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 a sleeping pad. Anything else I can make do with?
This made me come home and think, how can I make sleeping in a tent more comfortable?
- Air mattress
- Eye Masks
- Ear Plugs
- Tent site selection
- Proper Clothing
- The right sleeping bag
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.
What Type Of Camping Trip Are You On?
Sleeping comfortably in a tent and what gear you take to accomplish that goal can vary based on the type of camping you are doing.
Car camping is where you have access to a vehicle and can bring more gear than in other types of camping. If you are car camping, most of the gear we mention in this article you can usually take to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Backpacking or Backcountry Camping
With backpacking or backcountry camping, where most of your gear is on your back, you must be very strategic about what gear you bring for sleeping in a tent.
You can still bring many items, but space and weight are issues on longer trips.
Overlanding, like car camping, you can likely bring more gear; some overlanders even attach a tent to their vehicle or camper. This type of camping is likely the easiest way to sleep comfortably in a tent as long as you have the right gear.
Selecting the Right Tent
When buying a tent, you should keep a few 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 that said, you should ensure the tent is large enough for the number of people sleeping in the tent and account for the 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. Whereas a 4 season tent will cover winter as well.
Most tents 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, tree branches, or 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 on a slight hill can make getting a comfortable sleep challenging.
If you are camping in a state park or other campground with pre-made campsites, you should try to select one 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 are accounted for, you must 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 fail.
You should inspect the ground to ensure it is pretty flat with no large lumps where the tent will go.
Now that you have the lay of the land around your tent, follow the instructions to set up your 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 it rains, creating moisture issues within your tent.
You should also use enough tent pegs to secure your tent to the ground properly. Now your tent should be set up correctly and in a safe location, let’s move to the inside of your tent and the gear to give you a cozy night’s sleep.
The biggest difference is how comfortable you are in your tent has the correct sleeping gear. You might immediately think I am saying you need expensive gear, which is wrong; you need the right gear.
Not all sleeping bags are created equal because there are a variety of factors that can affect the performance and functionality of a sleeping bag. Here are some of the key reasons why sleeping bags can differ:
- Insulation type and quality: Sleeping bags can be filled with different types of insulation, such as down or synthetic materials, and the quality of the insulation can vary as well. The type and quality of insulation can affect the warmth and weight of the sleeping bag.
- Temperature rating: Sleeping bags are typically designed to provide warmth at specific temperature ranges, and the temperature rating of a sleeping bag can vary depending on the manufacturer and model. Some sleeping bags are designed for extremely cold temperatures, while others are designed for warmer weather.
- Shape and size: Sleeping bags can come in different shapes and sizes, including mummy-shaped bags that are snugger-fitting and rectangular bags that provide more room to move around. The shape and size of a sleeping bag can affect how warm and comfortable it is.
- Features: Sleeping bags can come with various features, such as hoods, draft collars, and zippers, that can affect the functionality and comfort of the bag.
- Quality of construction: The quality of construction can affect the durability, comfort, and performance of a sleeping bag. Higher quality materials and construction can result in a more comfortable and longer-lasting sleeping bag.
All of these factors can contribute to differences in the performance and functionality of sleeping bags, and it’s important to choose a sleeping bag that meets your specific needs and requirements for your camping or outdoor adventure.
Sleeping Pads, Air Mattresses, or Sleeping Cot
Having something under you is important if you are sleeping on the ground. In warm weather, a sleeping pad, air mattress, or sleeping cot will all work well. It is a personal preference based on you and the space you have to transport your equipment. A sleeping pad is the most compact, followed by a traditional air mattress and 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. At the same time, 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 clean (which prolongs its life) and give a slight bump to the temperature ratings of your other sleeping gear by helping retain more body heat.
For this article, we assume 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. Ensure it is long enough; the last thing you want is for your feet to hang off 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. It is important not to sleep in the clothes you wear during the day. They 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 damp, it chills you 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 shorts and a 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 designed for limited airflow, you will wake up feeling damp with condensation all over everything.
Another common cold-weather mistake people make is breathing into a sleeping bag. While this might make you think you are adding some warm air to the bag, it is creating dampness in the sleeping bag that will lead to you feeling cold.
Similarly, 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 accounted 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 well. For a free option, you can ball up a sweatshirt or other clothing and put them in a stuff sack.
I use an inflatable camp pillow, which allows me to sleep comfortably without lugging around a pillow as I use at home.
A sleep mask could also help if the evening 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, people often complain of cold feet. You can buy down or synthetic insulated booties 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, don’t forget earplugs. A cheap foam pair of earplugs usually work ok and help keep all of the noises of the forest from bugging you.
I used earplugs when I first started camping, but now that I have been backcountry camping for years, I am a lot more comfortable and like hearing the sounds of nature at night (if I am not sleeping).
Hot Water Bottle
Using a hot water bottle can also help keep you warm. I often fill up a Nalgene bottle with hot water and put it in my sleeping bag to provide some extra warmth in really cold weather.
Just be careful not to burn yourself with the hot water bottle by putting too hot of water into the bottle. Likewise, ensure you have the lid of the Nalgene bottle securely closed before putting it into your sleeping bag. It could be a messy night if you’re not careful!