After more than a year of pandemic quarantining, camping in the vast outdoors seems like a happy dream. In fact, camping was on the rise in North America even before COVID-19, increasing 72% since 2014. That rise continued in 2021, as an increasingly diverse group made up mostly of millennials and their families discovered a love for nature.
And why not? For overworked Americans, bombarded by the demands of technology, work, and home commitments, a week of fresh air, fun activities, and campfire-cooked meals is the perfect prescription.
For those who are new to camping, and those who are camping with small children, it may be necessary to take some extra steps to ensure that everyone is comfortable — especially at night. Sleeping with only a thin tent wall between you and the environment can be an unsettling experience until you are used to it.
What Are Some of the Best Camping Benefits?
So why go camping in the first place? As veteran campers will tell you, there are a host of benefits, both physical and mental, to spending time in the woods or by a river.
Resetting your circadian rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is the internal clock that tells you when to rise and when to sleep. It’s easy to unsettle it, especially if you’re not getting enough sleep or are getting up and going to bed at different times each night. Even using your cell phone late at night can affect it. A few days or more of light technology use while going to bed and rising with the sun helps refresh and reset it, allowing you to feel amazingly well-rested.
Being outdoors in a natural setting is the antidote to a stressful life of constant and irritating inputs at work and home for many campers. You may camp in a place that has no Wi-Fi access, for example, meaning that instead of constantly scrolling through work texts, you’ll have time to spend hiking or kayaking at a pace that lets stress drift away.
Solo camping can be a profoundly satisfying experience. Still, camping with family members or friends gives you long, uninterrupted times to talk and the chance to give your relationships room to grow. Camping can be educational, in a fun, relaxed way, and it feels good both to be learning a new skill or, if you’re experienced, to be able to open the door to new experiences for beginners.
Maintaining an active lifestyle
What do you do with all your time while camping? You may go hiking, biking, or paddling. You need to gather firewood and set up the tent. If you have children, you might go exploring or visiting local attractions. You will probably be getting more exercise than you would typically, and in a manner that no gym workout can match.
It’s easy to get hung up on your technology, especially when it’s your primary way of talking to others, catching up on the news, or passing the time. And that’s not good. Social media and overuse of our devices can lead to psychological and physical issues, from eyestrain to depression. Your vacation from technology can help you relax, reorient yourself, and get a better night’s sleep.
Take it from us: The first time your child or your new-to-camping friend lights a campfire that they helped gather and build, it will be a rush for both of you. Learning a new skill is affirming and self-satisfying, and especially important for young people. Children’s minds are open, and camping experiences spur on their fertile imaginations in a way that helps their overall development and growth.
How to Prepare for Your Camping Trip
A primary objective of your camping trip should be to sleep well so you are awake and well-rested for a day full of activities. If you have trouble sleeping at home, this may seem like an impossible task. But you can prepare ahead of time to ensure that you’ll be out like a light when the sun goes down.
Invest in comfortable sleep gear
You’ll sleep better if you’re not up half the night trying to get rocks out from under your bedroll. Good quality, comfortable sleep gear will let you stretch out and get settled so that you’re not bothered by your proximity to nature. Your first step is to invest in the following:
- Comfortable sleeping bag: Sleeping bags are rated for different temperatures — some can handle the cold, while others are better for summer camping. Be sure yours is rated for the weather you’ll have when camping. Look for a bag with good heft and well-constructed materials from a reliable outdoor outfitter.
- Sleeping pads: These fit under your sleeping bag and may be made of foam or another absorbent material. They may even be inflatable. Some are insulated to help protect you from the frozen ground.
- Pillows: Some pillows are made specifically for camping, or you can bring one from home if you prefer and have the space. Make sure your pillow gives you sufficient neck support. If you use a camping pillow, try it out first at home to ensure that it doesn’t leave you with sore muscles the next day.
- Tent: Your tent should be waterproof so that it can protect you from the elements. Whether you have a small pup tent or something large enough to stand up in, be sure you know how to put it up and break it down without difficulty. It’s not a bad idea to try it out for a night in your backyard before you go camping so you can see how it feels to sleep outside.
Know your weather forecast
A good weather forecast is your best friend when prepping for your camping trip. Not only does it help you to know what gear to bring, but it’s also vital so that you can plan the appropriate activities to keep everyone occupied.
- Be prepared to cover your campsite: If rain is in the forecast, a tarp or two can help make you more comfortable and protect your gear from unwanted dampness.
- Have some “rainy day” activities: Unexpected rain can put a damper on physical activities. Bring a few small games — even a deck of cards can be a great way to pass the time — and prepare activities that young children can do in their tent if necessary.
- Have a backup plan: Thunderstorms and more can come out of left field, so even if the predictions are good, think about how you’ll manage if a storm or flood arrives while you’re out there. One option is to think about how your car, van, or truck can serve as makeshift quarters until the sun comes out again.
Research the perfect campground
Campgrounds run the gamut from posh sites with showers, free Wi-Fi, and more to the most basic open spaces with no amenities. Know what you’d like before you camp. For example, if you have young children, bathroom facilities might be useful unless you’re RV camping and have access to an indoor toilet or diaper-changing space. Finding the perfect site doesn’t have to be hard. Here are some great resources to help you:
- Campendium.com: Type in the location where you’re heading and get a map and reviews of all campsites in the area. Details available include cost, website, contact info, and details about what type of camping (RV, tent, or more) is allowed.
- ReserveAmerica.com: This fun site lists public spots, from national and state parks to BLM land, for camping, hiking, or hunting/fishing. There are good informational articles and reviews, and details on specific campgrounds and their amenities.
