For family camping, a duvet, with sheets, pillow and an air mattress, is a great option for your sleeping system. In many cases, the duvet could be swapped out for a blanket.
Sleeping system is a great phrase that we learned from the guys over at REI.com. It refers to all the items you carry to ensure you can sleep comfortably. Sleeping system, like many camping terms, comes from the backpacking communities. A typical sleep system will include:
- Covers: Sleeping bags, blankets, duvets
- Ground cover/support: Sleeping pad, air mattresses, cots, tarps
- Clothes worn while sleeping
Sleeping Bags, Duvets, and Alternatives
Most campers, including family campers, equate sleeping bags with camping. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Most of us got started in camping as scouts, or in my case, with the military. For them, the sleeping bag was the only option.
I have always hated sleeping bags. I find them too confining. It’s like being in a straight jacket. I am a side sleeper too. That means I like to be able to roll over frequently when in bed. With sleeping bags, being free to move can be difficult.
In reality, you can use anything you like to cover you and to keep you warm while camping. In another article, we look in some detail at “Is a Blanket a Good Alternative to a Sleeping Bag When Camping?”. Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding “yes”.
In warm environments you might want to dispense with warm coverings at all. A simple sheet may be all that is required, and even then, mostly to preserve modesty. We really prefer multi-room tents for family camping 😊
Sleeping bags remain a viable option for family camping. However, there is little point in looking for a top of the range, high thermal insulation, ultra-lightweight sleeping bag. You will be better served by a rectangular sleeping bag with an all round zip.
These sleeping bags can be opened out to use as a blanket or throw. If you still feel a sleeping bag is right for you, look for rectangular sleeping bags that can be zipped together to make a double. Just because you are camping, there is no need to miss out on a night time cuddle (or more) with your partner.
For most family camping trips that don’t include any extreme weather conditions, you can use pretty much whatever you want to provide you with the level of covers that make you comfortable. As we have said, our preference is to use a duvet.
All over the campingsage.com website, you are going to see that we are passionate advocates of camping comfortably. Nowhere is that more true than when considering what you should put on the ground to sleep on.
Camping Air Mattresses
For us, the tried, tested and proven solution is to use queen sized air mattresses.
The only time we have had these leak is when we have not closed the valves properly. It is disconcerting to wake up to find yourself on the cold ground. But it was our fault. If you buy a good quality air mattress, you will get many years of service from it, and with no leaks.
Our boys have tried using single air mattresses (they couldn’t possibly share a queen size!). They don’t work well. As soon as you turn over you are prone to sliding off and parting company with the mattress.
What works well for singles (both in family camping and backpacking), is the use of sleeping pads. These come in 3 basic varieties:
- Air inflation
- Self inflating
Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are often seen dangling from the bottom of hikers’ backpacks. They are very light, roll up tightly, and provide good thermal insulation. The major downside is that they don’t provide much padding and can be uncomfortable.
Air pads (Sleep pads that need to be inflated) are a cross between a sleeping pad and an air mattress. Most air pads will combine some of the closed-cell foam with inflatable pockets. They tend to not inflate as much as an air mattress and are therefore easier to stay on while sleeping
While providing good insulation, an air pad is much more comfortable that a foam model.
The major disadvantages are:
- Needs to be inflated and deflated before and after use
- More expensive than a basic foam pad
- Can be prone to damage – they are designed to be lightweight so don’t have the highest level of damage tolerance
Self-Inflating Pads are very much like air pads. They may contain more foam than an air pad. When you open the valve, the springiness of the foam expands, pulling air into the gaps. You can close the valve and enjoy the best of a foam and an air sleeping pad with no inflation effort.
When you pack a self-inflating pad, you open the valve and roll-up the pad to squeeze air out. Once it is rolled up, close the valve, and you have a compact, lightweight pad to carry.
Our boys have used self-inflating sleeping pads for several years. They love them. As they have become more independent and have moved on to backpacking, they have been able to take their sleeping pads with them.
We have looked at moving to sleeping pads too. Until recently we have been unable to find a good, double (or larger sleeping pad). We are not too old to enjoy a little personal contact and we have no desire to sleep on single beds.
There are several videos on youtube about people attempting to attach 2 sleeping pads together. None of these have been too successful.
Luckily, there seem to be a few, larger sleeping pads available. We might be able to try one out on our next trip.
If you are going to be camping in extreme weather – maybe somewhere on the side of a mountain, you need to pay some attention to what you wear inside your sleeping bag. In extreme conditions, this may effectively be all of your normal inner wear, supplemented by fleeces or woolen garments.
Even on a family camping trip, it is possible that you will encounter a cold night or tow. Pajamas may not be sufficient. It may be wise to take some additional base layers and sweatshirts to keep you warm while you are sleeping.
For most of our camping trips, keeping cool is a bigger challenge than keeping warm. While it is sometimes more comfortable to sleep naked (just got to love those multi-room tents), we tend to sleep in pajamas. It makes it so much easier if you need to get up to use the conveniences (or car hole).
So, back to the original question, yes it is possible to use a duvet for camping and sleeping. In fact, it is our preferred solution.
I hope we have not wandered too far off in this article. The aim is to get you to think about the whole of your camping sleeping system. Practically everything we accept as camping fact has come down from expectations of having to carry our tent on our backs.
With car camping, this is not the case. We can totally rethink our camping checklist including bedding, tents, cooking and activities.