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If you’re not used to camping, finding the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent can be difficult.
The most common troubles are being too cold, the ground being too hard, and thinking you hear strange noises outside your tent.
In this article, we will address all these issues (and more) and you will no doubt find the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.
The Right Gear for the Weather
Before you head out for your camping trip, you should always know what to expect from the weather. Be sure you’re aware of the daytime high temperature, nighttime low, and any expected precipitation. Most people head out camping in the summer but don’t check the low at night which is vitally important.
In humid climates like the south, there is not much temperature difference between day and night. This makes for pretty warm sleeping conditions.
Make sure you have a well-ventilated tent or consider getting some kind of fan or portable air conditioner. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep in a tent when you’re hot and sweaty.
If you’re not used to arid regions but find yourself camping in one, you will no doubt be surprised at the temperature difference between day and night. In fact, states with arid climates, like New Mexico, have high numbers of hypothermia cases because people aren’t prepared for the temperature difference between day and night.
Always check the low temperature at night and plan accordingly. The most important thing is to have proper clothing and sleeping gear (sleeping bags and sleeping pads). More information about that below. You can also read more about heating your tent and staying warm.
What’s Under You
If you were sleeping at home, would you just lie down on the ground and expect to sleep well? Of course not, especially if that ground was as uneven as the ground outside.
That’s why you need something comfortable to sleep on. The most common choices are sleeping pads, cots, or air mattresses.
But these aren’t just for comfort, they play another crucially important role…
Not Just for Comfort
One major mistake new campers or backpackers make is to think that sleeping pads are just for comfort. In fact, the most important role a sleeping pad plays is to insulate you from the ground.
The ground draws heat away from you much more efficiently than air so, while the air may feel colder than the ground, you lose much more heat to the ground while you sleep. Without adequate insulation between you and the ground, you may find yourself feeling cold at night, even when it’s not particularly that cold outside.
That’s why you need to sleep on top of something that is both insulating and comfortable.
Sleeping pads are the most compact and portable option to sleep on while camping. This is because they are mostly designed with backpackers in mind.
Sleeping pads tend to be lightweight and focus more on insulation than comfort. While sleeping pads are never a bad option, you might want to consider an air mattress or cot if you are car camping, as those can be more comfortable.
If you decide to go with a sleeping pad, you want to consider these things before you purchase:
- Price – Balance your budget with the comfort you require. Some sleeping pads can break the bank but are only necessary for hardcore backpackers.
- Weight – Mostly a concern for backpackers but it’s something to keep in mind even when car camping.
- Warmth – This is measured by “R-value”. For cold weather camping, make sure you have an R-value of at least 4. For spring or fall camping, an R-value of 2 is fine.
- Thickness/Firmness – Simply a matter of preference, choose if you like something firmer or very soft.
- Noise – Many sleeping pads make noises if you turn in your sleep. Make sure to look for this in reviews if you are a light sleeper.
For more information on choosing the right sleeping pad:
Some Tips for Sleeping with a Sleeping Pad
You may still be able to feel a very uneven ground through your sleeping pad, so make sure the ground is cleared of any sticks and rocks before you set up your tent.
Some people like to make a bed of leaves to pitch their tent on top of. This can provide some extra insulation from the ground and a more comfortable bed. Take care to make it as smooth as possible so it’s not too lumpy.
Air Mattresses and Cots
Air mattresses and cots are one of the most comfortable ways to sleep in a tent. They may not provide as much insulation beneath you as a good sleeping pad. If you’re sleeping in cold weather and want to stay warm and comfortable, you can put an insulating sleeping pad on an air mattress or cot.
Personally, I take a queen sized air mattress camping for my wife and I and I sleep just as well camping as I do at home. I use a converter to power the air mattress pump from my car so I don’t have to use a hand pump.
What’s Over You
For warm-weather camping, you likely won’t be covered by much, but if you’re cold at all, you certainly won’t sleep well.
It’s important to have a sleeping bag that keeps you warm enough, but temperature ratings on sleeping bags are misleading and confusing. So I’m going to break them down for you.
There two basic shapes for sleeping bags: rectangular or mummy. Rectangular bags offer more leg room but typically aren’t as warm as mummy bags. If it’s going to get cold at night, you probably want a mummy bag.
The problem is that companies label men’s sleeping bags for the minimum temperature that has been tested – not the temperature at which you will actually be comfortable. There is a different temperature for comfort…and it’s higher.
