Camper sleeping soundly in tent

A recipe for zzz’s in the woods

Packing up the car and heading out on a camping adventure with friends is one of the best ways to spend a summer weekend. But sometimes, getting a good night’s sleep in a tent can be a bit of a struggle.

Find out how to handle chilly evenings, busy campsites and rogue roots with the potential to jab you in the back at 2am. Once you’ve mastered the art of camp sleeps, there’s really nothing quite like a night under the stars.

Get the right gear

Double sleeping bags give lots of space to snuggle up.

Pick the best sleeping bag for you

Your sleeping bag is one of the most important camping purchases you make, so it’s worth some research to choose wisely. The first thing to think about is the temperature rating. A summer sleeping bag will have a very different rating than those made for winter camping, but summer evenings can still get a little chilly. For best results, choose a bag that’s rated to a few degrees colder than the temperature you anticipate outside.

You’ll also want to consider the shape of the bag, so think about the way you sleep at home. Do you toss and turn a lot at night? A barrel or rectangle shaped bag gives you more room to move than a mummy shaped sleeping bag. If a sleeping bag just feels too restrictive overall, you can skip one altogether and use a camping quilt instead.

Add a sleeping pad or cot

Sleeping pads play a huge role in comfy sleeps, and not just because they’re a layer to cushion your back from roots and rocks. They’re also key to keeping you warm by insulating you from the ground.

A simple foam pad is an inexpensive, yet bulky, option, but sleeping pads have come a long way. Today’s sleeping pads can be filled with just air (like an air mattress) or be insulated for extra comfort. Some of them even provide 10cm of cushiness, yet still pack down small when you’re back home. Want even more space between you and the ground? Consider a camping cot.

Pack a pillow

The MEC Deluxe Pillow (left) has foam bits on top for mega cushiness. The MEC Air Pillow (right) is super lightweight and packs down small.

When you’re car camping, you might be tempted to bring a full-sized pillow from home. But if you don’t want to infuse your everyday pillow with campfire smell, you can sleep just as well on a camping pillow. For a peek at two options, check out our video comparing camp pillows.

Don’t forget earplugs

Even if you’re a fan of nature’s noises, make sure to bring along a pair of earplugs, especially if you’re camping at a large campground. Nodding off is easier when you’re not woken up by the sound of a trunk closing from a late camper arrival, or hear laughing from the campfire a few sites away.

Set up your space

Camper setting up their gear near their tent

Choose the right site

If you’re a light sleeper, then find a campsite that’s far from heavy car or foot traffic on trails. Skip sites that are close to the road or right beside outhouses and washroom buildings. Another option for quiet? Scope out campgrounds that aren’t as popular… you might find a hidden gem.

When you do pitch your tent, look for a patch of ground that’s as flat as possible and free of tree roots. If you have to set up on an incline, think about how you’ll arrange things inside your tent and where you want the doors to face. Keep your pillow at the highest point to avoid waking up with a headache, and think about where the sunbeams will be shining at sunrise.

Keep scented things away

To keep any unwanted night time creatures from visiting your tent, make sure anything scented is outside of your tent (that includes food, deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste). Lock them up in the car if you’re at a drive-in site, or if you’re in the backcountry, put them in bear-safe food lockers, hang them from a tree using ropes and a bag, or use a bear-resistant canister.

Have a wind-down routine

Lantern and book in a tent

A tiny LED lantern gives a soft glow for nighttime reading (or Sudoku-ing) in your tent.

Find the familiar

If you have a nighttime routine that helps you relax before bed at home, try to stick to it when you’re camping. Maybe some evening stretching or a chapter of a book is what you need to signal to your brain that it’s time to turn in.

Have tea by the fire

A cup of hot cocoa can be a favourite campfire drink, but even small amounts of caffeine or sugar can keep you up at night. Try subbing the caffeinated beverage with chamomile tea, known for its calming effects.

Stay warm

Campers wrapped up in sleeping bags by the campfire

Dry clothes only

Wet and warm do not mix. Make sure that everything on your body, from your head to your feet, is as dry as possible. This means removing any article of clothing that you may have sweat in throughout the day. Go to sleep in a clean, dry set of long johns (it also keeps your sleeping bag cleaner over time).

Layer up

Base layers are a great way to help trap heat and stay warm. If you’re sleeping in colder weather, wear multiple layers on the top and bottom along socks, a toque and mitts (your fingers will be warmer when they can share heat).

With the right gear, a bedtime routine and knowing tips for setting up camp and staying warm, getting outside and comfy is simple – you’ll probably want to stay awhile.

Jenn Martin, blog writer
Jenn Martin

Writer searching the globe for the best stories, songs and summits.