What to know about sleeping gear for going camping?

Before deciding on your sleeping setup for camp there are a few things to know about camping sleep systems. This includes knowing what essentials you need, any extra sleeping gear items you can pack, what features to look out for in sleeping gear, how weather and climate affect your choices, how to take care of this kit, and what types of sleeping bags, camping cots, and air mattresses are available.

What is a camping sleep system?

A camping sleep system is all the gear required to get a good night’s rest when sleeping outside. Typically this includes a sleeping bag or quilt, a sleeping pad/air mattress/camping cot, and perhaps a camp pillow or other accessories to improve comfort and insulation when sleeping outdoors.

What sleeping gear is essential for camping?

The time of year, where you are camping, as well as personal preference, will determine what sleeping gear is essential for you. Basically, an insulating layer between your body and the ground and something to sleep in/have over you is sufficient. If you are camping in summer and like to pack light then a sleeping bag liner and sleeping mat can suffice. For camping in colder weather, a well-insulated sleeping bag and a camping cot to raise your body off the cold ground may be preferred. 

What sleeping gear is ‘nice to have’ when camping?

Some bonus ‘nice to have’ sleeping gear items you can pack include the following.

  • A pillow, either ergonomically designed or even a stuff sack filled with spare clothes
  • Sleeping bag liners
  • Camping blankets
  • Extra features on sleeping bags ie. built-in ventilation in the footbox

What features to look for in camp sleeping gear?

When looking at sleeping gear for camping there are several important features to keep in mind including the following.

  • Insulation and temperature rating
  • R-values
  • Size and thickness
  • Weight and packability
  • Moisture-wicking capability
  • Cushioning and comfort
  • Synthetic or down-filled
  • Attachment systems (connecting bag and pad)
  • Versatility
  • Durability

What mistakes are made choosing camp sleeping gear?

Mistakes often made when choosing camp sleeping gear include the following.

  • Not taking sleeping position style into account
  • Not looking at temperature ratings
  • Deciding not to have a sleeping mat or any other ground insulator
  • Wrong size or fit
  • Not testing gear out before camping

How does weather affect camping sleep system choice?

Weather plays a critical role in choosing a comfortable sleeping system for camping. For colder temperatures look for a sleeping bag with high fill power or loft, as well as a sleeping pad with a high R-value. Insulation is less important in warmer weather and you may opt for a lightweight sleeping bag liner instead. In wetter weather synthetic insulation will more easily stay dry than down does and will also dry more quickly. Depending on the amount of rain a waterproof bivy may even be more appropriate. 

How does camping group size affect sleep system choice?

The number of people you plan to sleep in your tent will evidently affect the number and size of mats, cots, or air mattresses you can also fit in. To save space you may want to use double pads/cots/mattresses rather than singles, however, this may not suit both individuals sleeping preferences.

What are popular brands for camp sleeping gear?

Popular brands that manufacture camp sleeping gear include the following.

  • Therm-a-Rest
  • REI Co-op
  • Big Agnes
  • Nemo Equipment
  • Sea to Summit
  • Kelty
  • Marmot
  • Exped
  • Sierra Designs

Can you try camp sleeping gear before you buy?

Yes, some stores rent out sleeping gear for camping. It is therefore possible to camp out and trial-run a specific sleeping system before committing to buying it. Camping gear stores that rent out camping equipment include REI, Arrive Outdoors, Lower Gear, Xscape Pod, and Outdoors Geek.

How to maintain camp sleeping gear?

To maintain camping sleeping gear make sure to wipe off any debris, clean any dirty patches, and fully dry gear out (not under UV light as this can cause damage) after every camping trip. To reduce how often you have to completely wash your sleeping bag it is also handy to use a sleeping bag liner when camping so you can wash this instead. Make any repairs to sleeping gear as soon as possible. 

What types of camping sleeping bags are there?

There are many types of sleeping bags on the market that can be categorized into either their usage or their shape. Depending on the type of camping you do you may want to opt for 3- or 4-season, ultralight, double, synthetic, down, or hybrid sleeping bags. The most common shapes sleeping bags come in include mummy, rectangular, barrel, and elephant’s foot. 

What features to look for in a camping sleeping bag?

The main things to consider when buying a sleeping bag for camping are its temperature rating, fill/insulation type (down or synthetic), warmth-to-weight ratio, water resistance, durability, shape style, and size.

What is a sleeping bag liner?

