Getting a good night’s sleep while camping shouldn’t be an insurmountable task. But if your sleeping set-up in the mountains isn’t comfortable, you’ll have a hard time catching some quality Zzzzs under the stars. Should you use a sleeping pad, a cot, or something else entirely? So, that raises the question…
What is the most comfortable thing to sleep on when camping?
The short answer:
A thick inflatable sleeping pad or air mattress is typically the most comfortable thing to sleep on while camping.
But every camper is different and there are people who prefer to sleep on cots or hammocks instead. Some campers even like to snooze on foam sleeping pads, but the majority of hikers find that inflatable camping mattresses are much more comfortable.
If you’ve ever struggled to sleep well on a camping trip, know that you’re not alone. Getting your beauty rest on a small sleeping pad when you’re used to the luxuries of a proper mattress at home can take some getting used to.
Up next, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of snoozing under the stars so that you can find a sleeping solution that works for your needs.
Deciding What to Sleep on when Camping
One of the most common concerns that we hear from campers is that they find it really difficult to sleep well while outside. More often than not, these sleep-related struggles are because campers simply can’t find a way to get comfortable in their tent at night.
So you might be wondering: What is the most comfortable thing that you can sleep on while camping?
The short answer is that thick inflatable sleeping pads and air mattresses like the Exped MegaMat 10 tend to be the most comfortable option for campers. Not everyone would agree with this statement, of course, as there are plenty of people out there who prefer camp cots, hammocks, or, in very rare cases, foam sleeping pads, instead.
Inflatable sleeping pads are often viewed as the most comfortable thing to sleep on during a camping trip because they offer more cushion for your back than the taut fabric of a cot or the thin foam of a standard sleeping pad. However, people with limited mobility or anyone who prefers to be elevated off the ground while they sleep might find that a cot is more comfortable than an inflatable sleeping pad.
That being said, when we talk about “comfort” and sleeping pads, we need to make one thing clear: Few, if any, sleeping pads will ever rival the comfort that you get from proper memory foam or innerspring mattresses.
Inflatable sleeping pads are certainly more comfortable for most people than foam sleeping pads, but we wouldn’t say that they’re the equivalent to your bed at home.
Additionally, a word of caution: If you have back problems or other physical issues that make it difficult for you to get a good night’s sleep at home, talk to your provider about what kind of mattress might be best for your camping needs.
There are many different kinds of camping mattresses out there, so your physician or physical therapist can help you determine what kind of support your body needs at night while you camp.
What Kind of Pillow Should I Use for Camping?
Depending on who you talk to, a camping pillow can either be seen as an essential piece of gear or an added luxury. However, most campers find that a pillow can greatly increase their comfort levels at night.
The good news is that there are many kinds of pillows that you can use while camping. These include:
Regular Pillow – Going car camping? You might be able to use a regular ol’ pillow during your trip, especially if bulk isn’t a concern for your gear. Regular pillows tend to be very comfortable, so they can be helpful if you struggle to sleep well while camping. If you car camp regularly, you may want to consider getting a separate set of pillows just for your outdoor adventures.
Purpose-Built Camping Pillows – Many gear manufacturers now make pillows specifically for camping. These include compressible foam pillows that are popular among car campers as well as inflatable models like the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow that are ideal for backpacking. These pillows often aren’t as cozy as regular ones, but most people find that they’re decently comfortable.
Makeshift Pillow – If you don’t have a pillow during your camping trip, you can try to fashion one out of some spare clothes. Some people find that they can use a folded-up fleece jacket as a pillow. Or, if you have a spare stuff sack lying around, you might be able to fill it with some extra clothes and use that as a pillow instead.
No Pillow – We can’t overlook the fact that some people simply don’t use pillows at all while they camp. This isn’t terribly common, but there are folks out there who don’t need or want that head and neck support while they snooze.
Related article: What Do Backpackers Use for a Pillow? (top 4 methods)
Again, if you have back or neck problems that make it difficult for you to sleep at night, you may want to talk to your provider about what kinds of camping pillows might be best for you. Camping pillows come in a range of shapes and sizes, so your provider can help you figure out what might be ideal for your needs.
Why Is It So Hard to Sleep When Camping?
More often than not, people find that it’s hard to sleep while camping. Why, you might ask? Well, in many cases, it’s simply because camping involves sleeping in new places and in environments that may not be as comfortable or familiar as what you have at home.
We humans are creatures of habit, so even a small amount of change can make it difficult for us to sleep. If you’re not accustomed to sleeping on a small air mattress or if you struggle to sleep when it’s not pitch black and quiet, getting your beauty rest in the mountains may not be as easy as it is when you’re at home.
Also read: 30 Sleeping Tips for Tent Camping
Thankfully, many people find that sleeping on camping trips becomes easier with time and experience. As you learn more about what conditions are most conducive to your snoozing schedule, you can build the sleeping system that’s best suited for your unique needs in the great outdoors.
Sleeping Well in the Mountains Shouldn’t Be Impossible
Although few people out there will try to convince you that a camping mattress is as comfortable as your bed at home, there are some very cozy sleeping pads out there that help backpackers and car campers alike get some much-needed rest during their adventures.
Remember that sleeping well in the mountains is a skill that takes time to develop. If you don’t get a full 8 hours during your first night in a tent—don’t fret. With time and experience, you’ll figure out what gear and systems work for your needs so you can get the sleep you crave during any camping trip.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.