Side Sleeper Camping Tips: Essential Gear for Quality Sleep

Side Sleeper Camping Tips: A camper sleeping on her side in a suitable sleeping bag

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Imagine this: You’re nestled in your cozy sleeping bag, surrounded by nature’s beauty, but you can’t find that sweet spot to snooze comfortably because you’re a side sleeper. Sound familiar?

In this post, we’ll unravel side sleeper camping tips, providing both practical insights and gear recommendations to ensure a comfortable and restful night under the stars for your next camping trip.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Spoon-shaped sleeping bags provide extra room around hips and knees for comfortable side sleeping. Brands like Nemo and Big Agnes offer good options.
  • Choose a wide (20-24 inch), thick (3″+) sleeping pad with insulation and flex lines to cushion pressure points.
  • Use a supportive pillow that keeps your head level and accessories like liners for added comfort and temperature regulation.

The Side Sleeper’s Struggle

When it comes to camping, side sleepers like you and me face a particularly challenging quest for a good night’s sleep. Here’s what we’re up against:

  • Sleeping Position is Key: Side sleepers often find it hard to get comfortable in traditional sleeping bags. These bags are usually designed for back sleepers, and they can feel restrictive and cramped when you’re trying to curl up on your side.
  • Keeping the Spine Happy: Side sleepers should aim for gear that supports their back’s natural curve. This helps prevent waking up with aches and pains.
  • Staying Just Right: Staying warm is crucial when you’re camping, especially in chilly weather. Side sleepers sometimes have trouble staying cozy because the way they sleep can cause cold drafts to sneak into their bags. This is even more noticeable when camping in a hammock.

Now, stay with us as we explore how to combat these issues in the following sections.

Side Sleeper Camping Tips

Before buying any new gear, we recommend you to try a couple of things that might help:

  • Adjust your position within the sleeping bag: Instead of moving along with the bag, consider rolling inside it, especially with roomy sleeping bags. This technique can assist side and stomach sleepers in finding comfort.
  • Use a detached hood: Rolling inside the bag may make the hood less effective. In these situations, try a separate hood or a standard-length bag with a detachable hood. This allows you to stay warm and mobile simultaneously.
  • Create a makeshift pillow: You can attain the ideal balance of support and softness for your existing air pillow by encasing it inside a fleece jacket.

If these tips haven’t worked for you, let’s explore some helpful gear options together.

Camping Gear Considerations for Side Sleepers

Side Sleeper Sleeping Bag: A close-up from inside a tent where a camper is laying in their sleeping bag

Fortunately, you and I aren’t the last side sleepers to roam this planet, so companies are innovating around the clock to provide us with the best possible gear.

Let’s see some of the different options available.

Spoon-Shaped Sleeping Bags

Alongside traditional mummy bags and quilts, a game-changer for side sleepers is the ‘spoon-shaped’ sleeping bag.

While it’s challenging to trace the exact inventor of the first sleeping bag for side sleepers, but companies like Nemo Equipment, Big Agnes, and Sea to Summit popularized spoon-shaped mummy bags in the late 2000s and early 2010s.”

So, what makes these “spoon-shaped” bags special? Let’s take a closer look:

  • Tailored for Side Sleepers: Unlike standard mummy bags, which can feel restrictive when you try to sleep on your side, spoon-shaped bags provide extra room around the hips and knees. This design allows side sleepers to comfortably curl up and move around within the bag.
  • The Best of Both Worlds: A spoon-shaped bag combines heat retention like a mummy bag with improved mobility, offering warmth and flexibility in your sleeping position.

To make your life even easier, here are some popular options for spoon-shaped sleeping bags:

Brand / ModelWeight (g)
Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 20°2 lb 4 oz (1020)
Nemo Disco 302 lb 11 oz (1220)
REI Co-op Siesta Hooded 205 lb 5 oz (2400)
Sierra Designs Night Cap 35°2 lb 3.7 oz (1011)

Sleeping Pads

No side sleeper’s sleep setup is complete without a quality sleeping pad. Now, let’s explore what you should look for when choosing one:

  • Choose a wide sleeping pad: In today’s day and age, there’s no need to bring a large air mattress. Look for a backpacking pad that is at least 20-24 inches wide will provide stability and cushioning when sleeping on your side. Narrow pads can cause you to roll onto your shoulders during the night.
  • Look for thickness: Thinner pads will not sufficiently cushion pressure points like hips and shoulders. 3″+ pads will feel like a comfortable mattress under your body.
  • Look for flex lines: Pads with flex lines or grooves down the middle help the pad conform to your body’s curves when side sleeping. This prevents rolling in any direction.
  • Pay attention to R-value: Higher R-value ratings mean more warmth retained. Side sleepers should prioritize insulation and warmth since there is more surface area against the ground. R3-R5 is suitable for 3-season use.

