Sleeping Gear

If you’re planning on tenting it on your road trip, one of the most important things to ensure a sustainable trip will be your bedding.  This is where things can go downhill in a hurry and many people give up tent camping without ever looking into comfort designed bedding.  If your bed isn’t comfortable, then chances are, you’ll find yourselves miserable and you won’t enjoy the trip.  A comfortable bed, on the other hand, can invigorate you and keep you happy on the road for a good amount of time.  The stresses of nomadic camping can weigh on people, so making sure you have proper bedding will alleviate a number of issues.

Components Of A Proper Tent & Bed:

  • Rain layer (tarp or tent footprint)
  • Tent floor
  • Waterproof/soft layer
  • Comfortable sleep mattress
  • Warm enough sleeping bag
  • Soft and comfortable pillows

Let’s break these items down and discuss what’s important for each item.

Rain Layer:

tentfootprintThis is commonly a tent footprint that is made specifically for your tent, but it could also be a tarp that’s sized correctly to fit under your tent.  The primary purpose of this layer is to protect your tent and bedding from moisture, be it a morning dew or a full on rain storm, and will generally protect your tent from the elements, dirt, sticks and other things that might seek to poke holes in the bottom of your tent.  The key is that the edges don’t stick out from underneath the tent, inviting moisture between the tent and the ground.  When staking out your tent, this will be the first thing to go down on the ground.

If using a tarp, what you really want to avoid here is funneling any water or moisture directly into the tent’s floor.  This will mean tucking in any extraneous edges underneath the tent and making sure that where you’ve placed your tent wouldn’t cause water to submerge the tarp or tent in any way.

Tent Floor:

Nothing particularly exciting here, this is the bottom of the tent.  It provides another layer of protection against the elements and stuff on the ground.  In order to best extend your tent’s life, using a dedicated rain layer is often a better choice overall.  Plus, it tends to be more effective than a regular tent floor.  Just like with keeping warm, more layers are better!

Waterproof/Soft Layer:

blanketThis is an important component of the bedding, think of it as carpeting for your tent.  It makes being in the tent a little more pleasant, provides a bit of insulation from the ground and generally makes setting up and tearing down the tent a bit more enjoyable.  No one enjoys getting out of bed to be met with a cold, damp floor!

It could be as simple as a blanket that fits inside the tent, generally speaking fleece is very nice given it’s soft properties.  We use a custom home made blanket with Goretex fabric on one side and fleece on the other and with the amount we use it, the value has been immeasurable.  Perhaps we take waterproof to an extreme level, but then again, we don’t have complaints about wet sleeping bags and cold floors.  The advantage here is that it provides an additional layer of water protection, especially on some mornings where moisture’s found it’s way into the tent somehow.

The most prohibitive aspects of a DIY tent blanket is the cost and the skills.  Goretex, and other waterproof materials are somewhat expensive, especially when you need many fabric yards of the material.  It also will likely require the use of a sewing machine and some rudimentary skills with it.  Other than those two items, a DIY blanket in this regard is well worth the cost and effort involved.  If you want to be really fancy, you can even design it to fit your tent exactly, but a simple rectangle will do for most tents, too.


thermarestThis is key.  If you focus on nothing else, focus here.  The mattress provides two major functions within the tent.  Comfort for you to sleep on and significant insulation from the ground, which can easily absorb your body heat and can make your feel colder than it actually is.

You have a number of valid options here, from large mattresses that simulate a typical bed to self inflating backpacker models to a combination thereof, cots that can fit in a tent to just a simple foam core.  The features you’re looking for will be comfort above all else here, especially since you’ll likely be car camping most of the time on your trip.  The build quality should probably be important to you here as well since you’ll want this investment to last many years.

To be honest, when you’re car camping, we only have one recommendation here and that’s the Thermarest Luxury series mattresses.  We’ve used Thermarest mattresses for many years and they’re hands down the most reliable, well built, long lasting quality mattresses on the market.  Thermarest offers many lines of mattresses, from lean backpacker models to the luxury series, providing different balances between weight and comfort.  The luxury series typically feature at least 3″ of protection and are rated to temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit and let me tell you, they’re better than a lot of hotel beds.  The key here is to slightly deflate the mattress to allow it to curve to your body, filling it all the way will result in a relatively stiff night’s sleep.  We’ve tested the cold rating down to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit so far and we can say that it works as advertised.

