Our Thru-Hiker Ambassadors have been out on trail for months now. We asked them to tell us about how they get good sleep hiking double-digit miles day after day after day. Here's what they had to say!
When I am backpacking, sleep is a major factor in my daily success on trail. Some nights I’m out like a light until sunrise and others I toss and turn. I am generally a back sleeper and think having a solid pillow such as the Zenbivy inflatable pillow makes a huge difference in my rest. When it’s warmer I like to sleep with my quilt completely undone and use it as more of a sheet over top of me. I am a hot sleeper so being able to poke my toes out of the end to help regulate temps is super helpful.
Another trick I have at night is to place my small sit pad next to me in my tent and use it as a “night stand” of sorts with my phone, headlamp, chapstick and headphones laid out on it. The texture of the sit pad allows me to locate all of these items in the dark when I need them. I am a light sleeper so I tend to tent rather than use the group shelters along the A.T. but if I do find myself sleeping in a group environment those headphones are a lifesaver as I usually fall asleep to an audiobook.
I’m lucky that I have an easy time falling asleep after a long day of hiking. Once my belly is full of food and my contacts are out, I can lay down and fall asleep instantly. I don’t need earplugs or an eye mask; pulling my quilt over my head when the moon is bright suffices for me.
I typically toss and turn throughout the night, flipping from side to side and turning onto my back. Lately my hips are the sorest part of my body at the end of the day, so I flip around to temporarily relieve some of the pain. My inflatable air mattress helps support my joints by keeping my body off the ground, and the clip function of the Zenbivy quilt/sheet allows me to turn throughout the night without losing the warmth from my quilt.
My nighttime routine is pretty simple: filter water, set up the tent, set up my sleep system, cook dinner, eat. I try to remember to stretch my muscles as my dinner is cooking. Then I brush and floss, change out of my sweaty clothes, take out my contacts, and snuggle into my quilt.
Journey Man (PCT)
Sleep. One of my favorite parts of the day. That moment you are finally horizontal and cozied up at night. I'm usually a side sleeper. I rotate throughout the night like a rotisserie chicken, accept it's time to flip when my hip starts to hurting too much. My 10° quilt is so comfy. Keeps me nice and warm. If it's too hot I won't put the sheet on the air pad.
On nights that I want to be sure to be knocked out all night I use ear plugs and an eye mask. The eye mask is super helpful when it's a full moon. I was using my buff for am eye mask until I acquired an eye mask at PCT Day's. I'm usually a hot sleeper, but parts of me tend to be cold especially my feet. Luckily I have the down booties to accommodate that issue. My sleep system is incredibly comfy. I can't think of a time that I'm uncomfortable unless we are camped on a significant slope.
A trick I like to do to get a better night's sleep is putting my butt pad or any layers like the mid layer, down jacket or sun hoodie between my knees for more support and a lot more comfort throughout the night. My nighttime routine consists of collecting water, begin to filter, set up the tent, blow up the air pad, put the Zenbivy sleep system together, cook dinner, EAT, clean up, write down a few notes for the day, sometimes watch some Netflix, then we are zonked. Sleeping backcountry with the Zenbivy system is almost as good as sleeping in a bed. It's insanely comfy and I'm always surprised how good I feel after a night's rest!
Sleep, oh glorious sleep. It is not always easy to achieve on trail, though! When I get into camp, all I want to do is just throw down my pack and collapse in a heap, but there are many tasks to do before I can rest. The tent must be pitched, my bed made (including blowing up my inflatable mattress, my least favorite task), and dinner must be cooked and my food safely stored from bears and other critters before I can even think about sleeping.
Before I get into bed, I try to make myself a bit less filthy. I take my shoes and socks off outside of my tent to reduce the dust and dirt inside, which is not an easy task when you are camping in a buzzing cloud of mosquitoes. If I am near water, I will wash up before bed, but often I have to dry camp on this trail and don't have that option. For these nights, I carry wet wipes and clean the dirt from my hands, face, feet and legs. I then put on a pair of lightweight leggings (Montbell trail tights) and clean Darn Tough socks. I change out of my hiking shirt and into an ultralight baselayer and swap my ball cap for a beanie. The clean, dry clothes help reduce that "sticky" feeling while I sleep and keep my bed from getting oily and gross.
