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Is it even possible to be comfortable when sleeping in a tent?
Apparently, it is.
Perhaps I’m not the best person to be answering this question… as yet, I’m still personally searching for the secret formula for a good night’s sleep in a tent!
But, over the years I have definitely come up with some solid tips on making sure the night is as comfortable as possible and I’ll share this with you here!
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How to sleep comfortably in a tent:
It seems the magic formula for sleeping comfortably in a tent involves these 7 things. It’s a balance and play of priorities… especially if you’re carrying your tent and sleeping accessories on your back!
- Your sleeping mattress
- A pillow and blankets
- The sleeping position and angle
- Light and Sound
- Your ability to relax
- And eliminating things that’ll bug you, such as bugs
If you can address each of these items in a favorable manner, then, you should be sleeping blissfully away…. maybe? But, because I’m sure you’re here for more than a simple list, let’s get into the details!
If you’re here for a quick answer, I prefer to sleep on an air mattress with bedding and pillows from home, with blankets or rugs under the air mattress and on the floor of the tent. But, this set-up isn’t always possible, and there are other factors too… hence all the options and discussion below.
1. Let’s start with the Camping mattresses:
What’s the best camping mattress? Well, that’s a million dollar question for sure!
You’ll have a variety of sleeping setups to consider: foam pads, inflatable pads, air mattresses, camping cots, or even mini camping bunk beds! Oh, and you can always forgo the mattress and sleep right on the ground if you’re that adventuresome!
Some camping mattresses are very affordable (under 40 bucks), and some will be upwards of $300. Is comfort a direct relation to price? Not necessarily. Costlier mattresses will have other features, such as being lightweight and compact, having a higher insulation value, size, material, and such.
If you are unaccustomed to sleeping on camping mattresses, you might find them quite uncomfortable as they don’t really provide much cushioning. Side sleepers frequently complain of sore hips when sleeping on thin inflatable camping mattresses. Instead, air mattresses and camp cots are often preferred by adults.
Kids, however, seem to be content on foam pads and small camping mattresses. In a pinch, kids can even sleep on yoga mats, foam floor squares, or even folded up blankets. (My 3 year old preferred to sleep on his bedroom rug instead of his bed for a whole year!)
Either way, whatever mattress you choose, make sure to read more below about warmth and temperature, because your mattress will matter when you camp in cool climates.
My personal experience tips:
- If you tend to sleep on your side you’ll want a mattresses with more thickness (maybe consider something in the 3 to 4 inches thick range)
- If you are sleeping in cooler temperatures that may get close to freezing, get a mattress with as high an R value as you can for price, weight and size of the mattress (in my opinion, don’t look at anything under a 3 R value)
- If you can try out the mattress at the store, do it! And, roll around a bit to hear how it sounds and whether those sounds will wake you or your tent companions
- If you are sleeping with someone you’ll want to cuddle up to, get a double mattress… otherwise, one of you will inevitably wake, finding oneself stuck between the mattresses
Hands down, if I’m car camping and we have room in the tent for my double size air mattress, I’m bringing that! In my opinion, a good quality air mattresses is the most comfortable tent sleeping option.
But, if you’re hiking or don’t have room in the tent for an air mattress, then you’ll need to find a camping mattress that’ll work for you.
While I am always amazed at how many foamies I see strapped to packs on the trail, I personally don’t find them ideal. (By foamie, I’m referring to the egg shell shaped pads or the pads that look like yoga mats.)
These are some of the best sellers on Amazon, but these are not my top recommendations. Please know that I would not consider any of these very popular sellers for tent camping in cool weather. Their insulation R values are all under 2. Nor do I trust that they’d be very comfortable as they’re rather thin and the quilts look like they go right through, meaning there’s less cushioning when applying weight to the pad itself.
What is the most comfortable sleeping pad for camping?
This is the camping mattress I have. It’s a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Ultralight. I tend to sleep on my side. I do find this mattress is rather noisy when I move around, but it is thick and seems more comfortable than the mattresses I used before this one. Although, I sometimes wonder if a bit more thickness would be nicer. And the R value on this Neo Air is over 4 meaning I am usually very warm on it.
After watching many reviews and trusting in the Big Agnes brand, I think I would like to try this Big Agnes AXL Air pad. The insulation value is lower than my backpacking mattress, but in warmer temps, it does seem highly valued for comfort.
And, I stumbled on this roll-up memory foam mattress and thought this looked great… as long as it is indeed waterproof, and there’s room in the vehicle and the tent.
Or (my preferred choice) , just a regular air mattress if you are car camping and have room in the tent!
2. You must have a pillow and comfortable bedding
The best camping pillows:
If you’re car camping, I’d suggest just bringing along your favorite pillow from home. You’ll appreciate the comfort and the space will be worth it.
If you’re hiking in your gear or are super limited on space you can opt for a camping pillow instead. The two main types are compact small pillows or inflatable.
