After a hard day on the trail, sleep is an essential part of your recovery and readiness for the next day. Poor sleep, even one night, can negatively impact your mental and physical performance. Even though most people don’t have a problem sleeping in the backcountry, if you do, here are ten tips to help you off to the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod!
Plan your campsite location wisely. Look for the best campsite possible. Using designated campsites may be easier and allow for a faster set-up, but sometimes the ground is so compressed it is uncomfortable. Consider camping at-large. But putting your tent in the wrong spot can spell trouble for sleep also. See this video on picking the perfect campsite.
Don’t over hike. Pushing too hard may cause muscle damage and pain. When planning your trip, be realistic about the time and distances between campsites. Pain and soreness can disrupt sleep. Also, allow time between arriving at camp and going to sleep to unwind.
Be well hydrated and fed. Dehydration and hunger can keep you awake. Stay hydrated as much as possible on the trail. Keeping a bottle of water handy in the camp and taking sips during the night may help. However, do not drink too much as you will need to relieve yourself at night, impacting your sleep. Make sure you watch the stimulants such as caffeine. Don’t eat too close to going to sleep, but a high-carb meal eaten a few hours before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
Get the right sleeping bag. You want to match your sleeping bag to the season. Don’t attempt to bring a 3-season 30-degree bag out on a winter weekend with temperatures down below zero. Make sure your bag is sized for you, and remember going to sleep in the backcountry will require the use of warm clothing.
Get a better sleeping pad and pillow. Investing in a better quality sleeping pad may increase your comfort and warmth. Your sleeping pad must be rated for the season you are camping in; otherwise, your sleeping bag will not perform to its comfort rating. Using a small packable backpacking pillow or simply a stuff sack full of clothes will go a long way to improving your sleep position and comfort.
Use a sleep mask and/or earplugs. When the moon is bright, it may feel like daytime, or if you are in a place where daylight is almost 24 hours long, a sleep mask will help. Sometimes the noise is the problem. Whether it be howling winds or a snoring tentmate, using earplugs goes a long way to helping you get to and stay asleep.
Relax and unwind. Yes, after a tough day on the trail, your brain also needs some TLC. Relaxation techniques before bed have been shown to improve sleep quality. Meditate, read something soothing, make notes for the next day, wash the sweat off your body, or do some simple like deep breathing.
Stay away from alcohol. Yes, some groups of people bring it to a base camp. Even though alcohol can help you get to sleep, it may disrupt your sleep. Being dehydrated will only increase the effects of alcohol. It may be best to leave it at home. Being in nature by itself is enough to get a buzz.
Pee and poo before going to bed. There is nothing worse for your sleep while “holding it in.” You’ll be tossing and turning until you submit and go. Try going before you hit the sack to avoid the need to get up at night. If you need to go at night, don’t fight it; get it over with and get back to sleep. In winter, there are ways to stay in your tent to pee (beyond the scope of this article).
Take a pain killer. Backpacking is rugged, and you can get sore and beaten up at times. If you are in pain take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Taking the edge off pain may help you get the sleep you need to feel refreshed.
Backwoods wanderer with a passion for backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the wilds of the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York. A Catskill 3500 Club Member and Adirondack Forty-Sixer. Climbed Mount Rainier. Professionally an Exercise Physiologist.