Comfortable Camping

Alpkit SkyeHigh 600
My current sleeping bag the SkyeHigh 600

Sleeping out in your tent can be really comfortable, easily as comfortable as your bed at home. There are a few important steps and some good equipment choices required to construct the perfect outdoor pad, so here’s how to do it…

It all starts from the ground up with a really good camping spot. Ideally the softest camp grounds tend to be those on short grass, sand, dried leaves or lose soil and it must be sheltered if you’re expecting any wind. It helps to have a spot that gets some sun in the morning so that any condensation that forms from the cool night air and your breathing can evaporate before you pack everything away.

The next step is to place a ground-mat under the tent (if the tent doesn’t have one built in), I use a couple of layers of tarpaulin, because it’s cheap, durable and does a good job of stopping moisture in the ground seeping up into the fabric of the tent. It’s also a good barrier against sharp and abrasive objects and even some insects that might damage the tents floor. You can buy specialist ground mats too that might be lighter than tarpaulin and do a great job, but, as you’d expect, they’re more expensive.


Vango Tornado
self standing tent – Vango Tornado

Choosing a good tent is vitally important and the choice should reflect where the tent is going to be used. Some tents are very water resistant and some are very wind resistant, others have reinforced ground sheets built into them and others are designed to withstand heavy layers of snowfall sitting on top of them. One great feature I always look for is that a tent is free-standing, in other words, it doesn’t require pegs to stand erected. I make use of this feature often, when the weather is good and I don’t need the tent’s top sheet I just erect the under layer and place it over the ground sheets. No pegs, guide or ropes are required and you get an,  only mildly, obstructed view of the starts through the tent’s netting.

Sometimes, if you haven’t been successful in finding one of the ideal camping spots as mentioned above, it can be difficult to place pegs because the ground is too hard or too soft or there are rocks in the way. If you don’t strictly need to place the pegs, because your tent supports itself, then that’s one less thing to worry about.

Now that the tent has a ground-mat it’s time to think about your own. I recommend getting a self inflating air and foam filled ground mat, they fold away neatly, are really comfortable and great thermal insulators; which is very important because most of your body heat is lost through the ground rather than into the air above and around you.

The last really important piece of equipment you need is your sleeping bag. In Europe the standard used to compare at which temperature a sleeping bag can be used is called the EN 13537 standard, quite catchy isn’t it? The standard states four temperatures:

•    the upper limit is the highest temperature at which a ‘standard’ adult man is able to have a comfortable night’s sleep without excess sweating.

•    the comfort rating is based on a ‘standard’ adult woman having a comfortable night’s sleep.

•    the lower limit is based on the lowest temperature at which a ‘standard’ adult man is deemed to be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep.

•    the extreme rating is a survival only rating for a ‘standard’ adult man. This is an extreme survival rating only and it is not advisable to rely on this rating for general use.

Alpkit Airo
Some Alpkit Airos ground mats

The temperature that’s about 70% of the way from the ‘lower limit’ towards the ‘comfort rating’ is the one you should match to the environment you’re sleeping in. So if a sleeping bag has a lower limit of 3°C and a comfort rating of 9°C then ideally it should be used for camping in temperatures of around 7°C.

Even though the stated temperatures are standardised and specific, the temperatures in which you feel comfortable sleeping in are subjective, for example, I know that my sleeping bag has a lower limit of 3°C, but I’ve tolerated temperatures as low as -2°C without too much discomfort, so it really depends on you. If you have a high metabolism you’ll produce more heat when you sleep, also a good ground mat as well as a a sleeping bag liner and layers of clothing will allow you to sleep in lower temperatures. If in doubt, get a warmer sleeping bag and unzip it when you get hot, and if you end up getting really cold the best way to retain heat is to wear more clothing base layers and down jackets work well. Also ensure that you have closed the hood of the sleeping bag over your head, pulling the chords so that it fits snugly around your face, thus trapping in the heat.

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