When people first start wilderness camping, one of the most difficult things they face is getting a good night’s sleep. In this article, I’m going to discuss tips and tricks that I have learned for getting a great night’s sleep when camping and backpacking.
Hopefully, with all the tips and tricks you can get a good night’s sleep and wake up well-rested the next morning.
Backpacking Sleep Tips and Tricks
1. Choose the correct Campsite
One of the most important tips for better sleep while backpacking that anyone can give you when trying to get a good night’s sleep is to choose the correct campsite. If you pick a campsite that is really good then your sleep system is not going to have to work hard at all to make sure that you get that good night’s sleep.
When picking a campsite, try to avoid low-lying areas such as right next to rivers. The cold air settles into those depressions and those campsites can be really cold.
Try to avoid any very hard campsites. Don’t camp somewhere where the ground has become as compacted as cement because that is going to be a very uncomfortable surface to try and sleep on.
You should try and choose a campsite that is fairly flat but also somewhere that doesn’t have a whole lot of rocks that are going to be sticking into your hips and back when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. As always you should always practice good leave no trace principles when you’re choosing a campsite.
2. Laying out the sleeping bag and sleeping pad
The next thing you want to do once you’ve set up your tent is laying out your sleeping bag and your sleeping pad as soon as possible. This allows your sleeping mat to get completely flat.
Particularly if you’re using a foam sleeping mat that’s been rolled up this can be quite useful. and More importantly, it allows your sleeping bag time to loft even if you have a synthetic sleeping bag.
A trick that I have learned that is specific to air inflatable sleeping mats is to not overinflate them. It’s actually pretty easy to make them just as hard as a rock and that doesn’t actually provide a very comfortable night’s sleep. So try letting just a little bit of air out of your pad you want there to be some fluffy feel when you lie on it.
3. Taking care of hygiene
Hygiene is not something that is often associated with backpacking and camping. But I would really recommend trying to get clean before you crawl inside your sleeping bag. Not only is this going to prolong the life of your sleeping bag but it’s also going to help you get warmer.
If you are still in your sweaty hiking clothes, those clothes are probably a bit damp and that’s going to keep you really cold.
By getting clean, taking off those dirty clothes, and putting on a set of clean dedicated sleeping clothes you’re going to stay a lot warmer.
4. Wearing sleeping clothes
On the subject of sleeping clothes, I would recommend if possible wearing some sort of moisture-wicking material. Because if you do overheat in your sleeping bag and start to sweat and you’re wearing cotton that can make you really cold. Having said that I have taken cotton sleep clothes with me on many hikes and I’m just very careful to make sure that they do not get wet whether with water or with sweat and it’s worked completely fine for me.
One thing that is really important with your sleeping clothes is to make sure that they are very comfortable. Don’t get clothes that are too tight because as soon as they’re too tight and restricting your circulation you’re also going to struggle to warm up, particularly in your extremities.
When you’re really cold it can be very tempting to layer up as much as possible and then jump into your sleeping bag which is completely fine. You should get warm as soon as you can.
But remember to take those layers off again once you are warm because you don’t want to start sweating inside of your sleeping bag. It’s going to make your sleep clothes wet which is going to make you cold and when it starts making the sleeping bag itself damp the sleeping bag is going to become a lot less efficient at insulating you.
5. Have enough food and water
It’s important to remember that sleeping bags are insulating devices. They do not give off heat. All they are doing is trapping the heat that you produce.
So it is very important to make sure that you have enough food and water. This will actually keep your metabolism up and produce enough heat to keep yourself warm.
Eating or drinking some sort of sugary snack is often a good idea provided that you can still sleep after that.
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You can even try doing some exercises. Something that I like to do when I’m really cold is to go into my sleeping bag, remove all of my clothes while I’m in the sleeping bag, and then put them all back on while I’m still in the sleeping bag.
This is actually quite a workout and a bit of a struggle and just that movement generates quite a bit of heat. This is one of the most overlooked tips for better sleep while backpacking.
7. Using the bathroom at the right time
There is nothing worse than getting into your sleeping bag getting all lovely and toasty warm and then realizing that you really have to go to the bathroom. Make sure that you go to the bathroom multiple times before you settle down for the night.
And on that note make sure that you have any sort of gear that you need to go to the toilet at hand. So that if you do have to get up in the middle of the night your headlamp, your towel, your toilet paper, and your hand sanitizer are nearby.
8. Sleeping bags
If you are a taller person or if there is more than one person sharing the tent it can pretty easily happen that the foot of your sleeping bag touches the wall of the tent and gets condensation on it. If this is something that is happening to you, you can use your rain gear or your pack liner just to create a bit of a barrier between your sleeping bag and the tent wall.
All of the lovely heat that you are producing to keep yourself warm doesn’t mean anything if it’s escaping the sleeping bag. So make sure that you cinch the sleeping bag down. If it’s got a cowl then cinch it down around your face. If it just comes up to your shoulders cinch it around your neck to make sure that you limit the air loss as much as possible.
You can quite easily cinch the cowl of your sleeping bag down to over your eyes. If your mouth and nose are still cold use a buff or scarf to lift up over your mouth and nose while you’re sleeping rather than putting them inside the sleeping bag.
In case your sleeping bag does not have a cowl then just take a beanie or some type of buff or warm headgear with you to put over your head to keep it warm.
If you are a short person then most sleeping bags are going to be far too long for you. A good way of dealing with too much air being around you in the sleeping bag is to put extra clothing or soft gear items in the sleeping bag with you. Remember if you are really cold then there is no shame in sharing your sleeping bag with another person as well.
9. Miscellaneous Tips
In really cold weather where you’re struggling to generate enough heat, a very good trick that you can use is making a hot water bottle.
If you have some sort of bottle that can carry hot water such as a Nalgene bottle, you can boil water, fill up your Nalgene bottle, and put that in the sleeping bag with you.
You can also use disposable hand or foot warmers which are chemical pads that heat up when exposed to air. you can even use reusable heat packs that have a little coin inside them that you snap and then the whole pack heats up.
If you are using a pillow and you find that the pillow keeps slipping off of your sleeping pad then try putting a t-shirt over both the pillow and the sleeping bag to hold it in place.
Hopefully, with all of these tips, you can get a good night’s sleep and wake up well-rested the next morning. If you have your own tips and tricks for getting a good night’s sleep while backpacking or camping then please leave them in the comments below because I am so excited to learn new things as well.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”– John Burroughs
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