When it comes to outdoor camping, sleeping isn’t the easiest activity. Often, it can be really difficult to get comfortable, and even more difficult to remain comfortable throughout the night. This is especially true if you are sleeping on the ground with little to no padding beneath you. Luckily, there are solutions available to help you sleep soundly on your next camping trip.
Sleeping Bags, Camping Cots, & Hammocks
Camping Sleep Guides
A sleeping bag is an insulated, close-able covering for a person to sleep inside of. Sleeping bags can be thought of as a lightweight, padded blanket that wraps all the way around you and then zips up. They are great for camping trips or any activity that involves sleeping in the great outdoors.
While sleeping bags are definitely the most well known option for campsite sleeping, there are a lot of factors and features that you might not know about. Let’s take a look at some of the most important sleeping bag features that every camper should know about.
Most sleeping bags provide a “temperature rating”. Temperature help you choose the correct sleeping bag for the climate you intend to camp in. Sleeping bags are usually split into three different temperature types: Summer, Winter, and 3-Season. Below are the temperature ratings for each of these three types.
- Summer: Above 30º F
- Winter: Below 15º F
- 3-Season: 15º to 30º F
For your own safety, it’s very important to use a sleeping bag rated with the correct temperature for the area you are camping in.
Insulation Type: Down or Synthetic
When it comes to sleeping bags, there are two main types of insulation: down and synthetic. Let’s look at the benefits of each.
A few key benefits to down insulation are:
- It’s very lightweight and more compressible, which makes it easier to carry.
- It’s extremely durable and generally long-lasting.
- It works very well in the cold, as long as it remains dry.
Sleeping bags with down insulation are generally more expensive than ones with synthetic insulation. They’re also more lightweight, compressible, and easier to transport.
Down Fill Power
When looking at down insulation, fill power is an important metric to look at. Fill power specifies the quality of the down insulation. A higher fill power indicates that the down provides a greater warmth for its weight. Essentially, the higher the number, the warmer the insulation. Sleeping bags intended for extremely cold situations will have a high fill power, and will be significantly warmer. Additionally, a sleeping bag with a higher down fill power is more expensive.
Compared to down insulation, synthetic insulation provides sleeping bags with a few key benefits.
- It dries very quickly.
- It is non-allergenic.
- It can get wet and still provide effective insulation.
- It is more affordable.
There are three basic sleeping bag shapes to consider: rectangular, mummy, and semi-rectangular. Each shape provides a different balance between room, warmth, and weight. The ideal sleeping bag shape for you will depend on your own personal preferences. However, if you are a backpacker, hiker, or climber, you will probably want to opt for the mummy shape since it weighs the least.
The most common shape of sleeping bags is the simple rectangular shape. These bags provide the most room, but a bit less warmth than the other two shapes. Rectangular sleeping bags are also the heaviest, since they are the biggest and use the most material.
Mummy sleeping bags provide the most warmth. They contour to the shape of your body, with the top usually forming a small hood. This type of sleeping bag is also the most lightweight since it uses the least amount of material.
Semi-rectangular sleeping bags are the middle-ground between the rectangular and mummy shapes. They come in many different sizes that offer different mixes of room, warmth, and weight.
A double sleeping bag is very similar to the rectangular bag shape, but is much wider. It’s intended for two people to sleep in the same sleeping bag together. While the bag should be less warm because it is wider, you will have two people that are producing body heat, which will definitely keep you warm and cozy throughout the night.
Insulation Fill Weight
Insulation fill weight refers to the total weight of the insulation inside of a sleeping bag. This is only the weight of the insulation, with no other materials of the bag factored in. We don’t recommend using this as a measurement of the bag’s warmth, since the temperature rating relays that information much more effectively.
Sleeping bags come in many different sizes, which are directly correlated to your height. For instance, if you are 6 feet tall, you should select a 6-foot sleeping bag. The inside of a 6-foot sleeping bag is actually about 6 and a half feet, so by selecting a bag for your height, you will still have plenty of space to comfortably move around.
Women’s Sleeping Bags
While a woman can absolutely use a “men’s sleeping bag”, many manufacturers also produce sleeping bags designed specifically for women. The difference is that these sleeping bags contour to the shape of a woman’s body more effectively than regular sleeping bags do. Generally, the difference isn’t very apparent unless you are using a mummy shaped bag.
Kids Sleeping Bags
Many sleeping bag manufacturers also produce sleeping bags for children. Essentially, kids sleeping bags are the same, just smaller. They are usually available with all of the same options and features as the adult versions, but are just less long and a bit less wide. Fortunately, kids sleeping bags are sold at a significantly cheaper price than adult sleeping bags.
Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Compared to sleeping bags designed for camping, backpacking sleeping bags have a few key differences. They are much more lightweight, which is essential for backpackers. They also fold up and pack into a much smaller size. Because they are lighter and smaller, they are also more efficient, providing a better warmth to weight ratio than camping sleeping bags do.
Sleeping Bag Features
Believe it or not, there are still a few more sleeping bag features that you should consider. While these features aren’t a necessity, they provide some really convenient benefits. Let’s take a look.
