Sleeping — it can make or break an enjoyable camping experience. Sure, the point of camping is to be out in nature, watching the stars, viewing wildlife, or watching a mesmerizing fire. Or, maybe it’s breaking away from the humdrum normalcy of everyday life, getting off the couch, seeing different scenery, or escaping the noisy (or nosy?) neighbors. Whatever the reason campers have been pushed out their front doors and into fields or woods, one need remains constant:
The need for a good night’s sleep.
I mean, really, how much is anyone going to enjoy an awesome music festival if they’ve tossed and turned all night long, only dozing off and on for an hour or two?
In the past, I’ve coached several people through their initial forays into the world of camping, and the one thing I stress most is the absolute need to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, sleep becomes an elusive phantasm that won’t be wrangled down. A sleepless night just sucks. I’ve spent several nearly sleepless nights while out in the wild for a few reasons: being too cold, being too hot, having too hard a surface under me (body and head), and too much surrounding noise. In this post, I’ll deal with the culprits that chase away sleep, and give some tips from my personal experience for a good night’s rest.
Granted, the night that I slept the least because of temperature was a Vermont winter’s night on the side of Mount Mansfield when my little thermometer registered a bone-chilling -15 degrees Fahrenheit, but there have been other nights when I haven’t been able to regulate my temperature even during the normal camping months. At least June in Delaware should yield warmer temperatures! But regardless of the heat or cold, there are some questions to consider in order to make the best plans for a good night’s sleep:
- Are you typically a hot or cold sleeper?
- Do you need to be able to thrash about in your sleep?
- Do you need the weight of blankets on top of you to sleep?
- Do you need air moving around or across you?
- Will you be sleeping alone or with someone else?
The difference between sleeping in your bedroom and sleeping in a tent can be quite drastic, so one of the first things to consider is the sleeping bag — size, shape, temperature rating, down vs. poly-fill — all are important considerations. You can always use the good-old Coleman-brand standard with the plaid flannel lining. I used one of those for years…..and spent a nearly-sleepless night in Yellowstone National Park when the temperature unexpectedly dropped down to 28 degrees on a September night! Nevertheless, that bag served me well on many summer excursions. I then invested in a poly-fill mummy bag that is rated down to 25 degrees — I tend to be cold all the time. Even in the summer, this is the sleeping bag that I use. Most of the time, sleeping with the zipper unzipped with one leg hanging out does the trick to keep my body temperature regulated without my waking up shivering at one point and drenched in sweat 30 minutes later. Down-filled sleeping bags tend to be just as warm as poly-fill bags, but if the bag gets wet, down loses its insulating qualities. This is a point to consider if you will be camping regardless of sun or rain or temperature.
Did you know that double-wide sleeping bags exist? If you don’t want to be separated from your sleeping partner, there are sleeping bags that open up completely and zip together to form one giant sleeping pocket. Cool, right? Or you can also bring your sheets and blankets from your own comfy bed and use them in the tent. I’ve done that many times when car-camping (as opposed to backpacking). If you are a night-thrasher, the wide-open spaces of your normal bedding may be more comfortable than a restrictive, tapered mummy bag. Your legs and sanity will thank you in the morning!
And lastly, regarding temperature, if you need air moving across you, just ask your camping partner to fan you with a spray of peacock feathers periodically throughout the night. Or, more realistically, bring a fan! I have seen some nifty little, battery-operated fans that clip onto anything. If the air is still at night, as it can often be in the summer, you’ll be glad for the mechanically-aided circulation.
The second sleeping issue that has kept me awake at night while camping is the hard, hard ground. If I am car-camping and space is not an issue, I bring all of my ground mats: yoga mat, Z-rest, and Thermarest and pile them all up one on top of the other. The Z-rest and Thermarest are comfortable enough singly when I am backpacking, but like I said earlier, comfort is key!! If you can have a squishier bed, why wouldn’t you? For those who enjoy super-luxury camping, you could bring larger, blow-up air mattresses that have either hand/foot pumps (you’ll get your workout in!) or internal motors that run by battery or electricity. If you need electricity to run the motor and don’t have a 12V car adapter, make sure that you have access to an electrical outlet without having to drive to a random neighboring house, inflate the mattress in their living room, and strap it to your roof to drive it back to your tent. That would be an entertaining sight!
All joking aside, I find air mattresses to be very cold sleeping. If there is any chill in the air, the air in the mattress seems to collect the chill and transfer it to the sleepers. If you plan to use an air mattress, an extra blanket or two underneath you should block out the chilly air. Also, do not underestimate the need for a good pillow. I have not yet fully learned this lesson, and I still think that I will be just fine using a rolled-up hoodie as a pillow. Nope. Not comfortable. Every time I do this, I wake up multiple times in the night with a neck-ache from the lack of support. Whether you bring the three down pillows from your bedroom or use a compact little travel pillow, a pillow is essential for a good night’s sleep.
Light and Sound.
But how many of us will be sleeping at night? If you are a night owl like me, you may find yourself awake until the wee hours of the morning and then spending the morning getting some sleep. If you can sleep despite the sunlight, no worries. However, if you wake up at the first crack of dawn because of the light, don’t forget to bring your sleep mask!
Lastly, noise. Camping in the general vicinity of other people will make for more noise than you are used to when sleeping. Whether the noise is coming from a generator down the road, camp-fire renditions of “Kumbayah” across the campground, or the buzz-saw level snores from the neighboring tent (certainly not from yours!), there will be noise. And I have one word to make sleeping around lots of noise possible: earplugs. Any drug store will have an array of these little modern miracles from which to choose. I suggest the highest noise-blocking rating for the earplugs. If you have never inserted earplugs into your ears, there are usually instructions on the packaging. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get the plug inserted well enough into the ear canal to fully block the noise, but the difference will be worth the trouble.
I’m sure that you don’t want to walk around Firefly like a zombie because you did not sleep the night before — especially if the reason for not sleeping was from a lack of comfort or noise/light-canceling devices. Be prepared; be comfortable, and you’ll be well-rested for the weekend of awesome music where you can show off your killer dance moves!
Firefly Camping Ambassador