I don’t remember the first time I slept in a tent. It feels that doing so was always part of me.
I remember when I was very young, curling up beside my siblings on family camping trips, falling asleep to the sound of our crackling campfire mingling with our dad’s voice telling us stories. At summer camp, I would lie in my tent with my best friends, telling jokes, playing games, and huddling together in the middle when it rained and water seeped through the sides.
There was the time when my friend Sally woke me up in the middle of the night, telling me to peek outside because the stars were shining so brightly and she didn’t want me to miss it. When I was a counselor, I would sing my campers to sleep outside their tents before crawling into my own, breathing in the crisp, mountain air as I drifted off to the lullaby of a rushing river.
Sleeping in a tent has brought me closer to the people I love and to nature. It has taught me I don’t need as much as I think I do to be happy. It has trained me to be tough and resourceful.
There are so many benefits to sleeping in a tent, so many reasons people love it.
Grace Brofman grew up with me at summer camp and went on to become a wilderness trip leader. As a child, she loved tents’ communal aspect. “We’d all cuddle up together and squeeze five people into a four-person tent when it was raining,” she remembers, “and we loved being together.”
Now, her tent is her refuge, a place to reflect.
“It’s a lot calmer because you don’t have all of these things blinking around you. You probably don’t have your phone next to you. You don’t have a TV. It’s probably one of the only times you can really be alone with yourself,” Brofman says.
Another camp friend, Ellie Levitt, says that when she sleeps in a tent, “The promise of tomorrow — the guarantee that when you wake up, you have at least a few more miles to hike, maybe days — always helps me sleep better at night.”
Those who have dedicated their professional lives to the wilderness and to instilling a love of the outdoors in others swear by the tent.
“The relationships our students build when they are forced to interact really intimately and personally with folks they may not have otherwise interacted with is really special,” says Bix Firer, director of programs at Big City Mountaineers, a Colorado-based organization that guides disadvantaged youth on wilderness trips. “There’s something so unifying about those experiences.”
Marco Johnson has been an instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School, known as NOLS, since 1985. “Getting away from the things we focus on in town, be it our job or the responsibilities of family or schoolwork or bills or even knowing what’s going on in the rest of world,” he says, lets us focus “in a much more connected way” with the people and world around us.
Sleeping in a tent helps his students consider their priorities, he says: “They come back from having lived in a tent, realizing, ‘Oh, I can live a lot more simply than I thought I could.’”
For me, one of the best parts of sleeping in a tent is the places it allows me to go. Some of the most beautiful locations in the world are accessible only by hiking trail, only to those willing to spend days or weeks trekking to them and sleeping in a tent along the way. There is nothing like waking up beside a mountain or glacier or river or valley that you worked so hard to get to, nothing like the humbling feeling of being one tiny point within a vast wilderness.
“Sure, sleeping in a tent is awesome,” Johnson says. “But open the door and stick your head out. Sleep with your head out and look around.”