Sleeping Bag Hood
Some sleeping bags have a “hood” feature. The hood is attached to the top of the sleeping bag and wraps around your head just like the hood on a sweatshirt. Some sleeping bag hoods even have drawstrings to adjust the fit around your head. A sleeping bag hood will keep you significantly warmer.
Many sleeping bags contain a pocket for storing personal items. They are sometimes referred to as “stash pockets”. These pockets are great for storing wallets, keys, and phones overnight.
Stuff sacks are usually included with the purchase of a sleeping bag. Essentially, a stuff sack is a carry bag. The sleeping bag is folded, compressed, and packed into the bag for easy transport and storage.
Sleeping bag liner
Sleeping bag liners are a great accessory that helps keep your sleeping bag in good shape. The liners are inserted into the sleeping bag, where they line the entire inside. The liner stops you from rubbing against the sleeping bag’s fabric and wearing it down. An added effect is that the liner also keeps the bag clean. Additionally, sleeping bag liners add a few degrees of warmth to the bag, which can be convenient when they temperatures are low.
A camping cot is a lightweight, portable bed that is commonly used for camping trips. Camping cots are one of the most comfortable ways to sleep in the great outdoors. Because they are so lightweight and portable, many campers bring them along and set them up right inside their tents. However, compared to sleeping bags and hammocks, camping cots can get pretty expensive.
If you are car camping or don’t plan on hiking too far to your campsite, a camping cot is probably a good option for you to consider. However, because they are heavy, cots are definitely not ideal for backpackers, climbers, or hikers.
While some camping cots, such as the KingCamp Compact Camping Cot, weigh as little as 4 pounds, the majority weigh much more than that. In fact, most camping cots weigh in at more than 15 pounds, with some exceeding upwards of 30 pounds.
Camping cots come in many varying widths and lengths. If you are on the taller side, the length is an important factor to keep in mind. Many popular cots only accommodate people who are up to about 6’ 2” (6 feet and 2 inches) tall. There are camping cots that will accommodate folks who are even taller than that, but the majority will not, so pay attention to the listed length before selecting one.
Most cots are usually around 30 inches wide, but can range between 20 and 60 inches. If you plan to sleep on the cot alone, you should be okay with the vast majority of popular cot models on the market. However, if you plan to sleep on the cot with a partner, be sure to select a width that is big enough to comfortably accommodate both of you.
Camping cots consist of two main parts: the fabric that you lay on, and the frame that supports it.
In most high quality cots, the fabric is nylon. Nylon is great because it is durable and weather resistant. Nylon fabric “breathes” and allows the air to pass through it, which keeps you cool and prevents sweating throughout the night.
Lightweight cots use an aluminum frame. Aluminum is a strong metal that is great at providing durability and support. In addition to its strength, aluminum is very light. When compared to other metals, it has a great strength to weight ratio. If you expect to carry your cot long distances, you should definitely opt for an aluminum frame.
Most high quality cots have a steel frame. Steel is a bit heavier than aluminum, but also provides more strength. If you are on the heavier side, we recommend that you opt for a cot that has a steel frame. The added support from the steel will ensure that your cot is durable and lasts a long time, even with frequent use.
These days, most camping cots are foldable, which is awesome in terms of portability and storage. Different camping cots vary in the way they fold and disassemble, which makes some more portable than others.
A large cot can take up a lot of space and be difficult to carry. If your cot doesn’t reasonably fold up or disassemble, it makes matters much worse. Keep this in mind and choose a cot that fits your portability needs.
Are camping cots comfortable?
Camping cots provide a smooth, flat surface for you to sleep on, regardless of your location. In most cases, this is much more comfortable than sleeping on the rocky, uneven tent floor.
While they are definitely much better than sleeping on the ground or tent floor, camping cots by themselves are not the most comfortable option. However, combining a camping cot with a sleeping pad is absolutely one of the most comfortable outdoor sleeping options. If you have the room to pack and transport a cot and sleeping pad combo, we recommend it.
A camping hammock is a hammock that is designed to be used while camping outdoors. Rather than traditional hammocks that are made of rope, camping hammocks are usually made of parachute nylon.
Camping hammocks are lightweight and transportable. They usually include a small carry bag that the hammock can be quickly folded and placed inside of.
Generally, hammocks are usually made of either rope or parachute nylon. However, each type serves a different purpose, and both are not ideal for camping.
Hammocks in backyards or on patios are typically made of rope, so this is usually what comes to mind when you visualize a hammock. Ropes have the advantage of allowing a lot of air to pass through them, which keeps you cool in the warm temperatures. Additionally, they dry quickly and are very easy to maintain.
Rope hammocks are also very visually appealing. They usually look great and nicely compliment backyards and patios. They provide a stylish, classy vibe that nylon hammocks do not.
The issue with rope hammocks, however, is that they are not intended to sleep in for long periods of time. After a few hours, they grow uncomfortable, put pressure on your skin, and can even leave you with rope burns.
In most cases, camping hammocks are made of parachute nylon. This type of nylon is very strong, very dependable, and weather resistant. Most importantly though, they are very comfortable, even during extended periods of time. Unlike rope hammocks, you can easily spend 8 comfortable hours in a nylon hammock.
