Tent camping is a wonderful way for the whole family to enjoy the great outdoors.
But, let’s be honest here, it’s not always the most comfortable experience.
I’m sure almost every tent camper has experienced a trying night of sleep on the cold, uncomfortable ground. And, that’s not to mention dealing with rain, bugs, dirt, and other natural nuisances.
Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice your comfort while tent camping. With a few quick tips, it’s easy to make tent camping a heck of a lot more comfortable.
Here’s how to make tent camping comfortable on your next trip.
It All Starts with the Right Campsite
First things first, take the time to pick the right campsite.
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you’ve booked a campsite reservation ahead of time (a smart idea in the summer) without seeing it first.
But, even with a pre-booked campsite, you can usually take a few minutes to find a level piece of ground that’s large enough for your tent to sit on mostly flat.
Ideally, the spot where you pitch your tent is also in the shade (especially if you expect hot weather) and slightly elevated above the rest of the ground (especially if you expect rain).
A campsite with a fire pit and picnic table is also helpful, which are usually mainstays, unless you’re dispersed camping.
How to Make Your Tent More Comfortable
Perhaps even more important than selecting a good campsite is bringing the right tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping surface (sleeping pad, camping cot, or air mattress).
Choose the Right Tent
A great deal of camping comfort relies on choosing the right tent.
Although pretty much any tent will do in a pinch, there are two key factors to keep in mind:
- Capacity: Make sure your tent is big enough for your party. Tent capacity is usually rated my number of adults the tent fits. Size up a bit for more comfort.
- Seasonality: Your tent needs to be able to withstand expected weather. A three-season tent is my recommendation for most campers, unless you only camp in the summer (in which case a two-season tent will do).
In addition to capacity and seasonality, it’s also important to think about the tent peak height, wall structure, ease of setup, breathability, and door design.
Simply put, there are a lot of factors that go into choosing the best tent. Our tent buyer’s guide and family tent buyer’s guide will help you select the most comfortable camping tent for you.
Bring a Comfortable Sleeping Bag
Few things ruin a camping trip as quickly as a cold night of sleep. That’s why bringing a warm, comfortable sleeping bag is so essential.
Look at the bag’s temperature rating first. This is the manufacturer’s estimate on the coldest comfortable temperature for the average user sleeping in the bag.
Personally, I always subtract add 15° onto a sleeping bag’s temperature rating. In other words, I opt for a 32° F bag when I expect 45° F nighttime weather.
It’s much better to be too hot than too cold in a sleeping bag. If you’re too hot, simply unzip the bag to increase airflow. If you’re too cold, well, you’re probably out of luck.
Another factor to consider is sleeping bag shape. For normal tent camping at a drive-in car campground, a spacious rectangular bag is your best bet. For backpacking or winter camping, a mummy-shaped bag is a lighter, warmer choice.
Yet another option (one that I love for car camping in a tent) is a double sleeping bag. You don’t even have to sleep in yours with someone else (although that’s what they’re made for). You can totally sleep in a double sleeping bag alone for the utmost in camping comfort!
Our sleeping bag buyer’s guide breaks down everything you need to know to choose the most comfortable sleeping bag for camping.
A Pad, Cot, or Air Mattress is a Must
Of course, you can just sleep straight on the cold, hard ground, but even a thin barrier not only increases comfort, but also provides a huge boost in insulation and warmth.
A sleeping pad is the go-to for most campers thanks to their lightweight, small size, and relatively affordable price.
The best sleeping pads are also pretty dang comfortable, although comfort heavily depends on the exact type you choose.
When it comes to sleeping pads, you have three main options:
A closed-cell foam sleeping pad is the cheapest and most durable option. They are a favorite among backpackers because you can carry them on the outside of your backpack. They’re also a great choice for tent camping, although they’re less cushy than other options. Another benefit is that closed-cell foams are undoubtedly the warmest thanks to their excellent insulation from the ground.
An inflatable sleeping pad packs down very small, but blows up into a cushy sleep surface (with your mouth or a hand pump). They are typically much more comfortable than their closed-cell foam counterparts, although they usually lack much insulation.
A self-inflating sleeping pad is sort of a combo between closed-cell foam and inflatable. They usually incorporate closed-cell foam and a blow-up design into a single package.
Why Not Both?
Personally, I like to bring both a closed-cell foam and an air pad, especially if I’m camping in the winter. Not only does this double up on comfort, but it also provides the best insulation you can get with this camping sleep setup.
Those that want a little more comfort than a sleeping pad provides should opt for a camping cot.
A ton of different models are available, from the simple and budget-friendly to the luxuriously comfortable yet expensive.
I’m a big fan of a simple cot like the REI Co-op Camp Folding Cot, although I know folks that love their Helinox Cot Max Convertible, arguably the gold standard of camping cots (I’ve yet to try one myself).
