9 Tips For Getting Good Sleep Outside
We learned how to sleep when camping the hard way. Our first camping trip still makes us laugh out loud. We took off for the Mojave Desert on a cold January weekend with the best of intentions. We packed moving blankets - those weird quilted things that protect your furniture when moving - for bed padding. We had some cheap sleeping bags that were just like the kind used for pre-teen sleepover's - cheap and not warm. The tent we used was at least 10 years old and made for warm summer nights - single season, really.
The desert got down to below freezing both nights, with wind gusts that were difficult to stand up in. Our little tent held on (barely), but we were freezing all night and had bruises the next day from rocks under our hips. To make it more comical, the first night went this rough, and we stayed and stuck it out for another even colder night. When the outdoor bug bites, you just kind of deal with the elements, I guess? We actually got up in the middle of the night and moved the car to try to block the wind. The tent was literally caving in from the wind, collapsing on our faces. It was rough, but somehow, we still fell in love with sleeping outside.
After a few more trips, we learned some things that help us stay comfortable and sleep a little better. Here are some of our tips:
Do yourself a favor and spend the money for a good bag. It doesn't have to be the top of the line special, but by all means get something that is rated for the appropriate temperatures you'll be sleeping in. We have now ended up going through a couple different bags trying to get the perfect set up. All our bags have a "hood" that keeps the head warm when things get extra chilly. Don't skimp on the bag, it may be the most important part of a good nights sleep.
If you're camping with a close pal or spouse, and it gets extra chilly, you may be able to zip your bags together. Body heat is the only heat you can get sometimes!
We tend to camp in cooler weather most often, so if things get warm, kick that bag open and let yourself have some air. This can help you sleep!
Trust us, don't use moving blankets and beach towels. A real camping pad is worth the money, especially if you're sleeping in a cold environment - insulation between your bum and the ground is worth it. Be sure to check r-values and temperature ratings for insulation. We've slept on non-insulated pads, on cold desert ground, and can tell you for fact that there is a difference. It's not fun having the entire backside of your body cold from the ground. An insulated pad will help you stay warm and avoid bruised hips.
Another tip, try to check out the pads in a store before purchasing - some of the materials are a bit noisy for any movements at night. REI will always let you try out any pad even if it isn't in their display barrel.
Clothing Is Important
We've heard everything from sleep naked to sleep with every article of clothing on. In our experiences, being super bundled gets restrictive, while not wearing enough just gets cold. We have some thin Under Armour base layer pants and shirts that keep us warm. The fabric is warm, even though it is thin, so it makes for comfortable sleeping while keeping you warm. If it's chilly at all, pro tip, cover your arms. They get super cold if they pop out of your bag in your sleep. And don't forget that insulated puffy, those soft jackets are warm and can be the perfect addition if you wake up cold.
If it's warm, shorts and a t-shirt and a blanket might be all you need - a Rumpl blanket is a great option for a blanket!
Crappy pillows just mean neck aches and bad sleep. Stuff sacks with sweatshirts inside are an easy option for backpacking when you need to keep a light pack. If you have the funds and space, go for the comfort of a camping pillow - like our Nemo Fillo's - or, our just recently purchased Therm-a-rest's compressible pillow - review coming soon!
Go To The Bathroom
Go to the bathroom before you start getting ready to turn in, and then go again right before you get in the tent. This can save you a dark, possibly cold, walk at 3am.
This may seem opposite of the last point, but it is handy to have a bottle of water in the tent at night. Make sure it is leak proof! Hydroflasks work great, keeping your water cold and inside the bottle.
Keep A Light Nearby
We store our Luminaid in the gear loft in our tent so it is just overhead, if needed. Still being a nervous camper at times, we also keep our headlights right at the head of the tent for easy grabbing. It is handy to have lights nearby for those middle of the night bathroom runs.
For some fun, we got some ENO Twinkle Lights for the tent. They are great for reading, or for a nice glow in the tent.
This has been the biggest hurdle to good sleep for me. I sleep pretty light, so I hear a lot of noises outside in the middle of the night. Tents are just not good at buffering noise. Noises from far, far away magically sound like they are right outside your door. I would swear that I've had people or animals walk right up next to me in the middle of the night, but when the fear subsides and I can hear more clearly, I realize it's a bird a mile away or something.
Be sure to follow proper food storage rules, and then there is no need to worry about what monster is lurking at your camp site. With food put away, and a clean change of clothes after dinner, critters shouldn't be paying you a visit. We did have some kit foxes rummaging around our campsite on one trip, and while it was probably a small, cute animal, it honestly sounded like the biggest bear in North America. Sometimes they just visit to have a look around, so try not be scared of the sounds around you.
Comforts Of Home
In my case, it's a panda. His name is Charlie and he goes on every camping trip with me. It may seem silly, but it helps me sleep, so oh well!
What tips have you found for staying comfortable and staying asleep?
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