Insomnia Camping: My Worst Night of Sleep Outside

We’ve all been there: lying awake in a sleeping bag, staring into darkness, wishing for sleep. Insomnia is a common affliction in the outdoors, and Outside‘s editors are hardly immune. Here’s a collection of our worst nights of sleep in the woods. Our hope is that these stories help you to avoid the missteps we’ve made on our own failed journeys to dreamland.

Chilling in the Sierra

I hiked a stretch of the Sierra High Route in June one year with a friend and packed the sleeping bag and pad I typically bring along for summery weather in New Mexico, not putting together that 12,000 feet elevation in late June can feel a lot like winter back home. On the first night, the wind against my tent was so loud I could hardly sleep, and I vowed to skip the rain fly the next night in hopes that it would be quieter. Our second day of hiking took much longer than anticipated, and we wound up camping next to a just-melted-out lake 1,500 feet higher than we’d intended. In the middle of the night, I woke up so cold and disoriented that I wound up making a bivy out of my fly… inside my tent. When I woke up the next morning, the fly and the outside of my sleeping bag were completely frozen. The worst part? The wind died at dawn, so I could have slipped cozily and quietly with the fly on. My companion, who lived at sea level, had a worse night than I did, though—she was up puking from the altitude until the wee hours. —Abigail Barronian, senior editor

A (Soggy) Family Affair

My mom’s giant Irish Catholic family has an annual reunion at a quaint, free amusement park in Pennsylvania called Knoebels. One weekend every June, we take over about a quarter of the campground that lies in the shadow of one of the park’s creaky wooden roller coasters. It’s not exactly roughing it—there are bathrooms with showers, and electric outlets mounted on trees, and we hang twinkly lights and make grilled cheese sandwiches over campfires. When I was in my early teens, one of my cousins ​​and I decided to eschew her family’s behemoth tent, packed with her four younger siblings, in favor of staking our own ultralight two-person backpacking shelter, borrowed from my parents. It was close quarters, and then it started to rain. And it didn’t stop all weekend. We spent two nights crammed in like sardines, wrapped in wet clothes and wet sleeping bags, water dripping down the inside of our single-wall tent and running in little rivers outside the door and underneath the ground cloth. The bad weather meant most of the rides were closed, too. —Maren Larsen, podcast producer

A Gale At Our Canoe

We noticed clouds building across the lake during the evening, as my wife and nine-year-old son cooked supper over a beach campfire at a state park on the high plains of western Nebraska. But we hadn’t received any severe-storm warnings, and the evening stayed calm and warm as we moved on to s’mores. Soon after the sun fell and we settled into our tent, however, we could hear mounting howls of wind coming off the water, and in no time, we were in a struggle to keep the tent from flattening on top of us. As the storm intensified, we abandoned the tent to its fate and ran for my pickup, parked 50 yards away. We got in just as our canoe lifted off the shore and flew above us. As the truck rocked and lightning crashed, it felt like we, too, would soon be thrown into the bluffs. Then it moved on, as suddenly as it arrived. The tent was still clinging to a couple of the stakes, and, while it had a broken strut, we were able to get it back upright. We restored order to our sleeping bags and, after hours of adrenaline-fueled chatter and worry, eventually got to sleep. We found the canoe in the morning, undamaged. —Jonathan Beverley, senior running editor

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