In addition to a little extra comfort, a camp cot keeps you up off the cold ground at night. If your tent is large enough, I find that the simple fact that a cot is elevated makes it much more comfortable than crawling onto a sleeping pad.
If you want to go all out, an air mattress is definitely the most comfortable option.
Although there are a ton of different options, I advise buying a model specifically designed for camping rather than for home use. These are much more durable and will last much longer.
The REI Co-op Kingdom Insulated Air Bed is a fantastic choice that won’t break the bank while anything from Exped such as the (Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad) are arguably the best camping air mats money can buy.
If you do opt for an air mattress, I recommend bringing normal bed sheets, your pillows, and a comfortable duvet with comforter from home for the most comfortable camping sleep imaginable.
Plan for the Weather
If possible, plan your trip around the weather. Select dates with a reasonable camping forecast - not too hot, not too cold with no rain. But, even so, with a little pre-planning you can comfortably camp in any weather.
Do You Need Rain Gear?
It’s completely possible to stay comfortable while camping in the rain.
The key is to plan ahead by bringing at the very least a waterproof tent (a full coverage rainfly is essential) to keep you dry at night.
Some sort of a tarp, shelter, or pop-up canopy also makes camping in the rain much more comfortable and enjoyable by giving you a dry place to hang out at during the day.
Of course, a good pair of waterproof boots and plenty of extra clothing are also essential.
Our guide to camping in the rain has even more tips and tricks on how to stay comfortable while camping in the rain.
Stay Cool in the Summer Heat
Hot temperatures can be just as difficult to deal with while camping as rain.
Campsite selection is very important here. You want to make sure you select a well-shaded site so your tent isn’t sitting out in the hot sun all day long.
A breathable, well-ventilated tent is also a must. Leave the rainfly off to further improve ventilation so that your tent is cool by the time night falls.
A portable fan is also very helpful. The best models are battery-powered so they don’t need to be plugged in at the campsite. Portable air conditioners for camping are also quickly gaining popularity right now.
Our guide to staying cool while camping in the summer heat breaks down exactly how to stay cool while camping in summer.
Consider a Tent Heater for Cold Weather
Winter is likely the last time of the year you’d consider going camping. But with the right gear, it can be downright cozy and comfortable.
For starters, you’ll probably need slightly beefier camping equipment (unless your winters are quite mild). A winter tent and winter sleeping bag are musts. A thick closed-cell foam sleeping pad will further help insulate you from the ground.
The Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Tent is an excellent 4-season tent for winter camping comfort.
Don’t camp in the winter without a sturdy pair of well-insulated winter hiking boots. Of course, it’s important to keep your entire body warm and dry with good winter camping clothing, but it’s absolutely essential your feet stay warm and dry to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.
Many serious winter campers are now investing in full-blown winter tents, often made of a canvas material. You can even use a portable wood stove in compatible canvas tents. Does camping even get more cozy than that?
How to Make Your Campsite More Comfortable
Your tent and sleep system are just a few elements of your total camping setup. Chances are you’ll also spend a lot of time hanging around camp. So, the rest of your campsite should be just as comfortable as well.
I’m a big fan of using string lighting while camping, but a quality camping lantern also does the trick.
Plentiful lighting not only makes it possible to see and complete camping tasks at night, but it also adds a cozy ambiance and atmosphere to your campsite.
We’ve reviewed the best rechargeable camping lanterns to help you select the perfect model that doesn’t require batteries.
Comfortable Chair and Sturdy Table
Sure, a picnic table does the trick, but a comfortable camp chair is a camping luxury I just don’t like to live without.
Chances are you’ll spend a lot of time hanging around your campsite, so a comfortable place to sit is a must. Check out some of our favorite lightweight, portable backpacking chairs here.
A camping table is super helpful at campsites without a picnic table (such as when you’re RV boondocking). But it can also be useful for preparing meals at a campsite with a picnic table.
I prefer a lightweight, packable camp table - ideally a roll top. The REI Co-op Camp Roll Table is a good choice.
Bring a Bug Shelter
I love almost everything about camping, but I definitely don’t love mosquitos!
When camping in bug season, I always bring some sort of a bug shelter to keep these pesky critters at bay.
The Nemo Bugout Camping Screen Room is my go-to. Not only is it excellent at keeping bugs out, but it’s also spacious and comes with a waterproof roof that holds up well to a light drizzle and provides a lot of shade.
In my opinion, a screened-in camping mosquito shelter is a huge improvement over lathering yourself up in bug spray.
Consider a Camp Rug
Getting dirty is simply a fact of camping life - but you don’t have to get too dirty.
A camping rug can help keep your campsite a little cleaner, especially when used outside of your tent as somewhere to take off boots before going inside.
The best outdoor camping rugs are made of durable, all-weather materials so you don’t have to worry about them getting wet.
Cook Delicious Camping Meals
To me, one of the best parts about camping is eating delicious camping meals with friends or family.
Although you can certainly get by with minimal cooking equipment while camping (even as little as just a simple backpacking stove), I prefer to go all out when car camping.
