Camping is a timeless summer rite of passage (or any season rite, if you’re an enthusiast). Every summer, thousands of people flock to forests, mountains, and beaches seeking a reprieve from daily life, pitching tents in campgrounds, state parks, national forests, and more. These overnight trips are likely a big departure from the modern comforts of your bedroom, but that doesn’t mean you should lose out on sleep.
The good news is that when you put it all together just right, sleeping in a tent can be every bit as restful as home — sometimes even more so in the great outdoors, where fresh air provides many benefits for sleep.
Ready to give it a go?
How to Choose the Right Camping Spot for a Good Night’s Sleep
Find a Peaceful Area
All the best gear in the world won’t make a difference if you end up pitching your tent in the wrong spot.
In a campground, you’ll want to seek out a site that will afford you peace and quiet. “You’ll want to avoid sites around the bathrooms and other public areas,” says Heather Balogh Rochfort, Colorado-based freelance writer and author of several books on hiking and backpacking. “If you’re close to these buildings, you’ll have people walking by your tent at all hours of the night.”
These buildings also have plenty of light, which can make it tough to fall or stay asleep in a tent. Also avoid spots near the entrance, which might bring with them the noise and lights of cars and RVs as they come and go.
Avoid RVs and Car Grounds
Another tip: If the campground has spots for both RVs and cars, Balogh Rochfort advises setting your camp away from RV area. “RVs often run their generators all night, and the noise can interrupt your sleep,” she says.
That said, if you are city person, you may find the white-noise rumbles of the engines more sleep-enhancing than the sounds of nature.
Look for Level Ground
Do some careful scoping out of the terrain and surroundings, says Jordan Alan, a hiking guide with Boulder-based Cairn Outdoor Guides. Before staking your ground, it’s important to check whether the ground is sloped and clear.
“Look for level ground,” Alan recommends. “Otherwise, you might find yourself waking up on the other side of your tent in the morning.” If you can’t find level ground, put clothes under your sleeping bag, on the lower side, to help even out the ground.
Even if you plan on bringing a sleeping pad, clear your base of sticks, stones, pinecones, and other bits of nature. This will make a difference in your sleep quality and minimize risk of a Princess-and-the-Pea moment.
Consider Natural Elements Like Trees and Climate
When it’s time to pack, check the weather, humidity, and other campers’ reviews of the site, if possible. Depending on where you’re going, you may want to look the temperature for morning and night, as difference between when you go to bed and when you wake up can be drastic.
If it’s summer and you’d like the shade of trees, make that a priority. In cooler climates, keep in mind that setting up near water will have a chilling effect.
“A good practice is to look for designated areas where people have camped in the past,” says Alan. “That usually means it’s a pretty good choice.”
The Best Comfort Gear for Campers Who Want to Sleep Well
What You Need to Sleep in a Tent
“Sleeping on the ground sounds rocky, but if you can create the perfect sleep setup with quality gear that works for you, the fresh air and nature sounds will definitely give the best sleep of your life,” says Balogh Rochfort.
Basic gear that you should bring on a camping trip includes:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Eye mask and ear plugs
- Portable lights, like a headlamp or flashlight
The type of gear you want to bring depends on your method of transportation. For car campers, you’ll be able to bring more and bigger items. For backpackers, compact and lightweight are key. Below, find extra tips on choosing the right fit.
Aim High With Your Tent
Your tent can have the most impact on a restful night’s sleep. When choosing one, you’ll want the ability to stand up inside, says Balogh Rochfort.
“This will make it easier to get ready for bed and change clothes,” she says. “Find the tallest person in your group and pick a tent that will accommodate him or her.”
If weight isn’t an issue, try to buy up a size, too, to allow for more room inside. “Tents are sized by person and will fit the number of sleeping pads, but not your gear, so things can get tight,” says Balogh Rochfort.
Get Mesh Windows, Pockets, and Double Zippers
Other considerations are venting, whether the tent comes with mesh windows or a fly that can be opened to allow for fresh air to enter. It’s also helpful to have pockets so that you can stash your headlamp, phone, or other items nearby.
If you’re backpacking, size becomes more of an issue, so prioritize features like wind and rain resistance, along with weight. “Do your research and consider worst-case scenarios so that your tent can hold up,” says Alan.
Types of Sleeping Bags to Consider
Your bedding is the next-most important part. Comfort and warmth will likely be your highest priorities, says Balogh Rochfort, and if you’re car camping, this can amount to something as simple as your comforter and a pillow. But there are different types of sleeping bags with different features, such as:
- Seasonal sleeping bags for summer, winter, and all seasons
- Shapes, such as rectangular, semi-rectangular, mummy, and double bag. “Many sleeping bags are ‘mummy’ style, tapering at the feet to save space,” Balogh Rochfort explains. “If you have the room and find that confining, look for a rectangular shape.”
- Insulation material, from down (warmer) to synthetics (cheaper, costs less, and dries faster)
Other sleeping bag features include:
- a “hood,” which surrounds your head to make you warmer. Some people may find this claustrophobic.
- Multiple zippers, to help adjust with ventilation
- Water-repellent shells, which are made of polyester or nylon
Bring a Pad, If You Don’t Like the Cold
A pad is another piece of gear to consider. There are three types: closed-cell foam, air, and self-inflating. For backpackers who are carrying their gear, REI recommends a closed-cell foam pad because they are more lightweight.
“If staying warm is a big factor, keep in mind that the ground is cold and a good pad will insulate you,” says Balogh Rochfort. Look into the pads “R-value,” which will range from less than two to beyond five — the higher the warmer.
Get Luxe with an Inflatable Pillow
Finally, you might want to consider an inflatable pillow, says Alan. “They can be a game changer and they don’t take up much room or add weight,” he explains. “And have a set of extra clothes nearby when you go to bed, in case you need to add layers.”
Pro-tip: If you’re feeling chilly but not enough to layer up, stuff your extra, dry clothes into your sleeping bag to fill up the empty space; you’ll appreciate having warm clothes in the morning, too.
Know Your Comfort Needs
Your comfort also depends on several factors, from universal to personal. “Make a hierarchy of needs when planning,” says Alan. “That extra bit of work will make your experience all the better.”
The personal part is what may determine how many “just in case” items you pack. Do you really need that toilet paper? Probably not, but if it gives you the confidence to get out of the tent at night instead of worrying with a full bladder, it could be worth it. You may also want to just pee twice before going to bed to make sure you don’t wake up in the middle of the night with restroom needs.
Bladder panic aside, consider other essentials of your bedtime routine and plan accordingly — if you love to read before bed, plan to bring your eReader. Ear plugs, a mask, and a headlamp or flashlight are also items to consider.
Wondering how much the moonlight affects your sleep? The answer is: depends on whether there is a full moon is coming or not! Plus, if you’ve got a camping trip planned, you’ll also want to check out these tips for stargazing and enjoying dark skies.
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