Getting a good night’s sleep while camping can be a challenge, but with the right camping sleep system, it can also be one of the most rejuvenating and relaxing experiences outdoors. According to outdoor experts, the key to sleeping comfortably outdoors is mastering your sleep system, which includes your sleeping pad and sleeping bag combination. In this article, we’ll explore tips from outdoor experts on how to create a comfortable camping sleep system, whether you’re deep in the backcountry, at the campground in cold weather, or in your very own backyard. From choosing the appropriate fill for your sleeping bag to selecting the most comfortable sleeping pad and using proper layering techniques, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get the best possible sleep while camping.
Important Details about Tips for getting better sleep on your next camping trip –
– Creating a camping mindset is important for a good night’s sleep
– Mastering your sleep system (sleeping pad and sleeping bag combination) is crucial
– Choose a sleeping bag with the appropriate temperature rating for your needs
– Sleeping pad R-values range from 1-7 and depend on weather conditions
– Pillows can greatly improve sleep quality
– Tents and hammocks are both options for shelter
– Base layers are important for keeping warm and dry at night
– Nutrition and calorie intake are important factors to consider for staying warm at night
Picture this: Crickets lull you to sleep as a cool breeze flows through your tent windows, a cloud-like sleeping pad cushions your tired muscles with much-needed support, and a down comforter hugs your aching body after a long day on the trail. Catching some solid zzz’s in nature can be one of the most rejuvenating and relaxing experiences outdoors. The problem is, until you’ve perfected your camping sleep system, you may struggle to find comfort while camping. That’s why we talked with outdoor experts to get their advice on how to get a good night’s sleep at camp, whether you’re deep in the backcountry, at the campground in cold weather or in your very backyard.
Creating the Right Mindset Before Camping
The first piece of advice when it comes to camping is to create a camping mindset, to be ready to roll with the outdoor punches, says Johnny Molloy, an outdoor author with over 85 camping, hiking, and paddling guides to his credit, including “Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” “Sleeping in the great outdoors isn’t going to be like your bed at home — and that is the point. It’s a new adventure.”
Mastering the Sleep System
The biggest key to sleeping comfortably outdoors is mastering your sleep system, your sleeping pad, and sleeping bag combination. Pairing two pieces with adequate temperature ratings will majorly impact your ability to stay warm, comfortable, and safe at night. “Having a good sleep system is so important,” says Emily Ford, a winter adventurer and thru-hiker, who, with her Alaskan Husky, Diggins, has completed many thru-hikes in the Midwest, including the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail. “It is one of the times when I really look at the brands before buying. The pricier brands are generally the more true to their temperature ratings. If you can save up the money for a great bag, your trip options are limitless.”
Temperature Ratings and Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag
Before you buy anything, figure out what kind of camping you’ll be doing. Are you backpacking or car camping? What temperature range will you be in? How much precipitation will there be? All these factors can greatly affect what sort of things you end up buying. Sleeping bags are an essential piece of gear for enjoying a night outdoors. Down and synthetic insulation are the most common fills you’ll find in sleeping bags, and each provides varying levels of warmth, protection from damp conditions, and comfort while sleeping. But before you get set on fill, Molloy says finding a bag that actually fits your body should be the number one priority.
“Make sure your sleeping bag fits your frame,” says Molloy. “I’ve seen children lost inside bags too big for them, tall campers with their shoulders exposed to chill air and wide campers unable to zip their bags up,” he says. “Make sure your bag fits you, and your sleeping pad is wide enough for your body.”
Temperature ratings are the next thing you’ll want to check. To ensure comfort, a good rule of thumb is to use a bag with a rating at least 10 degrees lower than the coldest night you plan on sleeping through. However, finding the right temperature rating for a bag can be different for everyone. “Some folks are also naturally hot sleepers and might use a cooler degree sleeping bag than you,” adds Ford. “Remember that sleeping bags do not warm you up, they insulate you. If it is really cold out, you can throw boiling water into a Nalgene and put that in your sleeping bag, too.”
