Let me start with a disclaimer: I have a difficult time falling asleep in even the most ideal of conditions, let alone in the great outdoors. My body temp tends to run fairly hot, so if it’s even remotely warm, I turn into a sweaty, uncomfortable mess. Needless to say, I was concerned going into my first river trip that I would have a serious problem sleeping, and that my lack of sleep would seriously impact my enjoyment of the trip. I was pleased to find, however, that sleeping outside in the Grand Canyon is not only very possible, but extremely enjoyable.
At home, I sleep best with a fan blowing inches from my face, both for the white noise and for the air. I found that the Canyon provides an exceptional substitute in the sound of flowing water and a comfortable breeze. Then throw in the countless brilliant orbiting stars as a lullaby, and I go down like a baby.
Now I don’t want to sugar coat it and say every night in the Grand Canyon will be perfectly restful. In fact, it may very well be the opposite of that. You may experience rain, an impossibly bright moon, extreme temperatures, or my least favorite, wind-blown sand. For nights like these, I offer a handful of the techniques I’ve picked up during my time in the Canyon.
1. Toss the Tent
Though tents can afford a degree of privacy, they have the effect of a sauna, trapping heat and moisture inside. There aren’t many places in the world that are as comfortable for outdoor sleeping as Grand Canyon. Take advantage of the unbeatable night sky and the lack of biting insects to enjoy a few nights unseparated from nature.
2. Stay Cool, Soak Your Sheet
If you find yourself uncomfortably warm and unable to fall asleep, try dipping your towel, sheet, or article of clothing in the river. Ring out the wet material and drape it over your body while you sleep. I’ve found that a moist towel laid over my forehead or abdomen does wonders for my body temperature. I also suggest sleeping as close to the river as possible to benefit from the cool air rising off the water.
3. Empty Out and Stay Hydrated
Coming from the extreme humidity of Minnesota, the dry air in Arizona was a rude awakening. Just breathing gave me cotton mouth. The last thing you want to do once you’ve finally gotten comfortable is get back out of your sleeping bag to find some water or use the restroom. Plan ahead; use the bathroom before it gets dark and keep a full bottle of water within reach!
4. Keep Dry
Though it isn’t common, it can rain at night in the Grand Canyon, especially during Arizona’s monsoon season. It is possible to experience a sustained downpour, but more often than not, if it does happen to rain, it will be a short-lived drizzle. Instead of frantically setting up a tent, keep your tarp close by. Cover yourself with the tarp until the sprinkle stops, then enjoy the smell of fresh rain and continue to sleep.
5. Cut the Wind and Kill the Sand
In my opinion, strong winds are the worst of all the weather you can experience in the Canyon. Campsites are typically located on sandbars that are covered in an extremely fine sand that becomes airborne in windy conditions. There is nothing worse than waking up with your eyes and ears crusted over with sand. Your first line of defense is to choose a strategic campsite. Find a location immediately downwind of rocks or trees to serve as a break between you and the sand. Your second line of defense follows my previous tip. Keep your tarp nearby and don’t be afraid to use it.
6. Mask out the Moon
On my last river trip, we experienced a full moon on day three, which meant we had an extremely bright night sky for the duration of the trip. Once the moon appeared over the Canyon walls, you could have honestly read a book without a flashlight. One passenger on my trip had brought one of those sleeping masks, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so envious of anything in my life. Now I’m not saying you should go out and buy a sleeping mask, but plan ahead. Check the forecast, and see what moon phase you can expect. If you don’t have a mask, maybe set aside a clean towel or t-shirt to use as a blindfold once the second sun appears.