How to Sleep Well Outside

Sleeping outdoors means having an appropriate sleeping bag and, unless you’re in a tent, a GoreTex bivi bag as well. If rain is expected you’ll need a poncho to keep it off you – even if the GoreTex keeps it out you won’t sleep too well with a downpour drumming on the fabric an inch from your nose – and some pegs, bungees and paracord to set it up with. Then you’re all set, right?

No, not really. Your sleeping bag might luxuriously wrap you in a three-inch layer of the finest duck down, but it won’t do that if you’re lying on it. The insulation at the bottom, below your body, will be compressed to the point where it’s a lot less effective. Even in a tent with groundsheet, that’s going to mean heat traveling from your warm body to the cold ground, and the laws of thermodynamics say the ground won’t get much warmer, but you’ll get a lot colder. Then figure in the fact that the ground isn’t always the smoothest surface; stones, twigs and even just bumps in the earth can make for an uncomfortable night. To make the most of your sleep time – and as any soldier knows that can be in short supply – you need some kind of insulation between your body and the ground.

The most basic camp bed is a simple foam roll mat. These are bulky, but light, and while they won’t give you much cushioning, they are extremely effective insulators. They’re cheap, too; our GI sleeping pad is a perfect example. To reduce bulk you can cut it down to two-thirds length; your legs won’t suffer much but your torso will still be fully insulated.

Sleeping BagThe next step up is a self-inflating mattress like a Therm-A-Rest. These are a half-way house between roll mats and proper airbeds. Their big advantage is that they can be rolled up very small and stowed away in a pack, instead of needing to be strapped to the outside where they’ll snag every branch in your grid square. They also give a bit more cushioning and much better insulation. They’re not indestructible, but even if they do get punctured they’re still as effective as a foam mat.

If you’re camping from a vehicle, or looking at setting up a long-term SHTF refuge, it’s hard to beat a GI camp cot. These are relatively light – although you wouldn’t want to add one to your patrol load – and fold up small, but they unfold into something pretty close to a real bed. If the wind can get at you it might be worth laying a foam mat or Therm-A-Rest on top for added insulation; the nylon surface of the cot will give you 100% protection from annoying stones and roots, but isn’t the best at trapping heat.

Finally, if you’re in a jungle or swampy terrain, go with a hammock. As well as getting you off the damp ground, this will also keep you clear of most of the snakes, ants, scorpions and other creepy-crawlies that like to nibble people lying on the jungle floor. Hammocks are also outstandingly light and compact. In cold weather, add a foam mat for insulation; the hammock’s so small you can just stuff it down the middle of the rolled-up mat for stowage. Even sophisticated ones with mosquito nets and overhead cover take up minimal space.

Some sort of insulation is essential if you’re going to be spending extended periods outdoors, especially in cold weather. For minimal cost and load you’ll sleep much better and be less fatigued. When your life depends on being well rested and alert, you can’t say no.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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