strategies or products for sleeping while camping with a bad back.
March 21, 2020 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I don't know how to get a good night sleep while camping. Please help!

I have back pain which is improving. It causes some associated neck pain (usually from sitting or sleeping oddly) and occasionally shoulder pain (again usually from sleeping weird).

I sleep in what I think is called the hurdler and I'll try to explain: side sleeper. Leg against mattress is shot straight out as if standing. Arm against mattress is shot under pillow and straight up as if reaching for the top shelf. Top leg is bent at knee and drawn towards chest. Top arm is usually hugging a pillow or small dog. Due to back pain I have been working on traditional side sleeping but I cannot figure out what the hell people do with the bottom arm. Where do it go???

My family tent camps. I have an inflatable airpad and a heavy Mexican blanket I put on top of that.

When i sleep on the pad my shoulder gets so sore that I wake up every 30 or 45 minutes and have to rotate. Hurdler doesn't work well since pads all seem to be 1 person wide and since when stretched out I'm nearly 8' long it's not ideal in a normal tent. If I use a lot of pillows (like right from the bed not silly camping pillows) and side sleep I can prop my head up so neck doesn't get sore from "hanging" but again, where the hell does the bottom arm go??

I've lost a ton of weight and currently am basically within the range for my 6' 1" frame but this hasn't made a difference with this issue.

So, do I need a cot? Thicker pad? Learn to sleep like a person in a coffin, having my arm removed above the shoulder??? We all love to camp but by day 4 after 3 nights I'm usually miserable from bad sleep and cant fathom another night in the tent.

Thanks for all product suggestions or new sleeping strategies.
posted by chasles to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How thick is your air pad?
posted by Ftsqg at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2020

Best answer: Seconding that question. I'm a side sleeper and for camping I use an air mattress like this one, with a sleeping bag on top. Despite being prone to back pain I can get a good night's sleep on it. The depth of the mattress makes it easier to accommodate my lower arm and shoulder as I choose, however the really important part for me is to have enough pillow support that my head's not able to tilt downward to scrunch against my shoulder.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:07 PM on March 21, 2020

Response by poster: Current pad is 2" thick.
posted by chasles at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2020

I put an extra piece of closed cell foam under just my torso (under all other mats) which helps a bit.

For me, the first night or two of camping is always rough, but then I magically transition to a better back sleeper and I honestly think it's better for my back overall.

I also got what I consider to be a "luxury" camping pillow, and it is now a necessity.
It can support my head when I'm on my side without any weird angles.

The first few nights really are no fun, though.
posted by Acari at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2020

Have you tried hammock camping? If you get a big wide backpacking hammock, and hang it correctly, you can "sleep on the diagonal" and get comfortable on your side.

At home I'm a side-sleeper. I discovered hammock camping a number of years ago, and I swear I sleep better on the trail than I do at home.
posted by sportbucket at 12:50 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Came to suggest a hammock. The ones I’m familiar with are Hennessy Hammocks. They’re also lightweight enough for backpacking, if that’s something you might do.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:16 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are car camping, I’d suggest a *much* thicker air mattress. Like one of those 8” thick full/queen inflatables you’d use for a guest in your living room.
posted by gnutron at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by meaty shoe puppet at 3:03 PM on March 21, 2020

Another person suggesting a hammock. Once you get the hang (heh) of it they are SO COMFORTABLE. I'm even able to sleep on my back in them and I NEVER sleep on my back.
posted by schroedinger at 4:35 PM on March 21, 2020

Best answer: I sleep similar to you, except my arm isn't reaching. Key for me is to not over inflate the pad. I usually lie on it and let out enough air that my hip is just off the ground. Firmer than that and my shoulder issues flare up and I toss and turn all night.

My experience with hammocks is that they were murder for my back issues. Yes, they were backpacking style ones, rigged tightly and all that.
posted by snoboy at 4:51 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get a car camping pad. Exped or REI both make super deluxe wide and long versions for around $100-120. Insulated ones run a bit higher. Worth every penny. And bring a real pillow. I camp a lot and often live in field camps and real pillows are like gold.

For backpacking I buy the thickest pad i can stomach carrying and a dedicated inflatable pillow. Totally worth it.
posted by fshgrl at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2020

I have back pain, so I embraced my ultimate comfort setup: an 18 inch high queen size mattress.
posted by sugarbomb at 6:56 PM on March 21, 2020

Hammocks are the most painful thing for me to sleep in when camping, as much as I love napping in them in the day. Your back may vary.

I'm also a side-sleeper and would wake up multiple times a night in great pain when camping, despite having good sleeping pads from Tempurpedic and REI. What's worked for me is seeing a physical therapist, to work on the issues that were OK at home but couldn't handle camping, and on the first night out I usually preemptively take ibuprofen or whatever so I can sleep.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:15 PM on March 22, 2020

Response by poster: I ended up with a single sized thicker air mattress. Has foam on the inside but still inflatable. But the real deal was the length. Turns out I need a full normal bed length thing to sleep on. Slept a few nights last week and as good or better than in comfy bed.

Also I didn't want to threadsit but hammock = hard no. Sorry but disc/sciatica says no freaking way. Being slightly curved to the front is like a position designed to hurt. From the bottom of my heart I hope you never experience what I'm referring to.
posted by chasles at 11:48 AM on April 24, 2020

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