Choosing the Right Sleeping Pad
There’s a lot to consider before splurging on a sleeping pad, from choosing the appropriate R-Value (temperature rating) to selecting the type of material to find your preferred thickness. Without a pad you feel comfortable and warm on, you risk a restless night, which will lead to hard days on the trail or at the campground. Sleeping pad R-values tend to range from one to seven. Warm weather camping typically calls for R-values between one and three; shoulder season camping in the spring and fall calls for three to five; winter camping typically requires an R-value of five or more. Material and thickness depend on personal preference for how soft of a sleep you’re hoping to get outdoors.
Self-inflating pads usually have an added layer of foam or padding inside, which adds extra comfort but more weight. Inflatable pads have an air chamber that requires manual inflation but allows you to compress them down small for backcountry adventures. “I’m a curvy human and I like to have a good sleeping pad under me,” says Ford. “When I started out, I used a closed-cell foam sleeping pad since that was all I could afford at the time. It didn’t take me too long to realize that I should save up for a thicker, inflated sleeping pad!”
Pillows Make a Difference
Hardcore campers might tell you pillows are non-essential, but if you value your sleep, you’ll be happy you packed one. If you’re concerned about weight, spend a little extra on a backpacking-friendly pillow like the Nemo Fillo Elite. If you have all the space in the world, opt for a pillow that promises a luxury sleep, like the Nemo Fillo King, or just take one from your bed.
“If you are only going to do one thing, bring a pillow,” says Molloy. “It is the single thing less experienced campers can add to make a difference between a blissful night under the stars or a nightmarish hell of discomfort, flipping and flopping through the endless dark.” Ford, who tends to have to balance the weight in her pack carefully while on long-distance adventures, often opts for a makeshift pillow. “If a pillow is important to you, think about how you can use your pack or clothes as a pillow, or buy a traveling pillow,” she says.
The Hammock Camping Comfort
Camping tents are an obvious choice for shelter, and there’s a lot to consider when picking out a tent that will meet your needs from seasonality and material to weight and price point. But Molloy says the hammock also has a hardcore fanbase and is a popular (and comfortable) option. “Hammocks can be more comfortable if the weather is mild, but often hammock campers sleep colder simply because they are exposed to the night air all around their bodies,” says Molloy. Depending on your personal preference and comfort level in colder temperatures, hammock camping could be a great option for you. Avid winter campers like Ford say that with the right setup while hammock camping, you’re bound to stay warm (and comfortable) overnight.
“Even in the winter, I find camping in the hammock is a great way to go,” says Ford. “When camping in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota in sub-zero temps, I had a warm bag inside my hammock and wasn’t on the ground, so my body felt great as well.”
Choosing the Right Base Layers
“For me, the most important thing in terms of comfort, especially when it comes to cold-weather camping, has been my base layers,” says Shilletha Curtis, the first lesbian Black woman to complete the Triple Crown of hiking, an author, professional thru-hiker, and outdoor influencer who goes by her trail name, “Dragonsky.” Base layers or the layers closest to your skin help wick away unnecessary moisture and sweat. Merino wool, synthetic (polyester), and fleece are the most common type of materials you’ll find in base layer options. Having high-quality base layers can be a huge factor in helping keep you warm and dry throughout the night. And if you get cold at night, don’t be afraid to throw on a mid-layer or even your rain jacket to help stay warm.
“If you are sleeping in cold weather, it’s also important to remember that you will be warmer if your clothes are dry — you sweat more than you think on the trail,” adds Ford. “I change my socks as often as possible. I would also recommend changing your base layers before bed too.” Before you layer up and go to bed, Dragonsky also says it’s important to consider your nutrition, like having a hearty meal before you go out on an adventure and right before bed. Your body will thank you for the extra calories to fend off the cold.
There are many things to consider when it comes to creating a comfortable sleep system for camping. From the right mindset to the right gear, each piece plays a significant role in ensuring a good night’s sleep. Don’t forget to tailor your sleep system to the type of camping you’ll be doing as well as the temperature and weather conditions you’ll face. Taking all these factors into consideration, you’ll be well on your way to catching those Zzzs in the great outdoors.