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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

Sleep Better Now: Improve Your Backcountry ZZZ's

Our restless guinea pig snooze-tested the latest science and gear to bring you a simple plan that's guaranteed to improve your backcountry ZZZ's.

by: Grant Davis

Courtesy Jeff Beal
Courtesy Jeff Beal

Get Cozy
Find Your Perfect Sleeping Gear

At roughly 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning last August, lying inside a tent in an idyllic meadow several miles east of Pikes Peak, I realized something awful: I truly hate camping. There, I said it. Or, to be more specific, I hate the fact that I've never enjoyed a satisfying stretch of restorative shut-eye while sleeping on the ground. In a sleeping bag. In a tent. I hate waking up from said "sleep" more exhausted than the day before, and I hate coming back more wasted than when I hit the trail on Friday.

But here's the kicker: I love the backcountry, and I love the idea of pitching my tent in a spectacular setting. I love making dinner in the self-contained efficiency of my JetBoil, and I relish the satisfying warmth of a hot chocolate infused with a shot of bourbon.

Only then does the crappy part start. That's when I crawl into my tent and begin the slow descent into a sleep-deprived madness. It's not pretty. First I'm cold. Then I overheat. Around two in the morning, the accumulated aches and discomfort leave me staring at the ceiling while a slow, self-directed rage builds in my psyche: "Goddammit, humans have been sleeping outside for thousands of years with no problem. So why can't you just pass out?" Lately, I've wondered whether I was the only one. To find out, I call a couple of guys who together have racked up more than 1,000 bag nights in the wild: climber and writer Mark Jenkins, 50, from Laramie, Wyoming, who's slept in nearly every environment in the world, and big-mountain guide Dave Hahn, 47, who spends winter in Taos, spring on Everest, and summer at Rainier.

Jenkins's take: "You just have to adapt." Hahn admits that he can't always sleep, but told me, "Don't sweat it. Rest is rest, even if you're up at 2 a.m. doing a crossword on McKinley." Still, I take hope: If these guys–flesh and blood just like me–can learn to snore (or at least get some restorative downtime) in howling Death Zone winds, I might have a chance. And thus my quest begins–to understand the science of shut-eye, find the perfect sleep system, and wake up with a life-affirming "Good morning!" instead of a splitting headache.



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Mike O
Jul 23, 2010

Regarding the CPAP, I have a Resmed series 8. After doing some research, I came up with a system that works pretty good.

The batteries are the killer, but I found a 12 volt 9 amp hour battery weighing 6 pounds that gives me about 10+ hours of sleep (two nights) When you add it all up, I am carrying an extra 9 pounds, but this is doable.

My recommendation is to buy AGM Deep cycle batteries 12 volt and 9 am hours. The resmed with a converter is very efficient at .9 per hour.

Alex
Jun 28, 2010

Therm a Rest Neoair. 2.5 inches thick, 14 ounces, pure bliss. After a solid 4 years of backpacking with closed cell foam pads I'm a convert.

JDH
Sep 19, 2009

Hey, Chris. Not to sound sarcastic but there's some comments below that talk about it. Just scroll on down! ;)

Chris
Sep 12, 2009

My friend has sleep apena. She needs a CPAP machine to sleep safely. Can any one help me find a good portable machine that will allow to go camping together? As CPAP machines become more common, being able to go in the back country with one, plus make it through a power outage would make great reading. Thanks, Chris

Love my hammock
Sep 08, 2009

I've always had exactly the same experience as Grant, wondering why the heck I couldn't get a good night's sleep on the trail. Tried a hammock for the first time last month and slept better than I do at home. No more tents--my new Warbonnet Blackbird just arrived in the mail!

RichTL
www.dancinglion.us

swampfox
Aug 20, 2009

Like you Grant, I slept miserably for years so I could enjoy the beauty and solitude of the outdoors. Then I discovered the camping hammock. I have never in my life slept so well on a campout. They're also great for an afternoon nap or a chair. For the record, I have a Hennessy Expedition and my wife has a Warbonnet Blackbird. Both are great sleepers.

paddlin' dan
Aug 13, 2009

Hang! Just got a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock for a 10 day canoe trek in Maine. Hung for the first few nights, then spent two nights in a tent on a grassy point (too many skeeters in the trees and there was a nice breeze). OUCH! Back to the trees! Don't know if my tents will ever get used again, but the Blackbird? My wife wants me to take it down and sleep in the bedroom...

Jim
Aug 13, 2009

I learned alot from this article however I do feel for you all...I'm usually the snorer that you guys complain about.
Jim

Bob W
Aug 12, 2009

Skip the bourbon and you won't be hot and sweaty in the middle of the night. Take a couple prophylactic acetaminophin or ibuprophen an hour before sleep instead, with adequate water to dissolve them and keep you hydrated. I agree alcohol is esp bad at even medium altitude. I bring a little flashlite like a Princeton Eclipse with a low beam so I can read myself to sleep, or read myself back to sleep in the middle of the night, without disturbing my tentmate. If you pick the right book, reading programs your mind so you can sleep.

