Getting a good night’s sleep in a tent should not be as rare as it seems! In this article, we take you to the next level of tent sleeping by deeply diving into what you need to sleep comfortably in a tent and what you should not be doing. It goes way beyond the sleeping bag!
Choose the Right Tent
If you think tents have no impact on your sleep quality, think again: a small tent will hinder your sleep as, most likely, you won’t be able to fit a large sleeping bag or air mattress, or you won’t be free to move or stretch as you wish if you’re sharing the tent.
However, there’s more to that: a larger tent will result in extra difficulty for you to stay warm, as it will hold more air than a smaller tent. Also, a larger tent will be heavier, which means more weight in your backpacking tent (except if you plan on going on a car camping trip).
So when picking the right tent to ensure a good night’s sleep, you must consider this dynamic of available space vs. size.
The Camping Location Matters
Your largest and heaviest tent will not do much if you don’t choose a good camping spot.
Ideally, your next camping trip will be on a flat surface, but it is still possible to find success if you adapt the surface and make it leaner using clothes or shoes (you would be putting folded clothes on the corners of the tent that are not lean).
Most likely, you will also need to do some clearing of the area, clearing it of any objects that may damage your tent – for example, stones and branches. Don’t forget to carefully inspect the ground where it cannot be well seen (e.g., in tall grass and sand).
Finally, we recommend using a tent tarp to protect your tent floor and sleeping pad from damage or getting dirty.
Never Ignore the Sleep Surface
You’ve cleared the tent site and set up your carefully chosen tent. Great! What’s next?
Where are you sleeping? On the ground? Or you brought your large air mattress with a 50cm height? The truth is that the sleep surface will depend on each camper, but, as a rule of thumb, and especially for inexperienced campers, this is what we recommend:
A comfortable & inflatable sleeping pad combined with an air camping mattress. Trust us: this will make your sleep in a tent like your sleep would be in a castle.
However, other setups also work. For instance, bringing a thick sleeping pad as part of your camping gear and using a comfortable sleeping bag over it will also work great. Sure, it’s not the ultimate comfort, but it will be enough for a good night’s sleep.
When checking sleeping bags, you must know that some are insulated with feathers (perfect for cold weather but worse if they get wet) and others with synthetic fibers (heavier but water doesn’t affect their warmth).
Another possibility is to use the sleeping bag you have maybe bought some years ago and equip it with a sleeping bag liner, so it can be adequate for colder temperatures without you having to buy a brand new sleeping bag.
What we do not recommend is skipping the sleeping pad. These act as a physical barrier between you and the hard ground, protecting your body heat from the cold ground and acting as a lean surface to ensure you sleep comfortably.
Sure, some people sleep with only a sleeping bag on the floor (and we’ve done it), but the truth is that if you haven’t camped a lot, you won’t sleep much, and you will wake up with a sore back. Sleeping pads exist for a reason, so just drop the 30 bucks or something on one; it will be worth it.
Soft Camp Pillow & Comfortable Bedding Items
Camping pillows are the missing piece of the puzzle of the bed setup, so you better include them in your sleeping gear.
Once again, you have a great variety: you can use a fancy camping pillow or go old-school, roll a pair of jeans, or fold a t-shirt under your head. It all depends on what type of experience you’re trying to have.
If aiming for extreme comfort, get an inflatable camp pillow and use the trio of bedding items to get proper sleep in a tent: the sleeping bag (or inflatable air mattress) and the sleeping pad. It doesn’t get better than this.
Again, some people would rather sleep without any camp pillow (and we’ve done it too), but remember that we’re writing primarily for inexperienced campers.
Clothes You Should Wear
While sleeping bags, inflatable pillows, air mattresses, and sleeping pads are crucial when sleeping outdoors, a whole universe of other items and strategies are available to enhance your sleep in a tent.
We won’t write much about the clothes to bring camping as we’ve written about it, but the primary rule here is to bring comfortable clothes and spare clothes and tailor your choices according to the weather forecasts.
Never wear wet clothes before bed: that’s not a comfortable way to sleep. It’s a comfortable way to get sick.
