Camping is a wonderful, age old summer tradition for outdoorsy Canadians. Something about natural landscapes and outdoor activities being good for your health. A road block for a lot of people can be pain. We know from the science that restriction of activities due to pain can lead to co-occuring mental health disorders like depression.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

It can be possible to adapt to pain while still doing what you love or even trying something new. When it comes to camping, sleep can be a make or break thing for just about anyone, chronic pain or not. We know that pain can disrupt sleep... and poor sleep can make coping with pain an even greater challenge than it already is. So if you are thinking about trying camping, or are worried your pain will mean you have to stop camping, your sleep system is worth considering spending some money on.

  1. Consider your sleep position. Side sleeper? On your back? On your belly? All over the place? It may seem inconsequential but try sleeping on your side in a “mummy” style sleeping bag on a narrow sleep mat. Some part of you will hang off the mat and get cold and you may find you have no room for your knees and elbows inside the bag. Side sleepers generally want a wider sleep mat and a rectangular or otherwise roomy bag. Note the length of the bag matters too – it is harder for your body to warm up the bottom of the bag if your feet don't reach it, creating cold spots in your bag. So, you want you bag big enough to fit you and your sleep habits, but fitted enough that you can adequately fill it with your body heat.
  2. Getting UP in the morning. Camping doesn't have to mean sleeping rough. IT is possible to enjoy a few luxuries, especially for car glamping. I mean car camping. For instance, my friend always liked camping but back pain limited what he could manage as a camper. Trying to get up from the ground first thing in the morning was a sure way to start the day off lousy with an exercise in keeping composure. The solution? Camp cot. He may never sleep back country but that's ok. He still reaps the benefits of campsite marshmallows and bug spray in your eyes while car camping in style. Consider a cot as an option for yourself too if getting all the way up from all the way down there is not a practical thing for you.
  3. Cushioning. For those of us who can get all the way up from all the way down, spend the money on a really good pad. Most outdoor stores right now will have all their camping gear set up with demo models for you to test drive Lay the pad out and get cozy. Lay on it in your preferred sleeping position. If you know you're a bit of a flipper-flopper then roll around on the mat trying different positions you know you sleep in. Make sure all of your body can stay on the mat in every position so you remain warm enough at night. Ask if you can play a bit with the air pressure if it uses air to maintain it's shape. A too-hard mat can be just as difficult to sleep on as the too-hard ground. Give yourself a good 15 minutes with the mat to really get an idea of how it will be to sleep on it for one or several nights. Trust me, it is worth the expense.
  4. Bring your self care methods. Ultimately, your pain is coming camping with you and so you will need to be able to take care of it. If you have medications, bring them. If you're working with a manual therapist of some kind, schedule an appointment or two before you go so you can discuss the camping trip, refresh yourself on current remedial exercises and review what to do if you have a major pain flare-up while away. Ask if you can tentatively set up a short follow-up or check in appointment after the trip as a “just in case.” Knowing how to manage a pain flare up in a necessary skill when learning to live with pain. It is a skill that can enable you to live your life as well as you can, while pain travels through it with you.


Right now camping season is in FULL SWNG so all your local outdoor stores are ready, willing and able to cater to your needs. Ask the folks in the shop for help choosing your sleep system and if you're lucky, take advantage of some deals!


Happy camping!