5 Tips For The Ultimate Outdoor Sleep

With the right setup, you'll sleep like a baby.

By: Spencer Madden
September 21, 2015

Save List
1 Saves

When you are exploring, a restful sleep is necessary for performance, recovery and enjoyment. Nobody likes a grump and nothing is worse than waking up cold, wet and tired. We all know that being tired going into a mountain day makes the day tough. In the outdoors, poor decision making, slipping and sliding and forgetfulness occur when tired – resulting in injury or problems. In order to enjoy the day, check out the following tips to craft your ultimate outdoor sleep!

Photo: Fudo Jahic

1. Setup Is Key

The first and foremost way to ensure a great sleep in the outdoors is to set up properly. First, choose a location that is safe and conducive to sleeping: flat, out of the wind, sheltered, not in any avalanche paths, and free of potential mud/rock slides. Setting up near a water source that can provide much needed white noise is helpful, too. Next, consider how you set up camp. Use the triangle method with your tent upwind of your cooking area – this will help reduce the chance of animal encounters, which will give you peace of mind as you settle into bed. If you are sleeping with tent mates, be sure to have a large enough tent to fit everyone comfortably and put the person who frequently needs to answer nature's call by the door.

Photo: Greg Balkin

2. Get The Gear

First, think about what type of shelter you are going to use. If you’re using a tent, make sure it’s waterproof and appropriate for the conditions. Nothing will keep you awake quite like the potential of having your tent leaking onto your gear. Always lay down a ground sheet, so you have peace of mind knowing your gear won't get wet when the ground starts leaching moisture. Next, pick-up a mattress: blow-up or closed cell foam both work well. Take a look at the temperature rating as well. As a rule of thumb, the warmer, the better. The next step is a sleeping bag – with so many options, talk to gear junkies and search the internet. I will say that mummy bags are warmer and are very cozy. With recent advances in technology, I recommend taking a hard look at hydro-down. Its combination of warmth and waterproofness is giving synthetics a run for their money. Finally, ensure you are wearing comfortable, layered clothing – make sure it breathes, wicks sweat and most importantly, is comfy!

Photo: Moe Lauchert

3. Stay Warm

The next important step is to stay warm – nothing will wake you up quicker than the damp chill of the Canadian Rockies penetrating your core. We've already covered sleeping bags, mattresses and basic clothing – all of these are critical to staying warm, so make sure you address them. Next, if it is cold, put on a toque and ensure you are using a mummy bag with the head of the bag cinched around you. Before bed, knock out a quick 50 push-ups as this will get your blood flowing before bed and bring the heat into your sleeping bag. A hot water bottle in the bottom of a sleeping bag works wonders too, but make sure it won't leak. Been there, over that! Another option is to snag a sleeping bag liner, which can be a cheap way to add additional warmth to your sleeping setup. Also remember that putting your mouth and nose under the covers is a terrible idea – this will create moisture, which will chill your body as it cools. Another possible solution to a better sleep is to have a high fat snack just before bed, which will help put off heat as digestion creates energy. Check out this article to learn some more great tricks to stay warm while camping.

Photo: John Stevens

4. Lock It Down!

One of the biggest reasons why people don't have a great outdoor sleep is fear of wildlife. While this is a very real consideration, with due care one can sleep worry free. First, set up your camp properly as outlined in the first lesson. As your crew gears down for the night: LOCK IT DOWN! This means going through all the tents, jackets, pants, packs etc. in order to find anything that could be an attractant due to smell. Do not take this lightly, otherwise you can't rest easy knowing every scent-bearing product is stashed well away from your camp and preferably in a bear vault. Next, ensure that all bugs are out of your shelter and that the zips are closed. Place your fixed bladed knife and bear spray in easy reach; be sure to wrap glow-in-the-dark tape on them, so you can find them should you hear an animal. Have your headlamp at the ready as well. Make sure your fire is fully out, so you don't have to worry about starting a forest fire. Finally, before calling it a night, answer nature's call. Seriously, do it!

Photo: Jason Zabriskie

5. Track and Adjust

What cannot be measured, cannot be managed. This quote sums up how you should approach your outdoor sleeps. If you had a poor sleep, figure out the reason and adjust accordingly. Cold hands? Consider gloves. Tent wetted out? Time for a new rig. Keep playing with your setup until you’ve mastered it and are sleeping through the entire night.

I am always looking to hack my sleeps outside and constantly searching to improve my outdoor experience . The above tips are hard won through lots of trial and error – plus a few cold, wet nights of pure misery. If you can think of anything that I missed, I would love to hear from you!

Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.