Dr. Steve
Aug 10, 2009

There is a dental appliance used for treating sleep apnea called the TAP appliance. It's often used when people can't tolerate the cpap machine. It opens an airway by advancing the lower jaw. I hope this helps you Randy.

Randy
Aug 06, 2009

I'm lucky enough to have my lodge set up for the whole summer and enjoy the comfort of a cot. My problem with the cot was freezing to death in my bag. I found that the thermarest pad I used backpacking worked great with the cot.

I have sleep apnea and now need a cpap machine. I lug around a 12 volt marine battery hat weighs 50+ pounds. I haven't figured out how to go backpacking and use the cpap with a small battery and solar charger. Any body have this problem? a solution?

Randy
Aug 06, 2009

I'm lucky enough to have my lodge set up for the whole summer and enjoy the comfort of a cot. My problem with the cot was freezing to death in my bag. I found that the thermarest pad I used backpacking worked great with the cot.

I have sleep apnea and now need a cpap machine. I lug around a 12 volt marine battery hat weighs 50+ pounds. I haven't figured out how to go backpacking and use the cpap with a small battery and solar charger. Any body have this problem? a solution?

James Hankins
Aug 03, 2009

I've found an adequate pillow is key to all-night comfort. My solution is a dedicated stuff sack in which I insert a down or fleece jacket. The other secret I've found is a change in approach to the turning and tossing issue: Rather than think in terms of turning inside the bag, my approach is to use a less-roomy mummy bag that tightly encases me so that when I turn, I turn bag and all. That eliminates the issue of cold pockets and drafts into the bag, and the flattened down quickly restores its loft after turning. That approach, on top of an 1 1/2" of Thermarest, does the trick for me.

al
Jul 30, 2009

My problem is in my head. I get too hyped up about tomorrow's hike. Worse is usually the 2nd night out. A sleeping pill and a shot o rum (arr) is in order. If I'm not in minimalist mode, one of those gravity chairs works pretty good, too.

al
Jul 30, 2009

My problem is in my head. I get too hyped up about tomorrow's hike. Worse is usually the 2nd night out. A sleeping pill and a shot o rum (arr) is in order. If I'm not in minimalist mode, one of those gravity chairs works pretty good, too.

MICK
Jul 28, 2009

Enjoyed the article, did not enjoy the profanity!

Cordell Briggs
Jul 26, 2009

Lower back pain was always a problem for me when sleeping on a flat pad. My mattress at home lets my butt sink in a bit so my lower back is supported. When camping, I remedy this problem by elevating my knees 3 to 6 inches by putting my empty pack under my sleeping pad in the knee area and elevating my head a few inches by putting all the soft stuff in my pack under my head and shoulders. Try to mimic the profile of your recliner or patio lounge chair at home. I can get by with a much thinner pad this way. When winter camping, I form the snow under by body like a recliner chair. Show me one man in his 50's who can't fall asleep in a recliner.

Cordell Briggs
Jul 26, 2009

Lower back pain was always a problem for me when sleeping on a flat pad. My mattress at home lets my butt sink in a bit so my lower back is supported. When camping, I remedy this problem by elevating my knees 3 to 6 inches by putting my empty pack under my sleeping pad in the knee area and elevating my head a few inches by putting all the soft stuff in my pack under my head and shoulders. Try to mimic the profile of your recliner or patio lounge chair at home. I can get by with a much thinner pad this way. When winter camping, I form the snow under by body like a recliner chair. Show me one man in his 50's who can't fall asleep in a recliner.

Jan Liverance
Jul 24, 2009

Thanks Brad - appreciate your help!
Your RE: altitude accomodation technique will be put into practice this August when I attempt to drag my sorry flatlander butt from sea level up into loftier zones - in this case, I hope to the summit of Rainier.

Brad
Jul 24, 2009

RE: altitude accomodation. As a Military (Army) Physician, I have had to prep troops for altitude operations without prior acclimitization. There is a very inexpensive prescription medication I have used in Bolovia at 13,000 feet that worked very well for me. Diamox. it prevents altitude sickness and other than having a mild diuretic effect has no side effects. You are prone to dehydration anyway due to moisture lost in respiration due to the low humidity at high elevations, so another cause of poor sleep at altitude is dehydration. So when you go to new heights, grin, take it easy, take diamox (one tab twice a day) an aspirin or other Non-steroidal if you can tolerate it, and drink water. Avoid alcohol, it dehydrates you even more, and hits you harder at altitude, making you even more prone to doing stupid things, and having poor sleep. After three days most folks can stop the diamox. It is the intial shock to the system that hits the hardest.
Your tax dollars at work!
Brad

Dale Garrison
Jul 24, 2009

For lower altitudes and where this form of "harvesting" is not a problem: try creating an extra mattress from leaves, pine needles or dried grass. I discovered that by accident and now sleep better in the wild that at home. It also adds insulation.

In about 15 minutes, I can create a pad-sized layer on which I pitch my tent and it's definitely worth it.

