Sleeping

When backpacking in May and September, around 10 hours out of every 24 are spent in my sleeping bag.  Work it out: dark at 8 or 9 pm, then it’s not light till 7am, while so,etimes it’s just too cold till 8.

In my youth I could “die” for 9 or 10 hours at a time, but over the years I have become a lighter sleeper.  In a tiny nylon tent that is usually on uneven or slightly sloping ground, I tend to drift in and out of sleep all night.  Any running water, from a nearby trickle to a distant cataract, is plainly audible, you hear the wind in the grass, rain splatters or drums on the flysheet, and aeroplanes drone high overhead.  Then there are the noises you cannot define (made by sheep, probably), that leave you laying there with the hairs raised on the back of your neck.

It took me some years to realise that much of my sleeplessness was due to the caffeine in the mug of coffee I used to drink after my dinner.  Cutting it out made a big improvement.

Unless you are someone who sleeps like a log, it is important that to get a good sleep you are as comfortable as possible under your self-imposed limitations. A ground mat to stop coldness from the ground rising to your sleeping bag is essential, this can be anything from a closed-cell foam one to a thick self-inflating one, depending on what you can afford. Don’t compromise on performance, for which some mats carry a tog rating these days, but at the same time choose with weight in mind, you don’t want to carry anything heavier than you can help.

A three-quarter length mat is lighter than a long one, the price is lower too, and personally I find one quite adequate. To compensate, I spread my clothing in the end of the inner tent that the shorter mat doesn’t reach, with some of it tucked under the end of the mat to hold it in place (though it doesn’t always stay there).

I like a reasonable pillow, but I find inflatable ones a bit hard to sleep on, even when under-inflated, while they are additional weight to add to the pack (although there is one, the Flex Air, that is only 27g, that’s under 1 oz). No, I simply use what I already have, by folding my fleece jumper in half and pushing it into the sleeping bag’s stuff sack, followed by my lightweight down jacket on top of that. Job done!

Sleeping mats tend to slide around on a groundsheet in my experience, particularly as I’m a side sleeper and turn over a few times in the night. It can be prevented with a 3 ft x 1 ft roll of anti-slip matting from a hardware shop for a couple of pounds and laid under the ground mat. Later I saved carrying the 96g of this by using anti slip spray on the underside of my ground mat. While being effective it has resulted in the mat remaining permanently tacky, so I do not wholly recommend it.

Unless your tent has built-in pockets, think where you are going to put everything when you turn in for the night. You will no doubt want things like light, watch and perhaps water close at hand, which is not a problem in a tiny backpacking tent, but you do not want to roll on anything and damage it in your sleep. The biggest worry for me is my spectacles, I am terrified of breaking them; my current solution is to hook them into one of the zip pulls.

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