Some of us remember the bad old days of sleeping on the ground, on a canvas groundsheet which provided zero protection against the stones and twigs beneath and no insulation from the cold, damp ground.
Happily, today things are much better. The whole ‘art of camping’ has evolved with a combination of greater engineering possibilities, technical advancements and common sense. For starters, tents are better: more comfortable, quicker to assemble, lighter, more waterproof. And when it comes to the sleeping quarters, things have improved immeasurably too.
Modern alternatives for the well-equipped camper looking for a comfortable night’s sleep are quite a revelation. Camping may be partly about escaping the modern life of gadgets and connected devices for a more stripped back experience that is closer to nature. That said, none of us wants to give up the basic luxury of a decent night’s sleep.
Anyone with dark memories of old fashioned camp beds may be reassured that technical improvements have emerged over the last decades. The modern camp bed still offers the primary benefit of raising you off the ground but now it no longer snaps shut like a mantrap the moment you perch on one end.
What’s more, this staple is also available as a bunk bed, complete with its own carry bag. And other models are really high tech with various engineered fabrics and fillings designed to cosset, pamper, support in all the right places and regulate body temperature.
Sleeping mats or bedrolls
When travelling light sleeping mats are a great option. They take up little space and come is all shapes and sizes and colours – they always prove immensely popular with festival-goers, backpackers and wild campers. The main principle behind them is that they simply unroll to form a barrier between you and the ground. A few millimetres insulates you with air and makes things much more comfortable.
Some are billed a ‘self-inflating’ and these come with a valve. Unroll the mats, allow the foam inside to expand as it draws in air to form a slightly cushioned effect, then blow into the valve to add a little extra air. Result: a lightweight, springy pad which keeps you safe from the chill and discomfort of cold stony ground. The best models are made of a kind of memory foam for enhanced comfort and can be excellent value.
Airbeds have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly in the home where they can effectively increase sleeping capacity, whether for kids’ sleepovers, Christmas guests or granny.
They store well, though are considerably bulkier than a bedroll, and they provide comfort, but often only when inflated to just the right degree. This will depend on how many people are sleeping on it, their respective weights, and the extent to which the airbed is inflated. Too full and it is taut and unyielding with the sleepers bouncing on top like peas on a drum. Not enough air and it is slack and saggy, providing none of the comfort intended.
A little extra spent could prove a wise investment as certain comfort features will make a difference. Strengthened sides should make it harder to roll off during the night, and separate air pockets in double-size airbeds can make it much comfier for two. An electrically powered pump is a good idea as huffing and puffing is slow, tiring and can make you dizzy.
Airbeds that work via the cigarette lighter socket or 12v socket in the car are the best. Don’t forget the pump can make life easier when packing up too, by drawing air out from the airbed. No need to roll around madly on the deflating mattress trying to push out the last pockets of air.
A word about insulation…
Generally, the ground is cold (outside high summer). Your air bed or sleeping mat (self-inflating or not) will lose heat through the ground, causing the air in the mat or bed to cool considerably. This will then make you cold too. The solution is to lay an insulating layer (blanket, rugs, foam mats) on the ground, and even on the mat itself too. More layers means improved insulation and a better night’s sleep.
Choosing your camping bed
When choosing the ideal camping bed for your requirements, think carefully. Consider how often you’ll use it (and so how generous your budget will be – if infrequent usage is expected, it might prove hard to justify a top of the range model). Bear in mind who will use it: the kids (who will grow) or any number of adults of different shapes and sizes (in this case you’ll probably need a bed suitable for all-comers).
If travelling by car you can consider an airbed (with its associated weight, bulk and the availability of a 12v socket). If backpacking you’ll probably be zooming in on a more easily portable sleeping mat of some kind.
Whatever you opt for it’s well worth a trip to a local store to see some camping beds in action. Serious anglers have a range of fishing beds designed for them – but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy one too! They are well thought out with impressive levels of detail and many a camper swears by them, despite never going near a fishing rod!
Go along to a camping and outdoors show where suppliers will have various models on show. Try one or two out at a camping superstore or a fishing superstore, see them set up and of course check that the one you like will fit inside your tent or trailer tent.