To make things more confusing, women’s sleeping bags typically use the comfort temperature.
Before buying a sleeping, whether for men or women, make sure you read the label for the “comfort” temperature or any other information about the temperature rating. Don’t just take advertised temperature ratings at face value.
Take Home Messages About Temperature
- Rectangular sleeping bags aren’t as warm as mummy bags but will be more comfortable in warmer weather.
- Look for a “comfort” temperature rating before you buy a sleeping bag, not just the advertised temperature. When in doubt, get a colder bag.
- If you can’t find a comfort temperature, add 15-20°F to the advertised temperature. That is the lowest temperature at which you want to use that sleeping bag.
For further reading on temperature ratings:
Prepare for Sleep
Part of getting a good night of sleep is preparing for it. The human body doesn’t just switch off. Instead, we typically wind down slowly over a period of 30 minutes to an hour.
Any routines you have at home before bed, you should repeat when camping. Many of these routines will trigger your mind and body, telling them that it is time to sleep. Besides brushing your teeth, here are a couple of things to think about.
Go to the Bathroom…Twice
Getting up to pee when camping is much more of a nuisance than at home. Pee about 20 minutes before bed and then again just before you crawl into your sleeping bag.
Keep a light within reach in case you need to go in the night and know exactly where it is so you don’t have to fumble and search around your tent, which will make it harder to get back to sleep.
Change Your Clothes
Even if it’s cold, you don’t want to wear the same dirty clothes you’ve been wearing all day. Also, wearing too many clothes in a winter sleeping bag can actually keep it from insulating you well. If you need extra warmth, drape a jacket over the top of your sleeping bag.
Store Food Properly
No matter where you are, make sure your food is properly stored and never keep any food in your tent.
If you’re in bear country, storing your food away from your tent should be rule number one. But this is a good rule anywhere else because food in the tent or around your campsite can attract small animals which will be annoying when you’re trying to sleep.
For more info on good food storage practices, check out this article from REI or the link in the tweet below.
Make sure you’ve secured any valuables before you go to bed. Either keep them in your tent with you or lock them in your car. You don’t want to wake up worrying that someone is trying to rob you.
In fact, you should take care of anything you might worry about during the night before bed.
You will never sleep well without peace of mind…
Peace of Mind
Peace of mind is an often overlooked part of sleeping while camping. But you won’t get good sleep if you’ve got something weighing on your mind. When you’re out camping and in a new place, be honest to yourself about things that concern you.
There are many things people are afraid of while camping, some are legitimate and some are not.
Everyone who has camped before has likely woken up to a strange noise in the night. It’s almost always just a small animal scurrying around but your mind starts to imagine scary things pretty quickly.
For these situations, it helps to have some protection nearby. I always camp with a can of pepper spray within reach of where I’m sleeping. This can be used on both people or animals. I’ve never had to use it, or even thought about it, but knowing it’s there gives me peace of mind.
I also keep a light within reach and make sure it’s easy to grab so I don’t have to search around for it if I need it.
If you feel safe and you’ve stored your food and valuables, you’re much more likely to get a good night’s sleep. There’s just one more major tip that most new campers overlook…
The #1 Tip
The #1 tip for the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent might surprise you: it’s to bring a pillow.
You use a pillow at home and you know you wouldn’t get good sleep without it. So why are you trying to use a lumpy, folded up sweatshirt when you’re camping and wonder why you’re tossing and turning all night?
This is actually one of the most common mistakes of new campers and backpackers. They think they are “roughin’ it” out camping so a pillow is a luxury item. If you’re not getting good sleep, the whole trip is going to be rough and not much fun.
If I’m car camping, I sometimes bring my pillow from home. But it takes up a lot of space and I’m a little wary of taking my precious pillow out camping only to bring it home dirty.
A great option is an inflatable pillow because they pack up small and are still very comfortable. You can get an OutMore inflatable pillow on Amazon Prime here.
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The Most Comfortable Way to Sleep in a Tent
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the Most Comfortable Way to Sleep in a Tent
Getting good sleep is highly personalized so there is no magic bullet for getting good camping sleep. You might have to try many of these tricks before you get good sleep but the more you try, the better you will sleep.
The most comfortable way to sleep in a tent is to make sure you’re not too hot or cold, sleep with a pillow and on something comfortable like an air mattress or cot, and make sure you feel safe and secure. The one mistake I see over and over again is not having a pillow.
If you enjoyed this post and you’re on Pinterest, here are some pins just for you: