Whether you’re camping or backpacking, how can you increase the odds that you’ll sleep soundly in the outdoors? A good start is to have the right gear:
Sleeping bag: Choose a sleeping bag with a style and temperature rating appropriate for your destination.
- Car camping bags are typically cut wider, offering more roll-around room (good for comfort) but less efficiency for retaining body heat (not so good on extra-chilly nights). Some rectangular styles can be unzipped to use as a quilt on milder nights.
- Backpacking bags are mummy shaped for a closer, warmer fit, and are usually lighter in weight. Many are filled with goose or duck down, which compresses more readily than synthetic fill.
Sleeping pad: There are three types of sleeping pads—self-inflating, air and closed-cell foam. When car camping, weight is not an issue, so you can enjoy a thicker, wider pad or mattress for comfort. When backpacking, weight is crucial, so a super-lightweight air pad or closed-cell pad may be your optimal choice
Pillows: Bring one from home or use a small foam or inflatable camp pillow. Some sleeping bags have a pocket to hold a pillow or folded up clothing, such as a down jacket or fleece sweater.
Eye mask and earplugs: Eye masks are especially helpful when camping in northern latitudes in summer or in campgrounds with ambient light. Earplugs block out, or at least dampen, noises ranging from your tent mate’s snoring to rustling sounds in the bushes. Some campers swear by them.
How to Stay Warm During the Night
On warm, balmy nights, you may not even need to zip up your sleeping bag. Often campers will just tuck their feet into the bag's footbox and drape the bag over them. If you expect warm nights, bring a sheet and/or a light blanket from home. That might be all you need.
For camping in cold weather, or if you’re a cold sleeper in general, these tips will help you stay warm:
- Eat a meal or light snack before bed. The process of digestion warms you internally, which generates the heat you need to sleep comfortably.
- Drink a warm, nonalcoholic beverage before hopping in the sack. (Alcohol dilates blood vessels, spurring heat loss.)
- Do a little exercise before finally plunking down and nodding off. Not too much, or you might become sweaty or wide awake. Sit-ups in your sleeping bag are an easy way to heat both you and your bag.
- Again, remember to wear your long underwear and clean, dry socks. If your neck tends to get cold, wear a cozy neck gaiter.
- Wear a warm knit hat if you’re cold when you first get in your bag. You can easily pull it off in the night if you get too warm.
- Cinch the sleeping bag hood around your head, even if you're wearing a hat. On below-freezing nights, you might only leave an opening large enough for your nose and mouth.
- Add a closed-cell foam pad beneath your regular sleeping pad for extra insulation.
- Stuff dry clothing inside your sleeping bag to fill empty spaces, reducing the area your body must heat.
- Put a warm water bottle close to the core of your body, since your core is your body's chief heat-generating zone. To warm even more quickly, try putting it next to your femoral arteries (between your legs)