Enhancing Comfort for Side Sleepers in Camping Environments

Camping offers a unique connection with nature, but for side sleepers, achieving a comfortable night’s sleep can be a challenge. “Comfort Camping for Side Sleepers” aims to address this issue, outlining ways to enhance the outdoor sleeping experience specifically for individuals who sleep on their sides.

Enhancing Comfort for Side Sleepers in Camping Environments

Side sleepers often face comfort challenges when camping, as traditional camping gear may not provide the support necessary for their sleeping position. However, comfort camping for side sleepers is achievable with the right equipment and knowledge.

Selecting a high-quality camping mattress designed with side sleepers in mind is paramount. These mattresses offer adequate support to the hips and shoulders, key pressure points for side sleepers, enhancing comfort significantly.

Furthermore, adjusting sleeping positions slightly – such as bending the knees or hugging a camping pillow – can improve spinal alignment, further boosting comfort.

Lastly, investing in a sleeping pad with good insulation helps regulate body temperature throughout the night, providing a more restful sleep.

By considering these elements, side sleepers can truly enhance their comfort and enjoy the camping experience fully.

Stay warm

Maintaining warmth is crucial for achieving restful sleep, especially in camping environments. A shivering body can make falling asleep nearly impossible, impacting the quality and duration of your sleep. Therefore, it’s essential to equip yourself with suitable gear and understand its proper usage. This primarily involves investing in the right camping attire and equipment and knowing how to effectively utilize them to retain heat. This step is critical in ensuring a comfortable and relaxing sleep for side sleepers during camping.

Get your sleep system dialled in

Your sleep system, a pivotal component for comfort camping for side sleepers, hinges on three crucial elements: your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and your sleepwear. Each component has a unique yet fundamental role in heat retention, contributing to overall insulation.

The sleeping bag, for instance, is the primary barrier against the cold, enveloping you in a cocoon of warmth. Its insulation effectiveness can be assessed using the ISO rating, which offers valuable guidance while selecting your camping gear.

Next, the sleeping pad not only provides physical comfort but also acts as an insulating layer between you and the ground. Its insulation capacity is represented by the R-value, which helps you understand its heat retention capabilities.

Lastly, what you wear to bed can greatly influence your thermal comfort. Opt for layers to maintain body heat effectively, adjusting as necessary based on the ambient temperature.

While these guidelines can steer you in the right direction, perfecting your sleep system for camping environments often involves a bit of trial and error. By focusing on these three elements, you can ensure optimal warmth and comfort as a side sleeper in the great outdoors.

Secure the draft collar

When the temperature drops, it becomes essential to fasten the draft collar snugly around your neck to limit the escape of warmth. This strategy helps to avert the ‘bellows phenomenon’, which occurs when your nocturnal movements push the warm air from within your sleeping bag to the outside through the top. A large number of mummy-style sleeping bags come with an insulated tube inside the collar that is typically held in position using a flat clip. However, simpler bags and quilts tend to have just a drawstring for tightening the collar around the neck of the sleeper.

Wear a warm hat

The head is a significant area for body heat loss, especially during chillier nights. This can be a concern, particularly if you’re using a quilt or a sleeping bag without a hood. Incorporating a warm hat into your gear, although adding an extra 100 grams (3.5 oz), can aid in keeping your head warm during sleep and while performing camp tasks. The most effective choice would be a beanie made of fleece or merino wool, known for their excellent thermal properties and resistance to odor, that also extends to cover your ears. It’s crucial to ensure the hat fits comfortably, snug but not overly tight, to allow for restful sleep.

Warm your hands and feet

Preserving existing body heat is significantly easier than trying to produce more once you’re already chilled. Therefore, the key takeaway is to retain warmth before getting into your sleeping bag, or supplement your body heat with an additional source if necessary. Utilizing chemical hand warmers is an apparent solution, but a warm cup of tea can also serve as an effective hand warmer. For your feet, consider filling a 1L water bottle with warm water. It’s advisable to choose a robust bottle, such as a Nalgene, and ensure the lid is securely fastened to prevent any leakage.

Dry out your gear

The insulating capabilities of down sleeping bags are notably diminished when exposed to moisture. To ensure optimal performance from your gear, it’s crucial to keep it as dry as possible and air it regularly to prevent moisture accumulation. This practice is especially important in humid regions like the forests of the Pacific NorthWest. If the weather conditions limit your chances to air out your sleeping bag, such as during heavy rainfall, opting for synthetic insulation proves to be a more effective alternative than down.

Get comfortable

After insulation, the next crucial factor for a restful night’s sleep during camping is comfort. While everyone has unique comfort needs, side sleepers might need to dedicate more time to ascertain the most suitable arrangements for themselves. It’s essential to remember that individual comfort requirements can vary widely, and side sleepers, in particular, may face an additional challenge in determining the optimal setup for a good night’s sleep in a camping environment.

