Top tips for a good night sleep when camping
Reader Andrew Mulder, his wife and young family have been camping for the last two years, and are only too aware of the challenge as night draws in. “Our youngest child, who is four this spring, just could not get on with a sleeping bag and airbed, and kept sliding off the bed during the night. We found that using a child’s inflatable bed with a fixed cover last year was ideal, and with a range of children’s characters on the cover to choose from, this made getting him to bed so much easier.”
Sleeping bags and airbeds are, of course, an integral part of your touring equipment. As with any item of outdoors equipment in this day and age, there are a vast number of different types ranging in quality, style and price. You can spend as little or as much as you like. However, as with most things, you get what you pay for. Some will offer you a great night’s sleep. Others can prove a waste of money. In an ideal world, we would have a wardrobe full of sleeping bag and duvet options to cover every weather eventuality, but life is not like that. So, before you think about splashing the cash, ask yourself a few key questions.
What kind of climate do you need a sleeping bag or duvet for? Is it going to be used in the UK during the summer only, when a two-season bag will be fine, or will it be used from Easter through to the back end of Autumn, when you will need a good two-three season bag? Perhaps you are planning on a winter migration to Europe, when a four-season bag will come into the equation. If, on the other hand, you are heading south to a hot country, then you may not require a sleeping bag at all, as there are plenty of bag liners in silk or cotton that will be fine to use. Bear in mind, though, that if you are heading into a desert region such as Morocco, those dunes can be a very cold place to be at night, with temperatures dropping below freezing.
Being loose, liners are easily washed and dried, helping to protect sleeping bags from sweat and dirt, and reducing the need to wash the bag itself. They also add an extra dimension of warmth that can tip the balance to comfort on a cold night. On warmer nights a liner can be used on its own. They can be found in cotton, synthetics and silk at a variety of prices and styles.
European and British standards that cover the warmth rating of sleeping bags continue to cause confusion, and in real terms there would appear to be no reliable way of judging whether or not a sleeping bag will be comfortable for an individual other than personal experience, as there are far too many variables that affect comfort.
EN13537 is the European Standard for testing bag ratings, the idea being that every bag manufacture would test their sleeping bags to the same criteria, and it would then be a simple case of comparing like for like. Great in theory, but the word compromise still creeps into the equation. What the EN has done successfully is form a benchmark to test against, and helped eliminate what I would term as optimistic labeling. The best advice, then, is to treat the bag rating as a suggested guideline, then consider where you are going, and what the worst-case scenario in terms of temperature is going to be, given the location and time of year. Then err on the warm side.
You may recall camping as a child, snuggling into a caravan-style bag. This is traditionally rectangular or square shaped, with a zip down one side and along the bottom, allowing the user to open it up like a duvet. They offer a lot of flexibility, and are great if you enjoy snuggling up to your partner. They are also popular with children, as they enjoy the freedom of movement, particularly if they thrash around in the night. You may prefer a mummy-shaped bag that comes with a cowl hood and a taper towards the foot, thus allowing the maximum amount of warmth to be trapped inside the bag.
Zips, of course, allow ventilation and ease of access. Most bags are made with a left and right zip option. If you intend to zip two bags together, make sure one has a right-hand zip and the other a left. A two-way, full-length zip allows a degree of flexibility in use, more ventilation options – such as unzipping the bag from the foot – and makes getting in and out easier.
Just as women’s physiology differs dramatically from men’s, so to do their requirements when it comes to enjoying a more relaxed and comfortable night’s sleep. Yet only too often have they unintentionally opted for a generic bag and consequently suffered in silence. To address this issue, some manufacturers produce sleeping bags, like Coleman’s Elle range, that are designed solely for women, providing tailored comfort for the female form, targeting their specific physical requirements.
DOWN VERSUS SYNTHETIC
Most sleeping bags are filled with either natural goose or duck down, or synthetic fibres, although fleece and fibre pile options are available. Goose or duck down is by far the best natural insulator and is light, easily compressed to pack small, and its loft recovers fully when shaken out. Goose feathers have softer spines than duck and are therefore better for comfort. There is also less likelihood that they would pierce through the fabric that contains them. Down comes in a number of different grades/qualities. For example, 90 per cent goose down will consist of 90 per cent down and 10 per cent feathers. The higher the percentage stated, the purer the down, the lower the weight and bulk, and the better the insulation. It does, however, push the cost up.
Synthetic fibre fills come in a variety of forms and effectiveness. Overall, they are cheaper, heavier, bulkier and do not last as long as quality down. However, they maintain insulation when wet and will dry faster. Some synthetic fills, such as Primaloft, mimic the qualities of down and feel very similar. Fleece may be ideal for use in mild weather or as a sleeping bag liner when the temperature drops.
In simplistic terms, a sleeping bag is a shell and liner stitched together, and then stuffed with down or siliconised hollow fibres. Strips of fabric are then sewn in to stop the down piling up at the sides or bottom of the bag, creating 'boxes' of down. This is where the term Box Wall Construction comes in. Many rectangular shaped bags come fully lined with soft cotton flannel. Join two bags together and you have yourself a wonderful quilt to snuggle under with your partner.
Available in single or double versions, airbeds offer a more comfortable and often luxurious alternative to a sleeping mat. You may have seen the coil construction type in durable heavy-duty PVC and flocked PVC with a soft suede top. Today’s airbeds are easy to inflate and deflate, using either a manual or electric pump, and can take as little as a minute to inflate. They also come in handy at home when guests come to stay. Some campers have complained in the past that when their partner has got up in the night to go to the toilet block, they have almost sprung out of bed with the sudden movement of air! The solution is to purchase a split double airbed, which is basically two singles joined together.
UNDER AIRBED INSULATION
Your body stays warm in a sleeping bag by trapping warm air in the loft (filling) of the bag. That warmth is sucked away by the cold earth when you sleep on the ground. If you are using an airbed, you will need a layer of insulation between it and the ground. One solution is to use a blanket, closed cell foam pad, or an inflatable sleeping pad, such as those made by Therm-a-Rest.
The latter keep you off the ground, with the insulated air-filled chambers providing additional warmth. To prevent slithering off the mat during the night, make sure the mat has a non-slip top, such as the latest range of self-inflating mats from Vango. The Premium, for example, has a non-slip 75-denier polyester base to prevent that happening.
TOP TIPS FOR STACKING THE Zs
- Make sure your sleeping bag has an adequate temperature rating for the conditions you are in
- Avoid purchasing a cheap bag which guarantees to keep you warm below zero. That figure actually translates to the amount of hours you will be sleeping!
- Take a sleeping pad to place under the airbed
- Keep your feet warm with a hot water bottle
- Wear a cap and neck gaiter (if your sleeping bag does not have a neck baffle). The body loses most of its heat through the head and, less conspicuously, the neck
- Do not put on too many layers. Wicking long underwear is insulating enough to keep your skin warm, but thin enough to let heat escape your body where it will be trapped in the loft of the sleeping bag and thus keep you warm
- Do not go to bed dehydrated. Hot chocolate and an energy bar should help keep you warm through the night
- Make sure your tent is well ventilated and has decent air circulation
- Wear an eye mask if you do not want the rising sun to wake you too early
- Wear earplugs. Sounds are amplified at night, making a rodent scurrying over dry leaves sound like a grizzly scavenging for food from your larder. Well, it does where the author goes camping anyway!