Planning an Overnight Hunt

Sleeping Right On A Long-Range Hunting Trip

The Thin Line Between "YAWN" and Clarity

By Bob Ozment

Bob is a sleep-research blogger and writer with a zealot-like passion for The Great Outdoors. He's currently an editor with TheSleepStudies.com, a website about all things sleep.

Patience and Focus.

Both critically important and you can’t buy them at the shop.
Once the exciting part of shopping for gear is done and you have that stylish 26-inch barrel rifle in your hand and the flashy knife on your belt, it’s time to separate the boys from the men, the hunters from guys who have a gun and a knife.
Quarry doesn't jump out of a shrub wearing a sandwich board saying, “Here I am.” A hunter is prepared for hours on end of seeing nothing but clouds scudding across the sky.

What happens on an overnight hunting trip?

Maintaining your focus through a one-day hunt in the Steuben County with your buddies and doing it on an overnight trip are two different beasts. If it’s a local hunting trip, you plan the day before to get a good night’s rest on your lofty mattress, wake up fresh and have a power breakfast.

You’re ready to go.

But overnight trips, especially the longer ones, pose a whole new set of tests.
The elements will test you physically and mentally. You still have your skills but, if you’ve never done it before, you’d be surprised how two nights in a damp tent can compromise them.

The crucial part of planning an overnight trip is making sure that you get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep will make it much more difficult to focus, it will slow down your reaction time and lower your abilities to assess the situations in the field. That’s what we’ll address today – getting a good night’s sleep on an overnight trip.

Overcoming Noise-in-the-night Phobias

Getting essential sleep is no easy feat when camping in the backcountry. Fear is a primitive emotion that protected us in those long hours of darkness. Overcoming fear is what rewards us and enhances our life experience.

Understand the fear – the stakes and the odds

The critical elements of overcoming fear are developing the skills to accurately assess two of its main aspects - the stakes and the odds.

The 'stakes' are how much harm a threat can really do. Things such as a crazed drug-runner will leap into your tent and tear you to shreds, which would be terrible, but the chance is a billion-to-one.

The 'odds' define how likely the feared scenario is to happen. You're in a wilderness many, if not hundreds of miles, from a city. That noise in the trees is highly probable of being nothing more threatening than an Opossum foraging for food.

If it’s your first time, don’t go alone

Solitude is daunting. Behavioral scientists tell us humans are social animals.
Being alone goes against the grain of our social brains. These instincts will amplify manifold in a situation that’s new to you and your brain perceives it as imminently dangerous.
That’s why a group trip is a good idea if it’s your first time. The very fact that you have people around will soothe your brain and allow you to get a good night’s rest with all the howling around you.

The Right Carry-Pack

A good hunting backpack will need to carry gear essential to getting a good night's sleep, but light enough for you to carry through the day. The pack will need quick access to your weapon, spotter scope, and tripod.

Choose one that:

  • Comes with multiple compression and support straps for loads such as boned meat and antlers
  • Expands to solid volume – a good rule of thumb is 3000+ cubic inches
  • Features well-padded shoulder straps to keep your gun sling in place
  • Is adjusted to high-elevation hunts. These will usually come with large side pockets for the optics and the tripod & stowed-away weapon carry system for the riffle/bow

Keeping out the Elements

Snow and rain are fairly obvious conditions to everyone. But being under a clear sky for days calls for digging a bit deeper. When the temperature in the atmosphere approaches 32° F moisture in the air as a gas state turns liquid wetting everything exposed to the outside in dew. If the temperature drops any lower, the liquid turns to ice forming frost. A proper night's sleep depends on how well you are protected from the weather. Hunters usually have a preference in choosing either a Bivvy bag or a tent. We look at both.

Bivvy bags

Bivvy bags, or Bivvy Sacks, are fundamentally a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. Those choosing this sleeping system love the minimalist features such as feeling the early morning sun on your face. The disadvantage is prolonged wet weather and keeping your sleeping bag dry. The basic rule of thumb when choosing a Bivvy bag is to go with one that’s a combo of Gore-Tex and other waterproof, moisture-vapor-permeable material. A deer rifle with cartridges weighs between 7 to 8 pounds. The next heaviest gear you will need to carry is shelter, backpack, sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad / air mattress.

Tent vs. Bivvy sack

Tents are heavier and more expensive than Bivvy sacks. But lightweight materials and design mean 2 person tents weight 4 to 5 lbs. experienced hikers will tell you the extra space of 2 person tent even if you are hunting alone is worth it.

Tents are designed as three season shelters. Packs and hunting gear can be stowed dry in the vestibules. Freestanding tents are quick to set-up and can be pitched anywhere, even on solid rock. Double-walled tents use a mesh body and a rainfly. The mesh acts as a barrier against condensation build-up on the rainfly.

Below are a few examples of tents that might be a good fit:

  • Mountainsmith Morrison 2 Person Tent – it’s a 2-door & 2-vestibule tent made of polyester. It includes fly windows and weights about 5.5 lbs.
  • Kelty TN 2 Person-Tent – a peg more expensive but lighter (about 4.5 lbs). You can roll back the rainfly and enjoy a view of the stars on a clear night.
  • REI Co-op Quarter Dome 3 Tent – now this is a “serious” tent top to bottom. The sides are 15 denier rip-stop nylon and the floor is robust 20 denier. It’s designed to last.

