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How To Sleep Great in a Tent

Did you know that approximately 10 million people in the United States use prescription sleep aids? Or that people sleep 20% less today than they did 100 years ago? (1) When it comes to camping, often the biggest barrier for newcomers is getting a good night sleep.

With a little bit of foresight, anyone can get a great night sleep in a tent. Here are a few simple steps you can follow the next time you try sleeping in a tent.

Before you hit the hay

Pick a good campsite: This one may seem obvious, but in reality it’s easy to forget about where you plan to pitch your tent at the end of a busy day. Especially if you are backpacking or thru-hiking. You get into a groove, the sun starts to fade, and before you know it you have 30 minutes to find a site, eat dinner, and go to bed.

To avoid this plan out how many miles you realistically can cover. Be conservative. This way you have plenty of time to set up a tent. Even if you plan to car camp, pick a site early and arrive with plenty of time to set up. While not always possible, try to find a flat space without too many obstacles on the ground.

Clear obstacles:
I can’t tell you how many times I thought the ground was clear, only to roll over in the middle of the night and hit a rock or stump. Be sure to check the ground and throw rocks a good distance from where you plan to lay your tent. Tossing them to the side may be great for you but bad for your tent mate.

Clear branches, sticks, and weeds. Avoid setting up too close to a tree. This is not a huge issue when it comes to car camping on established tent pads. But always check the ground surface for sharp objects or anything you would be uncomfortable sleeping on.

Secure all food and scented materials: Bears and other woodland creatures use their sense of smell to find food and other objects. If you have anything that emits a strong smell stash it away. For backwoods campers, this means preparing a proper bear bag. For car campers, storing materials either in the car or in established bear boxes is a great option.  

Stash a headlamp: You never know when mother nature will call late at night. Or when a critter starts chomping away at all those precious snacks. Keeping a flashlight in your sleeping bag or in a tent compartment is a great idea. Even better than a flashlight is a headlamp. This allows you to get up and get moving hands free. Very handy if you need to grab something from the car or travel for any distance. 

Keep your shoes close: Having a headlamp doesn’t do you much good if the bathroom is half a mile away. Or if you need to go to the car to grab something but the car is parked on gravel near a creek. Not to mention cold weather giving your toes frostbite. Shoes allow you to sleep in comfort knowing you can get up in the middle of the night and leave the tent without putting your feet through the wringer.
Wear the right clothing: Do everything you can to sleep in something dry. If the weather is warm, make sure to bring light clothing (shorts, t-shirt). If it’s winter, pack comfortable PJs but nothing that will make you sweat. Instead of wearing extra layers in the winter, experts at REI suggest throwing an extra layer (comforter, jacket) over top the sleeping bag for better insulation. (2)

Empty the tank: Go to the bathroom 20-30 minutes before entering your sleeping bag. When you think you have nothing left in the tank, try again. Midnight bathroom trips can easily ruin a good night sleep.

Night time jitters begone: Camping for the first time, especially in remote locations, can be very intimidating. Especially when you hear leaves rustle or twigs snap right by your head. Know that often times small creatures can make some pretty loud noises. Also be sure to camp with people you trust. Relax and try to blend into the environment.

Crashing for the night

Pick the right sleeping bag: Picking the right sleeping bag really comes down to three things: weather, type of trip, and body type. For car camping a typical rectangular sleeping bag usually does the trick. The plus side to these bags is the extra width that allows more wiggle room at night. The downside is they are not good in cold weather.

Every sleeping bag comes with a temperature rating. Be sure to check the label for this important aspect. For backpackers, a mummy bag would be a better choice. They come in a mummy shape, pack away tighter, and can be lighter than a typical sleeping bag.

Use a pillow: Because bundled up clothing, duffel bags, and backpacks just don’t get the job done. Your pillow from home will do just fine. For longer backpacking trips, ultralight inflatable camping pillows are an excellent inexpensive option.

Sleeping pad = paradise: For all of those trips you spent tossing and turning trying to get comfortable on the stiff ground a simple sleeping pad is worth the investment. Prices vary widely depending upon the type of sleeping pad. Sleeping pads come in 3 different types: air, self-inflating, and foam pads. Each have their pros and cons. While self inflating pads offer more comfort, foam pads are easier to carry on longer backpacking trips.

[READ: How to Pick a Great Sleeping Pad]
Follow these tips and I guarantee you will sleep better the next time you sleep in a tent. What are some of the things you do to get great sleep in a tent?

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