How to sleep in a tent

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With the Big Wild Sleepout this week and Glastonbury next weekend you may be sleeping in a tent for the first time for years. Take a few tips from camping veteran Jess Trethowan.

I love roughing it a bit but I’m aware that not everyone does and I know I need a decent night’s sleep even when camping if we’re going to make the most of and enjoy the next day.

Before we get down to bed comfort and noise management, the first thing to get just right is the ‘where’:  where are you going to camp and, when you’ve found the perfect campsite where you feel comfortable and relaxed, where in the campsite (or the wild if you’re lucky) will you pitch your tent?

I know from experience that we as a family are happiest in a small, laid back campsite where you can pretend at least some of the time, and if you close one eye, that you’re totally alone in the wild. Facilities will be clean but basic. Other people will be happier in a larger campsite with pristine washrooms and laid-on activities for children. You should go for what suits you best. Bear in mind, however, that the larger places are likely to be noisier later at night and early in the morning. Everyone puts their children to bed at different times and there’s no telling what time the toddler next door will decide to wake up.

So once you’ve chosen your campsite, think carefully about where to put your tent. Being near the showers and loos may seem like a good idea before the site fills up but by Friday evening you may soon realise you’re in the middle of a major thoroughfare. For me the most peaceful place to pitch is away from the crowds and around the edge of the field where you’re not surrounded by other tents, not next to the swings and you have your own (preferably beautiful) view with no other people in sight. If you’re camping with friends, make sure you make a little corral for yourselves, a place to relax without lots of passers-by sneaking a peak inside your tent.

ImageBefore you pitch, think about where the sun will rise in the morning, you don’t want to wake up sweltering and if you’re under a tree, make sure it’s not dropping leaves, raindrops or acorns on the top of your tent all night.

Not all campsites are flat, but make sure you pitch on as flat a piece of ground as possible – any bumps and slopes and you’re off to a bad start straightaway.

Next, to the tent. We have a tent made of canvas (a Tentipi) and this is definitely the way to go for the best night’s sleep while camping. When it rains, the sound of the rain is soothing rather than angry-sounding as it can be on nylon. It’s cooler to sleep and wake up in and it’s generally darker too.

It is worth investing in a really good thick thermarest. We have a double and we lay a mattress topper on top of that*, then sheets, duvets and pillows! No need to rough it if you have a car with you! And if you don’t, you still need a decent thermarest (they’re light and take up no room at all), a good, cosy sleeping bag and a pillow case you can fill with soft clothes. Do make sure, if you’ve room, to bring an extra blanket. The last thing you want is to wake up chilly and not be able to do anything about it. That’s goes for the children too. If they wake up cold, that’s also going to spoil your perfect sleep! Popping a hot water bottle in the bed 20 minutes before hopping in can be wonderful if it’s a chilly night.

Remember, the whole reason you’ve chosen to camp is to escape and switch off so I recommend turning off all devices, letting them run out of battery or even better, leaving them at home (or in the car or if you can’t quite bear to be without). The chances are, if you’ve picked a good campsite, you won’t have any reception anyway!

Then there’s the preamble to the perfect camping sleep: a cracking good day of being outside and running around in the fresh air, a delicious and not too heavy meal cooked with love in your makeshift camp kitchen and then a bottle of wine with friends. Sitting around a firebowl and being cosy under blankets provides the perfect beginning to the main event.

Take some time to appreciate your surroundings. Enjoy being outside. If it’s a fine night make sure you are aware of the moon, the stars and the fresh air around you. Make the most of being in nature. If it’s raining, enjoy the sound and the rhythm of the rain on the canvas.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and want to travel really light on your journey to the land of outdoor nod, try ‘hammocking’ under a tarp – ideally one with a mozzie net. A thermarest tucked between your sleeping bag and the hammock insulates you from the cold night air. You drift off on a gentle sway, there’s no lumps or bumps to contend with and when you awake, there’s nothing between you and nature.

Finally, my husband won’t leave home without ear plugs. It’s not a bad thing in midsummer to block out the beautiful (but surprisingly noisy) dawn chorus at 4am . . .

* If you’re buying an inflatable mattress I recommend Outwell. No commercial connection – I just think they’re good.

Jess and Todd Trethowan have their own dairy Trethowan’s Dairy and make the award-winning Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese.

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