Obviously, this is not appropriate in high-traffic areas or fragile eco-systems, but it really helps in the right place.

skip shephard
Jul 24, 2009

WEll, I learned years ago(I am 64 now) that my back could not take sleeping on the ground anymore; even on a pad etc. I started to experiment. I found that the best remedy for my "aching back" was a hammock slung between two trees. I was up off the ground. My sleeping bag fit nicely in the hammock and the rocking motion put me to sleep in record time! If the rain looked ominous, I slung a tarp over my hammock, put all my gear under it or better yet, hang it up offf the ground on a rope. Let the thunder, rain and lightning come. What a great way to experience mother nature. Best of all, when I wake uup in the a.m. my back does not hurt at all. A word of caution; if you have never tried sleeping in a hammock,in a sleeping bag, do some practice at home first until you develop a system of getting in and out etc. Happy dreams.

Dan
Jul 23, 2009

I second the hammock idea. I've lived out of hennessy hammocks for 3 and 4 months at a time while I was in the Army working in SE Asia - amazingly good sleep - better than in a bed (and much better then on the ground). I'd ditch my bed at home and put a couple up in the bedroom but I don't think the wife would dig that, hahaha. There is a huge difference between these and regular hammocks - check them out!

auburn3556
Jul 23, 2009

Are you doing that hot cho before you go to bed? There's a lot more caffeine in it than you might think, and when you are trying to fall asleep, that can make a huge difference.

RenoRick
Jul 23, 2009

I like my Big Agnes Lost Ranger with an InsulMat Max Thermo Lite regular combo, for two features: The Lost Ranger is a three-sided bag, why waste fill on the part underneath you, when is gets crushed anyway. The mat slips into a sleeve for your fourth side of insulation. The mat has a feature that your Thermarest does not: side tubes that are large enough to keep you from rolling off the mat. Add a closed cell pad underneath the tent bottom and it's a fairly bullet proof water proof system.

Jan Liverance
Jul 23, 2009

John Flato, good point. Reminds me of the sleepless night I spent up in the Boulderfields on Longs Peak in CO. Altitude sickness was definitely the issue. Real bummer to see headlights start appearing around 4 am while I felt like crap. Would also like to use this as an opportunity to say if you're hiking through a campground on your way up a peak such as Longs, please stop talking loudly, yodelling or whatever as you tiptoe through or near the campground - there might be people trying to sleep in tents!

Would love it if Backpacker could offer advice to flatlanders like me on how to climatize quickly to altitude when you're going from sea level to 8000 ft. and hoping to scale some 14ers or just hike some good trails. We spent a few nights in Boulder after flying in and then thought we'd be OK sleeping up on Longs but, boy were we wrong!

Big prob for me: Sleepiness on the return trip after arriving back at the trailhead. Sitting in a moving vehicle - car - after a long hike or multi day camping trip puts me right to sleep, which is why I recommend http://www.thepowernapkit.com Sorry to finish off w/ this shameless self promotion ( I designed the website for it) but it works and it's pill-free.

Gail
Jul 23, 2009

To answer Dr. Breus, it's a comfort and anxiety issue - and it is more difficult to regulate the temperature than at home. So, I'm with Craig, a Thermarest and I use a Z-rest pad together, plus clothes in my sleeping bag stuff sack for a pillow ... oh, and a few ibuprofen (aches/inflamation) and a few Benadryl tablets (sleep) i.e. it's like Tylenol PM but with ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen), and it transformed my backcountry nights. I also find that I need sufficient calcium, so Tums are usually in the mix as well to bring me up to my RDA! And, to avoid overheating many times I put my feet into the sleeping bag bottom, and lie on my pads with my sleeping bag over me. ZZzzzzzzzzzzz!

luke
Jul 23, 2009

i'm a serious thrasher at night even in a normal bed. Selk bag sleeping system has saved my life. i bust this thing out and it lets me wiggles all about. and its funny, so if you're a jokester like me you'll have the camp laughing at you as well as being envious that you can get up and walk around camp - go with the down bag for max awesome

tracy
Jul 23, 2009

hammock

Anonymous
Jul 23, 2009

John Flato
Jul 23, 2009

Trouble sleeping is also a symptom of altitude sickness.

Craig
Jul 23, 2009

I use a 1/2 size 1.5 inch thick open cell foam thermarest in conjunction with a full lenght closed cell mattress. Then I use a stuff sack filled with clothes as a pillow and sleep like a baby

Gregg Rupp
Jul 20, 2009

Honeyville.com Best hot cocoa out there!

Michael Breus, PhD
Jul 18, 2009

Grant,
I am so sorry to hear about your sleep issues. I am a sleep specialist in Arizona and I would be happy to try and help you and your readers learn how to sleep better. But I have lots of questions for you:

1) Is temperature regualtion the biggest problem?
2) Are you using anything under your bag while in your tent-i.e., is a it a physical comfort issue?
3) Is stress keeping you awake?
4) How do you sleep at home?

check out my blog at www.theinsomniablog.com and feel free to get in touch, I think together we may be able to solve this issue!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor

john derocher
Jul 18, 2009

when you say hot coco with powdered milk, how much powdered milk do you add to the mix. i usually use 6 oz water per coco packet.

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