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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

Know Your Gear

Ever notice that the kickoff night of any camping trip is always the worst? Sleep docs have a name for it: the first night effect. "It always takes time to adapt to a new environment," says Dr. Mary Susan Esther, President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine–be that a hotel room or a campsite. The trick is to make your backpacking bed as familiar as possible, says Joe Austin, a NOLS guide who's spent some 150 weeks sleeping in the field. "Pick a bag and temperature rating that allows you to sleep in whatever you normally sleep in at home," he told me. The ideal bag for a person sleeping in full flannel PJs may be lighter than the one for someone who sleeps in boxers and nothing else. And if you regularly rest your weary head on 400-thread-count Sea Island cotton pillowcases, pack one for your camp pillow.

But familiar objects alone won't cut it: Comfort is of the utmost importance if you're to have any hope of falling asleep. Realizing this, I called Kristin Hostetter, gear editor for this magazine. After 15 years of sleeping in every new bag, on every imaginable pad, and in a wider variety of tents than one sees at Bonnaroo, I figured she would've developed a multifaceted program for getting a good night's sleep. Turns out she has just two rules: a pillow (inflatable, stuffed in a flannel pillowcase) and earplugs.

Jenkins shared another comfort secret: Match your gear to your sleeping style. "Three-quarter-length foam pads and skinny mummy bags are wonderful for people who can lie on their backs and never move for the duration of the night," he said. "I'm not one of them." He likes his bags wide, and usually unzips them and uses them like a down comforter so he can squirm around at night without feeling constricted. Hostetter agreed: "Are you a thrasher? A side sleeper who likes his knees bent? If you're any of those, you'll want more wiggle room in your bag and a much wider pad." Steve Howe, BACKPACKER's Rocky Mountain editor and a veteran of numerous 20-plus-day expeditions, had even more to say about the all-important sleeping pad. "Guys over 175 pounds should get the thickest pad they can find, and tall guys will sleep better on extra-long pads," he told me.

Knowing that I'm a 6-foot 3-inch, 180-pound, side-sleeping thrasher, I rustled up some gear and spent several nights testing multiple combinations of bags, pads, and pillows in my tent on my driveway (if a pad-and-bag system could make cold, hard concrete feel comfortable, it should work phenomenally well on dirt or grass, right?). In the end, I settled on a 25-inch-wide, 2.5-inch-thick inflatable pad, a roomy, extra-long down sleeping bag, and a comfy compressible pillow. The system worked well on pavement, raising my hopes for my final field test. But first, I had one more set of tricks to learn.

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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.

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.

Sep 19, 2009

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

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!


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...

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.

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.

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?

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.

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