Many is the night I have been in a public campground and laid awake listening to the commotions of my neighbors in their desire to sleep well, but unable to do so. The reasons for this may be many, but a common one is the fact that most people just don’t know how to make a good old fashioned camp bed anymore. Heck, most people don’t even know how to really go camping today, in fact. RVs and camper trailers are the norm in these days, not the good old fashioned tents that we older folks remember from the days of yore.

When people do sleep in a tent, and on the ground they tend to forget that it isn’t like a cushy pillow top mattress at home, and as they get cold, they’ll try to layer things on top of them, just like adding more blankets at home. Big mistake as most of the chill we get in these situations comes not from the air, but from the ground. My favorite cure for the cold in the wilderness is a bough bed, and when built just right, it’s better than sleeping at home.

I found this piece on camp beds from the early 20th century interesting and thought I’d share it with you. Just remember, it may be over 100 years old, but the facts are just as valid as if they were newborn today.

How to Make Camp Beds

By Arthur W. Stevens
Some of the Ways That Wilderness Dwellers Have of Sleeping Comfortably

BEDS,” says Little Benny, are to sleep in and to sit on the edge of when you take off your shoes.” The famous Mr. Webster, in discoursing on the same subject says, “Bed: an article of domestic furniture upon or within which one rests or sleeps.”

There are some beds with which neither Little Benny nor Mr. Webster was conversant. Those of us who have answered the call of the wild know that they are not all articles of domestic furniture; and we have frequently found beds that were conducive to neither rest nor sleep. The night, only too often, is a period of unrest and discomfort. This is sometimes unavoidable in cases where it is necessary to travel light, but usually it is due to lack of experience.

We read in the popular novel of the hero blithely rolling himself in his blanket beside the camp fire, and thus spending the night. It sounds simple. It is supposed that the blanket stayed wrapped, and that the fire burned all night without further attention and kept him warm on both sides.

However, if the truth were known, about one o’clock in the morning, when the fire had died to a few embers, the hero probably awoke feeling chilly and forlorn, with a pain where a protuberance of Mother Earth was poking him in the short ribs, an ache in his hip, another in his shoulder and a kink in his neck, and the blanket hopelessly tangled with his arms and legs. This, at least, has been the experience of most of us who have tried it.

In sleeping on the ground most of us fall down in not putting enough bedding beneath us. The ground is a cold proposition to snuggle up against. It can be warmed, “of course, by that old stunt of building a fire and then raking the fire to one side to allow the bed to be made on the warm earth. At home the mattress, in addition to being soft, serves as bedding to keep us warm from beneath.

In making a bed on the ground, the inexperienced person will, from force of habit, almost invariably put most of his bedding over him, and lie and shiver through the night from the chill of the cold earth. If, instead, he had put most of his bedding beneath him, and then thrown a blanket or two over and tucked them in well to keep out the cold air, he could have slept quite comfortably for part of the night, at least.

Therefore, as one of the first principles of “sleeping out” remember that the ground is cold, and that fully as much bedding is required beneath as above. This does not mean that blankets or quilts must be used. A thin, stuffed mattress may be carried. Hay or straw serves just as well. The large bracken ferns, if abundant enough, will make a fairly good mattress for one night.

On the Pacific Coast the moss sometimes forms a mat three or four inches thick that serves nicely as a mattress. And then, there is the old stand-by, the bough bed, which may be made very comfortable, but which, if correctly made, is a source of comfort and warmth. Using any one of these a person may spend a very comfortable night.

Another point to remember in sleeping, as in traveling, is that the hands and feet, being farthest from the central heating plant, as it were, become chilled most easily, and from them the chill is easily transmitted to the other parts of the body. It helps, materially, in keeping warm if a coat, or any clothing that is taken off, is laid over the feet. This is true even though the feet may not feel colder than other parts of the body.

The hands are kept warm through contact with the body. In sleeping out without bedding a little more warmth may be obtained by removing the coat and throwing it around the shoulders like a cape, so that the arms may get the warmth from the body.

Cots: In sleeping on a canvas cot the same rule holds good: use fully as much bedding beneath as above, for the air circulates on both sides, and the canvas gives little protection on the underside. Most people who are used to camping prefer the ground to a cot, but cots have their use during a season of heavy rains or in a country where rattlesnakes are abundant. However, they are angular and bulky for packing, and would best be discarded if pack horses are used.