Sleep in comfortable camp clothes

One aspect of camping comfort lies in selecting the right camp clothes. Choose loose-fitting attire made of breathable fabrics, such as merino wool or synthetic materials, which wick moisture away, keeping you dry and preventing hypothermia.

Your sleepwear should also have excellent insulation properties to regulate body temperature. A good tip for side sleepers is to wear rolled-up socks on your elbows and knees, as these areas are prone to touching the cold tent walls.

Lastly, consider incorporating a soft, lightweight fleece pullover or a vest. These not only provide additional warmth but also serve as a great pillow when rolled up, further enhancing your comfort.

Invest in a camping pillow

A camping pillow can significantly enhance the comfort level for side sleepers during camping. Some campers use a dry bag filled with clothes, or even a sleeping pad pump sack, as a makeshift pillow. However, this method depends greatly on the number of spare clothes you have to fill the bag.

In ultralight camping scenarios, you’re likely to wear most of the clothes you’ve carried, leaving little to stuff your makeshift ‘pillow’. This is where inflatable camping pillows come into play. Their lightweight design, as evidenced by Therm-a-Rest’s Air Head Lite Pillow weighing a mere 2 oz, makes them easy to pack.

Given their portability and comfort, there’s hardly any reason not to include an inflatable camping pillow in your camping gear.

Don’t over-inflate your sleeping pad

When it comes to setting up your sleeping pad, it’s normal for camping newcomers to gravitate towards over-inflating their air or self-inflating pads for maximum firmness. However, this approach may not be ideal. Inflating your sleeping pad to its fullest often results in a surface that’s too rigid, leading to a less comfortable sleep experience.

This advice is particularly pertinent to side sleepers who generally fare better with a partially inflated sleeping pad. This arrangement allows for the sleeper’s hips to sink into the pad, yielding better support for the rest of the body and promoting a more ergonomic sleep position.

Thicker sleeping pads further enhance this comfort level. They allow for lower air pressures to be used while still preventing the undesirable sensation of feeling the ground through the pad. Thus, for side sleepers seeking optimal comfort during their camping escapades, a partially inflated, thicker pad might just be the key.

Create a notch for your hip

Side sleepers using a thin pad may find it lacks adequate support for their knees, hips, and surrounding areas. A practical solution to this issue is to carve a small hip notch in the ground. This not only accommodates your hip but also facilitates a more comfortable sleeping position.

In making your camping experience more comfortable, it’s imperative to respect the environment. Be sure to follow the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles while creating your hip notch. Avoid digging if it involves damaging plants or grass.

Opt for campsites with conditions that allow for easy refilling of the notch once your camping adventure concludes. Loose soil or pine needles are ideal for this purpose. In this way, you ensure a comfortable sleep, while also preserving the natural environment for future campers.

Attach your sleeping bag to your pad

Preventing your sleeping bag from sliding off the pad is a common issue that can disrupt a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors. The good news is that many sleeping bags today come with built-in pad sleeves or clips. These features secure the bag to the pad, reducing the chances of slipping off.

If you’re a quilt user, you’re in luck. Quilts are designed to stay bottom-side-down, which means they generally come standard with a pad-attachment system. This system includes straps that secure the quilt snugly on top of the pad.

One thing to consider when opting for a sleeping bag with a pad sleeve is compatibility. Ensure that your pad is of the right width to fit into the sleeve, ensuring a secure and comfortable sleep setup.

Choose a good campsite

The selection of an appropriate campsite can significantly impact your camping experience, potentially transforming a peaceful night’s slumber into an uncomfortable, damp encounter. Here are the aspects to consider and sidestep when deciding on your camping location.

Camp far from prying eyes

The importance of your campsite’s location cannot be overstated when venturing into wilderness camping. Safety is of utmost importance, not only to avert potential criminal activity but also to ensure tranquility, which is fundamental for a sound sleep. If your journey doesn’t involve popular trails or group travel, it’s wise to select a remote location, well away from human settlements or thoroughfares. Moreover, it’s advisable to avoid establishing your campsite under the watchful eyes of any suspicious individuals. This precaution ensures your safety and contributes to a peaceful, uninterrupted night’s sleep during your outdoor adventure.

Avoid cold sleep surfaces

The surface that you choose to sleep on can greatly influence the level of warmth or cold you experience during your sleep. It may sound surprising, but snow, given its high air content, is actually a superior insulator compared to rock. So, if you’re faced with a choice between snow and rock for a sleeping surface with temperatures dipping below freezing, snow might be the preferable option. Rock, on the contrary, can facilitate greater loss of body heat due to its direct contact with your body. If available, pine needles and leaf litter can provide excellent insulation, making them an ideal choice for a sleeping spot. These natural materials can help maintain a comfortable body temperature during your sleep, thus enhancing your overall camping comfort.