- Freecampsites.net: If you’re camping on the cheap, this bare-bones site offers reader reviews of free campsites across the U.S. It’s not as extensive as the other two websites we’ve listed, but it is still a valuable resource if you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path campsites that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
Bring someone with experience
Camping isn’t rocket science. But having said that, there are tricks of the trade that you only learn by doing. If you’re new to camping, it’s best to go with someone who’s done it before, so they can help you out when you are standing there with two sticks in your hand wondering how to start a fire.
This is especially true if you plan on venturing into the wilderness. In some locations, it’s possible to get lost if you don’t know how to read tell-tale trail signs. You may also encounter animals — from bears to black flies — and knowing how to handle them can be vital.
Besides, it’s great to be able to point out to your camping partner the beauty of the sunrise or share that new and interesting flower you sighted on the forest floor. And having someone to talk to over a nightly campfire while the s’mores toast? That’s priceless.
Tips for Sleeping Comfortably While Camping
Once you have the basics covered, you can look at additional small tweaks to make your camping experience even more comfortable without making it more complicated. We’ve pulled together some tips on how you can prepare for a good night’s sleep while camping.
- Create a cozy sleep environment: This starts with good-quality sleep gear, like a sleeping bag that’s correctly rated for the temps at your campsite. Consider additional creature comforts you can include that don’t take up much space, like an inflatable air mattress.
- Pitch your tent strategically: Find a flat, open space that isn’t at a low point that could accumulate puddles if it rains. Kick away any rocks — even a small one can make its presence felt through your sleep pad, a la “The Princess and the Pea.”
- Replicate your at-home evening routine: Are you used to a cup of tea in the evening or meditation time? Does your child like a story before bed? Stick to as many routines as you can to prepare you for sleep.
- Defend yourself from mosquitoes: Depending on where and when you’re camping, these little monsters can turn a peaceful night’s sleep into a night from hell. Bring insect repellent with you, and consider investing in a camping mosquito net to keep them at bay.
- Plan physical activities each day: If you’re happily tired out at the end of the day, you (and, just as importantly, your kids) will sleep like a rock. Even if it’s rainy, a hike can be great fun if you’ve stashed some rain ponchos with your gear.
- Store food and fragrant items: You don’t want to share your food with Yogi. A bear bag will keep food and other odor-releasing items out of reach, or you can store them in your vehicle. Even a relatively harmless animal like a raccoon can disrupt your night and make sleeping difficult.
- Ensure proper tent ventilation: Airflow is necessary. Be sure you know how to use your tent’s door and flaps to keep air circulating, especially in hot summer months. In the winter, keep ventilation open to avoid condensed moisture on you and your gear.
- Control noise and light distractions:
- Bring earplugs: Many animals are more active at night than during the day, and they can be noisy, even if they’re not disrupting your camp. If you’re a city slicker, the howl of a far-off coyote may leave you unsettled and awake.
- Wear an eye mask: Depending on how you’ve situated your tent, you may have sunlight waking you up far earlier than you wish. Keep yourself in the dark with an eye mask.
- If you do have access to your devices, close them well before bedtime: The blue light from cell phones and tablets, in particular, can keep you from being able to get to sleep.
- Keep essentials handy: Take a moment to plan for the night before you lay your head down. Keep nighttime essentials like a bottle of water, tissues, a flashlight, and allergy medicine near your pillow if you need them during the night.
- Use and re-use the restroom: It’s great if you can avoid having to use the bathroom during the night while camping. If not, make sure you review its location before you go to bed. Have a pair of shoes handy, and make sure a working flashlight is at hand.
Considerations for Family Camping
Camping can be an awesome family bonding experience, and it’s possible to manage a camping trip even if you have infants. Consider these tips for making your camping trip more kid-friendly:
- Practice camping at home: Let your child sleep in their sleeping bag well before you go camping. Have a living room or backyard camping night where you practice all the tasks you’ll need to accomplish when you’re out in the wilderness. Knowing what to expect will increase your child’s comfort and relieve anxiety for both of you.
- Let children get involved in planning: You need to take the lead here, of course, but perhaps you and your child can plan the menu and do the food shopping together. If it is your child’s first camping experience, let them look at the L.L. Bean or REI catalog and pick out their sleeping bag with your guidance. At the campground, give them age-appropriate tasks and let them decide on their own sleeping arrangements in the tent.
- Consider a separate tent for teens: For teens, personal space and privacy are essential. Once they’ve reached an age where they can sleep in their own space, let them have a tent of their own so they can have the sense of independence that they crave.
- Consider night lighting options:
- Dim, battery-operated string lighting: Some soft, low-energy lighting that’s left on during the night can make bathroom trips easier and decrease anxiety for little ones.
- Adjustable lanterns: If you have multiple tents at your location, let every tent have its own lantern, so people can choose to shut down when they wish at night.
- Non-toxic glow sticks: Your kids will be especially appreciative of lighting the way with glow sticks at night.
The Final Word
Few experiences are as enjoyable as a camping trip. The chance to get outside for extended periods and live a simpler, more satisfying life is something that increasing numbers of families find valuable. Whether you stage a weekend getaway with your children or a group bonding session with friends, you will have a great time getting closer to nature, finding peace and serenity while sharing experiences with good companions.
Plus, to top it all off, a night out in nature helps bring some nights of restful, uninterrupted sleep. Whether you’re out in the wilderness, in your backyard, or tucked away in your own bed, quality sleep should always be a priority. Here at Slumber Yard, it sure is. Our experts have curated everything you from guides on bedtime hygiene to best lists of tried and tested mattresses to ensure you’re sleeping soundly.