We would generally strongly state that the use of a large, inflatable mattress (the kind you need a pump to inflate) are probably ill advised, particularly so if your space is at a minimum.  These types of units commonly take a good amount of time to set up and tear down, as well as tend to be very bulky.  The recommended types of pads will easily fit two in a mid-sized duffel bag without issue.

Warm Sleeping Bag:

sleepingbagAgain, you have a lot of options here.  The basic and probably most essential rating of the sleeping bag will be it’s warmth rating, typically rated to an outdoor temperature that it will function best within.  (e.g. a 30 degree bag will keep you relatively comfortable down to 30 degrees, beyond that and you might get cold.)  You’ll see other options out there such as synthetic and actual down filling, the latter of which is slightly more comfortable but also doesn’t handle wet conditions as well.  As you go down in temperature rating, typically costs will rise as there are more materials required to make the bag.

Our recommendation here, on a trip to Alaska, is to get something with a minimum of 20 or 30 degree rating, especially if you’re sensitive to cold.  You probably also wouldn’t regret a lower rated bag, within reason, if that’s what you have.  Even though it’s likely you won’t experience conditions near these temperatures, you can always stay cooler by keeping the bag unzipped or even spending a night outside the sleeping bag if it’s particularly warm.  On those colder nights, you’ll appreciate having a bit more to your bag and will again, get a good night’s rest without worrying about cold seeping in.  Warmer weather bags, such as a 40 degree bag, might be adequate for a trip, especially if you plan to go during the peak of the summer.  Even so, we would recommend being prepared for an unexpected colder night in case you’re camping in high elevations or there’s a sudden turn in temperature.

You can also make sure you’re wearing warm clothing to bed, something that will help increase the warmth overall and allow you to sustain slightly colder temperatures than the bag is rated for.  This can really help boost your overall comfort, especially if you’re on the edge of the temperature range that your sleeping bag will support.


pillowAnother essential, it will provide head support for your night’s sleep.  This could certainly be some of your typical pillows from home, but there are some features you might want to look for if you want more specialized pillows.  Compressibility allows you to store one or more in a smaller space, and space is a valuable commodity for most road trips.  Softer pillows tend to give a pleasant experience as well, especially after a long day’s travel or sightseeing.  You might have specific requirements here as well, such as a memory foam pillow, and those should be taken into account.  Just make sure it’s comfortable and you’d have no issues laying your head on them night after night.  We use some simple DIY homemade pillows and they fit into one end of our bedding duffel bags.

Keep Your Gear Dry:

We can’t stress enough of the importance to keep your sleeping gear dry.  Although it’s not generally that big of a problem, if you do have wet conditions, just be aware of where your gear is at all times.  If possible, keep your sleeping gear contained in a water resistant duffel bag or in your vehicle up to the point of it being needed.  If you have children helping to set up, make sure they understand the importance of keeping things dry, too.  You don’t want a wet, cold and crying child all night because he accidentally dropped his sleeping bag in a puddle.  Just remember that it can take some time for gear to dry out, so prevention is the better option.

When you’re setting up in wet conditions, a tarp is a useful thing to set up first and foremost.  This will give you desirable temporary shelter to establish your tent and will also help with your tent’s ability to maintain good rain protection.  When you’re tearing down, if you have wet weather, the tarp will give you an added benefit of being able to stay dry right up until the point where it’s time to take it down.

Sometimes, if you experience rain, you’ll have no choice but to put your tent and tarps away wet.  Use your opportunities to dry out wet gear when you settle your next camp, hopefully in drier weather.  It will help maintain your gear and avoid musty smells.  It’s recommended to store your sleeping gear (pads, sleeping bags, pillows, etc) separately from your tent, tarps or anything that gets wet.  This insures if you have to pack your tent and tarps away wet, you’re not inherently introducing water into your sleeping gear.

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