Featured pic is of Shaun the Sheep from Aardman.
This is not for the folks who can fall asleep ‘anywhere’. It’s for those of us who lay awake, counting sheep. Even those who are not Shaun.
After several years of trial and error, I have discovered a few things that may be useful to others. While I love hammock camping, ultimately tent camping is more comfortable when I am on my own because I have walls around me. I know it’s all in my head, that fabric walls won’t even keep a mouse out for longer than it takes to nibble a corner, but in nearly every camping situation, mental is all that matters. There really aren’t crazy killers roaming the woods in hopes of bumping into a camper.
A quick aside: I once stopped to pee on the side of the trail (I am telling on myself, as it was not the recommended 200 feet, though it was a horse trail, so worse than tinkle was RIGHT THERE. Plus, it was a swampy area and the road was the only non-boggy area right then.) The person I was hiking with asked, “What if someone is filming you right now?” Those are NOT the kinds of people to pick for hiking partners.
I am a very light sleeper. Even after a full day of hiking, I sometimes end up taking Tylenol PM or another OTC sleep aid to knock me out. I won’t do that on the trail because of safety issues. I don’t want to be groggy if I DO need to be awakened. I also sleep cold, like a 75-degree house requires blankets, socks and sometimes a heating pad. So, what to do for the likes of me? A person needs three things to sleep well: comfortable temps, safety, and nutrition.
Warmth: women in particular and colder sleepers, in general, need a bag rated at LEAST 10 degrees below the lowest expected temps. Wear a single layer of insulating sleepwear (layering up can actually make it worse as body heat is needed to warm the bag and pad).
Pee before bed, and get back up to go if the bladder calls. Holding it will actually make being cold worse. Look it up, there’s science behind it.
If it is very cold, wear a hooded down jacket and gloves or at the very least, a warm hat.
Have a pair of fluffy, loose, warm socks (those aloe infused socks that are everywhere are perfect for this) that are only ever worn in the sleeping bag. Wipe yourself down before bed, remove anything damp from sweat or rain, put on the clean, dry things and sleep will be SO much better.
Check out quilts if a bag is too confining. These can be used wide open if it’s too warm.
Do some squats before getting into the tent or, if unable to warm up once in the bag, try mini crunches via lifting head and feet at the same time to warm up large core muscles and create a little quick heat.
Safety: Camping near others can go one of two ways. Better sleep because they will likely get eaten by a bear first or no sleep because they are out to have fun, which does not involve being quiet. Some common sense can go a long way toward feeling safer: don’t camp near a road, don’t tell people you meet that you are alone, do carry pepper spray if it eases discomfort. Keep your location updated with your home crew as often as possible.
If staying in one area, do let the rangers know you are alone.
Don’t hike exhausted, you need to be able to listen to your body and your gut and be clear-headed enough to make good decisions, which are not always easy ones.
Nutrition. Within 30 minutes of stopping for the night, eat something with protein to start muscle recovery. After setting up, eat a full dinner, have a warm drink (decaf) if it’s chilly out and then just before bed, eat a handful of nuts such as cashew, almond, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds. These have protein, fat, and magnesium. Magnesium helps quiet the brain and helps with muscle twitches while sleeping that can cause self-waking. They also all contain tryptophan. That, along with the magnesium helps promote melatonin, that most fickle (for some) of hormones that cause sleep. Melatonin comes in tablet form, for those needing an extra boost. A secondary companion that I often take is Valerian root, it’s a natural relaxant and helps quiet the brain and the body. I take it all the time while hiking to ward off the worst of muscle soreness.
Next is some way to block noise, and light for the few times camping in an established campground is unavoidable. Carry earplugs and use a Buff over your eyes to make it dark. Some people balk at ear plugs as a safety factor, but if every woodland noise they hear might be a bear, it won’t actually matter when it IS a bear-just laying there awake churning out stomach acid and adrenaline isn’t doing anything to get away from the danger either.
A big sleeping pad. I am a side sleeper. Big Agnes wide pad (insulated) is great for this, though if they would make something wider than 25 inches and 4 inches tall that still weighed 2 pounds and kept me warm, I’d tote that around instead. The feeling of teetering near the edge of the pad will trigger the monkey brain and the result is laying there awake. Another thing that helps in that regard is not filling the pad all the way, being able to ‘sink in’ gives a more snug feel than laying on a taut surface. It also REALLY makes a difference in the squeak factor of some pads (BA is one of the worst for noise) and will help smooth out any small uneven spots under the tent, giving a better night’s rest.
A two person tent will give the illusion there is more than one person inside (another reason I don’t hammock camp solo) and IF anyone were coming to be a bother, they may rethink that plan.
For us older hikers with achy backs, a pillow between the knees makes a huge difference in comfort. To get this on the trail, use a wine box liner! A 5-liter liner weighs 1.9 ounces and can be easily blown up via the nozzle. It can hold water (obviously), is wide so food or small gear can be placed on top for sanitation purposes and it can be used as a dry place to sit on. It’s worth the 2 ounces. For a head pillow, I recommend the Klymit X pillow. The X in the pillow holds your head and it’s big. The wine box liner will shoot out from under a head in much the way a marble is fired during a game of…marbles. I was trying to think of a better example, but you get what I got these days. I have had some success with the FlexAir ‘disposable’ medical pillows. They are quite large for their weight-which is around one ounce-and can be reused over and over with minimal proper care.
As time goes by, figure out what triggers restless nights and what can be done about it.
Examples: (experience talking)
Pull out food and toothpaste dot for the night and hang the bear bag while it’s still light out. This will help ward off getting frustrated which can make falling asleep harder.
Put boots under cover or inside the tent for the night to ward off worry about wetness or bugs getting in them.
Don’t get lazy-set up for rain if it might rain. So when it starts raining, you can just lay there and drift back off and not lay there awake hoping your half-assed setup won’t leak.
If you wake to pee too often, try limiting liquid after around 6 and use lip balm to ward off dry lips. Double up the next morning to replenish and pay attention to soreness and any leg cramping at all-better to get up than be dehydrated.