To help increase the longevity of your sleeping bag you may want to use a sleeping bag liner. This is a thin, lightweight fabric sack that is slipped inside a sleeping bag when sleeping. It creates a barrier to help prevent sweat and oil from the skin from being in direct contact with your more expensive and harder to wash sleeping bag. Liners may also help with moisture wicking and temperature regulation for a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Can you use a sleeping bag liner on its own?

A sleeping bag liner is fine to use as a sleeping bag substitute as long as the temperature where you are camping is warm enough at nighttime. Not only will you be cooler when sleeping but you will also cut down on pack weight and bulk.

What are sleeping bag temperature ratings?

Sleeping bags undergo a series of tests to ascertain what range of temperatures they are suitable for sleeping in. This has resulted in a sleeping bag temperature rating system being devised that indicates three different ratings – comfort, lower limit, and extreme rating. The comfort rating indicates the lowest temperature a person can comfortably sleep in a particular bag. The lower limit rating denotes the lowest temperature an average person can sleep at for 8 hours without being woken up by the cold. The extreme rating is a guideline for usage in more of a survival situation and relates to the lowest temperature you can reasonably, not comfortably, sleep at.

How are sleeping bag temperature ratings determined?

Standardized lab tests have been devised to determine the various sleeping bag ratings. There are two main standards, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and EN (European Norm). These tests are undertaken using a thermal mannequin inserted into a sleeping bag on a sleeping pad. This setup is exposed to a number of temperature conditions inside a climate-controlled chamber which determines how well the bag retains heat, the insulation levels, and from this data, the three temperature ratings that will be assigned. 

What are advantages of a camping quilt over a sleeping bag?

While less utilized, a camping quilt offers many advantages over the traditional sleeping bag when camping including the following.

  • Greater versatility
  • Generally lighter and more compact
  • More freedom of movement
  • Less chance of overheating
  • Easier entry and exit
  • Usually cheaper

What are disadvantages of a camping quilt over a sleeping bag?

There are also disadvantages to using a camping quilt over a sleeping bag including the following.

  • Prone to drafts when sleeping
  • Less warmth
  • Attachment system on quilt can be more fiddly 
  • Lack of hood

What is a camping cot?

A camping cot is a lightweight, portable, collapsible bed used mostly for sleeping outdoors. It typically has a metal frame with fabric streched across for the sleeping surface, whilst metal legs attached to the cot frame elevate this up off the ground.

What types of camping cot are there?

There are a number of types of camping cot available to choose from including the following.

  • Foldable
  • Built-in mattress
  • Double
  • Bunk
  • Ultralight
  • Convertible
  • Cot tent combo

What features to look for in a camping cot?

When choosing a camping cot make sure to take into account the following.

  • Your own body size and weight
  • Durable frame 
  • Packed size
  • Easy assembly
  • Height
  • Additional padding
  • Breathable fabric
  • Additional features – cup holders, built-in pillow, storage pockets

Can you take an air mattress camping?

Yes, sleeping on an air mattress is a comfortable and cushioned alternative to a camping mat or cot. Air mattresses are compact when uninflated, lightweight, portable, and easy to set up with a pump. Make sure you have a mattress made from a durable material and to take a puncture repair kit with you just in case.

What features to look for in a camping air mattress?

When choosing an air mattress for camping make sure to take into account the following.

  • Dimensions
  • Thickness of bed
  • Durable and puncture-resistant materials
  • Inflation method
  • If has built-in pump is this camping compatible ie. not electric if you don’t have an electricity source
  • Weight and portability
  • Comfort features such as air chambers or internal coil systems
  • R-values
  • Deflation speed
  • Noise levels when moving around on it

What are advantages of a camping air mattress over a cot?

There are many reasons you may choose an air mattress over a cot when camping including the following.

  • Better cushioning
  • More insulation
  • Adjustable firmness
  • Deflates to a more compact size
  • Potential for a more even sleeping surface
  • Typically lighter

What are advantages of a camping cot over an air mattress?

There are also many reasons you may choose a cot over an air mattress when camping including the following.

  • Higher elevation makes getting in and out easier
  • Sturdier and more robust
  • No inflation required
  • Less chance of repairs 
  • Increased longevity
  • Ventilation underneath
  • Better for heavier people
  • Better for sleepers with mobility issues

What are comfier substitutes for a camping air mattress?

More comfortable alternatives to a camping air mattress may include a camping cot topper, camping hammock, or camping cot for those that prefer a firmer sleeping surface. 

Are there more packable alternatives to a camping air mattress?

More packable alternatives to a camping air mattress include a camping hammock, an accordion-foldable style sleeping pad, or other ultralight sleeping pads.