There’s lots of little things that make people uncomfortable on camping trips. Although you’ll never get all the comforts of home, most problems can be solved by choosing the right gear and doing basic planning.
How do you make a tent more comfortable? Making a tent comfortable is all about optimizing your gear to suit your needs. Choose the right place to setup camp, buy the right gear and plan around the weather. You won’t get all the comforts of home, but you should be comfortable in your tent.
Throughout a lifetime of camping I’ve learned that you really don’t have to sacrifice comfort when sleeping in a tent. You just need to change the way you camp.
How Do You Make a Tent More Comfortable?
As much as I love camping there is one major drawback. Getting out into nature means you’ll have to give up the comforts of home. Tent camping isn’t going to be the most comfortable experience, but you don’t have to be miserable.
Were you uncomfortable the last time you went camping? If so you’re doing it wrong. There’s no excuse for sleeping on the hard, damp, cold ground. With the right camping gear your tent will be much more comfortable.
Making a tent more comfortable isn’t all that difficult with a little planning. Here’s how to make tent camping a little more cozy.
1) Getting The Right Gear For a Comfortable Tent
The best way to stay comfortable in a tent is to find the right gear. You can’t just throw a sleeping bag down on the gravel and expect to feel comfortable. I don’t care how young you are you’ll wake up sore and miserable. With the right gear I can almost guarantee a great nights rest.
Start With Your Sleeping Bag
There’s nothing worse than waking up cold and miserable when camping. Make sure you buy the right sleeping bag for the season. You need to adjust your sleeping bag to match the conditions.
It all starts with buying a sleeping bag that has the right temperature rating for your needs. Unless you’re camping in the winter you can probably get by with an affordable 3-season sleeping bag. (this bag will work from spring-fall)
Different Bag Styles
- Rectangular Bag: This is the style that most of us picture when thinking of a sleeping bag. Rectangular bags offer a little more leg room and a cozier feel. These are perfect for the vast majority of campers.
- Mummy Bag: Mummy bags are going to be both lighter and warm than traditional bags. Designed for backpackers these bags offer a ton of warmth for the weight.
- Double Bag: Double bags are about the size of a full size bed allowing two people to snuggle up together.
Sleeping Bag Liners Add Versatility
I’m a firm believer that everybody should purchase a 3-Season sleeping bag and pair it with a sleeping bag liner. A 30 degree sleeping bag paired with a good liner can keep you warm in the vast majority of situations.
For the past couple seasons I’ve been using the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner. In the summer I ditch my sleeping bag and solely use the bag liner and in the winter it adds about 25 degrees of warmth to my sleeping bag.
You can even go with a cheap bag liner (like this one) and get most of the benefits. It’s going to add about 10 degrees to your bag and protect it against dirt/debris.
Get a Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress
People who say sleeping pads aren’t necessary are either young or out of their minds. Your bed at home might not technically be necessary, but it sure is nice.
Unless you’re a serious backpacker or camp regularly you can probably get away with a typical air mattress. You can fit a full size air mattress inside most tents. Just make sure there aren’t any sticks/rocks underneath your tent.
You just want to have a barrier between your body and the cold hard ground. It doesn’t matter if it’s a air mattress, Sleeping Pad(this is the one I use) or cheap foam pad(my cheap foam pad). Doesn’t matter what style you use just make sure you’re up off the ground.
Different Sleeping Pads
- Closed-Cell Pads: Closed-cell pads are the most basic style sleeping pad you can find. They’re lightweight, cheap and extremely affordable. They might not be the most comfortable, but they’re better than nothing.
- Self-Inflating Pads: Self-Inflating Pads are going to be fairly inexpensive and offer a ton of warmth. Only problem is they puncture easily.
- Air Pads: Most serious backpackers and campers choose air pads. Air pads are extremely comfortable, lightweight and offer excellent insulation from the cold. The only problem is they’re pretty expensive(check out the price of my favorite pad).
2) Bring Extra Pillows and Blankets
If you have a long hike into camp you’re gear will be somewhat limited. Pillows and extra blankets won’t make the cut. If you’re camping near the parking lot a few extra pillows and blankets are a great idea.
Backpackers will be limited with how much gear they can carry. A small backpacking air pillow or travel pillow is all you’ll be able to carry. I really like my Therm-a-Rest Compressible travel pillow.
Ultralight guys might look down on bringing a pillow, but the little things make a big difference on the trail. A 7 oz pillow like mine isn’t going to kill you. I’m willing to bet that sleeping with a pillow helps my back more than the added weight hurts it.
Carrying extra blankets adds versatility and padding to your sleep system. Once again, backpackers won’t be able to carry extra blankets, but a quality sleeping bag liner will help with versatility.
My sea to summit sleeping bag liner adds 25 degrees to my sleeping bags temperature rating. It gets used all by itself in the summer and it extends the temperature rating of my bag in the winter.
