We’ve all been there: lying awake in a sleeping bag, staring into the dark, wishing we could sleep. Insomnia is a common ailment outdoors, and OutsideEditors are hardly immune. Here’s a collection of our worst nights sleep in the woods. Our hope is that these stories help you avoid the missteps we made on our own failed trips to dreamland.
Relax in the Sierra
I hiked a stretch of the Sierra High Route in June a year with a friend and packed up the sleeping bag and mattress I usually bring for the summer weather in New Mexico don’t put together this altitude of 12,000 feet in late June can feel a lot like winter coming home. The first night the wind against my tent was so strong I could barely sleep, and I vowed to avoid the flight of rain the following night in hopes it would be calmer. Our second day of hiking took much longer than expected and we ended up camping next to a lake that had just melted 1,500 feet higher than expected. In the middle of the night, I woke up so cold and disoriented that I ended up bivying my fly… inside my tent. When I woke up the next morning, the fly and outside of my sleeping bag was completely frozen. The worst part? The wind died at dawn, so I could have slept comfortably and quietly with the fly. My partner, who lived at sea level, had a worse night than me, however – she was vomiting from the altitude until the early hours. —Abigail Barronian, Editor-in-Chief
A family affair (Soggy)
My mother’s giant Irish Catholic family has an annual reunion at a quaint, free amusement park in Pennsylvania called Knoebels. One weekend in June, we take over about a quarter of the campground that sits in the shadow of one of the park’s creaking wooden roller coasters. It’s not really difficult – there are bathrooms with showers and electrical outlets mounted on trees, and we hang twinkling lights and make grilled cheese sandwiches over campfires. In my early teens, one of my cousins and I decided to skip his family’s giant tent, filled with his four younger siblings, in favor of our own borrowed two-person ultralight backpacking shelter. to my parents. It was very close, 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 inside our single-walled tent and flowing in small rivers outside the door and under the carpet. floor. Bad weather also caused most rides to close. —Maren Larsen, podcast producer
A gust of wind ate our canoe
We noticed clouds forming over the lake during the evening as my wife and nine-year-old son cooked supper over a campfire on the beach at a state park in the high plains of the western Nebraska. But we had no severe storm warnings and the evening remained calm and warm as we moved on to s’mores. Shortly after the sun had set and we had settled into our tent, however, we could hear increasing howls of wind coming from the water, and in no time we were struggling to keep the tent from blowing. flatten on us. As the storm intensified, we abandoned the tent and ran to my pickup, parked 50 yards away. We entered just as our canoe took off from the shore and flew overhead. When the truck tipped over and the lightning crashed down, it felt like we too would soon be thrown into the cliffs. Then he left, as suddenly as he arrived. The tent was still hanging on a few pegs and although it had a broken strut we were able to get it back up. We restored order to our sleeping bags, and after hours of adrenaline-fueled chatter and worry, we finally fell asleep. We found the canoe in the morning, in good condition. —Jonathan Beverley, Senior Editor
Who invited the moose?
In September 2020, a roaring gale off Lake Superior hit Isle Royale, Michigan while I was on a solo backpacking and fly fishing trip. I had traveled 18 miles earlier in the day to Siskiwit Bay, and managed to tie my tarp to white spruce and balsam fir before ominous gray-green clouds turned thunder, lightning and hail the size of corn. I pitched my one-woman tent, devoured freeze-dried lasagna, and hunkered down around 8:30 p.m. to kill time with my dad’s copy of Jim Dufresne’s 1984. Isle Royale National Park: Walking Trails and Waterways Guide. Halfway through the chapter, I froze. A heavy, hoarse cow moose came through the undergrowth towards me – quickly. She stopped a few feet from my tent and sniffled. Well aware that the moose on the island were in heat and more aggressive than usual, I stood still, barely breathing. She searched and then, perhaps enjoying the shelter of my tarp, lay down next to me. Please, oh please, I silently urged her, don’t trample me or roll over me. We lay together, me in my sleeping bag, her in her dry place, for hours. I dozed off for maybe ten minutes until she left around 4am. Needless to say, I didn’t brush my teeth that night and didn’t catch any northern pike the next morning because my hands were still shaking. —Patty Hodapp, Editor-in-Chief
Tide higher than expected
In the early 1980s I was living in Washington, DC, and had a friend from Portland, Oregon named Mike who had been assigned to write about the island of Tangier, a point of land in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The people of Tangier, whose ancestors came from England long ago, are famous for their commercial crab fishing and speak with a curious accent sometimes described as Elizabethan. The plan was for Mike to collect enough local color to write the story, and then we would camp, eat, and drink. Also accompanied: his girlfriend and a friend of mine who was in DC for a summer visit. My preparations were, uh, quick and light: I brought a shabby orange tent, a sleeping bag, and a bottle of bourbon with a handle. After our ferry ride to Tangier and a look around, have fun! lots of old boats! – we found a south-facing beach with a huge view of the bay, lit a fire, watched the sunset, and nervously watched huge thunderstorms coming in from the west. I drank myself to sleep but was awakened by a cold, biblical downpour. The tide also rushed in, carrying real big dead fish. My tent collapsed and I spent the next few hours wading through a freezing water bag. The sun the next day never felt so good, even though it scorched us red. —Alex Heard, Editorial Director
High altitude injury
It was my senior year at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and four of us took a road trip from the Pacific Coast east of Lone Pine to hike 14,505 feet on the Mount Whitney. The Rangers advised us to camp at a lower elevation on our first night to avoid altitude sickness, but we were way too ambitious for their logic. We kept going up and up and up, and by the time the sun started to set, we had reached high camp at 12,000 feet, which put us a full day ahead of schedule. As we were preparing dinner, we realized a major madness: our supplies were too plentiful to fit in the single bear-proof box we had brought. Half of the food went into the bear box while the rest went into a bag buried in the snow. After a savory dinner of ramen noodles and canned clams, we crawled into our bags for the night. I can’t remember who woke up first with a headache, but at midnight we were all moaning in pain as imaginary vices gripped our temples. Around 3am, the headache pain faded as a totally different discomfort became clearer. Grunts and grunts came from the area where we had buried our food, and it wasn’t long before we realized that the big furry inhabitants of the mountain had discovered our makeshift refrigerator. Between my headache and the rummaging bears, I don’t think I slept more than an hour or two that night. The next day we stumbled to the top of Mount Whitney and then hiked to our car, which got us two days ahead of our planned schedule. Rather than spending the night in Lone Pine, we drove the seven hours back to Santa Cruz in one exhausted, cloudy-eyed push. Oh, to be 22 again. —Fred Dreier, Articles Editor