Sleeping outdoors is definitely an adjustment. Transitioning from cocooning on a cozy bed with a 12-inch memory foam mattress, thick cotton sheets, a fuzzy comforter, and mounds of blankets to sleeping on the cold, hard ground inside a nylon tent outdoors is certainly a shock to the body’s sleep system.
While we backpackers and campers wouldn’t change the experience for the world – we relish the allure of sleeping under the stars in wild places, listening to the calls of the birds and the croaks of the frogs, and witnessing incredible sunrises and sunsets in unique landscapes – it wouldn’t hurt to learn how to sleep a better while camping.
In this guide, I’ve compiled a list of 12 camping sleeping tips for you to try on your next backpacking or camping adventure! Whether you’re in the frontcountry or backcountry, in between tall trees or beside a babbling river, on a mountaintop, or tucked inside a canyon, these camping sleep tips will help you enjoy a better night’s sleep under the stars.
After all, a better night’s rest while sleeping outdoors means you can fully enjoy your camping trip with a sharp mind, clear eyes, and an improved mood.
12 Tips for Sleeping Better While Camping
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1. Be Active During the Day
Studies prove that when you’re physically active during the day, you’ll sleep better and harder at night. This is no exception for sleeping outside!
Simply going for a hike, swimming, paddling, playing a sport, or participating in any other physical activity can help you get a better night’s rest.
2. Avoid Sweets and Liquids Before Bed
A full belly, caffeine coursing through the veins, and late-night sweets can be a recipe for a fitful night’s sleep.
To avoid disrupting your slumber, wait at least three hours post-dinner before going to bed, sip on some caffeine-free hot cocoa or tea, and munch on some light carb-filled snacks to promote drowsiness.
3. Unwind Before Bed
Take the time to unwind before bed. While it’s good to be active during the day to ensure a better night’s rest, it’s equally as crucial to wind down a few hours before laying your head down. This means avoiding physical activity for at least a couple of hours before shutting your eyes.
To wind down, try sitting around a campfire, reading a book, playing a card game, or watching the sunset.
4. Be Picky About Your Campsite
Sleeping comfortably in a tent starts with a good campsite selection.
Make sure you set up your tent on as flat of ground as possible and that your site is clear of debris and anything that could cause you to be uncomfortable at night.
If you’re frontcountry camping, chances are your tent pad is already cleared of sticks and rocks and the lumpy dirt is ironed out, but sometimes the wind kicks around debris and clutters the site, or an animal tromps through and disrupts the dirt.
If you’re in the backcountry, you will need to clear the area yourself since the land is usually unmaintained. Lying your back on rocks or logs, even if you’ve got a sleeping pad to buffer you from the ground, will be painful.
Stay away from neighbors if possible. Sometimes even in frontcountry campgrounds, there are more secluded campsites that are further away from other sites. Hearing kids screaming, adults yelling, or teens partying in the middle of the night will definitely do some damage to your night’s rest.
→ READ NEXT: How to Set Up a Tent in Every Terrain ⛺️
5. Turn on White Noise
While many find the sounds of rushing water, rustling leaves, and tweeting birds to be a soothing “natural white noise,” others may find it distracting, especially if the sounds are constantly changing rhythm and pitch and not in uniform sync. And even if those sounds are naturally comforting, sometimes your senses are on high alert at night, causing you to jerk awake at any twig snap or distant wolf howl. Once you wake up with a pounding heart, it can take ages to get back to sleep.
To avoid this, try using a portable white noise machine in your tent or playing a white noise track from Spotify on your phone to block out the distracting noises outside.
6. Wear Ear Plugs and/or an Eye Mask
Ear plugs are helpful if you prefer to block out noise altogether. If you sleep in silence at home, you’ll probably want to do the same in your tent. I don’t wear them because I don’t mind a little natural noise and I like to know if something is lurking outside my tent, but it’s all about personal preference.
I’ve heard that eye masks are helpful for sleep aid regardless of whether you’re in your bed at home or in a tent outside. Since the fabric blocks out all light, your brain is consumed by darkness and can shut off more easily. Eye masks would especially be helpful if you are sleeping under bright stars or a full moon or if you prefer not to rise with the sun.
7. Store Your Food and Scented Items in a Bear Canister
Understanding bear safety will help you sleep better at night. How? Your mind will be at ease, knowing you did everything in your power to prevent a bear or other creature from creeping around outside your tent.
Store all of your food, scented items, and trash inside a bear canister and stow it at least 300 feet from your tent. For extra safety, lock everything in a vehicle or bear locker if you’re frontcountry camping.
Even if you’re not in bear country, there could still be raccoons or squirrels lurking around the campsite and scrounging for scraps. I’ve woken up to both a bear and a raccoon outside my tent, and both times I didn’t sleep at all the rest of the night. Store your food properly and don’t give your mind any additional excuse to worry at night.
8. Select the Right Camping Gear
If you want to know how to camp in comfort, you’ll need to pick the right gear. When perusing the shelves at an outdoor retailer or scrolling through the endless gear available online, it’s important to pick the right camping sleeping gear for your needs. Do your research, consult with experts, and read reviews.
While the best gear may come with hefty price tags, there’s a reason or two for that. Aside from being long-lasting, they’re going to be made of quality materials, which could help you sleep better. A waterproof tent, a thick sleeping pad, and a properly insulated sleeping bag will help you remain dry, warm, and comfortable.
If you’ve got rain or bugs creeping inside your tent, you won’t be able to rest. If you’re too cold or too hot inside your tent, you will likely toss and turn all night. If you’re lying directly on solid ground or your pad isn’t thick enough, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a sore back.
Bring all of the necessary gear that you’ll need for your particular trip. Bring a fan if the overnight temperature is going to be warm, or if you’re a naturally hot sleeper. Bring a heavy sleeping bag, layers, and extra blankets if it’s going to be cold, or if you’re a naturally cold sleeper.
Ultimately, get the camping sleeping gear that matches your needs and fits with the way you sleep. If you’re naturally cold at night, you’ll want a heavier sleeping bag than someone who sweats all night. If you’re naturally warm at night, you might not need all the extra blankets and the lower-temperature-rated sleeping bag that your cold-sleeping neighbor might need. But if you’re camping in the winter or high up in the mountains, don’t skimp on the sleeping bag insulation, even if you’re a warm sleeper.
Always be prepared for your trip’s particular conditions.
→ READ NEXT: How to Care For Your Tent ⛺️
9. Follow Your Regular Bedtime Routine
Follow your regular, at-home bedtime routine during your camping trip. Your body naturally runs on an internal clock. If you’re used to brushing your teeth, crawling into bed with a book, and turning the lights out at 10 PM, mimic that routine as closely as possible at your campsite.
If you attempt to go to sleep earlier or stay up too late, your internal clock will be thrown, and it might be harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
10. Pack Your Home Pillow If Car Camping
If you’re car/frontcountry camping and space and weight aren’t concerns, pack your home pillow. Sometimes air-filled camp pillows or jacket-stuffed pillowcases just don’t do the trick, but if you’re in the backcountry, that’s usually your only option, unless you feel like toting your big pillow under your arm while you hike.
You’ll usually toss and turn a lot more with a skimpier pillow since it doesn’t have the same texture, material, and fluff that your home pillow does. So bringing along a little piece from home will help trick your mind that maybe you are in your bed after all. Okay…maybe not quite!
11. Avoid Afternoon Snoozes
Naps can either help your nighttime sleep pattern or hurt it. While it might be tempting to strap up your hammock and take a snooze in the late afternoon sunshine, try napping for an hour or less earlier in the day or skipping the nap altogether.
A late nap could cause you to not be able to fall asleep when it’s time to close your eyes for the night.
12. Prevent Bugs From Entering Your Tent
If you’re camping in the summer, bugs are almost always going to pose problems. Before you set out on your camping adventure, check your tent for holes, and if you find any, patch them right away.
REI has a good article on tent repair, including step-by-step written instructions, a video tutorial, and links to the exact products that you’ll need. I also wrote an article on how to care for your tent to help ensure things like this don’t happen!
When you’re at your campsite, the constant action of unzipping and zipping your tent will inevitably cause bugs to enter. While it’s annoying, this doesn’t really become an issue until you’re ready to go to sleep.
Before shutting your eyes for the night, ensure all bugs are outside of your tent. To do this, zip your tent up and flick on your lantern. Shine your phone’s flashlight or turn on a regular flashlight for extra illumination. Most flying insects like moths, mosquitoes, and flies are naturally attracted to light. Therefore, the bugs will swarm to the light you’ve illuminated and you’ll be able to spot them and squash them. (You can try to catch and release them but this action may cause more insects to enter your tent when you unzip the door).
Do a final sweep of all of the dark corners of your tent to see if any are hiding. You don’t want to wake up to buzzing in your ear or bites on your exposed skin.
I hope some of these tips in this article help you sleep better in your tent on your next camping or backpacking adventure.
While nothing quite compares to the feeling of sleeping in your own bed at home, the rewards that come from snoozing under the stars in wild animals’ territory and “roughing it” with the bare minimum are what draw people back to the outdoors time and time again.