3) Added Comfort For Late-Risers
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I woke up before the sun came up. Actually I can, it was the last time I went camping. If you work second/third shift like I do you need to bring along eye masks and ear plugs.
With a sunrise before 6am and noise going on all around you it’s hard to get a good nights sleep. You can sleep in as late as you want and avoid the sounds of nature.
Just keep in mind that a tent will get hot in the sun. Your tent will turn into a sauna if all the door and windows are closed. A small battery operated fan will help circulate the air.
4) Tips to Stay Warm
Nowadays there’s no excuse to ever be cold on a camping trip. Being cold only means you aren’t wearing enough clothes to bed. What should you wear in a sleeping bag while camping? It all depends on your sleeping bag and the night time temperatures.
Problems start to arise during the spring and fall when there’s severe temperature swings. It can be 80 degrees during the day and drop into the 40’s at night.
Temperature swings from one day to the next further complicate matters. Buy a quality 3-Season bag and bring extra layers of clothes. A 3-Season 40 Degree bag will get you through 99% of camping situations.
I really like Kelty’s Cosmic 40 Degree Bag, but it can get pricey. Using a sleeping bag liner will give you an additional 10-25 degree buffer. Coleman’s Fleece Liner is surprisingly nice for the price.
5) Practice Your Normal Routine
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you need to abandon your regular routine. Obviously, you can’t keep the exact same schedule, but you shouldn’t throw everything you normally do out the window.
If everyday you wake up, have a cup of coffee and make breakfast that’s exactly what you should do on a camping trip. I actually bought a small propane coffee maker that makes a 10 cup pot of coffee (check it out). It’s the little things that improve your overall comfort.
The same concept should be applied at night. You probably have a nighttime routine at home that should be continued while camping in a tent. Do you normally read before bed? Bring along a spare lamp. Practice the same bedtime routine that you normally follow.
6) Find The Right Camp Site
Do yourself a favor and put a little thought into your campsite. Make sure you find a level and dry spot to pitch your tent. Never setup camp in a ditch or bottom of a hill where water pools.
If you’re staying in a public campground look for picnic tables, fire rings and close proximity to showers and restrooms. You need a plan for those late night bathroom runs. You’ll be running to the bathrooms regularly with young children.
Pay attention to the other campers surrounding your site. Do they look like hard partyers or parents with loud children? Unless it’s a busy weekend you might be able to move to another site.
7) Properly Store Your Food
Never store food inside your tent! Storing food inside your tent almost guarantees critters nearby. Nobody wants raccoons, rodents and squirrels invading their campsite.
Locking coolers will work with most animals and they should be kept away from your tent. If the parking lot is nearby you can lock up a cooler in the trunk. Just make sure you have a bunch of ice.
In bear country you need to be even more careful. Bears can smell food from miles away and you don’t want them invading your campsite. When camping with bears all food should be kept in locking bear container or designated lock box.
8) Pack The Right Clothing
Try to pack more clothing than you think you’ll need. You never know what’s going to happen on a camping trip. The weather changes on a dime and you never know when you’ll get soaked or muddy. At the very least bring some rain gear and a light jacket just in case.
After a long hike you’re going to be dirty and sweaty. Nobody wants to sleep in the nasty clothes that they hiked in. Bring a change of clothes so you don’t have to sleep in grungy clothing.
Personally, I like to sleep in the same clothes I wear to bed at home. I normally sleep in my boxer briefs, but I always bring along a pair of sweats as well. Some people even swear by sleeping in the nude, but I’m not a fan. (check out my post on why you shouldn’t sleep naked in a sleeping bag).
Whatever you do don’t wear too many layers to bed. On those cold nights you might be tempted to throw on a ton of layers, but you’ll just end up sweaty. Sleeping bags are made to trap body heat so just let it do its job.
9) Stay Close to The Water Source
You’d be amazed at how much water you go through on a weekend camping trip. Somehow my family of four went through over 25 gallons of water on our last weekend trip. With young kids we went through a lot of water, but that’s a lot of trips to the bath house for water.
Remember, that water isn’t just going to be used for drinking. It’s used for cooking, cleaning and basic hygiene.
Bonus: Have a Bathroom Plan
This is more of a bonus tip since it goes with staying close to a water source. What’s the first thing you do after waking up? Almost everybody pees right after they wake up!
You need to have a plan in place for early morning/midnight bathroom runs. This is especially important when camping with young children.
There’s not much you can do if you’re camping with young children. They’re going to need to pee at the worst possible time. Your best bet is to setup camp close to the bathroom.
Limit water intake and try to use the bathroom a couple time before heading to bed so you don’t have to get up.
Trust me, it’s a real pain to put on your shoes and walk to the bath house. Set out a pair of sandals and warm clothes so you aren’t messing around in the dark.