Sleeping Pads

Getting a good night's sleep is the only way to stay sharp. Once considered a luxury for the not-so-serious-rugged outdoorsman, sleep pads protect you, and not carrying is simply not an option. The good news is that the innovations in the industry made it possible to choose a small and light air mattress or pad that won’t add significant weight to the sack.

An air mattress is rarely an option

A full-on air mattress will rarely be an option, because even the best air mattress will still be too bulky and heavy to carry around. The best camping air mattresses do come small and light these days but usually not small enough to comfortably fit a 2-person tent. Bottom line – in 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll be looking into sleeping pads.

Types of pads

Sleeping pads fall into three categories. All have advantages and disadvantages. The one factor that will determine the type you choose is whether you’re setting permanent camp for the whole trip or fully packing/unpacking every night at a different spot.

If you are setting a permanent camp – you can be more flexible in your choices and go with something bulkier and more comfortable, like a self-inflating pad or even a small and light air mattress.

If you’re hunting Cicero-style (famously said , “All that is mine I carry with me”), a combo of a light foam mat and a classic inflatable pad will be your best bet.

Self-inflating sleeping pads are made with advanced foam technology that expands to provide an insulating layer of air between you and the ground. They use what’s called open-cell foam technology. It basically means that the cells of the foam suck in air as you open the valve and you squeeze the air out to pack the pad. The main upside is that they are more comfortable than a classic pad because it’s not just air, it’s foam filled with air. The main downside is that, because it’s foam, they are heavier and do not pack as small as a classic air pad.

Closed-cell Foam Pads/Mats comes as either accordion style or tightly rolled and held closed with Velcro straps. They are lighter than self-inflating pads, but the downside to closed-cell construction is it is not thick and gives less support and comfort from the cold ground. You carry them attached to the side of the backpack because they don’t pack small enough and would take too much space in the pack. Best used as a combo with a sleeping pad, bag or both.

Classic sleeping pads (manually inflated) can be compressed into a very small space. The upside is that these can pack as small and light as a can of beer and still offer solid insulation. The best of these have an R-value in the range of 3.5-5.5 (R-value is the measure of thermal resistance – to put it simply, how good they are at keeping you warm). The downside is that they are just material filled with air and can puncture.

That’s why the combo of a foam mat and light sleeping pad will probably be your best bet. The pad will keep you comfortable and warm and the foam mat will protect the pad from punctures.

Sleeping Bags

At day's end, as the sun goes down and the air starts to chill, one important item to ensure forty winks is a sleeping bag. Sleeping bags come in either duck down fill or synthetic fill. The importance of fill is to keep loft. While the choice of either Bivvy sack or tent along with sleeping pads can be either budget or better quality, choosing a sleeping bag should always be the best afforded.

Let’s make it simple – go with a mummy-styled bag and baffles filled with synthetic fiber. For the purposes of a hunter, it’s the sweet spot in terms of weight and size vs. insulation. Again, if you don’t have a fixed camping set-up with a lighter bag – less than 3.5 lbs. is a good rule of thumb.

Sleeping Clothes

After a day's hunt, and it's time to shuck-off blood-stained jackets that stink, comfortable night clothes are the next consideration. Almost all experienced hunters will tell you polyester thermals are clammy, and Marino wool is your best bet.

Here’s why:

  • Wool is a natural antibacterial. 
  • It absorbs up to 36% of its weight in moisture.
  • Can be comfortable in warm and cold nights.
  • Extremely durable.
  • Can be worn continuously for days before laundering meaning one pair is good for a hunting trip.

If you’re expecting cold night on the trip, you’ll want a piece that’s:

  • Made of thin-fiber Merino wool (the thinner the fiber of the wool, the more gets “trapped” between the fibers making it a better insulator without being bulky. A good rule of thumb for the fiber is 17-20 microns)
  •  Machine washable and dryable
  • Flatlock seams to reduce possible chaffing and skin irritation
  • Rib-knit cuffs – these will keep the sleeves from moving up under the extra layers of clothes

The Importance of Sleep and Thinking Clearly

The challenges a hunter will face on an overnight trip can be compared to that of an athlete – we have to stay alert, keep our alertness, focus and reaction time at their peak.

Proof in Studies

Tests on college student athletes were undertaken to see if what would happen if they were kept awake for 48 hours. Not a lot happened in the way of losing stamina, but when it came to mental function, their skills went pear-shaped.

Thinking abilities such as memory, alertness, and attention span were impaired. Most notably were reaction times which had slowed markedly. In those moments when a quarry suddenly appears, quick thinking and response time is needed most.

Another study on martial arts practitioners found exhaustion levels from poor sleep was equal to the energy depleted after a full bout of fighting.

Generally, a night of bad sleep for an average person is anything under 7 hours. But judging the sleep quality goes beyond the hours, it’s about the balance between the sleep phases. That’s what keeps us skilled and ready.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that educating yourself about these things is a must. It’s easy to shrug it all off because you’re man’s man. Nature doesn’t care about that, nor does your body.

Stay smart and vigilant out there


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