10 Steps to Help You Sleep Well While Camping

Just because you’re giving up your bed doesn’t mean you have to give up a good night’s sleep. Learn here how to sleep well on your next camping trip.

By Andrea Pisani Babich

It only takes one sleepless night to turn your well-planned and much anticipated camping trip into The Vacation from Hell. And while the adventure of living outdoors with pared down amenities sounds alluring, the reality of sleeping on the ground in the middle of the woods will lose its charm pretty quickly if you’re not prepared.

Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, chances are you’ve already stacked the odds of sleeping well in your favor by engaging in lots of physical activity in the fresh air and sunshine.

Here are 10 more steps you can take to ensure you get a good night’s sleep and are ready for the next day’s outdoor fun.

Sleeping in a tent on a camping trip

10 Tips for Sleeping Well on Your Camping Trip

1. Location. Location. Location.

Your campsite will be your home during your camping adventure, so just as you would for your permanent home, choose the spot for pitching your tent wisely.

  • The ground should be soft, flat, dry and devoid of stones. A layer of leaves, grass, or pine straw is a plus providing insulation as well as welcomed padding.
  • Even the slightest incline will pull your sleeping body to one side or make the blood rush to your head if you don’t position yourself well. Make sure you position your sleeping bag with your head uphill on a slope.
  • If there are bathroom facilities, consider setting up camp nearby but not too close. There’s bound to be traffic during the night that may disturb you. Take note of the easiest route.

2. Allow for elbow room.

Choose a tent with enough floor space for all campers to sleep comfortably and store their stuff if necessary. That means about 20 square feet of floor space per person. If storage is not an issue (if you are car camping, for instance) then 15 square feet may be sufficient.

3. Choose the right sleeping bag.

A good night’s sleep starts with the right sleep surface. And just like when you choose the best mattress for you, there are certain things to look for when choosing a sleeping bag because not all sleeping bags are designed for the same camper or camp site.

There are three basic sleeping bag shapes: mummy, semirectangular, and rectangular.

Types of Sleeping Bags

Mummy bags add to the warmth factor by eliminating excess space that would need to be warmed by your body heat. They are designed to hug your body and include a hood you can cinch for extra warmth.

A mummy bag usually contours so well that it turns with you when you roll over onto your side. Some people may find this too confining, especially for sleepers accustomed to sleeping with arms and legs spread wide. They also may provide too much warmth on moderately cool nights, so be aware of the temperature forecasted for your adventure. (See more on temperature ratings below).

Semirectangular bags allow a little more room to move than mummy bags without sacrificing too much warmth factor. They also have a cinchable hood to prevent heat loss.

Rectangular sleeping bags provide the roomiest sleep sack, allowing sleepers to twist and turn within the bag instead of with the bag.

Not only do sleeping bags come in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes, most men’s and women’s bags come in regular and long lengths. As you might guess, women’s bags are designed with slimmer shoulders and wider hips and may be shorter than men’s or unisex bags. Kids’ sleeping bags are shorter and not as wide as adult bags.

When shopping for a sleeping bag, it’s a good idea to know your height and your shoulder and hip widths. For the best fit, it’s a good idea to simply “try on” the sleeping bag at the store to see what size and shape is most comfortable for you.

Temperature Rating

Make sure you choose the right type of sleeping bag for the temperatures you expect on your camping trip. Sleeping bags are assigned an ISO (or EN) temperature rating that indicates both a “comfort” rating and a “limit” rating.

The comfort rating indicates the lowest temperature the bag will keep the average “cold sleeper” comfortable. (Are you someone who sleeps cold? That comfort rating is for you.) The limit rating indicates the lowest temperature the bag will keep the average “warm sleeper” comfortable. (Do you tend to sleep hot? Look for the limit rating.)

Be aware that these ratings are merely guidelines that are most useful for comparing sleeping bags. A good rule of thumb is to choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that is lower than the lowest temperature you expect to be camping in. Remember: you can always vent your bag if it gets too warm, but it’s difficult to stay warm with an inadequate sleeping bag.

4. Insulate your sleep surface with a sleeping pad or air mattress.

Including an insulated layer between your sleeping bag and the cold ground is essential to staying warm at night. Even if you have a full-size air mattress, a closed-cell foam pad will provide a layer of insulation between the cold ground and the air inside your mattress.

The additional padding will also add a layer of comfort to protect your muscles and joints after a full day of hiking, rafting, mountain climbing, or roasting marshmallows.

Alternatively, Use a Floor Mattress

If you plan on camping often, pick something better than a sleeping bag: a roll-out floor mattress. Our top pick for this is the BetterHabitat Sleep Ready Memory Foam Floor Mattress. It can be used for camping, as a temporary floor mattress, or something for your guests to sleep on when they spend the night.

The BetterHabitat floor mattress is made of quality memory foam that provides both comfort and support as you sleep in the wild. Not only is it waterproof, but it is hypoallergenic; resistant to mold, mildew, and dust mites; and the material is breathable. The cover is machine washable, so you can keep it clean even when sleeping outside. You even get a 12-month warranty with purchase.