A few pillow tips from experience:
- Again, your pillows from home are best
- If you opt for a compact camping pillow, make sure to clean and store these properly because sleeping on something that smells mildewy will not be pleasant
- In a pinch, you can stash your clothes into a pillow case making an instant (probably lumpy) pillow
- Try sleeping on your pillow at home first to see how it feels
- Listen to the sound your pillow makes against your ears – will it annoy or wake you?
Super Camper Tip: If you camp in cool weather and have a jacket with you, you can fold this up into itself to create a pillow. Puffy down jackets would great for this!
Comfortable tent bedding tips:
Just like my suggestion that you bring along your pillow from home, as for bedding, my first preference is to use regular bedding too!
But, sleeping bags still seem to be the standard when it comes to camping bedding.
Will it be too hot for sleeping bags? Will little kids need to sleep cozied up with an adult and can that happen in a sleeping bag? Are you sleeping bags warm enough? For cold weather I like to add a sheet inside my sleeping bags. I also do prefer to sleep in a sleeping bag liner or with a sheet because I really don’t enjoy the slippery material of my sleeping bag against my skin!
If the weather is warm enough, you might be better off using sheets and quilts to layer on if warmth is needed through the night.
If you’re handy with the sewing machine, one good idea for camping in warm/hot weather is to make a one-person sleep sack from a double sheet. Just fold the double sheet in two and sew two-thirds of the way around leaving the top and top side open. This sheet sack will keep you comfortable, but won’t be overly hot. And, if it cools over the night, you can add a blanket or quilt for more warmth.
Some camping bedding tips:
- If you can, use sheets and blanket as you would at home. They’re less confining and will feel familiar or get yourself a special camping quilt set
- Don’t bring anything that will take a long time to dry (incase of dampness, unexpected leaks, or little accidents)
- If you’re car camping and have space, there’s no harm in bringing an extra blanket or three, just in case
If you must use a sleeping bag, make sure you’re choosing one appropriate for the temperatures. And, if you like to sleep on your side with your legs curled up, you’ll want to make sure you have room in the sleeping bag to do this.
I really like the new camping sleep system that Big Agnes has. Their sleeping bags have sleeves that the camp mattress slides into. This secures the bag in place so that when you toss and turn at night your sleeping bag stays put and you don’t wake up all tied up with your mummy hood laying on your face and the zipper under your back!
The Big Agnes sleep systems are definitely more pricy than your regular camp gear, but in terms of paying for your comfort, I wished I’d gotten myself one of these!
3. You’re probably sleeping on the ground when camping…
And, the ground is usually uneven, lumpy, and by nature of it being the ground, uncomfortable.
So, for chances at a more comfortable night’s sleep, you need to make sure the ground you’re sleeping on is level and free of lumps and rocks and such.
Even if you’re using a mattress or sleep pad, make sure to first choose a location as flat as possible. If this is impossible, orient your sleeping so your head will be higher than your feet.
You’ll also want to make sure to clear the immediate area of any large and poky rocks and twigs. Not only does this protect the bottom material of your tent, it also prevents you from feeling any lumps when laying down.
4. The Temperature
I envy you if you’re lucky to be camping somewhere with mild day temperatures and warm night temperatures. You can probably skip this section!
But, if you’re like me and find yourself tenting where the temperature can fall close to freezing, then you’ll understand the importance warmth can have on your sleep.
Nothing will keep you from sleeping than having cold feet or a chill you just can’t shake.
So, the best remedy here is to prevent that from happening in the first place.
You can visit this post dedicated solely to disucssing how to stay warm when sleeping in a tent, but here are the main points:
The simple steps to staying warm when sleeping in a tent:
- Make sure your sleeping mattress is insulated. An R value of over 3 is good, over 4 is even better. The better camping mattress will both reflect your body heat back to you and provide an insulating layer against the cold ground.
- Use a properly-fitted mummy sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures
- Use the mummy sleeping hood up around your head and wear a toque if you need to
- Wearing thin gloves can help if your fingers get cold at night
- Make sure to change out of your day clothes and into dry (preferably wicking material) clothes for sleeping
- Don’t over dress in your sleeping bag. You don’t want to sweat.
- Use a hot water bottle at your feet or some activated ‘hot hands’ to keep the bottom of your sleeping bag warm and toasty.
Tips for cooler nights and air mattresses: Regular air mattresses do not insulate or reflect heat. These are a few things I’ve done to help stay warm while also staying comfortable:
- Put down thin foamies, foam squares or very thick woolen blankets under your air mattress on the bottom of the tent
- Top your air mattress with thick wool blankets then cover with a fitted sheet to keep that insulating layer in place
- I’ve even put thin insulating camp mattresses on top of my air mattress and under a fitted sheet when I’ve been camping and the temperature unexpectedly drops. (This can be a bit less comfortable, but better than being on the ground I find)
Now, if you are sleeping in a warm / hot climate, your concerns will be around being cool and comfortable at night. Consider doing away with sleeping bags and just using a sheet sack or a warm weather sleeping bag like this one. Make sure to ventilate your tent as much as possible or even sleep outside if you’re willing to do so.
