Top tips for getting a great night sleep while backpacking
The feeling of crawling into your sleeping bag after a long day of backpacking is a great feeling. I feel that I will drift to sleep as soon as my head hits my little backpacking pillow.
That is not the case. I flash awake 20 seconds later to the sound of a twig snapping. I roll over and over trying to get comfortable. I can hear everyone snoring and farting in the nearby tents. My face starts for get cold but my arms are sweating. The list of complaints can go on.
Getting a good night of sleep while camping or backpacking isn't easy. Our bodies and minds are set into a set of sleep habits that can be tricky to recreate while on trail. Here are a few tips to set yourself up for a great night of sleep while backpacking.
1. Get a great sleep system.
When choosing your sleeping bag and pad for a trip, there are many things to consider. The most important is temperature. Sleeping bags come with different temperature ratings. Some bags will have a comfort rating and a lower limit rating. The comfort rating is the temperature you will maintain a comfortable body temp and the lower limit is the temp you can maintain life with that bag.
I personally use a synthetic 15 degree lower limit for all my summer backpacking in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. It would be appropriate to drop to a lighter, lower temp bag in July and August but I find that my 15 degree bag is a versatile and covers most climates that I am traveling in.
I prefer synthetic insulation to down. Just personal preference.
When I backpack I used a Big Agnes Air Core. 2inch sleeping pad. This pad is not insulated. For fall or spring backpacking I may add a 3/4 foam pad for extra insulation under my Air Core. The foam pad is also a great but insulator when sitting on the ground while cooking, eating and lounging at camp.
Sleeping Add On's:
A homemade fleece sleeping bag liner has been the top addition to my gear list. It is perfect when I would like a little extra insulation, but don't want to drop money on a 2nd sleeping bag. The fleece liner is also great in warmer temperatures, when I want to sleep on top of my warmer bag. I also pack a small pack-able pillow, which I put on top of clothing for a cushy experience.
2. Add some elements of home to your tent.
After I crawl into my tent and I am all zipped in for the night, it never fails, I left my water bottle by the camp fire, I cant find my headlamp when i need it, and I know I will have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee in the woods. Some things are inevitable but, you can make yourself more comfortable. Make sure to have a few things ready:
When you set up your tent be sure to stash your headlamp in a handy place. Establish a designated spot incase you need it in the middle of the night. I also like to bring a small battery powered lantern when camping. This comes in handy in poor weather when you may need to hang in the tent and play games.
Always stick a water bottle in the tent before bed. Waking up to have to pee is much better than with a headache and a charlie horse from dehydration. You can also fill a water bottle with hot water before you hit the sack. Put the warm bottle in the bottom of your sleeping bag on cool nights.
When you pack, throw a pair of wool socks in your sleeping bag. Designate this pair as the warm dry sleep only pair. Heck, you could throw in a set of long johns and dedicate it as your clean sleep clothes to bring the cozy vibes. These are also a good set of emergency clothing, for wet and cold situations.
Some like to sleep in a hat and/or balaclava and gloves in cold conditions.
Bring a book, not a scary one, to read when you have trouble falling asleep.
3. Create a camp bedtime routine.
In the front country, before-sleep routines are critical for many to have a restful night sleep. What are some things you can incorporate into your nigh-time routine to make sure you can sleep soundly? Your bed-time routine starts when you are choosing a campsite location. Look at where you will pitch tents to ensure it is level. Check for signs of critters that may be pests to the area and always designate a potty spot.
A Campsite Potty Spot:
As soon as camp is set, I make it part of my routine, to find a potty spot. This is my use in the middle of the night pee spot. The best night time potty spots for women are a straight shot from outside your tent door, 200 ft from camp, trails and water sources, and are free of harmful fauna. Potty spots are also best up hill, for obvious reasons.
The establishment of the potty spot can alleviate a lot of pee stress and help you sleep better.
Clean and Safe:
Before you head to your tent for the night be sure that your camp is tidy. Clean dishes and hang the bear pack well. When in doubt whether you should put something in the bear pack, throw it in. It is no fun waking up to small rodents getting into dirty dishes, or worse, a bear.
Wash up before bed. Brush your teeth and wipe down your body before changing into your sleep clothing. Follow LNT guidelines, collect some warm water and grab your biodegradable soap wash off sunscreen, bug spray and sweat before crawling into your sleeping bag. Creating a personal hygiene kit of your preferred products, can help you to feel your cleanest, with limited resources, while on trail.
Lastly, Ensure that the campfire is out before you go to bed. Wind can easily spark up a fire. By making sure that your campsite is clean and safe you will be able to have a peaceful night sleep.
Meditation and Yoga:
Take time to mediate and think of the journey you are on. Recite a mantra while listening to nature. Journal about the awesome day you just had or do a body scan meditation to calm and relax tense muscles from the day's hike.
Taking a few minutes for a yoga flow can also help to stretch out tense muscles and alleviate pain that comes with carrying a heavy pack and hiking several miles.
Tea and hot chocolate pouches are perfect addition to your camp cook kit. Sit and unwind with your hiking buds with SleepyTime tea or a desert hot chocolate. A warm beverage can help settle the mind and warm the body for a good night sleep. Make sure that you leave the kettle full of water, so it's ready for coffee in the morning.
Getting a restful night of sleep while backpacking will take some practice. Establish a sleep system that works for you and your adventures. Ensure you have the right temp bag for your trip, bring a few things that will make you more comfortable and remind you of home, and establish a camp routine that will ease you into a peaceful night of sleep. With time and many adventures you will find a set of backpacking sleep habits that will ease you into sleep.