Camping can do wonders for your mental health: it’s a great way to get back to nature and reset your body’s sleep clock. The increased exposure to natural light combined with decreased exposure to gadget screens helps regulate melatonin production, and a growing body of research suggests that being out amongst the trees can slow cortisol production, reducing stress.
However, for most of us, roughing it can pose some significant sleeping challenges. Biting bugs, uncomfortable temperatures, and a hard, lumpy “bed” are among the most common obstacles faced by campers trying to get some quality shut-eye in the wild.
Adequate sleep is important all the time, but it’s especially crucial if you’re going to be hiking, kayaking, or bird-watching the next day and need to bring your A-game.
Coming up with a comfortable sleeping system is a cinch if you’re car camping. You can bring along a camping bed or cot as a base, the plushest sleeping mat, or the most deluxe air mattress – and even your favorite pillow – without worrying about how much space they’ll take up.
However, if you’re backpacking, pack weight is a major consideration. Luckily, with the rising popularity of ultralight hiking, there are plenty of pads and self-inflatable options for creating a comfy nest without overburdening your pack (or your back!). Gizmodo reviews the best sleeping mats in a variety of categories. You can also find inflatable pillows and compact blankets in most camping supply stores.
Your sleeping bag is just one component of sleeping cozy in a chilly climate. Wear a dry, lightweight layer such as thermal underwear, plus socks. Keep a hat and gloves nearby if it’s going to be really cold. You can pile on extra clothes or your coat on top of your sleeping bag for extra warmth. On a hot night, you may end up sleeping on top of your bag. Take the rain fly off your tent and open all your vents for a cross-breeze.
Connecting with the great outdoors is an awesome experience, but sharing your sleeping space with nocturnal creatures can be intimidating. While it's true that we're at our most vulnerable when sleeping, exercising good sense will minimize the chance of an animal encounter.
Store all food and scented products, such as lotion, in a safe space outside of your tent. If you’re car camping, leave the tempting goods in your vehicle. If you’re camping in bear country, you’ll need to take some precautions to avoid attracting an unwanted ursine visitor. Some campsites offer bear-proof storage; if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to hang a bear bag.
The other beasties campers have to contend with are much smaller: biting bugs like mosquitos can wreck a good time. Bring along some good insect repellant, and check yourself for ticks every day.
Dealing with Sensory Overload
City slickers may find it hard to believe, but nature can be loud, especially at night. Crickets, cicadas, and frogs get particularly melodious at nightfall, and birds engage in what’s known as the dawn chorus at the crack of--you guessed it--dawn. While these sounds are part of the whole getting-back-to-the-great-outdoors package, they can make it difficult for some folks to sleep. Foam ear plugs help. If you’re camping in the summer, you may want to bring a sleep mask if you aren’t interested in getting up at first light.
To optimize any camping experience, take basic safety precautions. Check the weather and route ahead of time, and always make sure someone at home knows where you’ll be.