A Quality Snooze

Tips and techniques for a good night's sleep

After a days walking, it’s the simple things that matter: food, shelter and sleep. We arrived at our hut late one afternoon, looking forward to all three, only to find it was already occupied by a group of hunters. There were four of them, three of us and six bunks. One of us was going to have to sleep on the floor. We drew straws. It would be me. Still I was determined to get a decent night’s sleep. I waited for everyone else to go to bed, pulled the big plastic pack liner out of my bag, and stuffed it full of clothes. I lay down on my lumpy, rustling plastic mattress in the tiny space in the middle of the hut floor. It was a fitful night’s sleep. I woke up again and again, the final time at 5am when all the hunters got up. They banged about with pots and pans and, in case I still thought of going back to sleep, they had this conversation:



‘Do you want a coffee?’




‘Do you want milk in your coffee?’




‘Do you want sugar in your coffee?’

As a result of that unpleasant experience, I’ve done my research, I’ve carried bedrolls and sleeping mats and looked into the ways of making sure of a quality snooze no matter the location. Here’s what I learned.

Sleeping rough

First things first, choose your spot. You want to find some level ground, dry and free of rocks and roots. While that spongy patch of moss might look comfy, it’s bound to be damp, so best stick to solid ground. In lieu of a mattress, try piling up the fallen dry branches of bracken for insulation and padding. Additionally, you could try the old cowboy trick of scooping out a shallow hole in the dirt about where your hip will be. This way you won’t suffer the discomfort of bony hips digging into hard ground if you like to sleep on your side.

Staying warm

Even with a good sleeping bag, you will lose a lot of heat to the ground without a bedroll. To keep warm during night, you could try out this primitive ‘electric blanket’ technique. Start by putting some rocks around the campfire to heat up before bedding down for the night. Once they are nice and toasty, dig a shallow hole in the ground, and place several of the hot rocks inside. Cover the rocks up with dirt, and smooth over before settling down on top for a cosy night’s sleep. Another method is to take a couple of warmed rocks into your sleeping bag with you. Obviously you don’t want to burn yourself or your sleeping bag, so make sure they’re not too hot.

Bedrolls and mats

It’s well worth investing in a good bedroll or mat. The following are some of the options for making sure you’ve always got a soft surface on which to lay your head.

Foam roll mat. $15-20. Cheap, lightweight, and indestructible, these closed-cell foam pads are the default sleeping accessory for camping and tramping. They provide insulation from the ground, and a modest amount of padding.

Self-inflating mattress.$50-300. More comfortable than the basic foam mat, these thin air mattress are filled with foam-rubber, and puff up by themselves when you open the valve. They roll up pretty small and are lightweight, but can be pricey. Here’s a tip, add a couple of lungsful of extra air once they’re inflated for a better sleep.

‘Swag’ bedroll. $250+. This is the ultimate in outdoor sleeping gear. An all-in-one mattress and emergency shelter, swags were used by shearers and miners as they travelled the bush on foot and horseback. Made from tough canvas, with a built in cover to keep you dry, some can even be propped up with a stick to form a makeshift tent. Still available today, but generally too heavy for your average tramper, swags are popular with motorcyclists and four-wheel drivers.

Camping hammocks. $150-350. A tent and a hammock in one. These keep you off the ground, while providing shelter. The trick though is finding two stout trees to hang them from.