My bed itself is the most comfortable, fancy-feeling setup I have ever had. I have the Zenbivy light mattress, sized up (large) so that I can sprawl if I want to. My hiking partners have been both impressed and jealous of the comfort, durability and quietness of my mattress, not to mention the extra few inches in all directions. When I am hiking, I keep my Zenbivy synthetic light quilt (also large) in the mattress's inflation sack, using a set of compression caps to squash it down into a perfect fit for the bottom of my pack. When I get to camp, I pull out the quilt and drape it over my tent so that it can decompress and any residual moisture from the night before can evaporate in the late day sun. I use the inflation sack to blow up my light mattress, and although the sack works GREAT, it is still the most tedious task in camp. I affix my Zenbivy light sheet to my mattress, then blow up my Zenbivy pillow and tuck it into the hood of the sheet. Since I don't carry a puffy jacket, I will often wrap myself in my quilt while outside of my tent in camp, walking around like a giant yellow burrito- it is super cozy and keeps the mosquitoes off! When I'm ready to tuck in for the night however, I shake out the dinner crumbs and clinging bloodsuckers and dive into my tent, ready and waiting for nighttime.
I swap my contact lenses for my glasses and make sure that my headlamp is easily accessible and in its designated spot for the dark morning. All of my gear fits comfortably inside my tent (Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo) with me, allowing me to have a spot for everything and stay organized. I will plug my phone into my battery pack if it is below 50%, and finally lay down for the evening in my bed. I will journal on my phone about the day, adding as much detail as possible. Often, I doze off just a few sentences in and then struggle to fight off sleep long enough to jot down a few main points about the day. I will often wake an hour or so later, phone still in my hands but the sky now dark.
I unplug my phone and tuck it into my quilt so the battery stays warm overnight. If it is cold that night, I will tuck my water filter next to my mattress (or put it in a zip-top bag and tuck it inside my quilt if it is REALLY cold). On cool or breezy nights, I hook all of the loops on my quilt to my sheet, but lately have been leaving all or one side of the hooks undone. This gives me varying levels of air circulation and fantastic temperature control. I usually am a cold sleeper, and even on relatively warm nights will be tucked in tight. With other sleep setups, I have woken up freezing and been unable to get remotely comfortable, even within the temperature comfort rating of whatever quilt or bag I had. On this trip, I have been cozy every night with my Zenbivy setup, even in Glacier National Park where nighttime temperatures dropped to near freezing.
Now that I am in Wyoming, it is much warmer at night and I can roll and sprawl and vent my bed all I want. I tend to be a very active sleeper when camping, and love that my quilt stays put (if I hook it in) no matter how much I rotisserie in my sleep. The oversized mattress and quilt also allow me to achieve full fetal position without my butt or knees sticking out and getting cold, and I can sprawl out on my stomach and even hitch a knee up and still be totally covered. The sheet keeps my pillow from falling away, and the quiet baffles on the mattress keep me from being self-conscious or waking my friends during all of this motion, unlike the most popular mattresses that sound like you are sleeping on a bag of Doritos.
I typically wake well before my 5am alarm, feeling rested and ready to hike another 25 or more miles. Often I have crazy, vivid dreams on trail that give us all a laugh or something odd to ponder in the morning if I share. I make breakfast and a hot drink while sitting in my bed and eventually pack up, excited to explore the day's trail but also looking forward to finding the next campsite and tucking back in to my cozy, oversized nest to get another great night's sleep.
When you're out hiking every day for several months straight you're bound to get rained on. We asked Snackbar and Scribe how they deal with the inevitable rain—What rain gear do they wear? How do they keep the contents of the pack dry? How do they pack up wet gear the next day?
From food wrappers to water bottles, take-out containers and utensils, single-use plastics are everywhere in our day to day lives.... Turns out: you can't even escape them out in the wilderness. While thru-hikers are typically living for months with a much smaller environmental footprint than the average American, we wanted to challenge our Ambassadors to see if they could try to eliminate all single-use plastics from their thru-hikes.