The marshmallows are eaten, the campfire is dwindling, the yawns are stretching wider, and everyone seems about ready to pack it in for the night. An activity-filled day awaits you in the morning. Will you be soundly rested and ready to go?
Outdoor adventures can be pretty exhausting. They're the kind of trips that are completely awesome but can leave you wondering when your real vacation starts. Delightful, sure, but physically and psychologically challenging at times, too.
One of the key factors in the camping equation is how well you're able to sleep at night. A restful snooze cycle can be tough to achieve away from your comfy bed and favorite squishy pillow. And a night of tossing and turning can signal disaster for your plans the next day. So, how do you stay well-rested in the wild? Read on.
Get Good Gear
While convenient and cheap, it's not always a good idea to bring the ratty old sleeping bag that's wallowed in your garage for decades on your camping trip. Along with being comfortable, you want to make sure your sleeping bag is climate appropriate for where you'll be camping. Mild, wet weather environments call for one category of sleep gear; frosty, arid conditions call for something else entirely.
You don't need a new sleeping bag for every camping endeavor you participate in, but do make sure that what you're bringing won't be hopelessly inappropriate for the sort of camping you're planning to partake in. Take the chilly scenario. Sleeping bags typically come with temperature ratings -- that's the coldest spot on the thermostat you can expect to be comfortable at while wearing a good set of long johns. In summer, a sleeping bag with a 35-degree-Fahrenheit-plus temperature rating is usually sufficient (1.7 degrees Celsius). In cold weather, your sleeping bag should be rated more in the minus 10 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit range (minus 12.2 to minus 18.3 degrees Celsius). It's by no means a guarantee you'll be super snuggly, but it'll go a long way to making sure you don't freeze your butt off in the great outdoors.
You may also want to consider some extras that could lead to better rest. Sleeping pads are a great way to stop those dratted pebbles and sticks from giving you a sore back, elbows or knees. They can help insulate you from chilly ground temperatures, too. You'll find all sorts of sleeping pads; some are made of foam, some are filled with air. Heck, you can even spring for a cot.
Put on the Perfect PJs
Like finding a sleeping bag that will be perfect for keeping you cuddled up, your choice of Underoos is important, too. If it's chilly out, you want something that will warm your bones and vice versa.
Check out the weather forecast before you head out, paying special attention to nighttime lows. It's all well and good to know how hot it'll get during the day, when you can quickly shed or add a layer and be back to an ideal comfort level. But during the wee hours, it'll be a nuisance if you're waking up repeatedly because you're too cold or too hot. You'll be thrashing around trying to remove a sweatshirt that has you roasting or struggling to find the same item on nights that set you shivering – and no one sharing your tent is going to appreciate the ruckus while they, too, are trying to get a good night's rest. Sleepwear should be dry and free of any sweat, and long underwear plus socks is your best bet.
Another method veteran campers sometimes employ when the thermostat drops is to heat up a hot water bottle before bed and tuck it down into their bags. If you put one near the core of your body (the area of the abdomen) that can help your body's mega heat engine warm the pockets of air in your sleeping bag, and you'll be much warmer for it.
Be Ready for Breakfast
Wild animals are extremely skilled at finding sustenance. It's kind of their job. And campgrounds engender that rare and addictive novelty infrequently found in Homo sapiens society: free lunch. So if you want to have peace of mind while you start to doze off, make sure you haven't left a picnic table covered in leftovers before you hit the hay.
Despite the fact that you only heard faint rustlings in the underbrush nearby before you retired to your tent, once cozied up in your sleeping bag, the native fauna will come out in force to snack on whatever s'more, hotdog or burger paraphernalia you've left out. They'll even be beckoned by the scent of toiletries or toothpaste. Stuffed garbage bags on the premise and snacks in your tent are no-no's, too. The goal is to be as scent-neutral as possible.
Some of these scavengers will be small. Some of them won't be. It depends on where you're camping, but nocturnal visitors could range from a curious raccoon all the way up to a snooping hulk of bear. (They like marshmallows and peanut butter, respectively, in our experience.)
So, if you plan on getting some energy by eating breakfast in the morning, make sure your food is stowed accordingly.
Calm the Campfire
Smokey Bear glares at folks who don't properly extinguish their campfires! (He's a little judgy-looking for all that fuzzy cuteness and adorable hat, no?) There's a world of sense to what this iconic bear says on a copacetic camping level, though. After all, how could someone possibly sleep well, knowing a breeze could spring up and waft a burning twig into the side of their tent? Not us.
Tents aren't typically inflammable, even if their manufacturers say they're flame-retardant [source: CBC News]. So, follow scouts' advice, and keep a bucket of water by your campfire for safety's sake while enjoying those heady fumes. Once you're ready to pack it in and all the wood is (ideally) burned to ash, dump the water on the embers of your dying fire. Douse the entire fire pit. If you lack water, sand or dirt can serve. Make sure all the embers are tamped and the hissing stops, and then stir it around thoroughly for good measure. The whole fire pit should be cool by the time you're done. You literally cannot be too careful when it comes to campfires. They're delightful, but they can also be deadly. And that's enough to spoil any camping trip.
Keep Things Customary
Just because you're roughing it doesn't mean you have to ditch all your usual routines. It's not like you've returned to the dark ages; you're just spending a bit of time in the great outdoors. If you're an Internet junkie and the icon for your WiFi connection is futilely spinning in a hopeless circuit, we might not be able to help you, but if not, there are lots of other ways you can assure yourself all is well before you climb into your sleeping bag.
Think of your routine at home. Maybe you like a glass of water before bed or to wash your face one last time before you tuck in? Go for it. Or do you like a final potty break before you hit the sack? That's fine, take care of business.
On the other hand, it can also be exhilarating to find yourself in a new environment, experiencing a novel way of living far removed from your comfy recliner and your frosty refrigerator. You can listen to the sounds of nature rather than the evening news. You can delight in the crisp, dewy air rather than the canned coolness pumped out of your air conditioner. You can fall asleep thinking about the hike you have planned tomorrow or the size of the immense smallmouth bass you plan on hooking. Let those daydreams lull you to straight into what, we hope, is a very restful sleep.
HowStuffWorks looks at the popularity of hiking in the U.S.
Author's Note: 5 Tips for Getting Your Zzzs While You Camp
My family camped a lot when I was a child, so I had a lot of firsthand knowledge while writing this article. I was also a Girl Scout growing up, which involved loads of experience when it came to the very practical matters of camping -- not that my parents hadn't already instilled those practices in me, just that it took the form of a more rigorous training regime in outdoor safety.
So I was interested in writing this article (especially considering how often people show up in the news for being fail-trains at outdoor safety) in an effort to keep my fellow humans from ending up as toast, corpsicles or bear-chow. You're welcome.
- "Campfire Safety. SmokeyBear.com. (July 1, 2012) http://www.smokeybear.com/put-out-campfire.asp
- "Camping Tips: Sleeping Well." REI. (July 1, 2012) http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/camp+sleeping+tips.html
- "Flammable tents recalled." CBC News. Aug. 11, 2010. (July 1, 2012) http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2010/08/11/consumer-tents-recalls.html
- "How Flammable is Your Tent?" Women Today. (July 1, 2012) http://www.bwca.cc/bwcafire/how_flammable_is_your_tent.htm
- Huffman, Kelly. "How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Camping." REI. May 2010. (July 1, 2012) http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/sleeping+bag.html
- Yorko, Scott. "How to Sleep Well When Camping." Active.com. (July 1, 2012) http://www.active.com/outdoors/articles/How-To-Sleep-Well-When-Camping.htm