To simplify your choices, here are some top picks for camping sleeping pads tailored to side sleepers:

Brand / ModelWeight (g)
Sea to Summit Ether Light XT (Regular Wide)1 lb 6 oz (630)
Nemo Tensor Insulated (Regular Wide)1 lb 6 oz (630)
Big Agnes Zoom UL Insulated (25″ x 72″)1 lb 1 oz (480)
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir® XLite™ NXT Sleeping Pad (Regular Wide)1 lb (450)

Sleeping Accessories

Sleeping accessories are vital for a comfortable camping experience as a side sleeper. Let’s delve into essential accessories for side sleepers:

  • Sleeping Bag Liners: These add softness and warmth. Side sleepers benefit from improved temperature regulation. Find one here.
  • Camping Pillows: Unlike some sleepers, side sleepers often need extra pillow support. Choosing a camping pillow with the right height (thickness) can make a big difference in sleep quality:
    • 3-4 inches is standard, provides lift without bulk.
    • 4-5 inches preferable for extra lumbar support or broad shoulders.
    • 5+ inches suitable for larger individuals or those who sleep with arm under pillow.

Here are some recommended backpacking camping pillows designed specifically for side sleepers:

Brand / ModelWeight oz (g)
Exped MegaPillow6 (170)
Sea to Summit Aeros Down Pillow2.5 (70)
Nemo Equipment Fillo Elite Ultralight Backpacking Pillow2.8 (80)


Side sleeping while camping is achievable with the right camping equipment.

These camping essentials include spoon-shaped bags, wide pads, and adjustable pillows for optimal support. Finding your perfect combination may require some testing, but small adjustments can significantly enhance your sleep.

Use these tips to prepare effectively, and then relax, knowing you’re ready to rest up for your next camping adventure. Sleep well!


What are some good camping hacks for side sleepers?

Pack an inflatable pillow you can adjust by adding or removing breaths. Use a fleece jacket or blanket rolled to different thicknesses as a pillow behind your head and knees. Take a folded sit pad for lumbar support inside your bag. Cut pool noodles in half lengthwise to cushion under knees. Test diagonal pad placement for better hip alignment. Attach guylines outside your tent to customize side “room.” Wear base layers as PJs to avoid bag constriction. Bring a small towel under your ear or store a hot water bottle by your feet for extra comfort. Pack lightweight shoes as leg/neck supports in a pinch. Lean your pad against the tent wall for back support. Wiggle your bag all the way down at the foot end for maximum curled-up space.

What sleeping bag shape is most suitable for those who sleep on their side?

For side sleepers, the best shape for a sleeping bag is often the “spoon-shaped” design. Spoon-shaped sleeping bags offer extra room around the hips and knees, allowing side sleepers to comfortably curl up and move around within the bag. This design strikes a balance between the heat retention of a mummy bag and the freedom of movement side sleepers need. Brands like Nemo, Big Agnes, and Sea to Summit offer excellent options in this category. Ultimately, the ideal shape may vary based on personal preference, but spoon-shaped bags are a popular choice for side sleepers seeking both camping comfort and warmth.

How do you sleep on your side when camping?

Sleeping on your side while camping can be comfortable with the right gear and technique. First, choose a sleeping bag designed for side sleepers, like a “spoon-shaped” bag, which offers extra room around the hips and knees. Use a supportive pillow that keeps your head at a level plane to the ground. Consider a sleeping bag liner for added comfort and temperature regulation. To maximize comfort, adjust within the bag or roll inside it to find your preferred sleeping position.

What to look for in campsite selection as a side sleeper?

When you are outdoors, look for a flat, level area with firm, packed ground to avoid rolling downhill or discomfort from soft surfaces. Aim for a sheltered location with dense tree coverage to block wind yet far enough from noisy trails, streams, and groups. Orient your tent sideways with your feet pointed downhill and head away from sounds. Stage essentials within easy reach so you don’t have to fully exit your bag at night. Also, choose a well-drained, higher site if needing bug protection.

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