Camping is a fun way to enjoy nature, but trouble sleeping sometimes accompanies it. When you’re camping, you’re not only away from your home routine, you’re in a totally different environment: the great outdoors.
When tent camping, the luxuries that are part of normal, everyday life are suddenly gone. You’re cut off from the electricity you normally rely on to provide lighting. It’s no longer possible to control the temperature with the flip of a switch. You might be quite a distance from indoor plumbing. There are no thick walls to protect you from rain, insects, or the noises of creatures in the night.
Sleeping well while camping is still possible, however, with proper planning. This article provides tips to help you avoid having trouble sleeping while camping.
Sleep Tips to Help You Sleep While Camping
1. Pitch Your Tent in an Ideal Place
Where you pitch your tent might not seem important when you arrive at your destination, but it can majorly impact how you sleep. Consider these factors when deciding where to pitch your tent:
- The ground’s flatness. Not only do you not want to sleep on an incline or decline, but you also don’t want to sleep on ground bumpy with rocks, twigs, or tree roots. Consider lying on the ground before pitching your tent to ensure that you’ve found a comfortable place before setting everything up.
- The sun. If you’re concerned about being cold, you probably want your tent to be in direct sunlight, away from trees or rock formations that would cause shade. If you want to be able to sleep in past sunrise, it’s best to pitch your tent near something that will cast a shadow on it in the morning hours.
- Hills and water. If it rains, you don’t want your tent to be in an area that might flood or even puddle. Land at the bottom of hills or the banks of water could become too wet in the case of a storm. The last thing you want to do is wake up wet. Find the high ground within your campsite to ensure everything stays dry.
2. Wear Weather-Appropriate Clothing
Uncomfortable temperatures can make it hard to sleep well while camping. You don’t want to wear clothing that is too hot or too cold, and you don’t want to be wet. Here are tips for making sure you’re dressed in a way that will keep you comfortable:
- Check the weather forecast. A little time upfront can save you major trouble on your camping trip. Check the weather forecast in advance and bring clothing that’s appropriate for what’s expected, as well as for weather that veers ten degrees or so in either direction of the predicted highs and lows.
- Bring the basics. REI, a store that sells camping and active gear, provides a Camping Checklist that includes clothing. Reading through these types of lists can help you recognize what you might need for your particular trip.
- Pack layers. The temperature can vary wildly from night to day, and you want to be able to cool off or warm up quickly if needed. Layers can help.
3. Invest in a Camping Sleeping Pad
Even if you have a very thick sleeping bag, sleeping directly on the ground will almost guarantee aches and pains either overnight or the next day. There are multiple factors to take into consideration when choosing a sleeping pad:
- Weight. If you’ll be backcountry camping and carrying all of your gear, you probably want the lightest weight sleeping pad that still does the job.
- Size. Different people are different heights (and widths). A sleeping pad that doesn’t fit your entire body isn’t a good one for you. Make sure to figure out what size you need before buying, and try out the sleeping pad you buy before camping, so there aren’t any surprises your first night under the stars.
- Cushion. There are different types of sleeping pads with different thickness levels. People will have different preferences when it comes to sleeping pads the same way they have different preferences in mattresses.
Check out a more in-depth guide for choosing a sleeping pad for more information.
4. Use the Best Sleeping Bag for You
Sleeping bags work in conjunction with sleeping pads to provide you a comfortable place to sleep while camping. Many of the same factors that go into choosing a sleeping pad also matter when choosing the best camping sleeping bag for you:
- Weight. You want a light-weight bag if you’re going to be lugging around all of your gear. This is less important for campers who will be near their vehicle and not have to walk far.
- Size. Different bodies are different sizes, so they require different sized sleeping bags.
- Temperature Rating. A good quality camping sleeping bag will come with a temperature rating that tells you the range of temperatures your bag is appropriate in. Ideally, you want to bring along a bag that will work in temperatures slightly lower than what’s forecasted.
- Fabric and insulation. Some sleeping bags are water-resistant. Some are filled with down, while others are filled with synthetic materials. Down is lightweight and provides more consistent warming, while synthetic is quick-drying and works better than down when wet.