Air Mattresses: For people, such as surveyors or Forest Service men, who spend a great deal of time in the open, the air mattress makes, probably, the ideal bed. A man can go out for a few days and put up with a little discomfort in sleeping; but if he lives out of doors for several months at a time it behooves him to make himself as comfortable as possible.

It is frequently necessary for him to travel until after dark before making camp, and then he may not have the time or the material for making a comfortable bed. It is then that the air mattress, which can be inflated in a minute or two, proves a godsend to tired muscles.

We hear occasional complaints that air mattresses are cold. Here again is the same old story—not enough bedding beneath. The air-filled rubber bag protects the body to a certain extent from the chill of the ground and the outside air, but not to the same degree as a stuffed mattress; and it is necessary to use a couple of thicknesses of blanket or comfort beneath the sleeper to insure a comfortable night’s rest.

Air mattresses may be obtained either as a mattress alone, or made up in a sleeping pocket or bag. They are commonly full length, but there is one on the market that becomes thinner toward the foot and ends just below the knees. This gives softness where it is needed most, under the shoulders and hips, and has the advantage of being light in weight.

Bough Beds: The art of making the bough bed, like the method of throwing the diamond hitch, or flipping the flapjack, is shrouded in romance and mystery to the novice; but in reality it is a very simple matter. The crimes that have been committed against Morpheus in the name of the bough bed would make a large and interesting book.

In making the bed there are just two things to remember: use long boughs—a foot and a half long; and stand them on end with the stub ends on the ground and the “feather” ends up. That is the whole thing in a nutshell, but a few more directions may help. Start with a log at the head, or, better still, a rectangle of logs that will enclose the bed. Stand a row of boughs against the head log; then another row against the first, and so on to the foot.

The boughs will have a slight inclination toward the head which makes them springy; and all the hard and stiff parts will be covered up. Of course, such a bed requires lots of boughs and quite a bit of time to make it, but it is worth it.

If time is short, or there is not enough material at hand to make such an elaborate bed, a very comfortable one may be made by cutting the boughs shorter—ten inches to a foot—and laying them flat in rows, shingling one row on the other so that the feather ends cover up the stubs. If one layer is not enough, put another on top of it. Such a bed lacks springiness, but it will afford protection from the chill and irregularities of the ground.

The Freighter’s Bed: The freighters of the West carry what seems an enormous quantity of bedding, usually all quilts. There are. of course, various methods of making up the beds, but of them all the following is probably the most practical and serviceable.

One quilt is spread out to its full size on the ground. A second is laid beside the first and overlapping it nearly half. The third is laid on top of the first, and overlapping the second; and so on, the idea being to provide a double thickness of quilts to act as mattress, and an extra width so that they may be folded over the sleeper from both sides.

Bed Covers: Any kind of a pocket or bag that encloses the sleeper makes for warmth, for it keeps the cold air from working in between the blankets.

There is a type of canvas cover for single beds that is made, with slight variations, by several manufacturers, or may be made at home. It serves equally well as a sleeping pocket, or a cover for use in shipping or packing the bed.

The diagram probably explains it better than a description. It consists essentially of a central piece of canvas having the length and half the width of a blanket. To it are sewed canvas flaps on each side and end so that when these flaps are folded over and fastened the bedding will be completely covered.

The end flaps fasten with tie strings, and the side ones with about five harness snaps sewed along the edge of one which snap into the rings on the other. The rings should be so placed as to allow plenty of room inside when it is used as a sleeping pocket. The end flaps will need to be a little wider than the central piece in order to protect the corners of the bed when it is packed.

The freighter’s bed, just described, makes very good filler for the cover, or the blankets may be simply laid together and then folded lengthwise. When used in this latter form the amount of cover may be regulated by going down as many layers as the coolness of the night demands, leaving the rest of the bedding beneath.

Sleeping Bags: Discussion as to the relative merits of the various sleeping bags had best be left to the manufacturers. However, one or two general hints may be useful. In buying a bag, get one that can be opened and spread out to the air and sunshine during the day. Not only is this more sanitary, but a wool blanket, if taken in before sunset, will retain the heat of the sun until bed time and make a much more comfortable bed to crawl into than one that has lain all day in the dark.

Bedding: The wool blanket will give more warmth and comfort, pound for pound, and shed water longer than any other form of bedding. Cotton blankets and cotton-filled quilts afford very little warmth in proportion to the weight.


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