How to Sleep Better on Your Next Camping Trip

Our best tips for how to wake up on the right side of the tent

by Gale Straub and Tori Duhaime

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Sleeping outside in a tent can be the pinnacle of rest and relaxation or an exercise in masochism depending on who you ask. It’s an acquired skill with a whole lot of rewards to be gained: sweet morning air in the mountains, the accomplishment of carrying everything you need into the backcountry (if you’re backpacking), and creating distance from your everyday routine to name just a few.

Getting a good night’s rest is important for your everyday life and it’s no different when camping. Whether backpacking, car camping, or sleeping under the stars in your backyard, here are our best tips for getting a good night’s sleep so you can wake up on the right side of the tent.

Photo by Gale Straub

Get comfortable

A sleeping pad and a pillow that keep you comfortable are key. It doesn’t have to be a super fancy bed setup either. If you’re sleeping in the back of a car and want a blow-up mattress and your silk pillowcase back there, take advantage of the space and capacity. A simple foam accordion sleeping pad is just as great for backpacking and you can use a stuff sack full of clothes as a pillow. Try new things and figure out what works for you! Here are a few options we like:

Pillows

Sleeping pads

Bedding AKA Sleeping Bags/Blankets

The right sleeping bag or blanket for you and the temperature makes all the difference, too. If you’re car camping and weight/heft isn’t a consideration,you can even bring your favorite blanket from home. Here are some different types of sleeping bags to consider:

Size up your sleep space

Don’t be afraid to go bigger for a better night’s sleep. If you’re camping on your own, a 1.5 or 2 person tent might be the right fit depending on your body size or need to spread out. And if you’re camping with a partner, a 3-person tent could keep you from bumping into each other in the night. Even backpacking, we’ve found that the space is worth the extra weight.

sleep camping

Photo by Gale Straub

Control your temperature

  • A camping quilt or sleeping bag liner might help regulate your body temperature better than your warmest sleeping bag that binds you up. We love this Cocoon liner.
  • Choose breathable, moisture-wicking fibers (like merino wool) for your sleep apparel and accessories. Make sure to layer so you have the option of removing or adding layers over the course of the night. 
  • If it’s chilly, add a hat and wool socks—even better if they’re fresh socks you haven’t hiked in! Your feet will stay warmer if you don’t have sweat evaporating from your toes in the night.
  • You can also heat up some water in your camp stove and store it in a water bottle and keep it down towards your feet. Just make sure it’s screwed properly!
  • Keep your tent vents open. You might think closed vents will keep the heat in, but you’ll actually trap all the humidity from your night’s exhales and the condensation will make you chillier.
  • Padding beneath you is more important than adding more on top if you’re worried about staying warm, since the cold ground or airy space can steal your heat faster than you think. Foam pads or those with heat-reflective materials will keep you warmer than an air mattress, and you can also add foam or a wool blanket on top of an air mattress for extra warmth!

Bring your wind-down routine with you

If you’re a creature of habit and have a nighttime routine back home, consider how you can bring that with you. Maybe taking some wipes to freshen up and to wash your face before bed or brewing your favorite nighttime tea will help your body know it’s time to wind down. (Just be sure you pack out any trash!)

Relax your mind

  • Bring a good book that doesn’t ramp you up too much. One of our favorite parts about camping is going to bed early to dig into a memoir or novel that we’ve had on our nightstands for a while.
  • If you have cell service, resist the urge to scroll. Turn off your cell signal to avoid the temptation of checking social media or the news. 
  • A face mask will block out the light of the rising sun and/or flashlights from fellow outdoorists to help you sleep longer. In a pinch, a rolled up shirt works, too! 
  • Earplugs are handy in blocking out noise from other campers or storms that roll through. We like washable, reusable earplugs.
  • If you’re turning over a problem in your mind, or find yourself overthinking a to-do list, pull out a journal or notepad and write it out.
  • If you’re feeling anxious about the rustling bushes outside or your body is aching from moving around all day, consider bringing along some natural sleep aids like herbal tea, melatonin, or CBD.
  • Sometimes, it’s just hard to convince your body to go to sleep knowing tomorrow holds more fun excursions. Consider trying this breathing exercise: breathe in for 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8 – repeat.
  • A meditation app like Calm may also do the trick if you prefer a guided approach.

Soothe your body

Keeping some ibuprofen or Tylenol on hand can help your body relax and relieve aching joints. Stretching out before bed will also help settle your body and mind. Self-massage can do wonders, too! 

Empty your bladder

Drink water during the day but avoid drinking too close to going to bed. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night while camping can be a little more frustrating than at home! If you know you won’t make it all night, have a GoGirl or another pee funnel on hand, so you can pee into a bottle in or just outside the tent

Settle in and soak it all up—or don’t!

Sometimes a second night is all you need to get the hang of sleeping outside in a tent. You might even start to look forward to cuddling up in your private sleep spot after a day of exploring. But if camping isn’t for you, that’s ok, too. There are so many ways to get out there and soak up the benefits of nature; we’re in support of cultivating the relationship that works best for you.

Share in the comments: What did we miss? What are your best tips for sleeping outside in a tent while camping? 

This was originally shared, in part, as a Trail Kit Thursday post on the She Explores Instagram (written by Tori Duhaime). Head to @she_explores to follow along, and discover more gear posts in our blog under “Gear + Goods.”

Banner image by Ben Duchac via Unsplash

  1. Helen says:

    Fabulous, love this information on sleeping in the tent. 🤗🤗

  2. Lesley Frenz says:

    A lightweight Buff or other neck gaiter makes a perfect facemask!

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