy to fold and compact for transport. Some are similar in style to most other portable cots but are lighter and more compact (they should weigh no more than 6kg). Others are small folding shelters with a mattress, such as in this image at right. They can be very handy when you're travelling, going camping or on a picnic, but aren't recommended for use all of the time. When we've tested small travel cots in the past, we didn't find any we could fully recommend as each failed at least one important test of the standard.

What to look for

Good ventilation

Each side should be mostly made from a breathable mesh material that extends all the way to the floor of the cot.

Weight matters

Don't use a portable cot if your child weighs more than 15kg.

Well designed

Inside surfaces should be free of bumps, ledges and protruding parts so children can't hit their heads, get their clothing snagged or use them as a foothold to climb out of the cot.

No gaps

The mattress should be firm enough and fit snugly without gaps on any side.

Sturdy

The rails should have two locking mechanisms to prevent accidental collapse and closure. The cot floor shouldn't sag. Press down on the base to check this.

Standards matter

Check that the portable cot you buy is certified to the Australian/New Zealand Standard, AS/NZS 2195 – either the 1999 or 2010 version.

Easy to put up and take down

The easier it is to put up and down, the better. You don't want to be struggling when you're sleep-deprived and have a tired, crying baby on your hands.

Not too heavy

Despite "porta" being in the name, many portacots are still quite heavy, with some clocking in at over 14kg. Make sure you are able to lift and carry it comfortably.

Compact

Check what size it is when it's packed down. You'll want to store it away until your next adventure so choose one that'll fit the bill (or, more to the point, your cupboard).

Up to standard?

Mandatory safety requirements for portable cots took effect in March 2009. The standard includes requirements for ensuring the folding mechanism is secure, that there are no gaps that could trap a child's head, that the mattress is safe and the cot has adequate warnings about safe use.

A 2010 version of the standard has been created, but it is yet to be made mandatory. The most important addition to the new standard is a test that observes for adequate breathable zones (in case the baby manages to roll face first against the edge). CHOICE believes this is an important aspect, so we have included a breathability assessment in our test. This mainly involves checking that every wall of the cot is made from a mesh material that allows for air flow. CHOICE would like to see portable cots comply with the full voluntary standard, in particular the 2010 version which makes reference to breathability of materials.

Cost

From $50 to over $400.