I'm a fan of a good night's sleep. It's probably one of the most important things in my book when you're setting up a shelter, apart from cover overhead and a fire to keep you warm. When I was a scraggly little youth I used to enjoy roughing it. Often with nothing but a sleeping bag on my groundsheet, and a jacket rolled up as a pillow. I've also done a number of bare-bones camping trips, spending night after night in makeshift lean-tos with bedding foraged from the bush around my camp. These days though, I tend to look for ways to sleep better when I'm in the outdoors. Here's how I like to approach my camp, to ensure I'm always getting a good night's sleep, no matter what a disaster has thrown my way.
Find the right place to setup camp
The first step is to find the right place for your camp. Ideally you want level ground, that's far enough away from the banks of a river or beach that you're not going to wake up to water at your feet. You need shelter overhead, a way to stay warm, and to make any precautions as you need for local conditions. Spend a night outdoors on a beautiful summer's night and you may not even need a fire. In winter, you're going to need a lot more protection from the elements.
Decide if you'll sleep elevated
Next, I consider if my bed needs to be elevated. If I'm in a particularly wet area, or have a gut feeling that I'm going to be plagued by insects as I sleep, it's worth the extra effort to build a raised platform to sleep on, so I'm off the ground. This also stops the cold ground leeching your body head through the night, so you stay warmer and sleep better. One trick you can use instead of building an elevated platform is to sleep in a hammock. I've got a nylon hammock (it's made from parachute material), that's lightweight, and easy to string up between two trees. Throw a tarp over the top as a rain cover, add an inflatable pillow and stuff a fleece or two under my knees and I'll be sleeping fine, all night long. If it's colder where you're camping you may need insulation, there's plenty of options for what's known as "under-quilts" that wrap around the underneath and help you to stay warm, even as the temperature drops.
Properly insulate yourself
If you're building a bed on the ground, take your time to flatten the area, remove any sticks or rocks that will disturb you, and lay out your bedding material. Some people pack air mattresses, others just a simple foam roll, while I've a friend who believes the only way to do it is to use a fresh bed of pine boughs. Personally, I'd recommend getting something that's going to trap the heat in, like our Mylar space blanket
. You'll thank me when you're warm and cosy. What you really just need to ensure is you're properly insulated from the ground. Especially during winter, if you get cold during the night you'll find it impossible to sleep, and may even slip into hypothermia. So, take your time to properly prepare, and if you're using natural material like pine boughs, collect at least a good couple of feet of bedding. It'll compress while you're sleeping, so definitely opt for more over less.
Create a slow-burning fire
One of my pet hates is getting up every hour to tend to the fire. I saw a video a couple of years back about a guy who built a set of ramps to deliver logs to a self-feeding fire, and while it works great (I had to try it afterwards), the actual effort of setting this up so it works probably isn't worth it in a survival situation. It took a couple of hours to build and trim the logs. These days I use a modified version of the "upside down fire," which is simply a stack of large cut logs, topped by smaller cut logs, topped by kindling and fire starters. Set inside a fire pit, it works by limiting the oxygen that gets in under the logs, so the flames slowly burn downwards. This usually lasts 3 to 4 hours on its own, and is the best method I've found to date.
Pack mosquito netting
There's two ways you can approach this. Earplugs so you don't hear them buzzing, or buy a proper mosquito net so you're protected from their bites all night long. I opt for the latter, and have a simple mosquito net that I can hang either above my hammock, or setup above my bed. It's a life saver if you're camping anywhere that's a little swampy. As you can sleep comfortably without getting bitten by a thousand tiny insects, and wake up refreshed, instead of red and itchy.
Prepare for the rain
It's inevitable that you'll be camping one night and it rains, and a tarp is probably the best item you can pack to stay dry. Just make sure you've not left anything on the ground if you're up in your hammock, and have a plan for the water that's going to run down your ropes and soak your bedding. I've got a small roll of cotton string in my bug out kit, that's there for one purpose. To create drip-lines. It's as simple as it sounds. Take about 3 to 4 inches of string, and tie it to the rope before it reaches the hammock, or your tarp. The water that collects and runs down the rope will soak into the string instead and drop harmlessly to the ground. Getting a good night's sleep is easy when you're prepared. The real trick is thinking ahead and ensuring you've got the items you need in your kit, and you've taken steps to ensure you're comfortable, warm, and not getting soaked to the skin while you sleep.