Matthew Kacyon

How to Get Great Sleep While Camping

Feb 12, 2019

I'm a big believer that you will enjoy your tour a great deal more if you get a strong night of sleep between riding days.

If you plan on camping most of the nights on your tour, sleep can sometimes be hard to come by, unless you're among the few fortunate individuals who can sleep anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances. Here are some tips for getting a solid night of sleep on your next tour.


There are a number of shelter options out there (tent, bivy, tarp, etc.), and you are going to want a shelter in which you are not only comfortable but also feel secure. For instance, if you are claustrophobic, a bivy probably isn't for you. If you're camping out in mosquito country, an open tarp probably isn't ideal. Also, if you are sharing a tent with a companion, make sure it is large enough that you each have enough space for your personal needs.

Secure your tent on flat ground to get better sleep on your bike tour.
Secure your tent on flat, soft ground for a good night's sleep.
Tom Robertson

Sleeping Bag

Take your best guess at the coldest nighttime temperatures you will encounter, and select an appropriate bag rated for that temperature. If it is warmer than expected, you can always unzip your bag to cool off, and if it is colder than expected, you can wear a jacket and hat at night for some added warmth. Keep in mind that a tent or bivy will add a few degrees of warmth, and an additional body in the tent will add even more.

Sleeping Pad

Self-inflating and air pads tend to be comfortable, while foam pads are high on durability. Whatever you choose, make sure you get the sizing right. If you prefer sleeping on harder surfaces, you can get away with a thinner pad, and maybe even a 'short' or 3/4-size pad. If you are into full comfort or aren't sure what is right for you, go for the full-length pad, or something that measures from a little above your shoulders to your feet.


There are so many packable pillows out there, that you may as well toss one into your panniers or bikepacking bag if you have space. They are very light and very comfortable. If you are really cramped for space, you can always toss some clothes into a small bag to be used as a pillow.

Site Selection

You can put together the perfect collection of camping gear, and it is all for nothing if you don't have a good campsite picked out. Take some time to find a flat spot where water won't drain toward your tent. Make sure that spot is relatively soft and free of rocks, roots, or other objects that create hard inconsistencies in the earth. Try to keep a good distance from sources of bright lights and/or loud noises, such as roadways, or restaurants. It's also nice to have a good clear path to the essential facilities, so when nature calls you don't spend too much energy taking care of business.

This story has been updated and was originally published on November 24, 2010.


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John Supan December 26, 2019, 5:02 PM

An appropriate "bug free" hammock (e.g., is a good alternative to sleeping on a pad in a tent. No flat ground needed, just two trees close enough to each other. I use 2 "seat belt" strapping with end loops to protect bark where required. I ordered an extra large rainfly for extra protection and have enjoyed sleeping in stormy weather, snug as a bug. It can also be easily used as a suspended seat.

I'm told while meeting touring cyclists, however, that in some areas there are no trees when touring "out west.'

Tom Iarossi March 8, 2019, 10:21 PM

I use a ten-yer-old REI Arete 2, and while it's easy to set up, roomy, and light enough for me to carry on my bike, I've been finding the small single door on the end to be increasingly annoying. I'm 6 feet tall, and my increasing lack of flexibility (I'm 68) is making it harder and harder to enter and exit without contorting myself. Larger side doors would help, and I plan to get a new one soon. I recommend using the display sample at the store to practice several entrances and exits, jusy like taking a test ride on a bike.

Mandy December 19, 2011, 8:08 PM

I absoulutly love my Big Agnes sleeping pad--full length, it takes me only 35 breaths to inflate, is incredibly warm and comfy on the rockiest ground. In fact I was introduced to this pad by Alan Detweiler, the tour leader on an introduction to self contained cycling through Adventure Cycling. It has made the difference between accompanying my husband on camping trips and not doing so! And, I agree with Barbara about the ear plugs--I always have a pair in my sleeping bag stuff sack, along with a wool beanie and some dry cycling sox. If my head and feet are warm, generally the rest of me is as well.

Barbara December 19, 2011, 12:51 PM

I have found that ear plugs are a necessity for good sleeping whether I am in a tent or motel room or public campground. Also, if you are sensitive to light and don't want to wake at dawn or be kept up by security lights shining into your tent, an eyeshade helps immensely.

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