10 Tips for Sleeping in a Tent

Sleeping in a tent for the first time, or wondering how to get better sleep? Camping & Hiking Expert Nicole O. gives you her top tips for getting a good night's rest.

The view from inside a tent

Photo by Scott Goodwill

Are you going on a camping or backpacking trip soon? Are you worried about getting a good night’s sleep? Are you nervous about sleeping outside? In this article, I will include 10 tried and true camping tips that have served me well in my hundreds of nights spent sleeping outside. These tips apply to car camping, RV camping, trailer camping, and backcountry camping, and are aimed at helping to ensure you get a good night's sleep on your next adventure!

1. Pack the Proper Gear

Having the proper essentials is key to enjoying a night sleeping outside. Make sure you have a comfortable camping tent, a warm enough sleeping bag, and a proper sleeping pad—or, even an air mattress if you're car camping. For backpacking, my favorite sleeping pad is the Therm-a-Rest Neoair Xlite Sleeping pad. Take it from me, it is impossible to sleep well if you're shivering due to your sleeping pad/bag not being warm enough for the weather, or if your waterproof tent isn't as waterproof as you think. And since the sleeping gear you’ll need depends on rain and temperature, it is essential to always check the forecast ahead of your trip. And don't forget to account for wind chill.

Lastly, when you’re a camping beginner, it can be overwhelming figuring out if you’re selecting the proper gear, so I highly recommend reaching out to a Curated Expert for our free, customized advice. The right gear can turn almost any weather scenario into a cozy situation!

Slept well on a ridge in Colorado, even in very cold conditions, since I was prepared!

Tarp Camping. Photo by Nicole O.

2. Pick a Comfortable Campsite

If this is your first camping trip—or first in a while—consider starting at an established campground with facilities like bathrooms and showers around. But keep in mind that popular campsites often need campground reservations ahead of time, and always check the campground to see what types of camping it offers.

If you're dispersed camping in the backcountry, make sure you pick a flat area to pitch your tent and check the trees above your tent to make sure there are no dead branches that could fall overnight. Choosing soft ground or dirt is another key to ensuring a better night’s sleep.

Choose somewere soft, and not too rocky like this field in Denali State Park, in Alaska, when picking a tentsite!

Picking your spot is important! Photo by Nicole O.

3. Take Some Melatonin

In general, most people go to sleep a lot later than when the sun sets, so it can be very helpful to have melatonin on a camping trip. It is a non-habit-forming, natural sleep aid that can help you feel sleepy and ready for bed—even if that’s still a few hours earlier than normal.

Personally, I love packing melatonin since it helps me fall asleep so much faster, especially during winter or late fall backpacking trips when the days are short. I'm not used to going to bed at seven, so a little melatonin really helps to get me to bed early when the days are short.​​

4. Have Some Herbal Sleepy Time Tea Before Bed

Heating up some sleepy-time herbal tea on your camp stove, after cooking a nice hearty dinner, is a great ritual for nights spent out in the wilderness. Even on backcountry trips, tea is very worth carrying and takes up very little room and weight in your pack. Herbal tea is shown to help your body and mind relax and unwind. My personal favorite is mint tea, but there are plenty of herbal teas to pick from, such as chamomile tea. ​​Just make sure it’s decaf!

5. Use the Restroom Right Before Going to Sleep!

Getting out of your warm and cozy sleeping bag, putting on shoes, and wandering over to the nearest bathroom—or just a tree—in the middle of the night is never ideal, especially when it's cold out or if there is inclement weather. Using the restroom right before you go to sleep helps prevent that from occurring.​​

6. Go Out With a Friend Who Is Knowledgeable About Camping

As a beginner, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to go camping for the first time. It helps a lot to have a knowledgeable friend take you out for your first trip. They can help go through a camping checklist with you, help you plan the trip, and it's less scary to sleep at night knowing you have a friend at the same campsite.

7. Bring Some Lights

While you might be the kind of person who appreciates pitch black when sleeping, you'll still want to have a lantern, flashlight, or headlamp around. These help in case you have to get up in the middle of the night, or if you roll into camp a little late and have to set up after the sun sets. Headlamps are my personal favorite since they keep both of my hands-free. If you don't mind a little bit of light at night, solar-powered string lights are a great way to make a campsite feel cozy.

8. Ensure Proper Food Storage

Following proper food storage is an important part of the leave-no-trace principles that every outdoor enthusiast should know and follow. Having your food and other scented items such as toothpaste, toiletries, trash, pots, pans, toothbrush, sunscreen, bug spray, and chapstick secured outside of your tent will help you sleep better—since you won't have the nagging thought that critters (or bears) may be coming to your tent looking for food.​​

9. Consider Wearing a Pair of Earplugs

If you're a light sleeper, packing earplugs can be a lifesaver, especially if you're at a popular campground. You don't want to hear the group at the next campsite as they hang around the fire pits all night.

Personally, I use a thick beanie that covers my ears enough to muffle some sounds. But if I were a light sleeper, I would definitely pack earplugs. An eyemask can also be helpful, too, especially if the days are extremely long or if you’re at an established campground with many artificial lights around.

10. Tire Yourself Out

Hiking some hard, long trails on the day of your camping trip definitely helps tire your body out, and that way you'll be ready for bed. Many studies show how exercise helps with sleep, and hiking (or rock climbing, kayaking, biking, or whatever brings you the most joy) is a great way to enjoy nature and get some exercise. The more tired you are, the more your sleeping pad will feel like a mattress at the end of the day.

On the trail, in northern Montana.

A good view helps! Photo by Nicole O.

Connect With Us

I hope these camping tips help you enjoy a nice, restful night next time you're sleeping outside. For free, customized gear recommendations to help ensure you get your best night’s sleep under the open sky, reach out to a Curated Camping Expert like me.

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Camping & Hiking Expert Nicole O
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Nicole O
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Hi! I'm Nicole and I love the outdoors! I have thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail, which is a long trail that runs from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. I have also done tons of other camping, and backpacking trips around the US. I'd love to help find you some great gear to get outsid...

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