Pick a level campsite

Choosing a level campsite is crucial for comfort camping, especially for side sleepers. The unevenness of the ground can be somewhat mitigated with a thick pad, but the challenges associated with a sloping terrain are harder to overcome. Even with your sleeping bag firmly secured to your pad, you may still find yourself rolling or sliding around within your sleeping bag or quilt.

Don’t settle for an inclined campsite without exploring your surroundings thoroughly in search of a more suitable location. Always err on the side of investing extra time in finding a better spot, as it can greatly enhance the quality of your sleep.

In circumstances where a flat plot is not readily available, improvise to create a more leveled sleeping surface. Your backpack and other spare gear can be strategically placed to form a makeshift platform. This can provide a more even area for your sleeping setup, increasing the potential for a comfortable night’s sleep in the great outdoors.

Sleep with your head uphill

In the absence of a flat terrain, it’s advisable to position yourself with your head at a higher elevation while sleeping. This strategic arrangement prevents the possibility of slipping or rolling off your sleeping pad, a common occurrence when resting across an incline. Moreover, it safeguards against the unpleasant experience of blood rushing to your head, potentially inducing a severe headache, a risk when sleeping with the head positioned downhill. Many individuals find the head-uphill sleeping position more natural, contributing to a more comforting sleep experience outdoors.

Kill the light

Exposure to intense light after sunset can interfere with your sleep-wake rhythm, which governs your sleep quality. Therefore, to enhance the chances of a restful night’s sleep, it’s crucial to restrict your interaction with bright, white light once the sun goes down.

Put the phone away

The light emanating from the screens of devices such as mobile phones and tablets can be a sleep-disruptor, much like the effects of strong sunlight at noon. If your nighttime routine involves reading an ebook, it’s recommended to avoid LCD or LED screens, if possible.

Consider utilizing an alternative like the Kindle Paperwhite for your late-night literary indulgence. This device is beneficial as it does not emit blue light, thereby reducing potential interference with your sleep cycle.

For those conscious about the weight of their gear, the good news is that opting for audio content like books or podcasts requires just your phone, making it a lighter choice than a Kindle e-reader. This setup not only aids in maintaining a minimalistic camping kit but also ensures a good night’s sleep in the wilderness.

Sleep with the sun, wake with the sun

For the majority of campers who aren’t striving to establish a Fastest Known Time (FKT) record, and therefore, aren’t compelled to commence their day prior to dawn, it’s beneficial to align with nature’s rhythm. Rising and retiring with the sun can enhance your sleep quality substantially. However, adjusting your sleep-wake cycle to newly encountered patterns of light exposure can take some time. If you’re accustomed to waking much before sunrise or staying up late after sunset, your internal biological clock may require a few days to adequately synchronize with your new routine. Typically, improvements in sleep quality are noticeable around three to five days into the camping trip.

Sleep mask

A sleep mask proves most beneficial under two specific conditions: when indulging in summer camping adventures north of the 50th parallel — a latitude where daylight can persist for over 16 hours — and during the full moon phase, which can illuminate the night sky with an intensity comparable to a streetlight in a location devoid of light pollution. However, some individuals inherently find improved sleep quality with sleep masks, irrespective of the surrounding light levels. Similarly, sleep masks can be a blessing for those who desire to doze off while their tent companions choose to continue with their late-night reading escapades.

CBD oil

CBD oil can greatly contribute to improving both the quality and quantity of one’s sleep by fostering seamless progression through the different stages of sleep. This could be particularly advantageous for side sleepers in camping environments as it aids in adjusting their circadian rhythms from a regular ‘working week’ sleep pattern to their on-trail sleeping habits.

However, it’s essential to time your CBD intake wisely. Ideally, you should plan to take it well before you plan to wake up – at least 8 hours in advance. This timing allows your body to fully process the CBD and helps prevent any potential lingering grogginess upon waking.

Remember, comfort camping for side sleepers isn’t limited to just selecting the right gear and campsite. Including a natural sleep aid like CBD oil can truly elevate your outdoor sleeping experience.


In conclusion, comfort camping for side sleepers can be maximized with a careful selection of the campsite, understanding sleep-wake rhythms, and strategic use of gear and natural sleep aids like CBD oil. By aligning with nature’s rhythm, minimizing exposure to bright light, and using a sleep mask, you can significantly enhance your sleep quality. Above all, striking a balance between comfort and sleep hygiene is paramount in maximizing the camping experience for side sleepers.

William Brookover

Jeffrey Bergan and Lindsey Garza met William Brookover on their backpacking trips through the Appalachian Trail. He was born in Colorado and has a firmly rooted love for outdoors. At Love Go Camping, he writes, edits and contributes to much of the content on the site. He shunned the traditional routes of 9-5 jobs after graduating from the University of Colorado Denver.

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