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Solo Camping: Part Two- Night Napping

Good night bike, hello moon

Have you done your homework? Solo camping, or more appropriately, solo night napping is a skill. Like any other activity, it takes time and practice to become comfortable and confident closing your eyes to the world with nothing but a bit of insulation and some ripstop nylon between it and you. Hopefully you’ve read Building Up to Solo Camping – Part One and have begun to build a foundation for finding joy in moving through the nighttime hours by yourself. Now it’s time to take a nap!

And, I really do mean nap. When I began my solo, self-supported bikepacking journey a few years ago, I assumed I could just ride into a meadow, throw down my bivy, and take a five-hour snooze. During those first outings, two hours would pass and my eyes would close for maybe 20 total minutes. Sounds, breezes, temperature, and nervousness jostled me awake and toyed with my tired-but-not-tired-enough-to-sleep brain.

I’d give up, get up, pack my gear, and pedal back to the trailhead in defeat, heading home to my cat and my cozy bed. Other times, I’d decide to complete the ride I’d planned, finishing the route before sunrise and returning home to sleep during the day. My goal was to be able to race a multi-day event, and I knew that I needed to get my shut-eye sorted out.

Waking up in the bivy with the bike

I’m a big fan of learning by doing, but in this case, I just wasn’t cracking the code. I started talking to people and reading about how hikers, runners, and riders managed to rest during solo overnight adventures. Finally, I heard someone say, “I don’t sleep until I’m tired.” Since I was preparing for a 1,000 mile self-supported bikepacking race in Kyrgyzstan, this statement was an epiphany. The more time I spent pedaling, the farther I’d go. If I only tried to sleep when I was about to fall asleep anyway, then that’s just smart time management, right?

Now I can sleep anywhere if I’m tired enough! A grassy patch at 10,000 feet of elevation on Kyrgyz mountain pass, a bus stop shelter in Chile, and the tiny space under a juniper tree in Escalante in a windstorm have all served as adequate snooze zones. And, sometimes riding through the night and sleeping in the warmth of the day has been my key to happiness.

You don’t have to beat yourself into the ground to get a pleasant rest, though. You just have to plan ahead. Here are some of the things that have helped me slumber soundly under a variety of circumstances. Perhaps one or two of these tips will help you achieve sweet sleepy success too!

The Right Gear, From the Outside In

When I was researching the gear I’d need to complete my bikepacking objective, I immediately became torn between choosing a tent or a bivy. I knew a tarp wasn’t the answer for me, and I didn’t know if there’d be enough trees to support carrying a hammock. I visited a local outdoor store and asked the bivy vs. tent question. The staff member said, “Plenty of people love bivies, but I wouldn’t wish one on my worst enemy.” I bought a Black Diamond Twilight bivy that day.

At that time, there wasn’t a tent like the Big Agnes Fly Creek Bikepacking UL1 with short enough poles to fit onto my rig. I wanted to go light, but I also needed gear that was compact, easy to set up, and quick to pack. Some  people feel claustrophobic in a bivy, but I love that I can look at the stars at any time. And if I hear something or see a light, I can easily look around without first unzipping the tent and fly. I’ve slept in the bivy in the cold, but have been lucky to avoid wet conditions. I have since purchased that Big Agnes tent and often carry the footprint with my bivy. I’ve also packed the fly and poles in case of bad weather on a few trips.

Some notes about the bivy—it’s not fun to hang out in if you aren’t tired. It’s not ideal for wet weather, and it’s not a great emergency shelter. My motto is, “If I’m not sleeping, I’m not in the bivy.” If your objective allows you to move at a more relaxed pace, a tent or tarp might be more protective and comfortable.

I chose a Western Mountaineering Nanolite Quilt for my sleeping bag, as it smashes into a tiny stuff sack but also provides excellent warmth. Pairing it with a Klymit Ozone sleeping pad has provided a comfy nest that I now start to crave long before I’m tired enough to pull over. This combo of the quilt, holey pad, and bivy has been my staple since 2018!

The cat and the sleep kit for scale

I also love a cozy PJ plan. Damp duds make a solid snooze difficult, and I’ve perfected the in-bivy clothing swap. Smartwool socks, long underwear, and hat combined with a Patagonia Nanopuff down jacket provide the extra warmth and comfort I need to sleep well, without adding bulk to my overall kit. And ladies, always take off that soggy sports bra! I air out damp clothes on the bike overnight and move them into the bivy to warm them up before changing in the morning.

Your camp kit will change depending on your location—I rarely ride in consistently wet weather—but the principle remains the same: take what you need to be comfortable. If you aren’t planning to run, hike, or ride yourself into the ground before it’s time to set up camp, playing music from your phone or taking along a book that you love can calm your brain and get you into the napping mood.

You Do You

Even though my first few overnights didn’t go as planned, I learned what I need to do to sleep well. As you begin your night napping journey, take some of the advice from Building Up to Solo Camping – Part One: start small and in familiar territory.

Understand your gear, and practice setting up camp during the day. Then try sleeping in your own back yard or that of a friend. Sleep close to your car (but not in it) at an established campsite. You can even camp with friends, but move just a little further away from the group than you normally would when it’s time to sleep. Then, go a little farther out next time.

It really does take practice! It’s ok if you don’t get a full night of sleep during your first outings. Don’t be surprised if you max out at 3 or 4 or 6 hours of sleep instead of what you would consider a normal night. It gets better! I’ve found that if I can’t sleep now because I just can’t find a good spot, or I’m not tired enough, I can nap later in the afternoon. Sometimes I’ll even pack up, move for a while, and set up camp again that same night if needed. The beauty of camping solo is the freedom to do what’s best for YOU!

Staying Safe

I know this is everyone’s biggest concern—and it should be. I cannot prepare you for safety concerns with a Blog post, but I can say that the same safety scenarios you’ve prepare for in the daylight apply at night. Whether there is potential danger from animals like bears, people, or weather, always put your safety first.

  • Understand the risks that exist and how to mitigate them before you depart. For example, if you perfect your food storage techniques during the day, it’s much easier to do it right in the dark too.

  • Never stop to sleep somewhere that just doesn’t feel right.

  • To repeat a paragraph from the first Blog post, “There’s no need to force yourself to go anywhere you don’t feel comfortable. Consider carrying pepper spray, a whistle, and a first aid kit. You never want to use them, but you can’t use what you don’t have. Always plan your routes in advance, let others know what you’re up to, and give an estimated return time.”

I absolutely love that moment where my face is poking out of my bivy and I’m trying to keep my eyes open long enough to spot a shooting star or seven. Hopefully you’re also able to spot a few before you fall into your own cozy and refreshing nighttime nap.

Jackie Baker is an avid skier, just waiting for another classic Wasatch powder day. When not on snow, she likes to ride her bike long distances in remote places. Visit her Instagram profile, @ohjaybay, to see where she's riding and what snacks she's packing.

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