Locating the Toilet
This may sound trivial, but there are worse things than waking up in the middle of the night, looking for your flip flops and getting dressed, and still having to find a good spot to do the bathroom business.
You don’t have to dig a hole and know the exact coordinates of where it is, but you should have an idea of spots you can use that are near your tent to avoid wasting time wandering around the tent.
The same way you would do if you were home, try to minimize the time you spend wandering around in the middle of the night on your camping trip, especially outside. Not only does your precious body heat get sucked, but you become more awake and may have trouble returning to your restful sleep.
A Water Bottle Does Wonders
A water bottle is excellent in two ways: a hot water bottle can warm your sleeping bag, and cold water to combat your thirst.
If it’s freezing and your bedding items are not doing the job, you can place a hot water bottle (with tea or chocolate) inside your sleeping bag. If you ensure the hot water bottle is tightly lid, it will warm your sleeping bag considerably.
It’s also always great to have a bottle of drinkable water next to you to avoid standing up, getting dressed, and going outside looking for a water supply.
Getting a good night of sleep in a tent isn’t that hard; you just have to take the easy wins.
Avoid the Late Snack
It always feels like a good idea to grab some food right before bed on your camping trip because you’re finishing a long conversation with your family or dinner wasn’t a lot of food.
We’ve felt that. And we’ve eaten a few minutes before bed several times. And we’re even also sure most campers do the same. But food before bed will hinder your comfortable night’s sleep.
The scientific explanation is that when your stomach is digesting the food you’ve eaten, it draws blood there and makes your heart pump more. The simple explanation? You won’t fall asleep quickly.
So if you can, skip the midnight snacks when going on camping trips unless you skipped dinner and are starving.
Create a Sleeping System
We’re sure you’ve noticed that your best night’s sleep happens when you’ve developed a routine and stuck to it for a long time.
When you go to bed at a particular time, don’t change every week and wake up similarly.
The same applies to your camping trip: create a routine, stick to it, and allow for narrow exceptions.
This is one of the few tips in this article that doesn’t involve physical items, but that is equally important: no matter how comfortable your sleeping bags are, you won’t get a good night’s sleep if you have a bizarre sleep routine.
It doesn’t matter what exact time you go to bed and wake up. You decide that. What matters is applying consistency and following that routine day in and day out.
Use a Wooden Stove or Ventilation
You might need to use a wooden stove or ventilation depending on the weather conditions.
Wooden stoves are an easy and safe way to warm your tent (not just your sleeping bag), and you should use them before going to bed in what is called “hot tenting”.
Staying warm “hot tenting” is easy and practical (and we’ve written about that here), but remember that you cannot “hot tent” any tent. Only tents that are large enough can safely accommodate a wood stove.
Earplugs & Eye Masks
Everyone has shared a tent with snoring tent mates or been woken up by strong sunrays, and we can all agree that that is not a pleasant experience.
Night noises are prevalent when camping, and they can be very uncomfortable (for example, having a dog bark nonstop all night), so we highly recommend you use earplugs when tent camping, as these will block all minor noises and let you sleep in a tent very comfortably.
Bringing an eye mask is also something we highly recommend, as it will shield you from sunlight or other natural or artificial lights during your sleep.
Meditation & Podcasts
Remember when we said that developing a routine was one of the few tips to fall asleep in this article that doesn’t involve physical items? Meditating is another one.
Meditation has helped us tremendously (not only when tent camping) but in life in general, and we highly recommend it.
While there are numerous different types of meditation, and we don’t intend to spark a discussion about it (as we are not experts on it), we can tell you what we do and what has been working for us for a long time.
Inhaling using the nose and exhaling slowly using the mouth. That’s it. We try not to think of anything and let our minds rest, but that is up to you.
Feel free to practice deep breathing even when you’re not meditating; it can only benefit you!
Alternatively, you can lie in your sleeping bag and listen to a podcast until you feel sleepy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do people like sleeping in tents?
It’s a different feeling than sleeping in your bed at home. Ultimately camping is all about experiencing different things and getting out of your weekly routine.
Can I share my sleeping bag with my partner?
Yes, you can, but it won’t be comfortable because you’ll both feel tight.