What’s The Most Comfortable Way To Sleep In A Tent

Sleeping under the stars in a tent

When I think about camping I think about being in nature, relaxed and away from everyday modern stresses. I also think about being worn out from walking, fed up of being bitten by bugs and waking up in soggy clothes feeling more tired than I did before I went to sleep.

Feeling uncomfortable outdoors is part of the experience for me. I learn to trust myself to get through awkward situations. It’s what makes coming back home feel that much better.

But I’m not exactly Bear Grylls and I’d prefer to make camping as comfortable as possible. From some of my own experience and searching the web I’ve got some solid tips on the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.  

Picking a good spot to pitch the Tent

Pitching a tent

Before you pitch your tent you need to make sure it’s in a good spot. Find an area with flat solid ground, without rocks, sticks or other objects. The last thing you’ll want is to setup everything only to find you sink into a hole or have a rock digging into your back.

Tent Sleeping Gear

Fortunately there is a lot of camping gear to make sleeping more comfortable depending on if you pack light or have an RV.

Sleeping pads

Sleeping mat

Sleeping on the ground isn’t exactly comfortable. Sleeping pads allow you to lie on something soft without having to use a large heavy mattress. These come in several variations, foam, inflatable and self inflating. Foam is the most compact and better for minimalists. Inflatable takes up more room but is arguably more comfortable.

Sleeping bags

Sleeping bag

A high quality sleeping bag can make all the difference. This is especially true if you are camping in cold weather. Make sure you get one that’s properly temperature rated. Mummy shaped sleeping bags are smaller and lighter ideal for backpackers. Larger sleeping bags might be better for RV camping allowing more room to move around but less efficient at keeping the heat in.

Makeshift Pillows and Bedding

If you have to space bring a pillow from home as they tend to be better than camping specific ones. Don’t have the space? Make your own using a stuff sack filled with soft clothes. If you find yourself getting to cold a good trick is to add dry clothes inside your sleeping bag. This provides some extra padding and keeps more heat in.

Lighting

man wearing a headlamp at dusk

Although you want it to be as dark as possible when sleeping it’s a good idea to have access to some lighting. Depending on your location it can get very dark quickly in the wilderness. LED headlamps are probably one of the most practical sources of light to use. Keeping a small flash light inside your tent can help if you need to get out at night to relieve yourself.

Blocking Out Light

Ensure your circadian rhythm is on point by blocking out the light when you are about to sleep.

As sleepfoundation.org points out our brain uses certain queues when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

“When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired. That’s why your circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of daytime and nighttime (and why it’s so hard for shift workers to sleep during the day and stay awake at night).”

Blocking out light when it’s time to sleep reinforces this. I find an eye mask is a practical thing to use when I’m about to sleep. If you’re in an RV or van it’s probably a good idea to install blackout blinds on the windows and cover up other sources of light.

Blocking out distracting sounds

When you’re not used to hearing the sounds of bugs and other wildlife so closely it can be daunting.

Ear plugs – help drown out these sounds. They may even stop you from waking up to a snoring partner.

Headphones or earbuds – if you have a way to charge your phone, make use of white noise apps. I love the sounds of a storm and use Rainymood to help me drift off. If that’s not your thing another option is to listen to an audio book or podcast. Something about a soothing voice helps put me down for the count.

Keeping the tent Cool

In the summertime it can be hard to sleep when you’re all hot and sticky. There is no way I’m sleeping if I’m too hot.

Find a shady spot – As the sun is up for longer in the summer months try and pick a location in the shade. Find a spot near a hill or ridge, near some trees or where other objects will be blocking its path.

A location with a breeze – make sure the door and or air vent point in the direction of the breeze. Air tends to flow freely near lakes, rivers or creeks.

Air conditioners or fans – It’s possible to buy a portable air conditioner and stick it in your tent If you have access to power at a campsite. That is probably more on the glamping side of camping though. A more practical thing is to bring a battery power fan. Even better is to position some ice in a cooler in front of the fan for some DIY aircon.   

Breathable tent – Most of the better tents have very good air circulation with vents. This will stop them from steaming up and allow you to keep cooler.

Read more on keeping your tent cool here.

Keeping the tent Warm

Other than buying suitably weather graded gear like cold weather sleeping bags and tents here are some other tips:

Tent heaters – Not exactly the minimalist approach but if you have the space these gas burning heaters will do the trick.

Hot food and drink – Eat and drink some hot food before bed to warm up. This could be some hot chocolate or soup.

Hot water bottle – boil up some water on the campfire and fill a hot water bottle or vacuum flask. Stash it inside your sleeping bag. If it’s to hot just keep it close by.  

Exercise – Go for a quick jog or walk or do some body weight exercises to increase your body heat.

Dry clothes – Make sure the clothes you sleep in are as dry as possible. If it’s really cold you might want to wear a beanie and gloves.

You might also want o look at our cold weather camping guide.

Going to Bed Routine

Doing the same routine before bed helps get your body into rest mode instead of lying in a sleeping bag anxiously failing to drift off. Although your out somewhere new you can still try and mimic your normal routine as much as possible. Here are some tips to get into rest mode:

Follow you typical routine – Cleaning, washing, brushing your teeth ect. Make sure all your stuff is secure and you’ve not left any food out.

Wind down, have a drink, listen to a podcast or music – Reading a book, listening to a podcast or having a whiskey can help you relax.

Use the outdoor bathroom to relieve yourself – Make sure you relieve yourself before hitting the sack. In case you still need to go in the night have route planned out before its dark. The last thing you want is to be stumbling around in the dark wilderness trying to find a spot to pee at night.

Relax – You’re probably sore from the days activities. Take a shower or go for a quick gentle swim in the lake (if you have access to one) an hour or so before sleeping.

Rich Roll talks about why he’s been sleeping in a tent for years: