Sleeping in a Tent: 13 Tips for Comfortable Nights at Camp

For many adventurers, the hardest part of camping or backpacking is getting a good night’s shuteye. But it is possible! Follow our tips and tricks and you’ll be snoozing away in your tent in no time!

Sara Hall Avatar
Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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For many outdoor adventurers, getting a night of restful sleep while camping is more of a challenge than scaling a tall mountain or crossing a barren desert.

There’s no magic formula for getting forty winks in as much comfort as you do when you sleep in your bed at home. It all comes down to your personal preferences, having the right equipment, and employing every trick in the book to counteract the environmental factors that stand between you and a good night’s sleep.

In this guide, we’ll share thirteen of our top tips and tricks to help you on your way!

1. Find the Right Site

First things first, you need to find the right spot to make camp. 

Look for an even, flat surface free of rocks and other obstructions. You don’t want anything poking you or your sleeping pad in the middle of the night. Move any sharp rocks out of the way that could tear your tent floor. 

The site should be shielded from the wind and away from noise to ensure a more peaceful and restful night’s sleep. 

If there’s a chance for rain or inclement weather, make sure you aren’t pitched in a hollow where water can gather – moats are cool for castles but not so much for tents! 

Also check that you’re not camping under dead or broken trees or branches, also known as “widowmakers”. A falling tree limb on an unsuspecting camper could easily spell disaster.

camp fire and tent
If pitching near trees check for any so-called ‘widow makers’ nearby first.

2. Perfect Your Pitch

When you’ve chosen the ideal location, it’s time to set up camp. 

Lay down your footprint/groundsheet first to help protect the tent floor. Place your tent on top and put the poles together accordingly. You’ll also want to situate it so the tent doors are facing away from the wind unless temps are high and you want to take advantage of every bit of breeze that’s going. 

Stake it out and stretch out the guy lines so your tent is taut. If using a rain fly, ensure that it’s pulled away from your tent. This will ensure your tent will stay dry in wet weather and help prevent condensation. 

Read our detailed guide on how to pitch a tent to help you perfect the method in any terrain. 

Pitching the REI Kingdom
Stake out your tent with the guy lines stretched so the tent is taut. ©My Open Country®

3. Get a Great Sleeping Pad or Camping Mattress

Inside the tent, you want to start from the ground up and work out a good sleep system. 

At the base of your system, you need a sleeping pad or camping mattress. For side sleepers, choose a thicker air mattress that will cushion your joints. For campers who sleep on their back or front, there are a few options to consider depending on your priorities.

If you want to focus on thickness and comfort, air mattresses are the way to go. If you’re car camping, you can choose a thicker and heavier option for optimal comfort. If you’re backpacking, you can find plenty of compact ultralight models that compromise only minimally on loft and insulation.

If you are looking for something lightweight and durable (and are not in need of a high R-value for warmth), opt for a closed-cell foam pad such as the Nemo Switchback. If you want the best of both worlds and don’t mind a little extra weight in your pack, look for a self-inflating pad with closed-cell insulation 

In colder weather, using a mattress topper will help prevent your precious body heat leaking into the pad or mattress.

Find the right sleeping pad for you by reading about our top sleeping pad choices.

4. Sleeping Bag Considerations

Next up in your sleep system is the sleeping bag, which can make or break your comfort level while sleeping in a tent

You have a lot of choices with sleeping bags depending on the weather, your budget, and your style of camping. 

Sleeping bags with down insulation cost more, but you’ll get a better warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility compared to synthetic-filled sleeping bags. Synthetic sleeping bags, however, are typically more affordable and retain heat better if they get wet. Whichever fill type you choose, make sure the temperature rating is 10 degrees lower than the lowest temps you expect to encounter.

If you want to switch up your system, check out our guide for comparing quilts and sleeping bags to learn if a quilt might work better for you than a sleeping bag.

Couple of campers in mummy style sleeping bags
Whether you choose synthetic or down, check the temperature rating of your sleeping bag before you buy.

For extra warmth, sleep in long underwear or add a sleeping bag liner to your setup. Liner material ranges from thin silk to cozy microfiber to uber warm merino wool. As an added bonus, liners also help extend the life of your bag. To find out which best fits your needs, read about our top-rated sleeping bag liners.

And to find the ideal sleeping bag for you, check out our favorite cold-weather sleeping bags and backpacking sleeping bags

5. Pack a Pillow!

Many veteran backpackers swear that the difference between a good night’s sleep and tossing and turning in backcountry is often as simple as incorporating a camping pillow into your sleep system. 

When car camping, it’s easy to pack a pillow from home to ensure you’re at your comfiest. But in the wilderness, when every ounce counts, finding the perfect place to lay your head without weighing your pack down can be challenging. 

Going for an ultra-lightweight inflatable pillow such as the S2S Aeros will add a little extra comfort compared to the classic choice of a stuff bag filled with extra clothes. Or you might want to add a little more luxury (and ounces) to your backcountry adventure and choose something a little more substantial such as a down or memory foam model. 

Either way, a pillow is sure to improve your quality of sleep and help you rest soundly through the night.

6. Heat Up Pre-Sleep

To maximize your coziness, particularly when camping in cold weather, try to warm up before you get into bed. If you’re warm when you snuggle into your sleeping bag, your body warmth will heat up the bag and better insulate you throughout the night.

There are a few ways you can warm up before you hit the sack, including: 

  • Eat a light snack just before bedtime. As your insides work to digest the food, they’ll also be working to internally warm you up.
  • Do some exercise. Run in place, do some jumping jacks, or whip out your favorite dance aerobics. Anything that gets your body moving will warm up your muscles and increase your body heat inside your sleeping gear.
  • Fill your water bottle with hot water 15-30 minutes before you plan on getting into bed. Place the hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag (and liner, if using one), and cuddle with it throughout the night.
Man in snowy lakeside scene warming hands by campfire
Warm your body up by exercising in front of the fire before going to bed.

