How to Get a Good Night’s Rest While Backpacking

woman sitting by tent under milky way while camping
woman sitting by tent under milky way while camping

As you already know, when you get a good night’s rest, you feel fantastic the next day. You have all of the energy in the world, you’re ready for anything, especially if it’s physically demanding. But sadly when it comes to backpacking, so many people struggle with getting a good night’s rest.


When I started backpacking, I wouldn’t sleep all night. I’d toss and turn, my mind racing endlessly about what was right outside of the tent, and I’d spend the next day miserable from the lack of sleep. And when you’re pushing yourself to hike over 10 miles, with 30 pounds on your back, thousands of feet of elevation gain or loss, and no sleep, well, it’s safe to say that doesn’t lead to a very fun experience.


If you’re like most, you’ve probably struggled with getting a good night’s sleep while in a tent. Which is why in this blog post, I’m going to break down my top tips that are going to help you sleep better while backpacking.


Store Your Food Correctly

Before going to bed ALWAYS make sure to store your food correctly.


If you’re in bear country, then you need to use a bear canister. If you’re around rodents and other small critters like mice and marmots, you’re going to need a rat sack.


Never leave good and scented items in your tent or backpack.


To reduce your chances of unwanted encounters with bears, all food, trash, dirty toilet paper, and scented items like toiletries need to go into the bear canister. Bears are usually only aggressive towards humans if they get into your food or they’re trying to protect their cubs. Here’s my full blog on why you need a bear canister. For more on bear safety, read through this blog post.


If you’re around rodents, you still need to store all food and scented items in a rat sack. Rats and other small animals will chew holes in your tent and backpack to get food. So if you don’t want your gear destroyed and your night’s rest ruined by chasing mice in your tent, please store your food correctly.


For more about wildlife, here is my full blog on why you shouldn’t feed them. 


Find a Good Place to Pitch Your Tent

When deciding where to pitch your tent, there is a strategy to it.


First, you want to make sure you’re following Leave No Trace Principles. This means you’re camping at least 200 feet away from the trail and water sources, and that you’re selecting areas to camp that are durable surfaces.


Please don’t camp in meadows or on vegetation. Look for durable surfaces such as rock, gravel, sand, dry grass, or snow. Remember that good campsites are found not made, which also means don’t alter a site. Don’t start chopping down trees, digging trenches, or anything of that nature. Leave No Trace literally means it should look like you were never there when you leave.


You also don’t want to be crowding other backpackers. Everyone goes backpacking to get away from people, not end up in a tent city. So if you see a spot is already taken, find another place to pitch your tent and give others (and yourself privacy).


Next, look for a spot that’s flat. You’re not going to sleep very well if you’re rolling downhill all night. If a place is slightly tilted, make sure your head is on the higher side otherwise you’re going to be uncomfortable all night.


If it’s windy, look for a place with more coverage, like tucked away behind trees.


Keeping the Bugs Out

Bugs are only natural when you’re going backpacking, but you don’t need a swarm of mosquitoes in your tent every night.


What I like to do to keep the bugs out is first, spray my gear with permethrin. It repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes and others for 6 weeks or 6 washes. From the spring through fall months, I’m respraying my tent, backpack, hiking clothing, shoes, and socks every 6 weeks. This helps a great deal with keeping bugs out of your tent.


Next, you don’t want to keep your tent doors open too long. I like to hop in and out quickly to reduce the chances that something will fly in. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a mosquito in your tent all night who is having a feast.


Comfortable Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bag

Now this point is HUGE! If you’re uncomfortable or cold all night, you’re going to be miserable and tired the next day. This is why it’s so important to have a quality sleep system.


This means that your sleeping pad should not only be comfortable but also needs to be insulated and insulate you from the ground. Unlike a sleeping bag, you can get a very insulated sleeping pad and not be hot all night, you can also stack them to add insulation like if you’re camping in the snow. Read this blog for more tips.


Now a sleeping bag’s job is to insulate you from the cold air and keep you comfortable. I suggest going warmer than you expect to need. Because you can always unzip the sleeping bag and use it as a blanket, but you can’t add on degrees. Read this blog for more sleeping bag tips.


When I started backpacking, I made this huge mistake…


I bought a cheap sleeping bag from Big 5 that was rated for 20 degrees and a cheap sleeping pad off of Amazon.


That bag was not rated for 20 degrees, because it was many 50 to 40 degrees outside and I spent all night tossing and turning and cold. That’s because the quality bags are designed with technology that actually insulates you. When it came down to the sleeping pad, not only was I uncomfortable because it was a hard closed foam cell one, but I was also cold, when I invested in a better quality bag because I didn’t realize that the pad insulates you from the ground and I was cold because of the ground.

I know that gear can be an investment, so if you can’t get the quality gear up front, you have the option of borrowing or you can rent from a place like Arrive Outdoors.

Bring a Book or Listen to a Podcast

When you’re first starting out, it’s normal to be afraid of the dark when camping and be afraid of sleeping while backpacking. This is totally normal! And if you have this fear, read through this blog post for the 5 steps I walk people through to overcome this fear.


Whether you have this fear or not, bring a book or listen to a podcast to help you fall asleep.


Wear Comfortable Clothes

Don’t sleep in the same clothes you just spent all day hiking in. They’re wet with your sweat and they’re dirty. You want to keep your sleeping bag dry and clean. And you’re going to feel a million times better sleeping in something clean and comfortable.


I usually sleep in thermals or another light pair of sweats or something similar. Make sure you’re going to be comfortable. So if you need something loose to sleep, maybe don’t wear leggings.


Wipe Down Before Bed

Trying to sleep when you’re sticky with sweat, sunscreen and bug repellent is a mission of its own.


I try to go swimming at some point in the evening if I’m camping by a water source. If you’re going to do this, just make sure to follow Leave No Trace and don’t use soap (even the biodegradable ones) in the water source, and wash off the sunscreen and bug repellent before getting in the water. But just taking a dip is going to make you feel so fresh before bed. Plus it’s going to do wonders for those sore muscles.


If it’s either too cold, you’re in camp too late, you’re not near a water source, or the mosquitoes are bad, bring wipes and just wipe down before bed. Do what you can to remove the layer of grossness off of you from the day.

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