One of the significant benefits of the RV lifestyle is the ability to sleep in a real bed every night. But even the largest luxury RVs can’t fit all of your friends and family should they join your next camping trip.
That’s why all RVers need to know how to make tent camping comfortable. Even if you don’t have to use a tent for your own sleeping accommodations, there’s a lot to be said for going above and beyond as a camp host.
Here are some camping hacks to improve your tent camping experience:
Pick a Good Tent Spot
The best camping equipment can’t make up for a poor tent spot. You might know the feeling. You thought you scoured the ground for sticks and rocks, but somehow you wound up with a tree root right in the middle of your back, ruining all chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
The trick is balancing the “Leave No Trace” principle of always camping on durable surfaces with your desire for a carpet-like surface to set your tent on. A healthy bed of pine needles is always lovely, but you may not have that option in your specific locale.
Regardless of your location, take the time to pitch your tent in a relatively flat spot that’s free of sharp or pokey objects and clear of any sensitive plant life you might harm by smashing your tent down on top of it.
Side note: A perfectly flat tent spot is hard to come by. Most spots will have a slight incline, so you want to ensure that the head of your tent is on the uphill side of that slope.
Use a Roomy Camping Tent
When it comes to choosing a camping tent, you should choose based on how many people will be sleeping in it. Look at the tent’s total footprint (usually in square footage) and divide that by the number of people it needs to accommodate.
That will tell you how much space each person will have if divided up equally. But you need to account for backpacks and other camping gear you need to keep inside the tent overnight. Ultimately, more space inside a tent usually means a more comfortable camping experience for everyone.
Backpacking tents are great for long-distance hikes because they’re lightweight and easy to set up. But they don’t always provide a comfortable place to rest after a long day of adventures.
Balance Rainfly Protection with Breathability
It can be easy to install a tent’s rainfly without consideration, but you do have a choice. If the forecast is clear and you’re camping in one of the many locations listed as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, leaving your rainfly off to enjoy stargazing may be ideal.
Just know that a tent without a rainfly offers less insulation, as a rainfly helps to trap body heat inside. But on the flip side, trapping too much of that heat can lead to condensation on the inside of the rainfly.
If too much condensation accumulates, it can drip inside your tent. Most quality tents are designed to balance protection and breathability on their own, but if you experience too much condensation inside your tent, consider opening a roof vent or leaving a vestibule unzipped overnight (weather permitting).
Invest in a Quality Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress
Your sleeping pad choice can make or break your tent camping experience. A minimalist backpacker might be willing to sleep on the ground with only a thin foam pad to carry less weight, but a bulkier sleeping pad is worth it when you’re car camping.
There are also elevated cots and air mattresses that can improve your sleeping experience in a tent. Air mattresses can be hit-or-miss in their ability to hold air throughout the night, so it can be worth investing in a quality air bed that won’t leave you on the ground after eight hours.
And Don’t Forget a Camp Pillow
Finding a decent camping pillow can be tough. If you’re car camping, you can always bring a regular pillow from home, but you might want to use a pillowcase dedicated to camp use to avoid bringing camp first back to your home bedroom.
That said, regular pillows are bulky and don’t necessarily pack well when trying to fit everything into a car or SUV. That’s why many tent campers go with an inflatable pillow, especially if you’re hiking into a campsite.
They take up minimal space and inflate within seconds when you’re ready to sleep. The best part is that you can control how much air you put in, which allows you to customize your pillow to the perfect firmness.
Choose the Right Sleeping Bag
Your sleeping bag choice dictates whether or not you stay warm throughout the night. Like most things, there’s a Goldilocks Zone to shoot for. You want a bag that keeps you warm and cozy without heating you up so much that you start to sweat.
Many people don’t realize that sleeping bags are at their most efficient when you’re only wearing undergarments or base layers inside. Wearing multiple layers to bed compromises your sleeping bag’s performance because it reduces the amount of space between your body and the inside of the bag.
