Ever pictured that idyllic night under the stars, only to be slapped by reality when you’re wriggling around in your sleeping bag at 2 am? It’s a cruel irony, isn’t it?
We head into the wild, dreaming of tranquil nights amidst nature’s symphony, yet we end up counting every leaf rustle, every chirp, and every…whatever that weird noise was. Thinking, “Why does this serene wilderness turn into a noisy carnival when I try to snooze?”
I’m a bit of an insomniac when I travel in general and when I’m camping especially. Over the years, whether it’s sleeping in my vehicle, a roof-top tent or on the ground, I’ve managed to get better at sleeping in the backcountry.
Numerous factors can contribute to a poor night’s sleep outdoors, and some of them aren’t under your control. But there are a number of ways you can tilt the odds in your favor, from noise management to picking a great campsite. Below I’ll share some of my hard won sleep tips in the hopes of helping you get better Zs.
Laying the Groundwork: Picking the Perfect Campsite
Ah, the quest for the elusive “perfect” campsite. Finding a great site can take some work, but it’s always worth the extra effort. It’s a bit like buying a nice mattress for your bed at home, the upfront investment pays off in many nights of better sleep.
Level Terrain is Key
You’ve got your tent, your gear, and that spidey-sense telling you where to set up camp. But here’s the rub: if you’re pitching on a slope, or worse, on an unnoticed anthill, you’re in for a wild ride. It’s not just about avoiding that mid-sleep slide; it’s about ensuring your back gets the support it deserves. So, scout out for flat terrain, clear away the pesky pebbles (if you are in a tent) and give your back the night off! If you are in a trailer or sleeping in a roof-top tent, you may be able to compensate for a slope with leveling pads, but you’ll want a good flat spot for a ground tent.
Consider Distance from Water Bodies
Water’s song can be the stuff of dreams or nightmares. Close enough, its gentle lullaby can serenade you to sleep. But get too close, and you’re in for a damp awakening, not to mention the buzzing concert by our not-so-favorite winged friends. The trick? Striking that sweet spot where you’re serenaded, but not soaked or swarmed.
Safe Distance from Trails and Common Areas.
Ever been rudely awakened by a group of night hikers or perhaps a curious deer? Being too close to trails is like living next to a highway. Great for access, not so much for peace. Plus, a bit of distance offers safety from any curious wildlife that might be using the trail.
Mastering the Art of Noise Management
Nature can be noisy. Campgrounds can be really noisy.
Earplugs: A Camper’s Best Friend
Cue the nighttime orchestra of snoring campmates and nocturnal creatures. But a decent pair of earplugs? They can drown out the din and make your tent feel like a silent sanctuary.
Sound Masking Techniques
Apps and gadgets have taken camping to 21st-century levels. Have you tried a white noise app or nature sounds playlist? It’s like an audio blanket, shielding you from the cacophony outside. Just be considerate of other campers and keep the white noise to a minimum.
Lights Out: Reducing Ambient Light Exposure
Light from the moon and stars, or even a nearby campfire or campground lights, can sometimes disrupt your rest. Research has shown that even a small amount of light can disrupt sleep patters. Reducing light at night is key to getting a good night’s sleep in a tent. The first step is to find a site with as little ambient light as possible, but there are some additional gear that can help.
One of the most effective solutions is using a blackout tent — specially designed to cut out as much light as possible. I bought a roof-top tent for my overland trailer that is very dark inside, which both helps us get to sleep, but also stay asleep past sunrise.
A comfortable eye cover or sleep mask will also cut out how much light. These lightweight and portable accessories block out light directly, ensuring that you can sleep undisturbed no matter how bright your surroundings might be. Not everyone likes how a sleep mask feels – I’m one of those people – but if you aren’t bothered by them, its worth giving it a try.
Betting on Bedding: Ensuring Comfort All Night
The Right Sleeping Pad Matters
Foam or inflatable or hybrid? While foam pads offer resilience, inflatable ones adjust to your contours and keep you further off the ground. Both act as insulators against that chilly ground. My personal favorites are hybrid pads that have foam on the inside but also fill with air to help you adjust the firmness. These come in a range of different sizes now, and if you are car camping you can bring one that’s quite thick and comfortable.