Additionally, nylon hammocks are very lightweight and easy to transport. They fold up into small sizes and fit inside of their small, included carry bags. In comparison, rope hammocks are significantly heavier.
Are Camping Hammocks Comfortable?
Yes, camping hammocks are very comfortable. Many camping enthusiasts swear by camping hammocks. In fact, a lot of experienced campers actually prefer sleeping in a hammock rather than a tent or sleeping bag. There is a growing community of campers who participate in what’s called “hammock camping.” Hammock campers do not bring a tent on their camping trips, and instead depend entirely on hammocks for sleep.
What is “Hammock Camping”?
Hammock camping refers to a style of camping in which people utilize a hammock instead of a tent or sleeping bag. This camping style has been gaining popularity lately, and there’s even a few YouTube channels following the adventures of hammock camping enthusiasts.
Hammock camping is great for backpackers who prefer traveling as light as possible, since tents and sleeping bags are generally the heaviest and bulkiest gear. Hammock campers argue that hammocks are both more comfortable and easier carrier than the alternative options.
How to Sleep in a Hammock
The key to comfortably sleeping in a hammock is to lay at an angle. First, lay on your back. Next, lay across the hammock diagonally, but also slightly off-center. By laying at an angle, you get more efficient support across your entire body. This also prevents the sides of the hammock from bending upwards and wrapping around your arms, which can quickly get uncomfortable.
Camping Air Mattresses
Camping air mattresses are inflatable mattresses that are intended for outdoor use. Depending on the specific model, they can be very comfortable. Unfortunately, they are also the most expensive option for campsite sleeping. For campers who experience back pain, air mattresses provide the best possible option for sleeping outdoors comfortably.
The appropriate size for your camping air mattress depends on the size of your tent. First, it’s important to make sure that your tent is large enough to fit an air mattress. If you have a tent that is sized for 6 people, you should generally be able to comfortably fit a full-sized air mattress inside of it.
In larger, family camping tents, many campers bring queen-sized air mattresses.
Air mattresses deflate and pack up into small, manageable sizes. This makes them great for portability, transportation, and storage. However, you must also bring a motorized air mattress pump to inflate the mattress. These days, air pumps are lightweight and small, so these aren’t too bad in terms of portability.
Remember though, you will also need a power source to power the air pump. Depending on your location, this means you will need either a generator, large battery, or extension cord. If an electrical outlet is nearby, the extension cord is a lightweight portable solution. If not, then an air mattress suddenly becomes a much less portable sleeping option.
Tips to Sleep Well While Camping
For many people, it can be very difficult to sleep well while camping. While the idea of sleeping in nature beneath the stars sounds amazing, it can sometimes get frustrating. Nature gets loud, it gets cold out, and the tent floor quickly gets uncomfortable. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help improve the experience and get a good night’s sleep. Here are a few tips to help you sleep well on your next camping trip.
1. Bring a Pillow and Blanket.
There’s nothing worse than getting ready to sleep after a long day of camping and realizing that you forgot to bring a pillow. I’ve been there and it sucks. Make sure you bring one. Some sleeping bag models have a “pillow pocket” where you stuff clothes inside of it to create a makeshift pillow. This is a convenient feature, and it’s great if you’re trying to pack light. However, nothing beats the comfort of a real pillow. If you’ve got the room, we recommend that you bring one.
When camping during the colder months of the year, a warm blanket is essential. We highly recommend considering a wool blanket, which is exceptionally warm and very comfortable.
2. Bring extra padding.
Bringing extra padding is always a good idea. A good sleeping pad can make all of the difference in the world. They add a lot of comfort and support to any sleeping arrangement. If you are sleeping on a cot, a good sleeping pad makes it significantly more comfortable. Personally, I wouldn’t sleep on a camping cot without bringing along a nice, comfortable sleeping pad.
Extra padding is also great for placing beneath your sleeping bag, or even on top of your air mattress or hammock.
3. Bring earplugs.
Believe it or not, nature is loud. Crickets, bugs, birds, and other animals combine to create a loud outdoor soundtrack. While these noises are generally peaceful and relaxing, they can quickly turn against you when you are trying to fall asleep. It’s a good idea to bring earplugs just in case you need them.
Additionally, other campers might stay up later than you. Earplugs will let you get some peace and quiet while your noisy co-campers keep on chattering.
4. Keep bugs away.
Bugs, mosquitoes, and pests can keep you up all night. You should make sure that your tent is clear of any insects. If possible, mosquito netting is a great option and is extremely effective. Make sure that you also use bug spray.
Before leaving for your camping trip, it’s a good idea to inspect your tent and its windows for any holes. Make sure to patch up any holes to keep bugs from entering the tent.
5. Relax and stay calm.
We know it’s easier said than done, but relaxing and staying calm is essential to falling asleep while camping. Since you are in an unfamiliar environment, your body and mind may have a hard time adjusting. If you find yourself getting anxious, remember to just stay calm and focus on your breathing. It’s also a good idea to bring along some sleepy time tea to help you stay calm and fall asleep.