REI offers more detailed tips on choosing the best camping sleeping bag.
5. Avoid Drinking Liquids Right Before Bed
Ideally, you will sleep through the entire night while camping without needing to go to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom during the night can be inconvenient for multiple reasons:
- Leaving your sleeping bag can make you feel colder
- Opening the tent door might let in insects
- Opening the tent door might make the whole tent colder
- Being outside after dark might put you face-to-face with animals
- Leaving the tent might disturb anyone you’re sharing it with
Stay well-hydrated throughout the day so you can limit or avoid liquids completely in the hours before going to sleep. Also, consider going to the bathroom twice before bed--once about an hour before, and again right when you’re ready to sleep.
6. Keep a Flashlight or Headlamp Nearby
Sometimes, even if you try your best to avoid liquids and go to the bathroom right before bed, you end up having to wake up during the night to go to the bathroom again.
Make leaving the tent during the night easy on yourself by having a flashlight handy and close enough that you can easily reach it from your sleeping bag. Some sleeping bags have pockets, which would be a good location to stash a flashlight in.
If there are other tents camped nearby, be sure not to shine your flashlight on them during the night. You don’t want to disturb other people’s sleep or worse, scare them.
Also, keep your shoes and jacket easily accessible as well, so you’re not needing to shine your light all over the tent searching for them at 2 AM.
7. Wear a Sleep Mask
If you’ve camped before, you know how bright the sun can be in the morning. If you don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn, try pitching your tent in a shaded place. Sometimes that isn’t possible, however.
Light majorly affects sleep. The bright morning sun affects your body’s circadian rhythm, telling you it’s time to feel alert and energetic. If you want to sleep in, you need to block this light. A sleep mask can help.
A sleep mask can also help with falling asleep if you’re wanting to do so before the sun sets, or if the moonlight is shining in your tent window. Overall, a sleep mask is a good option to have on hand that can help promote comfortable sleeping while camping.
8. Wear Ear Plugs
Cities have a reputation for being loud and remote areas have a reputation for being quiet, but this dichotomy isn’t so simple. People who haven’t camped or who haven’t camped recently tend to forget how lively the natural world is!
Many natural areas come alive at night. Crickets, katydids, and bullfrogs sing their songs. Nocturnal mammals such as bears, skunks, raccoons, and foxes roam around, their steps crunching twigs and branches. Owls sit in trees and other birds circle the sky, emitting their calls.
Even soothing sounds of rushing water nearby might keep you awake if you’re unaccustomed to them. Or, maybe the disturbance will come from inside the tent in the form of a snoring camper. Either way, earplugs are a good choice for keeping out potentially sleep-disrupting sounds.
9. Avoid Insect Bites
Waking up in the middle of the night because an insect or spider is crawling on you or worse, just bit you, is no fun. There are many steps you can take to prevent insect bites while camping:
- Make your tent insect-proof. A new, high-quality tent should already be relatively insect-proof, as long as you zip everything closed. Search older tents for any holes that might need patching to keep bugs out all night.
- Wear more clothes. An insect might crawl into your sleeping bag, but it’s less likely to crawl under your clothes. Consider wearing socks, pants, and long sleeves to sleep. (If it’s cold out, you might already be doing this.)
- Use mosquito netting. If you’re sleeping outside of a tent, or if you know your tent isn’t insect-proof, you might want to drape mosquito netting over yourself or wear a mosquito-netting head covering to sleep in.
- Wear insect repellent. Spray your clothes and any exposed skin before bed if you know the insects will be particularly bad that night.
10. Keep a Water Bottle Nearby
This tip might appear to conflict with the advice to avoid liquids before bedtime. But, some people get thirsty during the night, and that thirst can keep them from falling back asleep if it isn’t quenched.
Ideally, you will drink a lot of water throughout the day, so you don’t become thirsty at night. Also, eating your final meal of the day a few hours before bedtime can help prevent thirst. Salty foods at a late dinner might trigger thirst after you’ve fallen asleep.
If you think you still might become thirsty during the night, have a water bottle nearby so you can grab it and take a drink without turning any lights on. The water bottle should be completely sealed tight, so if you accidentally knock it over during the night, it won’t make your camp wet.