There’s nothing worse than the following scenario:
You plan a fun and adventurous camping trip. You are intent to hike a day into a remote location with gorgeous, natural scenery. There’s a lake nearby and you plan on taking time to fish, canoe, and bird watching.
Your nights will be filled with soft music, stories, and cooking and eating by the campfire. Then you’ll snuggle into your tent and sleeping bag and sleep peacefully.
The problem is, though, that you don’t sleep. It sucks. You toss and turn. You can’t get comfortable. You’re hot, then cold…then hot again. Sound like a problem you’ve had?
It’s important to have good camping gear to make your sleep and comfort easier. The right backpacking tent and hammock are important. Of course, a good sleeping bag and sleeping pad go a long way, too.
If this is new to you, we would thoroughly recommend a few nights in your back yard – practice putting everything up and taking it all down again a few times. Get a routine together and practice using your kit.
There is, though, so many other things you can do and measures that you can take to improve your sleep while camping and on the trail. Most of them are mental and frame of mind adjustments.
Tips for Sleeping Outdoors Restfully
Adapting to sleeping outdoors isn’t as easy as some may think. Sure, if you’ve done this for a while then it may be easier. But some people who are new to sleeping in a tent and on a sleeping bag…and NOT on the California King, memory-foam mattress may have trouble adjusting.
- Location of Tent: Your tent should be on a flat surface. Clear debris such as rock, branches, pine cones, etc. out of the way before pitching. Stay away from areas with large tree roots.
- Know it’ll be Different: As we said above, the memory-foam and nearby bathroom are gone. Instead, you have a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. Know that beforehand, acknowledge it…and embrace it.
- Accept these facts: It gets cold after the sun goes down. It is really, really dark in a wooded area. There are sounds that you’re not used to, most of them not dangerous. And you probably don’t want to sleep…ahem..un-insulated. If you’re used to sleeping in just underwear or naked, then you may want to reconsider it while camping. You need a flashlight or headlamp nearby in order to find your way to a bathroom or to find things in your tent.
- Relish in Your “Hardcore” Side: We are all used to having the popular comforts and amenities of the modern world. Consider that sleeping under the stars and night sky will bring in a closer understanding of where we all came from and make you more appreciative of those amenities. It’s so peaceful.
Prepping for Bed and a Good Night’s Sleep
There are some little things to do before your head hits the pillow that will really help
Store the food well away your tent
Store scented items such as toiletries securely and outside of your tent.
Try not to sleep in clothes that have the night’s food scent on it. If you do, then unwanted visitors may come in the form raccoons, etc.
If you’re camping in a location where bears are known to be active then these precautions are all the more important.
Keep your routines
If you brush your teeth before bed at home, then do it camping.
If you try to read for half an hour prior to sleep, then do it camping (remember, headlamp!).
Staying in, or close, to your before-bed routine will make it easier for your body and mind to recognize bedtime and sleep will come easier.
Sleep in dry, fresh clothes that are reserved for sleep time. Lots of people like to sleep in long underwear and we highly suggest that as well.
Hang your sleep clothes out during the day to air out and dry from a night sweat. Never sleep in wet or damp clothing. This makes sleeping cozier feeling and cleaner.
Even if you’re really living rugged outside, then you can stay clean.
Bring along some unscented baby or body wipes and do your face, pits, crotch, and feet prior to sleeping for an even cleaner feeling. Remember, to store all trash outside and securely.
Don’t overdo the layers
Layers work best when trying to stay warm, that way each individual layer will trap and retain some of the body’s own heat.
If you’re tempted to “bundle up” before getting into your sleeping bag, think again.
Overdressing may actually prevent your sleeping bag from properly trapping heat. Instead, try bringing a favorite, old blanket from the house to act as an extra layer. This will also help to reassure children of bedtime and comfort.
Keep Your Head Warm
While the above tip is not to wear all those outdoor clothes in your sleeping bag, your head will lose a lot of heat from your body. So if it is cold, do wear a beanie cap or get a sleeping bag with a hood so that you can take advantage of all the heat that would otherwise escape through your head and face.
Eat Before Bed
Digestion is a bodily function that burns energy, and thus, produces heat and will warm internally.
Remember, your body is the furnace that will warm your sleeping bag which retains the heat you produce so eat well before bedtime.
If you overdo it, then you’ll have issues for obvious reasons. Nothing is worse than getting comfortable and warm and then having to get out of the sleeping bag and tent, and put shoes on…to go pee.
However it can get dry at night, especially at altitude, so make sure you have access to water at night and always stay hydrated.
During the Night
Try to partially ignore the night sounds of the woods as much as possible. People who are new to the sounds can be easily spooked at worst…or be asking themselves, “what was that” at best.
And remember, in the quiet of the night, a squirrel can sound like an elephant. As a tip, if you’re near moving water or wind in trees the rhythm will help put to sleep as well as mask smaller noises.
Keep some sandals/boots, flashlight/headlamp nearby and where you know they are in order to prepare for late-night bathroom trips.
Keep some water in a bottle or hydro pack nearby.
In the morning, air out bags, clothes, and layers (as well as the tent) if the weather is cooperative. This will remove moisture and stank so that you can have an enjoyable remainder of a camping trip.
Many people love the idea of camping but after their first night in a tent with a low temperature, grumbling stomach, dry throat or having to pee all night, they tend to change their minds.
Following the steps that we’ve outlined above will ensure a fun camping trip, a great night’s sleep, and follow up adventures. Take care!
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.