Sleeping Bag Secrets
There’s nothing worse than a night of chattering teeth. So, get your bag’s temperature rating right. Love to sprawl? Opt for a rectangular bag. Feeling the cold? The mummy-style bag’s got your back. If you’re sleeping set up and the temperature permits, sleeping under blankets can make for a better night’s sleep than a sleeping bag in my experience. We sleep under blankets in our roof-top tent, but bring sleeping bags as a backup in case we run into surprisingly cold nights.
Pillows: Don’t Compromise Comfort
Ever tried substituting a rolled-up jacket for a pillow? Spoiler: It’s not fun. From inflatable to compressible, choose what cradles your neck just right. It’s a tiny luxury, but it makes a world of difference. If you are car camping or overlanding, I recommend bringing a full sized pillow. Yes, they take up space, but it’s so worth it for a good night’s sleep.
Layering: The Balance between Warm and Cool
Moisture-Wicking Base Layers
Ever woken up feeling like you’ve run a marathon in your sleep? Wicking layers are your antidote. They pull sweat away, ensuring you’re warm but not “tropical.” That said, some people don’t like the feel of synthetics layers at night–I happen to be one of them. So I tend to sleep in cotton pajamas, but try to sleep with the right bedding for the temperature so I sweat less.
The Power of the Beanie
Sounds silly, but this humble piece of cloth can be your thermal knight in shining armor. And there’s science behind it: lose less heat through your noggin, and you stay toasty. I always have a beanie nearby in case I get cold at night.
Socks or No Socks?
The eternal debate. While some love the snugness of socks, others swear by the liberating feel of going without. No right or wrong here; it’s a personal cozy-meter thing. Myself, I don’t like the feeling of the synthetic sleeping bag on my feed – so I’m all in on socks.
Rituals and Routine
Wind-Down with a Warm Beverage (Not Coffee)
Ever wondered why that cuppa hot cocoa feels so divine? It’s not just the taste; it’s the warmth trickling down, prepping your body for snooze mode. Just make sure you aren’t consuming a lot of caffeine. In fact, I try to avoid caffeine after noon when I’m camping to avoid it keeping me awake at night.
A Brief Stretching Session
Shake off the day’s fatigue with a gentle stretch. It’s like giving your body a heads-up: “Hey, we’re winding down now.”
Setting a Sleep Schedule
While the idea of syncing with the sun might sound hippy-dippy, there’s method in the madness. It anchors your internal clock, making dreamland a regular destination.
Go Pee (Twice)
Oh, the dreaded feeling of waking up in the middle of the night and realizing you need to go pee. A good habit is to go pee 30 minutes or so before you bed down, then go again right before you get into your tent. This can help avoid the need for a midnight urination expedition.
While the tips I shared above will go a long way to helping you sleep while camping, some people struggle with insomnia that can be exacerbated by travel and camping. I’m one of them, as I mentioned above.
There can be a stigma attached to using medications to aid sleep, but for anyone who suffers from chronic insomnia they can make a huge difference. If you have been prescribed medication to help you sleep, I recommend bringing it along on camping and overlanding trips in case you need it. I’ve been on trips where I didn’t sleep for 3 or 4 nights in a row, which is exhausting, can impair your judgment, and takes away from what should be a great experience.
My only caveat is that you assess whether there is the possibility of needing to be on your toes at night. For instance, if you are camping deep in bear country and may need to bang a pot in the middle of the night to chase them away, being in a deep sleep might not be ideal.
Whether you’re an overlanding pro or just testing the camping waters, arming yourself with these sleep secrets ensures you’re not just dreaming of better sleep – you’re living it.
Heading into Slumberland: The Final Stretch
You’ve probably stared up at the tent ceiling more times than you’d care to admit, thinking, “I’m going to be so tired tomorrow.” It’s almost like a rite of passage, isn’t it?
But that’s just it. A passage. Not a final destination. With a playbook full of techniques up your sleeve, the game’s about to change. These aren’t just tips; they’re your arsenal in the battle for bedtime bliss amidst the wilderness.
Armed with this newfound wisdom, those restless nights will start fading into memories. Imagine: a night under the stars where every sound is a soothing lullaby, each breath in sync with the rhythm of the wild. That’s the dream, right? And it’s way closer than you might think.
You’ve got the map. All that’s left is venturing out, testing the waters, and reclaiming your right to a peaceful slumber.