Sleeping under the stars: Weight, Bulk, and Comfort

My career has offered me the opportunity to sleep on all of the finest dirt that Uncle Sam can provide. And I’ve learned a few things, and the last two nights were spent on the ground at a latitude which in the continental North America is more often in Canada than the United States.

1, you can never train yourself to be immune from “the suck.” All those old kung fu movies about people in training who learn to harden their bodies to the point where they can sleep on their fingertips are just stories. Your body will never be immune from pain, cold, or hunger.

2, survival doesn’t mean comfort. Making it through the night to see the dawn doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable doing so. Being sleep deprived for any length of time is a sure way to underperform and make simple mistakes.

3, comfort, especially when you are trying to sleep, is generally a good thing. To sleep comfortably you’ll want a bivy sack, a thermal sleeping bag appropriate for the climate, and a ground pad. I’ve used closed foam cell pads, inflatable pads, and even two layers of bubble wrap put together to make a ground pad. The ground pad isn’t there to make the dirt more comfortable, the ground pad is there to stop you from losing body heat through conduction, just like the rest of the sleeping system is there to keep you from losing body heat from convection and radiation.

So with that in mind, “travel light and freeze at night” is a very true saying. The “holy grail” of all hiking/camping gear is “lighter is better.” A lightweight camping tarp may only be a few ounces lighter than a regular tarp, but boy will they charge you a pretty penny to cut those few ounces. But, ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain, so sometimes you have to balance comfort, price, and how much you are willing to lug around.

On surprising source of ground pads is…yoga mats. The yoga mat material is thin, but fairly decent thermal insulation, and you can find them pretty cheap. The best thing to do is trace the shape of your bivy cover onto the mat, then cut the mat down so that it fits inside your bivy cover perfectly. That way you won’t roll off the ground pad in your sleep.

Right now there are plenty of woodland camo pattern US Army surplus bivy covers on amazon for less than 40 dollars, shipping included. You don’t need a milsurp bivy cover, but you do need one that is waterproof.

You should also have a good layer of thermal underwear or fleece sleep wear. They are light, but bulky, so a good compression sack or vacuum pack sack is a good investment to minimize space. Keep these sleep garments dry. If you wake up and have to start moving or doing any strenuous labor, get back into your wet clothes.

Comments are open, what are your tips and tricks for getting a good nights sleep under the stars?

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2 Responses to Sleeping under the stars: Weight, Bulk, and Comfort

  1. B says:

    Hammock, hammock and hammock. I once thought that it was for beaches and hippie campers but after getting older, the ground is a non starter short of a Bataan death march. The hammock has gotten high tech. That would make the death march a little better at least.. You’ll never sleep better under the stars, I’m a complete convert now. My back thanks me every time. Having said that, it is optimal solo when in hanging position (even though they make a two person).

    Each of us can carry only certain amount of weight and weight shaving has gotten extreme in all things camping gear. So that old metal mess kit is like strapping on a brick to your load nowadays. Therefore, modern weight management is balancing questions like; what is the mission? what are my assets? And where can I make compromises?

    Those questions are where all the raising in the pain meter happen. Humping ammo and other sundry items for military mission is how to cause a most painful experience. Radio (and computer guys) have it the worst for missions I presume. No battery weight is worth your life. On the flip side, the prepper who “has” to have every sharp object for carving everything from a spoon to yard art has blown his assets and compromises out the wazoo. Bottomline is hammock weight vs the sh*ty night sleep is an easy one for this wimp.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      Nothing wrong with hammocks, but I’d recommend still using a ground pad inside a bivy cover for extra thermal retention. Being cold sucks the energy right out of you, literally.


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