Preparation is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep. At home, when you pack for your trip, find out what the expected low temperature will be, for the night (or nights) that you will be out, and pack a sleeping bag rated for a temperature slightly lower than that. Remember to always use an insulating layer between you and the ground, in addition to your sleeping bag; while backpacking, a self-inflating or closed cell foam pad, or in camp, a cot. Hammocks are becoming more popular for sleeping, both at base camp and while backpacking, as it too will keep you off the ground.
When selecting your sleeping bag, make sure it’s rated for the temperature you expect to experience. If you’re like many of us here, you own a variety of sleeping bags with various temperature ratings and insulations. As you are packing for your trip, make sure to check all of your gear. You don’t want to discover that you’ve packed a sleeping bag rated for summer weather when you’re making camp during a December snowstorm, all because you grabbed the wrong stuff sack.
Cots are best used in campgrounds or base camps. Cots are great for several reasons. They can be reassuring for nervous, first time campers, as the feel is similar to a bed and can be more comfortable than sleeping on the ground, away from critters and creepy crawlies. They are particularly beneficial for campers with bad backs as they provide a more supportive sleep surface. They add a bit of luxury to your car camping experience. For cold weather use you may need to add an insulating pad.
Hammocks are a great way to cut down on weight if you’re trying to get into ultra light backpacking. They may feel strange to the uninitiated, but after spending a few nights in a hammock, most people learn to love them. On colder nights it’s good to use a foam pad for some extra insulation – and it adds another layer of comfort, too. Finding a good spot to set up your hammock can be difficult at first. But after a while, you’ll develop an instinct for scoping out the best spots in your camp. More substantial hammocks are a reasonable alternative for sleeping in campgrounds, as well. To prevent cold air from under the hammock making you cold use an insulating pad in the hammock.
Pillows add that extra level of comfort some campers may need. You can bring your pillow from home, or pick up a camp pillow, which will typically be lighter and will stuff more compactly for storage when not in use. If you want to be more efficient, some stuff sacks feature fuzzy exteriors, so you can stuff them with your clothes and create your own pillow once in camp.
If you’re not used to it, the sounds of nature at night can be a bit unnerving, not to mention your tent mate’s snoring. After an exhausting day on the trail or in camp, though, sleep will typically come easily. We suggest you try it first, without the earplugs, as being aware of your surroundings is always a good idea.
Getting Used to Sleeping Outside
There are a few things you can do to make the nights you spend in your tent more comfortable.
Flatter surfaces generally lead to more comfortable sleeping conditions in tents. To make the floor of your tent as comfortable as possible, take the time to find flat surfaces with some natural cushion (dirt rather than rock for instance). To keep the inside of your tent dry, set it up in an area that’s higher than the surrounding area. This way if it rains, water won’t come into your tent. Additionally don’t forget your ground cloth!
Bring the right gear
People accustomed to city life will be astonished to find out how cold nights can be, and how dark the sky gets in the backcountry. Make sure you bring enough lighting and warm clothes to ensure your comfort. During the summer, nylon pants and a fleece jacket are usually enough. But always check the weather forecast just to be sure. And, always pack your rain gear.
Your new surroundings may be intimidating. You’ve just left your comfortable house with all of its modern conveniences, and you are embarking on an entirely new experience for you. A bit of anxiety is normal. Try to change your thinking from what you’ve left behind to what you’re gaining. Camping is all about becoming more connected to nature. During the day, go on a hike and listen to the birds, or just take in the sights. At night, you can look up and see a sky full of stars like you’ve never seen before. Or, close your eyes and experience the beauty of quiet. Leaving home to be with nature is the ultimate in peaceful calm. You’ll have the best time if you relax and enjoy it. For your first trip or two into the wilderness, you might feel more comfortable going with a friend who’s got some experience. You’ll return the favor, down the road.
Going to Sleep
Proper storage of food and toiletries is critical, in camp. All of your food, deodorant, toothpaste, and anything else that smells should go into storage. You’ll find that some camps even provide food storage or bear bag hanging station, but not all do. Before you venture out, you should check if your intended camp site provides food storage, and if it doesn’t, look into bringing a storage solution of your own. If bears are a problem where you’re going, you’ll have to worry about the food odors permeating your clothes. You should have dedicated sleeping clothes, so you can store your clothes that have accumulated food smells with your food. Also, dedicated sleeping clothes means you will always go to bed dry, which is more comfortable and better for your bag.
Late night nature calls are going to be more work than they are at home. To prepare for this, keep sandals and a flashlight close by, in an easily reachable place, where they won’t get knocked around. In colder weather, some folks simply keep an empty bottle close at hand, rather than facing the unpleasant prospect of leaving the warm tent.
On colder nights you can do several things to keep warm. First, wear a hat to bed, as your head is the place where most of your body heat escapes. Second, drink some water before bed; staying hydrated increases your ability to keep yourself warm. And finally, don’t overdress. When you wear a lot of large clothes to bed it depletes your bag’s ability to keep you warm. Your bag keeps you warm by creating an insulating pocket of air that is warmed by your body. If you wear bulky cold weather clothes, you won’t be able to warm that pocket of air as well.
For very cold nights, you can pull the drawstring of the hood on your sleeping bag closed, and only leave an opening large enough for your mouth and nose. Also, pour warm water into one of your tight closing water bottles and sleep with it as you would a hot water bottle. This serves a dual purpose – it will prevent your water from freezing and will help you warm your bag.
Noises in the night
If you are easily startled, try to accept the sounds you hear as simply nature, and nothing malicious. The sound of leaves rustling always sounds louder at night, and what you think is the sound of a bear is most likely just a raccoon. Also, try to remember that most of the animals in the forest are going to be much more wary of you then you are of them.
Even a summer-weight bag can be too much, if the temperatures really climb. Try sleeping on top of your sleeping bag, if inside is too warm. If you feel uncomfortable with nothing over you, bring a sheet from home. Or, try a cotton or silk sleep sack.