12 Tips for Great Sleep While Camping
I have a good friend in the Boy Scouts who told me that he had never slept in a sleeping bag. I was dumbfounded. I knew that he had spent many nights in the wilderness with the scouts and I was puzzled how he slept outdoors without a sleeping bag. So I asked what he meant. He replied that he didn’t say that he hadn’t used a sleeping bag; he had just never “slept” in one. For many, it is a challenge to “sleep” in a sleeping bag.
Sleeping is one of the most important activities we do that contributes to how well we function and feel. When we have a restful, restorative night’s sleep, we feel better and do better during the day.
I am not a sleep expert, but I have found 12 tips that have helped me “sleep in a sleeping bag”.
- A comfortable bed
- A sleeping bag that keeps me at the right temperature
- A pillow that is right sized
- Keeping it level
- Keeping my pillow on the cot and off the floor
- Snore chin strap
- A breeze on my face
- Bathroom issues
- Clean body
- Keep a light handy
Let’s talk about each of these items and how they might help you. I will focus on a long-term camping situation where one would have a large tent, and a greater amount of gear than what one would carry while backpacking.
1. A comfortable bed. First of all, I recommend that you sleep on a cot, not on the floor. A cot is more comfortable, more like our beds at home, makes it easier to get in and out of bed, and provides storage space underneath.
There are many sizes of cots:
Width options are: Narrow 24” to 26”, Regular 28” to 30”, and large, wide, extra large, extra wide, oversize, jumbo 32” to 43”.
Length options are: Junior 52”, Regular 74”, Tall 78”, Large, X-large 78”, XX-Large, Super, King, Jumbo 84”.
It is important to get a cot that fits you. A narrow cot will not work for a person whose shoulders would be hanging over the edges. An extra large cot might sound attractive because it provides more sleeping space, but realize that an extra large cot takes up a lot of additional space in the tent. Both width and length are important when sizing your cot. If you are tall and your feet hang over the end of the cot, I guarantee that you are not likely to sleep well. I am 6’ 2” and personally use a regular size cot.
Now that you have your cot, the pad(s) you put on top are also very important. The size of your cot will affect the size of your pad. It doesn’t make sense to have a 40” wide cot with a 24” wide pad. Make sure your pad(s) fit your cot.
I have found that using two pads makes for comfortable sleeping for my family. The first pad is a self-inflating pad like a Therm-a-Rest or Alps Mountaineering. This pad helps fill in the bow that is an inherent feature of most cots. I can adjust the firmness of this pad by the amount of air I put in it. This helps me have a sleep number bed while away from home. This also provides an important insulating layer.
The next pad is a 3’ open foam pad measuring 30”x72”. I buy this pad from a local store for about $20-$25. There are different firmnesses of foam pads, so please lie down on them and determine which is right for you. I have about ten of these for members of my family and while camping I realized that there are different firmnesses. Neither my wife nor I liked the firm one, but a daughter-in-law loves it. In order to protect the foam, you can cover it with a twin, fitted sheet. This keeps it clean, allows you to wash the cover, and keeps children from picking at the foam.
Since I am 6 foot 2 inches, I have found that the 72” pad was too short for me. My feet were hanging over the end. So I cut off a piece from another pad and glued it to the end of mine. A child will use the shorter pad. The best spray glue for foam is 3M Super 77.
With this combination of pads, my sensitive-sleeping wife sleeps comfortably. I also sleep well with this setup. So if it works for us, it will hopefully work for you.
2. Sleeping bags. There are many sizes, shapes and types of sleeping bags. The first criteria in selecting a sleeping bag is if it keeps me warm in the winter. If it won’t keep me warm, I won’t have it. Be warned, that the ratings on sleeping bags do not always reflect reality.
There are many personal preferences regarding sleeping bags. Some prefer rectangle shaped bags, some mummy, etc. Then there are foam bags that are promoted as highly effective in keeping you warm. I haven’t tested a lot of bags, but I have found that the Wiggys FTRSS system works great for my family. This is a two-bag system. Per the Wiggys website, “The FTRSS allows you the option to zip an overbag to a core bag to achieve a lower temperature rating”.
My wife sleeps cold. She needs a warmer bag than I do. I sleep well with Wiggys core bag while she does better with the core and overbag. Plus, the overbag can be used as a light bag in warmer weather. Another feature of their bags is that they can be stored in their stuff sacks. Other bags require to be stored lofted or in loose bags. That takes up much more space.
3. A pillow that is right sized. It might seem curious that I am concerned about the size of a pillow. It is understood that your pillow should be comfortable to you. The reason the size is important is for cold weather sleeping. If you are using a mummy bag in cold weather, you can’t fit your king-size pillow in the hood of the bag. If you are fine having the pillow under your bag, then the size of pillow doesn’t matter. But if you have your pillow in your bag, you want a smaller camp pillow. Wiggys provides a small pillow with their bags. I like that size when I have the hood over my head to keep my bald head warm. When the weather is warm and I am not worried about head temperature, I use my regular large pillow.