5. Light and Sound distractions
Ear plugs and eye masks!
Yes, as easy as that.
If you think you’d benefit from ear plugs, I’d suggest just picking up whatever is recommended in your local pharmacy. I even find the muffle from my toque is sometimes enough to dampen the outside noises.
As for an eye mask, you’ll want to make sure the mask is comfortable enough that it won’t bother you while you’re sleeping. You can get these in a variety of materials and styles… have fun shopping around for a super cute one!
I’d suggest you take a look on Etsy and support a small business crafter if you’re going to buy one.
6. Can you relax?
Usually, when I’m sleeping in a tent I am doing so because I’ve spend the day hiking. And, if that’s the case, come bed time, I’m usually tired enough to fall asleep.
But, what if you find yourself just laying in the tent staring at the roof?
Are you one who meditates or does yoga? Perhaps you can practice deep breathing at home to help you when you’re in the tent?
I think a good strategy is to keep your bedtime as similar to your bedtime routines at home:
- if you tend to read before sleep, then, bring along a book
- if you like to have a bath before bed, perhaps you could take a hot shower (if that luxury is available at your campsite)
- a cup of tea or glass of wine?
- if you like to watch a show before sleep, make sure to download something to your phone and have enough battery power to watch
Mom camping tip: To help my kids fall asleep in a tent (and to help them ignore the strange sounds outside) I have often played an audiobook for them. I prefer to choose classic literature to lull them to sleep or else, if they’re too interested, they might fight sleep to listen to the story!
If you are tenting with your kids, making sure your littles fall asleep will probably be one of the biggest factors to whether or not you’ll be able to relax enough to fall asleep yourself.
I’ll be honest, it doesn’t seem to matter how comfortable I am at night. If I’m sleeping in a tent with my kids I wake frequently at all sounds. I check their blankets, feel how cool or warm they are, adjust them if they’d squired out of their sacks or slid off their pads, sooth them back to sleep when they wake, and so on and so on until morning…
So, the more comfortable I can make everyone in the tent, the better my sleep will be, usually.
7. Lastly, try to eliminate all things that will bug you… like bugs… and pee trips
Have you ever woke in the middle of the night to hear a mosquito in your ear? Then, you just lay there listening to it hunt out the best landing… while you try to cover all exposed skin or unsuccessfully swat at your face each time you think it’s landed.
Or, maybe you’ve woken and realized you have to pee… you roll over hoping the sensation will go away. Maybe you can ignore it and fall asleep again? But, really, instead, you just lay there thinking about trying not to think about having to pee?
I’m sure there are oodles of other annoyances that may keep us from a good night’s sleep. But, these are the two biggest ones that bother me!
I like to take a few minutes before sleep to eliminate all mosquitos that have made their way into the tent. I also try to not drink water in the evening in hopes of not being awoken and needing to leave the cozy warm tent. Sometimes this works, usually it doesn’t.
A few more comfortable tent camping tips:
Space: Make sure you have enough room in your tent for you, whatever needs to be in the tent, and your sleep set up – without anything touching the sides. If you’re worried about rolling into people or the sides you’ll sleep less soundly.
The tent bottom: (I find this helps me ‘feel’ more comfortable in the tent, but it doesn’t really have any impact on the comfort of my sleep.) When we’re car camping I like to put down thick blankets or rugs onto the bare, unused floor of the tent, especially by the door area. Maybe it feels more cozy? Maybe my feet and hands and bum are a bit more warm when moving around? Either way, I prefer have something down on the bottom of the tent.
Having a blanket down also makes it easier to keep the tent cleaner because the blanket or rug can be lifted and shook out.
Your tent: Make sure you choose a tent appropriate for your needs. Your choices will have great impacts on how warm or cool the inside of the tent will be.
This post will help you understand all the various different tent options and choices and might help you make the best tent purchase for your family.
Moisture: You’ll want to be dry! Here’s another post worth reading (How to stay dry when tenting and camping) because, believe me, if you want to sleep comfortably in a tent, you’re going to want that tent to be dry!
And, the most important tip to a comfortable night’s sleep?
Practice: Yep, I suggest that one of the biggest factors to knowing if you’ll be comfortable sleeping in your tent or not is to try it out first!
Would you rather find out that your camp mattress is extremely uncomfortable at 3 am in your back yard (or on your living room floor)… where you can just call it quits and head to your bedroom… or at 3 am at the campsite on the first night of a five night trip?
It will be much easier to play around with your sleep set up at home before the trip. Try out your sleeping bag, your mattresses, different pillows, different clothes and linens. Maybe practice sleeping with earplugs or an eye mask if you’d like to try those.
Then, when you’ve got your set-up as best as you can make it, then, it’s time to try it out at the campground!
Best of luck! And, if you know of some other special secret tip please let me know in the comments below:)
Other camping posts you’ll want to check out: