How to Catch Some ZZZ’s while Camping

camping night

Last Updated on September 7, 2021

When choosing to sleep outside, there is a certain level of comfort that is naturally sacrificed for the sake of being in the great outdoors. This sacrifice is, of course, made knowing the rewards of waking up to the sounds of nature. The rewards are worth the challenges. However, camping can be less enjoyable if your sleeping situation is less than optimal. To enjoy the most of your night and day outdoors, here are a few tips for achieving the most ZZZ’s under the stars.

Temperature Check

Preparing for the changing temperatures in the night is a vital step to getting a good night’s sleep. As soon as the sun sets, the temperature will continuously drop until the sun rises again. While you may experience pleasant weather during the daytime, you must keep the colder night temperatures in mind while packing. Bring layers to sleep in, and the proper sleeping gear such as a sleeping bag for colder temperatures.

Similarly, summer nights can be warmer than the 60-70 degree  temperatures that we are used to in our air conditioned homes. Thus, maybe reconsider packing your insulated sleeping bag. Instead use a warmer weather design, use the sleeping bag (unzipped) as a blanket, or simply pack a sheet or travel blanket to sleep with.  Still, as summer nights can also experience surprise dips in temps, its easier to pack more than you need, than to need something you don’t have.

Consider Cushions for a Sounder Sleep

m swigart photo

Evidence of our cushy pool floatie cushions.

If you are tired enough, you could sleep on any surface, but your quality of rest will be quite poor. Bring along a sleeping pad to add a layer of cushion and support a sounder sleep, as well as less soreness in the morning.

The cushion will also work as a barrier between you and the ground. Throughout the night the ground will become cooler and cooler. During this process it will slowly try to steal your warmth. The cushion barrier helps retain your body heat during the night’s dropping temperatures.  Sleeping pads, inflatable pool rafts (seriously), or an extra sleeping bag will all work as a cushion to sleep on.

Choosing the Bag

While your childhood sleeping bag may have provided many great nights of sleep and wonderful memories, if you are looking to enhance your camping experience or needing new gear for a camping trip, consider a sleeping bag upgrade. Nowadays there is a huge selection of sleeping bags. Some have serious insulation to keep you warm in a snow storm, and others are lightweight enough for the extreme backpackers. You can choose the sleeping bag that best fits your needs.

I prefer to err on the side of caution for the cold. My sleeping bag is equipped to keep me warm in 0-degree temperatures. If the weather is much warmer, I open the bag and sleep with a portable travel blanket as my covering.

Eat Up

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Taking your time to prep, cook, and enjoy a dinner on the trail is one of the best ways to prepare for a good night’s sleep. Large portions of carb and fats are well earned on the trail, but they also serve as a great way to make you drowsy. Take your time consuming these meals, and make an evening of the dinner. Before you know it, you will be ready to end the night full and happy.  Furthermore, having a hearty meal will keep you warm while you sleep, as your body will heat you up as it does its job to digest your food.

Turn off Your Phone

Not only is it important to save battery life, your screen’s light can keep you awake and distracted from sleep. In the same way, tablets, DVD players and other forms of technology have the same effect on our sleep. It’s best to shut them down well before “hitting the hay” lest they keep you up. Instead, bring along a book or spend your time journaling if you need something to help you unwind in the evenings.

Tell Stories

The campfire is an infamous spot to tell tall tales, which pair quite well with S'mores! Spend the evening outdoors with friends sharing stories and jokes.  You can even come prepared to the camp-out with stories ready to share.


Star Gaze

Turn from the artificial lights to see real ones in the night sky. Gazing up at the stars not only offers beautiful views, it also will make you even more sleepy. Your body can recognize when it is dark outside, and in response, it releases melatonin to make you feel tired. Allowing the darkness to wash over you as you star gaze is an ideal way to soak in that melatonin and sail off to sleep.


When things go “bump” in the night (or more realistically “rustle”), the idea of only having a thin layer of protection between you and whatever is outside can be concerning. If nothing else, the sounds have a tendency of keeping us up.

I personally have a love-hate relationship with earplugs; however, they do the job well if you can stand to keep them on all night. My husband can’t stand the feeling of the in-ear earplugs so he opts for headphones or the large noise cancelling earmuffs. Of course, there is a slight concern for safety if both of us cannot hear noises in the night, so we take turns being the “lookout.”

Tent Placement

Keep an eye out for game trails or hiking trails. There is a reason why those trails are there. Most likely someone or something will be using them at night, and in the process, they could wake you up. If you see these trails, place your tent far from them in order to help you sleep better.  Plus, it’s a pretty standard Leave No Trace practice to follow.

Food Storage

Even more important than staying far from the game trails is hiding your food. Animals go on the prowl at night for food, and if they smell food in your tent, car, pockets, or cooler, they will most likely come looking for it. It’s best to hang your food a distance away from your campsite and avoid sneaking any food into the tent at night.

Enjoy the Evening

Overall, the best way to sleep outdoors is knowing you had a wonderfully full day and you are relaxed in the beautiful nature around you. Part of the sleeping process is embracing (or ignoring) the nighttime nature noises, the cooler evening chill, and the comfort of your sleeping bag. So go boldly into the night prepared for a full day outdoors and a great night’s sleep under the stars.


What do you do to get the best sleep on the trail? Share your advice in the comments below. We would love to hear from you! 

About the author

Mariah Swigart

Mariah Swigart is often found camping, climbing, hiking, and kayaking in her home state of Arizona. She loves exploring new locations for her outdoor hobbies, and believes each trip is an opportunity to try a new piece of outdoor gear. Check out to read about her most recent adventures.

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