7. Prepare to Deal With Noisy Neighbors

If you’re staying at an easily accessible and established campground, chances are you’ll have neighbors. And noise often accompanies neighbors. This might also be true if you decide to set up camp at a popular backcountry location. Or you might just be camping with a tentmate who snores. 

That’s on top of any nearby road noise, nocturnal animals within earshot, or even a babbling brook, which might be enough to keep someone awake who’s not used to natural outdoor sounds.

But don’t fret! As long as you come prepared, you can muffle outside noise with ear plugs, a bandana or headband, a knit cap, or a hooded sleeping bag or liner. You also might want to pair one of these items with an eye mask to keep out the light.

Be sure to keep your campsite clean and use a bear canister to lessen the chances of animals paying you a noisy visit during the night as well.

8. Beat the Bugs

That lakeside view is hard to enjoy if you’ve got mosquitoes, gnats, or other bugs constantly buzzing around you. If they keep it up after the sun goes down, you’re in for a long night.

The best defense against bugs is preparation. Before leaving for your outdoor adventure, consider treating your clothing and tent with bug repellent and bring a small bottle of bug spray with you to apply to your skin. 

If possible, avoid camping by murky ponds or other stagnant water features. For lakeside camping, choose a site slightly above the water. Camping near running water, like a creek, gives you a better chance of avoiding the bugs than camping near standing water in a lake, marsh, or pond.

9. All About the Angle

If the ground has a slope, position your tent so that your head is higher than your feet to prevent blood from rushing to your head. If this leaves you feeling too upright, try squeezing some unused gear under the middle and base of your camp mattress or sleeping pads to level things off.

10. Relax!

The key to a good night’s sleep is to relax your muscles and let your mind wind down. You might want to try yoga or meditation, drink some nighttime tea (or un-caffeinated hot beverage of your choice), read a book or listen to an audiobook, take a shower (if that luxury is available), or wash up. 

There are also natural muscle relaxers, essential oils, and sleep aids that can help you doze off to dreamland and get the best night’s sleep possible.

People wearing headlamps around a campfire
Relax and drink some herbal tea to help unwind before sleeping.

11. Beat the Heat

A factor that often keeps campers up at night, other than trying to stay warm on chilly nights, is the complete opposite. If it’s too hot in your tent it can be a challenge to stay asleep.

If it’s warm enough, you may not need a sleeping bag. Consider using a sheet or a thinner sleeping bag liner instead.

If you plan on camping in high temperatures, choose a well-ventilated tent with air vents and plenty of mesh in the tent body. In dry weather, you can also ditch the rainfly or “cowboy camp” if you’re comfortable sleeping outside and there are no bugs or small critters that might disturb your sleep.

backpacker outside tent in sleeping bag - best sleeping bag feat img
In drier weather why not simply sleep out under the stars?

12. Curb Condensation

One surefire way to ruin your sleep is to wake up wet due to condensation. So how do you avoid it? 

First of all, choose a tent with ample ventilation features like mesh panels and vents so you can boost airflow. 

Secondly, store any wet gear in the vestibule to minimize humidity in the sleeping area. 

Thirdly, if using a rain fly, make sure you stretch out the guy lines so it’s not hanging against your tent. 

Finally, make sure your sleeping bag isn’t touching the tent walls so that in the event that measures one to three fail you can still avoid it getting soaked.

Mesh roof of tent
Mesh panels boost airflow and help to prevent that dreaded condensation.

13. Cut Down on Nighttime Pee Trips Outside

The urge to pee in the middle of the night is only a minor inconvenience at home, but it turns into an annoying disturbance while out camping. 

If you tend to wake up for nighttime bathroom breaks, try to plan ahead and hydrate well before dinner. Try not to drink too much water later in the evening and avoid saltier foods so you don’t feel thirsty.

If that plan fails, bring a pee bottle with you to relieve yourself without leaving the tent (particularly helpful if it’s raining, snowing, or windy outside). An extra wide-mouthed water bottle or a soft-sided canteen can easily work in this situation.

Females can use a female urination device, like the popular Shewee, to help. If you use this method, the most important tip we can share is to clearly mark your pee bottle for the hopefully-obvious reason of not wanting to mix it up with your drinking bottle. 

If you think you’ll absolutely need to get up and out of the tent during the night, try scoping out a good spot before it gets dark. Remove any tripping hazards and keep your camp shoes and headlamp nearby.

Sleeping in a Tent: Happy Camping!

Ultimately, it’s going to take practice before you get it just right. You’ll work out your own nighttime rituals that ensure you’re as comfortable as possible while enjoying the great outdoors. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you have a restful night of sleep while camping and backpacking. But what works for one person may not be the key for you, so keep adventuring and trying different methods. 

Let us know in the comment box below if you’ve found something that works! And be sure to share this post with anyone who has trouble sleeping outdoors!

Last update on 2023-06-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Sara Hall Avatar

Sara Hall is a journalist, photographer, and freelance writer in her professional life, and is passionate about camping, hiking, and backpacking in her personal life. Growing up in the rural mountains of Northern California, a love of the outdoors was instilled in her at an early age.

Her favorite adventures are often solo backpacking treks out in the wilderness. Or hiking most weekends on local trails. Or with friends and family discovering new campsites. As long as she’s exploring, that’s her new favorite trip.

For Sara, one of the best moments of every journey is turning a corner or climbing above a ridge and an epic view reveals itself. That moment is one-of-a-kind and no two people experience it the same way. That’s yours and yours alone.

She also loves to travel and take local and long-distance road trips.

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