We’re all humans and that means that we’re creatures of habit. Most of us prefer to sleep in our own beds whenever we get the chance, but last time we checked you can’t pack your home mattress and bed frame with you and sleep with them in your tent.
Well, you probably could pull it off with a large enough tent but nobody’s going to want to do that for obvious reasons. The reality is if you want to camp or backpack in a tent, it means that you’re going to have to sleep in it come nightfall without the luxury of your home mattress and sleep system.
The good news is sleeping in a tent doesn’t have to be miserable. Yes, getting a good night’s sleep is subjective as some people struggle to get one in the comfort of their own bed let alone inside of a tent. We can’t promise that you’ll unlock the secret code of mastering the art of sleeping in a tent.
What we can do is present you with the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent. It all comes down to the sleep system you have, which includes your sleeping pad, sleeping bag, sleeping clothing, and a few other additional accessories.
Preparing for the journey is the only way to comfortably sleep inside a tent, so let’s dig a little deeper into that, shall we?
Step #1: Invest in a proper sleeping pad
When trying to buy what you need to ensure the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent, it’s going to start with the sleeping pad you invest in. After all, even with the best sleeping bag in the world, sleeping on the cold hard ground is going to make for a miserable night of sleep.
There are two critically important ways that a sleeping pad is going to help. It’s going to offer cushioning and insulation, though it does depend on which one you buy. Chances are, things are going to get a little cold at night (and possibly very cold depending on when you’re camping or backpacking) so the additional insulation is going to be vital.
The padding and cushioning are also extremely helpful, obviously. But not all sleeping pads are created equal, as you might expect, so let’s discuss some of the ways that they may differ.
The main different types you can buy
There are three main different types of sleeping pads that you can go with: air pads, self-inflating pads, and closed-cell foam camping pads. Let’s break these down a little.
Air pads: One air pad can be vastly different from the next, as you can find ones with additional thickness or ones that are more lightweight for backpacking. For increased warmth, these types of pads will often contain insulation and even reflective materials. To also save some of your breath, many of these pads will feature different inflation methods.
Self-inflating pads: Offering a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air, self-inflating sleeping pads are very nice. Opening the valves on such pads allows the foam to expand and the air will be brought in automatically. A broad range of options is at your disposal if you go this route.
Closed-cell foam camping pads: Simple in their design, these types are made of dense foam filled with tiny, closed air cells. Offering consistent insulation and a lightweight build, there’s a lot to love about these pads. However, they can be a little stiff and some may not find them the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.
Insulation and warmth
Even if you’re not camping in the winter, you can expect the nights to get cold enough that you’ll want as much insulation as possible. Indeed, sleeping pads help with that a ton. Now, how sleeping pads are measured for insulation is their R-value.
Basically, this value measures a pad’s capacity to resist heat flow through it. As a buyer, all you need to know is that the higher the R-value, the better the pad is going to insulate you. Very well insulated pads will have R-values of up to 5.5 (or even more).
Step #2: Get your hands on a good sleeping bag
It goes without saying that the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent is going to be with the use of a sleeping bag. Much like with a sleeping pad, however, finding the right one for you is the most important element. For the most part, picking one based on how cold the night or nights are going to be will be the way to go.
Sleeping bags will come with temperature ratings and because you can always unzip them if you happen to get too warm while you sleep, it’s never a bad idea to get a rating even lower than what the predicted weather is calling for (at night).
Much like sleeping pads, sleeping bags provide insulation for your body. While you could opt for bags with synthetic insulation, going with down insulation is optimal if you’re really worried about the cold and want to get the best bag you can (within your budget).
Past warmth and insulation, sleeping bags also come in a few different shapes. One shape isn’t necessarily superior to the rest, as it really comes down to your own personal preferences.
Sleeping bag shapes
Mummy: An appropriate name, mummy sleeping bags will offer very snug fits. They’re optimized to cut weight and boost warmth. When you roll over with such a bag, the entire bag will be rolling over as there won’t be room inside for just you to roll over.
Rectangular: If what you want is plenty of room for the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent, you’re probably going to want a rectangular sleeping bag. Offering plenty of room for your arms and legs to stretch out, you could even use some of these as comforters when unzipped.
Semi-rectangular: You may also see this referred to as a barrel or modified mummy sleeping bag. This type of bag really covers a variety of shapes and is kind of the happy medium between mummy and rectangular bags.
Double bags: There are also sleeping bags designed for two people, and they’re known as double bags. If you’re easily affected by claustrophobia, then opting for a double sleeping bag is an amazing choice.
Additional sleeping bag features
To wrap up this section, let’s talk about a few other sleeping bag features that can play a role when trying to find the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.
Zippers: The design of the zippers is important for comfort because it can better allow you to adjust ventilation. Quality control is also always nice for them, but that’s more of an issue of durability than comfort.
Hoods: Buying a sleeping bag with a hood can make one much warmer and is something to consider if the nights are going to get pretty darn cold.
DWR finish: A durable water repellent (DWR) finish on the outer fabric of a sleeping bag will better allow it to protect the interior insulation from getting damp.
Step #3: Jump in the proper clothes
What you choose to sleep in may not be a huge deal back at home, but it can be more important in a tent. We just want to make mention of a few tips.
Keep your clothes dry: Whatever you do, don’t wear anything that’s remotely wet or damp to sleep. Clean and dry tops and bottoms, socks, and underwear is a much smarter choice.
Keep your neck warm: If you’re really worried about getting too cold, you can wear a neck gaiter while you sleep. Additionally, you could wear a warm knit hat. Both such items could be removed in the middle of the night if you started to overheat.
Avoid overdressing: Past the fact that wearing bulky clothing while you sleep may be too uncomfortable, it can actually reduce your sleeping bag’s ability to trap body heat efficiently.
Step #4: Bring with you some accessories
The first three steps are probably the most important, but you can also take additional accessories with you to aid in the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.
Earplugs and eye masks: To keep out the ambient light in the early morning and to better block outside noises that could keep you awake, you can also bring some earplugs and an eye mask to help you sleep.
A pillow: If you never leave home without your favorite pillow, take it with you. No, you can’t bring your mattress with you, but your pillow will be much more feasible to take. Backpackers looking to save every ounce and all the space they can may want to opt for an inflatable camping pillow, though.
A heater: Still fearing things will be too cold? You could also invest in a battery-powered tent heater. Then again, while such a device could heat up your tent as you go to bed, you shouldn’t run it all night long as that would be a safety hazard.
Sorry, we can’t guarantee that all of this will provide you with an awesome sleep in your tent. The reality is achieving a good night’s sleep is harder for some people even at home. What we can say is if you follow the sleep system we detailed, it’s going to be the best chance to find the most comfortable way to sleep in a tent.
With that now out of the way, check out our post about how to wash a sleeping bag if you’re still looking to kill a few minutes!