A good night's sleep can be the difference between a fun and safe day and a fatigued and dangerous day in the backcountry. Backcountry sleeping has its challenges, including uneven and rocky ground, pesky insects, changing temperatures and weather, and the inconvenience of having to get up to go to the bathroom. Knowing a few tricks that outdoor professionals and enthusiasts use will stack the deck in favor of a good night's sleep.
Bottles and Snacks
If your trip takes you into the heart of winter or cold and extreme temperatures, such as in high altitude climbing, prepare for sleep by placing snacks and water nearby. Cold temperatures and high altitudes cause the body to burn calories at a faster rate, which makes you hungry and contributes to your getting cold faster. Just before climbing into your sleeping bag, melt some snow or heat some water and place the heated water into an old-style Nalgene bottle. Slip the heated water bottle deep into the sleeping bag to warm it. Your body heat will also prevent the water from freezing if you need to drink it.
Keep an extra bottle empty next to your sleeping bag so when nature calls in the wee hours, you simply urinate into the bottle.
Because of the extremely strenuous nature of backpacking, skiing or mountaineering in cold temperatures, you feel hunger frequently. Eat a high calorie meal or snack before sleeping. Be aware that it is never a good idea to keep snacks in a tent while in bear country. Food should be either kept in a secure bear canister or in a bag hanging from a tree. Bear canisters are portable, hard-sided food lockers that fit in your backpack that bears (usually) can’t tear open. They’re supposed to be stored several hundred feet away from your camp. You can also hang your food from a tree. Fill a bag with your food supplies and toiletries (which can also attract wild animals). Tie a rope or cord to the bag and then tie a rock or stick to the other end of the rope. Chuck it over the branch and hoist the bag so it’s about 15 feet in the air. Tie the loose end to the trunk. At 15 feet, the bag will be too high for a bear but not sitting right on the branch, which would make it easy for squirrels to have easy access.
One factor that causes interrupted and unproductive sleep in the backcountry is trying to camp on uneven or rocky and snarled ground. When you pitch your tent, look for the flattest and most level site available. Clear the area of any debris, rocks and sediment. Use your sleeping pads to level out the sleeping surface as much as possible. Try stuffing articles of clothing on sloping areas to achieve as close to level ground as possible. If you still have uneven terrain, sleep with your head on the upslope rather than the downslope. Lying with your head below your feet causes blood to move to the head, which may cause headaches and interrupted sleep.
Flexibility and Group Sleeping
If you have more than one person in your tent, try distributing the people head to toe. Have one person sleep with his head next to the other's feet (in sleeping bags, of course). If one person is a snorer, the other's face and head will not be directly next to the snoring.
Flexibility is important when we sleep, because most of us move and change positions throughout the night. When you select a sleeping bag, buy one that allows you to move easily without giving up the bag's thermal qualities. The bag should move with you as you turn and twist but not be so big that you move inside it. Extra space on the inside of the bag is extra space your body has to heat to maintain the thermal qualities of the bag.