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How to Sleep Better in the Backcountry

Over the years campers and hikers alike have struggled at one point or another with getting Z’s in the great outdoors. As a result, there is an abundance of great advice out there on how to overcome this backcountry dilemma. Below is a list of some of time proven tips that have helped thousands sleep better while camping. Keep in mind that everyone’s sleep patterns and habits are different, so not all of these tips work for everyone.    


Remember the “first night effect.”

It always takes time to adapt to a new environment, sounds and smells. If you are having difficulty sleeping, simply RELAX and enjoy the fact you are in nature and away from the chaos. Stressing about not sleeping will only keep you up longer.


Go to bed at your normal bedtime -- no matter how tired you are.

Your body is used to a schedule and will be more likely to sleep better if you stick to it.


Prep your campsite and sleeping accommodation well.

Simple things like making sure there are no rocks or twigs under your tent, and pitching your tent out of the wind or on level ground can make a huge difference in your nighttime comfort and rest.


Bring the right sleeping bag and pad.

Choose a sleeping bag with a temperature at least 15-20 degree lower then your expected lows during your nights out. Make sure that the bag is comfortable for your body size and accommodates your sleeping patterns well. Make sure the sleeping pad you use is appropriate for the season and your body size. In preparation for the night, unpack your sleeping bag and pad and loft/inflate them hours before using them to allow optimal thermal efficiency. Do not hesitate to add or release air from your air mattress to accommodate your firm or soft mattress preference. Side sleepers and thrashers will require more wiggle room in their sleeping bag and a much wider pad. Other gear like an inflatable pillow with soft pillowcase, earplugs and clean socks have been know to aid in sleeping as well.


Secure your gear before calling it a night.

Many campers have been kept awake due to flopping tent rainflies, clattering zipper pulls, and the worry that their gear is going to be blown away, rummaged through by animals or rained on. Take the time to prep and sort things in their proper place so that you can rest worry and distraction free.


Stop strenuous physical exercise three hours before you go to bed.

Even though physical exercise during the day will help you sleep better at night, exercising too close to bedtime stimulates the hormone cortisol, and may impede your sleep for a while.


Go to bed warm on cold nights.

This is not a contradiction to the tip above. What this means is do something short and quick to get your blood flowing before climbing inside your bag.


Take some Advil.

You don’t need minor aches and pains robbing you of precious sleep.


Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bed.

Because caffeine keeps you alert by blocking sleep-inducing adenosine in your brain, it is obvious why we would want to avoid it when trying to sleep. 


Give yourself three hours to digest your dinner before you go to bed.

Trying to sleep on a full belly can be challenging sometimes. However, sometimes a very light snack before bed can actually help. Snacks like caffeine-free hot cocoa or a small piece of cheese when eaten together can help promote drowsiness.


Don’t go to bed thirsty.

You’ll only become more dehydrated–and sleep worse–during the night. Drink half a water bottle and leave the rest in your tent in case you wake up in the middle of the night. You’re likely going to be dehydrated by the end of your day anyway. Drink up to get the body back to normal as best you can. Normal equals sleep.


Avoid alcohol before sleeping.

A little sip of this or that may be tempting and may knock you out at first, but you’ll wake up in the middle of the night dehydrated, and good luck going back to sleep with that headache.


Listen to the call of nature.

Try to empty your bladder as much as you can before going to bed. Having a full bladder not only makes your body use more energy but we all know and hate the feeling of having “to go” but not wanting to get out of the warm sleeping bag. Precious sleep can be wasted trying to convince ourselves that we really do need to go. Plus, we can do a quick color check to see how well we are hydrated.

Click here to Download a printable List on How to Sleep Better in the Backcountry