Sleeping bags are designed to retain your body heat. In theory, the more insulated they are, the better they are at retention. The problem is that sleeping bag temperature ratings can be a little misleading.
When you see that a sleeping bag is rated for 20℉, for example, you should research whether that is a comfort rating or a lower limit rating. A bag with a 20℉ comfort rating may remain comfortable down to 10-15 ℉, but a bag with a 20℉ lower limit rating will more likely be comfortable for 25-35℉ nights.
That being said, here’s a quick table to help you narrow down your choices:
|Activity/Season||Sleeping Bag Rating|
|Summer||+30℉ and up|
|Winter||+15℉ and lower|
|3-Season (summer, fall, and winter)||+15℉ to +30℉|
Or Go with More Traditional Bedding
If you set up an air mattress in your tent, you can also opt for more traditional bedding instead of a sleeping bag. Some people struggle to sleep well inside a sleeping bag because they feel confined.
So maybe your solution to stay comfortable is to make your queen-sized air mattress up with proper sheets, camping pillows, and a comforter. Remember that this might not be as warm as a properly-rated sleeping bag on cooler evenings. But you can go for a cold weather solution by choosing flannel sheets and a more insulated comforter.
Control Your Tent’s Climate
Using external heat sources inside a tent is always a bit dicey, but it is possible with the right solution. Portable heaters that are rated for safe use inside of a tent can keep you from freezing your you-know-whats off on cold nights.
On the flip side, trying to sleep inside of a hot, sticky tent in mid-summer is sometimes worse than the nightmares you might have if you actually fell asleep. Adding a portable cooling unit or, at the very least, a battery-powered or rechargeable fan can do wonders to circulate air and keep you cooler on hot nights.
Disclaimer: Practice extreme caution when using portable heat sources inside of a tent. Most tents are not designed for them, but there are exceptions. Consult your tent’s warning label and owner’s manual for best practices.
Or Use the Water Bottle Trick
This trick is intended for cold weather camping. The idea is simple:
- Boil water on your camp stove.
- Pour the water into a reusable water bottle.
- Nalgene bottles work well because insulated bottles don’t allow heat to escape.
- Do NOT try this trick with a standard thin plastic water bottle.
- Let the bottle cool for 5 minutes.
- Ensure the top is secured and place the bottle at the bottom of your sleeping bag.
The bottle will keep your feet warm throughout the early parts of the night, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Cold feet are one of the chief complaints from tent campers, and this trick is an excellent remedy to that issue.
Make a Plan to Answer that Midnight Nature Call
Nobody likes climbing out of their sleeping bag in the middle of the night. But, unfortunately, sometimes nature calls. You can make sure you use the restroom before climbing into your tent, but that might not do the trick.
That’s why some tent campers get creative and bring an old water bottle into their tent for their middle-of-the-night bathroom needs. There are also products out there (for both men and women) to help relieve your bladder in the middle of the night without leaving the comfort of your tent.
Keep Your Site Well Lit
Navigating your campsite after dark can be another source of discomfort, but there are many remedies. The best camping flashlights offer a portable lighting solution that can go anywhere you need to explore, and headlamps are even better because they keep your hands free.
In addition to portable solutions, there are more permanent ways to light up your campsite. Camp lanterns easily adorn your folding camping table, and some even include mosquito-repelling technologies.
If you need a lot of light, spotlights are always an option. But they tend to be a better choice for boondocking when there are few other campers nearby, as they can be a little harsh in traditional campgrounds and RV parks.
For those situations, you might want to explore these charming patio lighting ideas to brighten up your campsite.
For more tips to make your tent camping experience more comfortable, check out our gift guide for tent campers. And if you want to explore the benefits of RV camping instead of sleeping in a tent, check out RV rentals in your area!
Do you have other tips and tricks to make tent camping comfortable in the great outdoors? Please share them in the comments below!