  • Price: $99.95-$159.95
  • Sizes: Kids, Single, Twin
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, 314 reviews

5. Don’t forget a pillow.

Just because you’re roughing it, doesn’t mean you can do without a soft cushion to lay your weary head on. Even seasoned campers pack their own pillow (if they’re car camping) or pack a compressible or inflatable camping pillow. Many sleeping bags include a pillow pocket that secures the pillow in place or can be stuffed with extra clothes to create a pillow.

6. Marmots, and raccoons, and bears, oh, my!

You’ll sleep easier if you know that you’ve done everything you can to discourage animals from raiding your food supply and harassing you. Here are some simple rules for protecting your food, your equipment, and your selves.

  • Make sure your tent is free from any food, crumbs, or trash that will attract scavengers. And don’t forget your aromatic toiletries. These have also been known to lure unwanted guests out of the woods.
  • If you are car camping, your car is the safest place to store a cooler with your food. Bears and raccoons are notorious for their industry in prying open coolers, so never leave a cooler outside at night or unattended during the day.
  • For backpackers, store food, trash, and toiletries in a metal food locker, a bear canister or bear bag, or hang your food on a tree or pole. If hanging your food, be sure to hoist your bag 10 to 15 feet high beyond the reach of a standing bear. The bag should hang at least four feet away from the tree trunk or pole.
  • Familiarize yourself with the campground’s rules for food storage. The park rangers know the type and frequency of nocturnal visitors, so heed their advice.

7. Insect control.

Bears aren’t the only critters that can ruin a camping trip. The less visible but equally troublesome mosquitoes and ticks can make sleeping in the wild a true nightmare. If your tent is free from holes, it should keep you safe from these biting and potentially dangerous insects while you sleep.

But what about when you’re sitting around the campfire trying to enjoy the quiet of the evening? Getting bitten while you’re telling ghost stories around the fire or out on the trail is a surefire way to guarantee a restless night.

Luckily there are lots of ways to rebel biting insects while you are outdoors. Of course, there’s always the tried and true method of spraying an insect repellent with DEET on your exposed skin. Other methods that don’t include DEET can be effective as well without the greasiness and smell of bug spray.

  • Burn sage in your campfire.
  • Spray minty mouthwash around your campsite.
  • Smoke repels mosquitoes, flies, and other insects, so bring tiki torches and citronella candles to your campsite.
  • Dab vinegar on your skin.
  • Rub lemon rinds, orange peel, onions, or garlic on your exposed skin.
  • Harness the limitless power of essential oils to repel bugs. These oils have mosquito repelling properties:
    • Eucalyptus
    • Thyme
    • Lavender
    • Catnip
    • Citronella
    • Cedarwood
    • Basil

8. Prepare your mind and body for sleep.

It’s OK to ditch your bed but not your bedtime routine. Skip the nightcap, cup of joe, and s’mores and cozy up to your smoldering fire with a cup of soothing bedtime tea. Brush your teeth, wash up, and change into clean clothes for bed just like you would at home. Meditate, pray, or read a bit (in a book with pages, not a device) to settle your mind and body. All of these steps will signal to your mind and body that it’s time to power down.

9. Prepare for nature’s call.

Avoiding alcohol and caffeine after mid-afternoon will limit your need for bathroom trips as well as maintain your normal sleep cycles. But if you usually get up at night to use the bathroom, there’s no reason to believe you won’t need to answer nature’s call when you’re camping.

Be sure you know the best route to the facilities. Place a flashlight or lantern at the vestibule of your tent as well as your shoes and glasses if you need them.

10. Temperature control.

It’s hard to control the climate when there’s no climate control. Here are a few tips for helping you regulate your sleeping temperature.

  • If it’s hot, try just a sheet for a cover. Staying warm is a little harder when you’re sleeping outdoors. You can warm up your sleeping bag with a hot water bottle and by stuffing the empty space in your bag with tomorrow’s clothes. (Your clothes will be warm the next day, too!) Wear warm socks to bed and a cap to retain some body heat. Be sure to pull your mummy bag hood around your head.

Warm up your body a bit before you climb into your sleeping bag by doing a few sit ups or jumping jacks. Just don’t overdo it – you could disrupt your sleep with too much exercise before bed.

  • Stay clean. Use baby wipes for all over clean-up to help regulate your body temperature and increase your comfort.
  • Stay dry. The clothes you’ve been wearing to tromp around the woods will no doubt be soiled and may also be wet with sweat or water if you’ve been fording streams. It’s best to reserve your sleepwear exclusively for sleep. Wet clothes will rob you of body heat and are generally uncomfortable even when its warm.

With a bit of planning and know-how, you can be sure to sleep as well outdoors as you do at home. Maybe even better. And that makes the prospect of the next camping trip a whole lot more enticing. Happy trails!


Sources

  • REI Co-Op: rei.com/learn/expert-advice/sleeping-bag-backpacking.html 
  • The Road Map: roadmap.bookyoursite.com/13-tricks-to-keep-mosquitoes-away-from-your-campsite/

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