Please note changes in access and rules for hiking and camping in the Adirondacks and Catskills during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please act responsibly during this stressful period. Please read the DEC info carefully.

10 Small Changes That Will Have A Huge Impact On Your Sleep in the Woods

Tent at camp under night stars
Average read time 3 min

After a hard day on the trail, sleep is an important 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 10 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 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 camp and taking sips during the night may help. However, do not drink too much as you will need to relieve yourself at night which may impact 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 clothing.

Get a better sleeping pad and pillow. Investing in a better quality sleeping pad may increase your comfort and warmth. 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 ear plugs. 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 noise is the problem. Whether it be howling winds or a snoring tentmate using ear plugs go 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 simply 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, simply 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 hard 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.


  1. I love camping, though I’m just getting into it, and the funny thing is that I sleep terribly in a tent. I won’t be out in a tent for a few weeks, but that’ll give me time to think about your list. I think that earplugs would be good, however that scares me because there are some big predators in my area – mountain lions – so it’s best to be able to hear well.

    Any thoughts about that?

    1. Laura, I get your point! In lion country I would not be alone and would make my tent mate stay awake :-))

      In reality, I use ear plugs on nights when wind is a problem. When the wind kicks up to that point I don’t hear much but wind.

      Happy camping!

Any thoughts? Leave a comment!