A full-blown camp kitchen really isn’t all that expensive to put together. Nor does it take up much space in the car. But what it does do is allow you to cook up absolutely scrumptious meals.
Spend some time preparing for you camping trip, and get a bunch of tin foil dinners ready ahead of time so you can focus on the outdoors rather than meal prep!
We have a ton of camping recipes and meal ideas for you to browse through.
Do You Need Your Own Toilet or Shower?
Many developed campgrounds, like those at state parks, have dedicated bathroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers.
Most other developed campgrounds, including national forest campgrounds, typically have at least vault toilets. Dispersed camping, on the other hand, almost always comes without any facilities.
Even at a campground with toilets and showers, however, some campers prefer to have their own private facilities.
A portable camping toilet certainly makes camping more comfortable, especially when coupled with a pop-up privacy tent. The same goes for a portable solar shower.
Use Portable Power to Charge Your Devices
For me, a portable power device is game changing for camping.
At its most basic, one of these portable battery packs enables you to charge all of your important devices, like your smartphone or GPS device.
But the beefiest portable batteries for camping can provide continuous power for an electric cooler (like the Dometic CFX3), a CPAP machine, and so much more.
Pairing your portable power device with a portable solar panel is even more luxurious. This enables you to keep your portable power station charged with just the energy from the sun.
Other Tips to Make Camping More Comfortable
Packing the right camping gear goes a long way to make tent camping comfortable. But the following camping hacks will increase your comfort even more.
- Your Own Pillow: Bring your own pillow from home rather than opt for a camping pillow for a better night of sleep.
- Regular Bedding: Your comforter/duvet, quilt, or other blanket from home also adds an extra dosage of comfort to the camping bedtime experience.
- Warm Up Before Bed: Going to sleep cold is the worst. Warm up in front of the campfire or use a tent heater before bed. Hand warmers or a hot water bottle also work extremely well.
- Keep Things Clean: A clean tent is a comfortable tent. So, keep your tent clean by sweeping it out often at the campsite. Store your tent outside of its storage sack at home to prevent mold and mildew and to reduce stinky odors.
- Pack Plenty of Clothes: Bringing extra changes of clothes (especially socks, undies, and tee shirts) is one of the best ways to make tent camping more comfortable, in my experience, especially on long camping trips.
- Don’t Forget Ear Plugs and Eye Covers: Ear plugs and eye covers are especially important if you’re camping with someone that snores or stays up late reading. But even in the quietest, darkest campsites they are helpful. I love that they help me sleep in!
Comfortable Camping Alternatives
Even with all the tips and tricks above, tent camping isn’t for everyone. Luckily, there are a whole host of other options available to make for a cozy camping experience, sans tent.
If tent camping isn’t comfortable enough for you, then glamping is likely the way to go.
A portmanteau of glamour and camping, glamping is luxury camping taken to the next level. You can choose for the DIY glamping experience by investing in your own glamping tent.
But, for next level comfort, I recommend booking a glampsite rental. We’re currently rounding up the best places for glamping in each state.
To some people, sleeping on the ground in a tent just isn’t comfortable.
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep while tent camping, I suggest you give hammock camping a try.
It might seem uncomfortable at first, but sleeping in a hammock has a lot of health benefits, plus it’s extremely comfortable with the correct hammock.
Look for a camping hammock with an asymmetrical design (the Hennessey Explorer Deluxe Hammock is a good choice). This allows you to achieve a flat lay rather than a banana-shaped lay.
The ENO DoubleNest Hammock is another favorite of mine. It’s designed for two people to use at once, but sleeping in it alone is heavenly.
Why not try a different type of car camping?
Camping in your car: sleeping in the actual car itself is a great way to get the most comfort out of the camping experience.
Although comfort levels vary from car to car, pretty much any car can be tweaked for camping, although SUVs, pickup trucks, and, of course, vans, work best.
RV, Trailer, or Van
Tent camping not comfortable enough for you?
Then camping in an RV, trailer, or camping van just might be up your alley.
No matter which you choose, you can expect a waterproof, well-insulated sleeping area (usually on a normal mattress) as well as a kitchenette and most likely a private bathroom.
If you don’t have a van, trailer, or RV of your own, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to renting a trailer or RV to help you find the perfect rig of your trip.
There are a lot of great RV rental services available, but Outdoorsy remains our favorite in 2021.
Do You Have Any More Tips?
It’s honestly pretty easy to make tent camping comfortable.
All you need is the right gear, a few comforts from home, and a level, shaded campsite.
Now, we want to hear from you. Do you have any additional tips to make camping in a tent more comfortable?
Let us know in the comments below.
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Since 2015, Jake has been the technical heart behind our in-depth content. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he’s the one you’ll find crafting extensive gear reviews and detailed camping guides. With a decade of outdoor writing under his belt, Jake brings the beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains and his beloved Cascade and Olympic ranges right to your screen.