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We recently went on a family camping trip and my pregnant wife didn’t have that good of time sleeping in the tent. Partly my fault, obviously I do not understand what it is like to be in that condition while camping. In addition, I am usually fairly comfortable as long as I stay warm and have any type of sleeping pad. Anything else I can make due with.
This made me come home and think, how to make sleeping in a tent more comfortable?
- Air mattress
- Eye Masks
- Ear Plugs
- Tent site selection
- Proper Clothing
While some of these items are fairly common sense for those of us that have been camping for a long time and other items are a little crazy for those hardcore tent camping folk, for someone new they may make the difference between a horrible camping trip and a good one. Having terrible sleep for new campers is enough to make them never want to go again, and unfortunately missing out on some really fun times.
Selecting the Right Tent
When buying a tent you should keep a couple things in mind. Usually tents have a number of person rating, for example “4 person tent.” These ratings are usually not very accurate. If you look at the picture the people are a really small height or sleeping at weird angles (i.e. someone is sleeping by the feet of everyone else).
With all of that said you should ensure the tent is large enough for the amount of people sleeping in the tent and account for extra room so you are not piled on top of one another.
Tents have season ratings, for example a 3 season tent will cover spring, summer and fall. Where a 4 season tent will cover winter as well.
Most tents that are available from the large, sell everything stores, are not the best quality. You should try and read reviews before buying and consider seam sealing the seams on the tent before using.
Countless times people complain the new tent they bought is leaking and 9/10 times it is from the seam.
Choosing the Right Campsite – Site Selection is Key
Choosing the right campsite is important to ensure you have a good night’s sleep, but also so that you are safe. If you are primitive camping you should find a site that isn’t near any trails or parking areas. This will ensure someone doesn’t stumble upon your tent in the middle of the night. At any campsite you should look around for any obvious or hidden dangers. For example, look above the campsite for any dead trees, or tree branches or any water that may come into camp in the event of a surprise rain.
You should also try to find a campsite that is as flat as possible. Having a campsite that is on a slight hill can make getting a comfortable sleep challenging.
If you are camping in a state park or other campground that has pre-made campsites you should try to select one that is semi-private, not right next to any facilities such as shared bathrooms or other central meeting areas like parking lots or trailheads.
Setting Up Your Tent and Proper Gear
After your basic site selection and camp safety is accounted for you need to properly pitch the tent and use the proper gear for a comfortable night’s sleep. The first step to properly pitching the tent at the campsite is to ensure you have enough space around to tent so you can apply all the different guy lines. This will ensure the structure is secure and if it rains or becomes windy the tent is less likely to have failures.
You should inspect the ground to ensure it is pretty flat with no large lumps where the tent is going to go.
Now that you have the lay of the land around your tent, follow the instructions to setup you tent. Apply a ground cloth under your tent to help keep any moisture from coming through the bottom of the tent, but make sure it isn’t larger than your tent as this will work like a bathtub in the event that is rains, creating moisture issues within your tent.
You should also use enough tent pegs to properly secure your tent to the ground. Now your tent should should be setup correctly and in a safe location, lets move to the inside of your tent and the gear to give you a cozy nights sleep.
The biggest difference in how comfortable you are in your tent is having the correct sleeping gear. You might immediately think I am saying you need expensive gear, which is wrong, you need the right gear.
Sleeping Pads, Air Mattress or Sleeping Cot
Having something under you is important if you are sleeping on the ground.In warm weather a sleeping pad, air mattress of sleeping cot will all work well. It really is a personal preference based on you and the amount of space you have to transport your equipment. A sleeping pad is the most compact, followed by a traditional air mattress and then a sleeping cot.
If you are tent camping in cold weather having a sleeping pad with insulation within the pad is ideal. A traditional air mattress isn’t ideal because the air within the mattress does not provide any insulation value, while a sleeping cot alone will not work as it lacks insulation (unless you are in a heated canvas tent for example). You can slightly bump up the warmth of your cold weather sleeping gear by adding a thin liner, these sleeping bag liners keep your sleeping bag clear (which prolongs the life) and gives a slight bump to the temperature ratings of your other sleeping gear.
For this article we are assuming you are camping in a standard tent, without a large heat source like a wood stove. Given this scenario I would recommend a sleeping pad with at least an r-value of 4 for cold weather camping.
Sleeping pads come in all different shapes and sizes. Find one that fits you from both a height and width standpoint. Make sure it is long enough, the last thing you want is your feet to be hanging off of the bottom section of the pad.
In warm weather you can pretty much use just about anything. Sleeping pads, an air mattress or a cot will work because you don’t have to worry about losing heat from your underside.
Don’t Forget to Dress for Sleeping Success
Dressing to be comfortable in your tent while sleeping is important. Is is important to not sleep in the clothes you wore during the day. The can be dirty and reduce the life of your sleeping gear and more importantly they may be slightly damp from perspiration during the day. Even if you can’t feel any dampness it is there and will make you chilled during the night.
In colder weather you should bring an extra base layer and some loose fitting wool socks. This combined with an adequate sleeping bag and sleep pad will ensure you are warm. Try to avoid wearing cotton in cold weather. As a base layer it isn’t as good as synthetic base layers or a merino wool base layer.
Warmer weather can be more forgiving. I have used anything from a pair of shorts and t-shirt to moisture wicking base layers.
Ways to Help Control Your Sleeping Environment
Controlling your sleeping environment is important. You should try and have a tent that has adequate ventilation. Often in cold weather people will zip the tent up tight, and for tents that are designed for limited air flow you will wake up feeling damp with condensation all over everything.
Another common cold weather mistake people make is breathing into the sleeping bag. While this might make you think you are adding some warm air to the bag it is actually creating dampness in the sleeping bag that will lead to you feeling cold.
Similar in the summer, having a tent with windows or proper gaps at the top and bottom of the tent will help with airflow and help keep you cooler.
Worst Case Items or Gear that can Help You Sleep
If all of the above are account for and you are still having trouble sleeping you could try buying a few things that might make it easier to sleep.
- A pillow; sometimes we think camping is roughing it, but having a pillow can be helpful. If you don’t want to take a full size pillow, you can find inflatable pillows that are fairly cheap and work really well. For a free option, you can ball up a sweatshirt or other piece of clothing.
- A sleep mask could help as well if the evening light, or early morning light bugs you. Sleep masks are another inexpensive piece of gear you can use.
- Down booties; if you are sleeping in cold weather often people complain of cold feet. You can buy down or synthetic insulated booties that are like mini sleeping bags for your feet. This combined with looser fitting wool socks should help keep your feet warm.
- Finally if noise is bugging you, you could get ear plugs. A cheap foam pair of ear plugs usually work ok and help keep all of the noises of the forest from bugging you.