How to sleep well while camping

by Pete

Remember the times when you went camping on primary school? Or those nights you camped in the backyard when you were little? Also remember that all we were sleeping on was a way too thin sleeping mat? This vivid picture in my mind, kept me from camping more often for a very long time. I could only think about cold nights, not being able to catch sleep and waking up totally wrecked. (Sounded like a lot of fun – NOT) Having the same nightmares? No worries, to sleep well while camping is something more people struggle with. Read along to make your sleep over with Mother Nature almost feel like sleeping at home. After having my priorities set on a good night rest in the outdoors, I think I may say I’m a skilled tent-sleeper right now.


The ingredients for a relaxed night

Let’s see what’s giving you a good night rest at home. This package probably consists of: a comfy mattress, nice and fluffy blankets, your own pillow, warmth and probably a lot of darkness and silence around you. Now just add these ingredients with equivalent gear to your camping adventure and you might be fine in the outdoors too. Earplugs and a sleeping mask won’t be hard to find. But I know there’s a LOT of mats and sleeping bags available out there, so composing your equipment might not be as easy as it sounds. Focus on the essentials in your search and maybe take a look at my favorite stuff.

Start with the basics: the bedding

Have you ever noticed how much time people spend on picking the right mattress for their bedroom at home? I won’t say you should spend the same amount of time for your mobile tent home, but certainly take this item serious and dare to invest a bit. The quality of the base where you will lie on for like 8 hours a night, will result in a up or down mood during camping. Assuming you like to spend some happy times in nature, take a look at your equipment now. Chances are that you own a way too thin foamy thing that should stand for a mat, or this silver layer which just keeps the cold from not directly hitting your body. After trying a few (self) inflatable mats (a Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad, a Therm-a-Rest SI and a Sea to Summit SI), I know now what I need. Of course, these requirements all come out of earlier frustration. I have been lying awake for nights trying not to roll off my way too small mat, I have been cold for nights because my hips touched the floor and have felt regret for the concessions I made by bringing a lighter or smaller mat than I needed for true comfort. What I need from a mat is:

  1. space (when sleeping alone, I want to be able to form an X on the mat and not roll off),
  2. it to keep me off the ground (I don’t ever want to feel the floor from any angle),
  3. warmth (this just comes from the right material combined with no. 2).
    Important: an airbed holds air. Air by itself is not a really good insulating material …

After searching online with these selection criteria, I have found the love of my life: the Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe SI. Mine is a little bit large and therefore not suitable to bring on a hiking + camping trip, but mats like these are available in different shapes and sizes. Last, but not least: make sure to test a few different mats in the store when possible, just like when picking a matress for your bedroom at home.

Me freezing without the right bedding haha..
This is my Sea to Summit in a way too tiny tent (but I just HAD to bring it)
Be sure to test a few mats before deciding
Happy Happy Juliet picked an airobed (which still was a bit cold unfortunately after all..)

Top it off with the right sleeping bag(s)

After picking your kind of perfect mat, I suggest you to work it up to the right sleeping bag. You can choose to bring your own comfy bed linnen, but I think sleeping in a sleeping bag is very much part of the camping experience and might keep you a lot warmer. Choosing a sleeping bag for your kind of night rest should be based on your camping style (are you a summertime – or a 4-seasons outdoor person) and your sleeping behaviour at home. Information about the last part is crucial for 2 reasons: the warmth your new sleeping bag should give you and the inside space you need to experience. Logically, someone who peacefully sleeps in his underwear under only a thin bed sheet during wintertime, needs a totally different sleeping bag than a always shivery person with uncontrollable body parts like me. Bottom line, know your sleeping style, decide about the temperatures you’ll be camping in and have yourself advised about a good matching sleeping bag. Always feeling cold? Then really never underestimate sleeping in a tent. I like to play it save and always bring my sleeping bag liner to heat things up with a few degrees (or a lot) when nights turn out way colder than I expected.

The perfect pillow

Like I said in the beginning: your own. Seriously, just bring it. No such thing like sleeping on your own pillow.

Still cold or unable to sleep for another reason?

I’m with you about the cold! I’m hoping to reintroduce the sleepingcap in the future. Some people state we loose a lot of heath through our head and I believe this to be true based on my own experience. Giving this ‘myth’ the benefit of the doubt, I have slept with a beanie during camping nights and this really kept me a lot warmer. Together with my skiing socks, Odlo thermo wear, gloves and hot water bottle tucked in my pyjama’s (haha…). Yes, I’m still searching for my perfect sleeping bag today and will keep you posted about this mission. I can only tell you I really fancy the Robens Carpathian sleeping bag, but I need a more 4-seasons model to fit my everlasting sense of frost in the outdoors. Oh… have you checked the angle of your tent placement while setting it up? Make sure to pitch it on even surfaces to prevent you from rolling to one corner. Hmmm… maybe should have started with this one …

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