Pre-trip Gear Testing: Sleeping Outside

I try very hard to accept that other people’s lived experiences may be different from my own. That being said, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a small part of me convinced that a person who claims to sleep really well in a tent on a pad on the ground is just straight-up messing with people.

I can wholeheartedly accept literally any other statement as a subjective truth, but I just can’t bring myself to believe anyone finds that comfortable. Are they lying to me? Are they lying to themselves? Is it a context issue, like maybe they share their bed at home with two cats, an asthmatic dog and one or more partners with sleep apnea, so in comparison even the cold unforgiving forest floor is a quiet solitary blessing? Who knows.

It took me four tries before I managed to spend one entire night in my tent. When there is a perfectly good pillow top mattress just a few yards away, it takes more will power than I normally possess to turn away from its soft & comforting embrace.

Attempt #1: A complete non-starter. After struggling to put up the tent and arrange the pad and sleeping bag, I was too irritated to spend any more time out there.

Attempt #2: A few nights later, at midnight, I decided to try again. I put on my headlamp. I grabbed two bottles of water. I put my phone and my laptop and some snacks in a dry bag because it was raining pretty heavily. I took an Ambien to maximize my chances of falling asleep immediately. For a first time, might as well do everything possible to ensure success. No tossing and turning for me tonight, no sir!

I ran through the rain, unpacked all my stuff, arranged it neatly around my sleeping bag, and then realized I forgot to bring a pillow. I can’t sleep without something under my head. I decided to go back inside and grab a bed pillow (oh, such luxury), but I got my hair stuck in the velcro of the tent flap when I tried to get out. By the time I managed to free myself, I was soaking wet and the Ambien had kicked in enough that I couldn’t really focus my eyes or walk in a straight line. This was all clearly a sign that tonight was not the night, so I went back inside, changed into dry pajamas, and did not venture back out.

Attempt #3:  I waited for a dry night. I took a makeshift pillow (e.g., dry bag filled with clothes) out to the tent in the early afternoon. I did NOT take a sleep aid, but I DID make sure to only get three hours of sleep the previous night so I’d have exhaustion on my side. But I took too much time fussing around inside the tent with the bug net unzipped, and spiders got in. SPIDERS. INSIDE THE TENT. WITH ME. ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!

Attempt #4:  I did it. I finally did it. I went out at 11:30pm, and I read 36 pages of Bear Attacks of the Century: True Stories of Courage and Survival, and I dozed intermittently until a flock of turkeys started making a lot of noise at 7:15am.

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2 Responses to Pre-trip Gear Testing: Sleeping Outside

  1. Forrest says:

    I woke up in the middle of the night having to pee once, at Colchuck Lake just below the Enchantments. For a moment I thought I was back home in my own bed.

    Hiking in to camp helps. A lot. You wind up being pretty tired, and the endorphins from the physical work give you a sense of peace.

    Gear helps, too. I use a good inflatable air mat (Thermarest NeoAir XTherm) which is soft and warm. A light-weight inflatable pillow, too. With both of these, the key is to fill them with a lot of air, but not all the way up, so they have the right amount of give. Nice and soft.

    One thing I’m experimenting with lately is using a backpacking quilt instead of a sleeping bag. It’s a down blanket that can be closed up around me on cold nights, but draped over me on warmer ones. A lot like a blanket at home. Not constricting like a mummy bag. So far it’s a lot more comfortable for me.

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