Wednesday, April 6, 2011

[How To] Get a Good Night's Sleep Camping

good nights sleep

You headed out into the woods to clear your head and find some relaxation but suddenly every snapping twig, rustling leaf, and wave lapping on shore is keeping you awake. Tossing and turning in your sleeping bag until you can take it no longer. Finally you fall asleep, only to wake 5 minutes later to another *SNAP* outside the tent and repeat the process. Camping Insomnia is one of the most frusterating, least talked about, and most common issues with car camping & backcountry backpacking.

I’m not especially afraid of bears (no more so than I feel like I should be) but for some reason I find myself lying awake at night nervous about every noise.

1. Camp near a waterfall or babbling stream

babbling brook

It’s counter-intuitive but a loud source of white-noise like a stream, waterfall, or waves crashing on the beach is your best counter-measure against little noises like rustling leaves which are the cause of Insomnia. Even camping near a high-traffic mountain road can help you sleep after all most of us sleep with the noise of traffic at our homes every other night of the year.

2. Tuck your ears into a mummybag

Can’t find a source for white noise? You can keep noise out by snuggling deep into the hood of your mummy bag. The bag will dampen most noises and keep you snug as a bug (see top photo). Chances are you’ll be doing this anyway.

3. Overfill your sleeping pad before bed

If it’s not noise keeping you up, sometimes its a rough sleeping pad. Once you have your sleeping pad just where you like it, overfill one or two big breaths. It might feel too bouncy at first but pads deflate a bit in the night especially when it gets really cold in in the long run you’ll be more comfortable. When the pad deflates it isn’t leaking. The air molecules bounce around less and therefore simply exert less force on the pad as the temperature drops causing “flacid pad syndrome” (Not a real thing, I made this up). A couple breaths and an insulated sleeping pad help prevent this.

4. Guy Out your Tent Flaps

A flapping tent does not make effective white-noise, it’s just really obnoxious and loud. Most tents come with guylines (about the thickness of hiking boot shoelaces, so you can use those too in a pinch). The guylines keep the fabric on your rain fly tight and prevent that obnoxious flapping. It’s also going to help keep the wind from ripping the fabric in especially strong gusts.

5. Don’t change your routine

Whatever your bedtime routine is, don’t change it when you camp. Keeping to your usual routine has a subtle and calming psychological effect and makes the place you’re in seem more comfortable and less fearful.

More Quick Tips For a Better Night's Sleep:

  • Avoid Caffeine Before Bed (even the beloved hot cocoa!).
  • Use the bathroom before bed.
  • Camp on Level Ground.
  • Get a larger tent if you and your partner are bumping into each other in the night.
  • Arrive at your campsite before dark, and explore the area around it so there is less unknown about it.

Do you have any other helpful tips for a good night's sleep?


  1. How could I have forgotten ear plugs!? Thanks David. Yes, they are - I've only used them once but I slept like a baby (the kind that DOES sleep through the night, not a real baby which wakes up at 2am, 3am, and 5am)

  2. I sleep the "sleep of the just" anyway, but I sleep well especially after exertion. The more miles I do, the deeper I sleep. The other recommendation I have is to stay awake longer than you should anyway, occupying your thoughts. Allow yourself to wind down before ever climbing into the bag. Some read, I talk.

  3. A big day of climbing or packing will always knock you out when your head hits the pillow and leave you no choice but to sleep soundly. That's for sure.