One more suggestion regarding temperature – When camping in cold weather, I sleep with a fleece beanie to keep my head warm. A cold head is like cold feet; it is hard to sleep with either.
4. Keeping it level. It is best to pick a level spot to pitch your tent so that your cot will be level while sleeping and you won’t slide from one end to the other. If your tent spot isn’t totally level, still make sure that your cot is. This can be accomplished by putting something under the legs of the cot to level it out. I have used pieces of bark, wood or a rock. Sleeping level helps you sleep more comfortably.
5. Keeping my pillow on the cot and off the floor. There is a reason that your bed at home has a headboard or your bed is positioned against the wall. It is to keep your pillow on your bed.
I have slept many nights on cots. Getting a good night sleep away from home is a challenge. One of the biggest hassles I have experienced is keeping my pillow on my cot. Some nights it seemed like I was chasing my pillow all night. Several times during the night I would find my pillow missing. So I leaned over, in the dark, to find it on the tent floor. Interruptions like this effect the quality of sleep.
To solve this problem, I invented the Cot Headboard. This simple device keeps my pillow in place and provides a separation between my head and the wall of the tent. This additional barrier is especially beneficial in cold weather.
My wife also loves using a cot headboard. It isn’t just for tall people. It only weighs 3 ½ lbs and folds up flat, so it takes little space and weight to store and transport. Although it is a small item, it can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep.
6. Quiet. I am a very light sleeper. The sound of a ceiling fan keeps my awake. I wear earplugs every night, regardless where I sleep. There are different types of earplugs. I use foam plugs with high decibel ratings. There are also different sizes. Make sure you get ones that fit your ears. And remember to take them with you when you go camping.
7. Snore chinstrap. You are probably wondering what a snore chinstrap is. It is not something to help YOU sleep better. It is something that will help EVERYONE ELSE sleep better. I didn’t know about it until a year ago when my wife told me that I had to do something about my snoring. So I did some research and found a cushioned strap that goes under my chin and around the top of my head, keeping my mouth closed. It takes a little getting used to, but is worth wearing to help my wife sleep better. Here is a great one: Anti Snore Chin Strap.
8. A breeze on my face. This is a really personal thing, but a light breeze helps me sleep better. This is only in the summer, since otherwise it is already cold and I will have my head in my sleeping bag hood. I have as many windows as possible in my tent and screen doors to take advantage of any breeze in hot weather. I also have some DC Fans that I use. This fan plugs into my solar power system with a car charger plug. Using fans in your tent helps the air feel cooler.
Ventilation in a tent is a huge issue. Make sure your tent has plenty of windows and allows condensation to escape. And use a fan in hot weather.
9. Darkness. If it is nighttime and there is no light on in the tent, darkness is a given. But if I want to take a nap during the day, or if someone has a light on in the tent, I put on my sleep mask. Make sure your sleep mask is comfortable and effective. Here is a really good one Natural Silk Sleep Mask.
10. Bathroom issues. OK, I saved the potty stuff towards the end. This isn’t a fun thing to talk about, but everyone has to deal with it. There are few things worse than camping in the winter and having to go outside to relieve yourself. That is miserable. Not only do you get cold, but also your warm sleeping bag is no longer warm. It takes time to get comfortable again and fall asleep.
It is not only unpleasant in the winter, it’s a hassle during any season. No one likes to get up in the middle of the night, find their flashlight or headlamp, put on shoes and head outside. My solution is to have a "night" bottle. The best one I found is a large salsa bottle with a wide mouth and a handle. I store it under my cot.
My wife was jealous. She said, “It’s not fair!” So she did some research and found a female urinary director that allows women to urinate in a standing position. There are several brands available. The one my wife likes best is the Freshette. I recommend all the females in your group have one.
11. Clean body. I always sleep better when I am clean. Some people shower in the morning and some in the evening. Regardless of when you shower, you always feel better afterwards. There are a number of ways to shower when it is warm outside, but when it is cold outside most will not go outside to shower. That is why the Deluxe Tent Shower is a helpful and very useful piece of camp gear. It provides a hot-pressurized shower in the privacy and comfort of your tent, while capturing the water and draining it outside.
Take a shower before you go to bed. It will enhance your sleeping experience. Plus it keeps your sleeping bag cleaner, reducing the need for frequent washing.
12. Keep a light handy. There are two types of personal lights that I really like. One is a head-lamp for a high intensity beam that is wearable. The other is a lantern type called a Luci Light. This is a durable, solar LED light. It is light-weight and doesn’t need batteries. I even let my grandchildren use Luci Lights without worrying about breakage. They store compact and is inflated when using for a lantern effect.