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 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 will do. When we don’t sleep well, we don’t function well during the day. 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 some things 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 my pillow on the cot and off the floor
- Snore chinstrap
- A breeze on my face
- Bathroom issues
- Clean body
Let’s talk about each of these items and how what I have learned might help you. I am focusing on a long-term camping situation where we have a large tent, and much more than what we would carry while backpacking. Understand these are my personally preferences and experiences. I am sure there are many other good ideas that can be shared.
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 types and sizes of cots. Approximate sizes are:
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 the cot that fits you. A narrow cot will not work for a man whose shoulders would be hanging over the edges. An extra large cot might sound attractive because it provides more space, but realize that an extra large cot takes up a lot of real estate 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 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. I have found that two different pads make a very comfortable bed 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 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. There are different firmnesses of pads, so please lie down on them and determine which is right for you. I have about ten of these 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.
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. Google “spray glue for foam” to find glue that works.
With this combination of pads, my wife sleeps comfortably. She is a sensitive sleeper, so if works for her, it will hopefully work for you.
2. Sleeping bags. There are several sizes, shapes and types of sleeping bags. The first measure for me, in selecting a sleeping bag, is will it keep 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 so not always reflect reality. There are several good articles on this topic, just search “sleeping bag ratings”.
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 many 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 that I appreciate 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 - As previously mentioned, I have no hair on the top of my head. Because of this, 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 one.
4. 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 am 6’2”. 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.
If I could keep my pillow where it belongs (under my head) I would sleep better. So I invented the COT HEADBOARD. This simple item keeps my pillow in place and provides a separation between my head and the wall of the tent. 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.
5. 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 different sizes. Make sure you get ones that fit your ears. And get extras.
6. 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. This is the one that works for me: SILENT SLUMBER CHIN STRAP.
7. 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. I also have some DC FANS. Ventilation in your tent is a huge issue. Make sure your tent has plenty of windows and allows condensation to escape.
8. 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.
9. 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 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 keep it under my cot. My wife was jealous. She said, “It’s not fair!” So she did some research and found an item that lets her stay inside the tent also. It is called a FRESHETTE. It is a female urinary director, that allows a female to urinate while standing. There are a several similar products. I recommend all the females in your group have one.
10. 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. That is why the DELUXE TENT SHOWER is such a helpful 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.
I hope these ten tips help you get a more restful night’s sleep. Visit DeluxeCamping.com to see other helpful camp gear and ideas to make your outdoor living experience more clean and comfortable.