Most campers talk about sleeping beneath the stars. Whether in a tent, hammock, bivvy or awning of a camper or motorhome we all just love to get away and sleep out.
We often daydream or think about sleeping beneath the stars but how many of us actually do it? Properly sleep out in the open beneath the stars? It is an amazing experience, whether you choose to spend the full night under the stars or stay up to the early hours or get an early night and awake in the early hours to watch the spectacular night sky before retreating to your tent here are some tips to help you discover some Dark Sky Delights.
This is such an awesome experience that we think that everyone should do it and experience it at least once in their lives.
But when and where is the best when it comes to both sleeping beneath the stars in general and really getting to see a magnificent night sky in all its delight? One of the first things you should know is that the best time to experience our night skies in the UK is actually in the colder months. That is because our night sky is darker for longer.
How to Really Sleep Beneath the Stars
There are steps you can take and places you can go to REALLY get to see the best of our night skies. The following will help you find the perfect place and times to ensure you get a wonderful night of stargazing. I have added a list of links to Dark Sky Parks in the UK at the bottom of the post that may help you to find your perfect spot for star gazing and/or Aurora sitings.
To really experience sleeping beneath the stars it is probably best to sleep in the open with nothing overhead. Meaning no tent or awning above you. You may use a bivvy bag but to be able to lay there and look up at the sky, nothing should be over your head. This will help give the clearest view if you want to lay for a while stargazing before drifting off to sleep.
Please remember to really check the weather from a few sources before doing this as you will all know the weather can often turn quickly. You don’t want to have had a lovely day and then wake in the middle of the night with the rain.
Please remember that if you are doing this, even in the hot summer weather it can still get pretty cold at night. So, make sure you use a barrier between the ground and your sleeping bag as the cold ground will draw the heat from your body. It is best to use a sleeping mat of some kind. Whether this is a SIM (self-inflating mat), inflatable mat or a foam mat it will create a barrier. Get one that has foil inside or is foil-backed and ensure the foil surface is facing you. This helps to radiate heat back towards you and not let it escape into the ground. I would also recommend something on top of this, like a blanket then place your sleeping bag on top. Ensure the sleeping bag you are using is suitable for the temperature and season.
If you are planning to sleep on a hammock it is best to use an under quilt as this will keep the cold air getting to you from underneath. In the UK I would recommend using under quilts in all seasons to ensure you stay warm and cosy. In the winter months, a heavier quilt may be needed.
It may also be advantageous to put a waterproof barrier over the top of your bed/sleeping area to save things from getting damp during the night. If you would like to invest in a bivvy bag to keep you warm and dry simply put your whole set-up inside this to ensure you stay cosy.
Another thing to remember is to wear a hat or other head covering, we lose around 7-10% of our body heat through our head so keeping it covered will go a long way to keeping you warm when sleeping out.
Light pollution is one thing that can really determine how many stars you are able to see with the naked eye. From any city, you may only see about 100 stars when you look up to the night sky. But if you were to get away from all the bright lights you will easily see 1000’s stars and even our own galaxy, The Milky Way which stretches across our night skies. I loved seeing the Milky Way for the first time, I was in such awe of this natural galactical sight, so many people miss out on seeing this due to light pollution and/or not taking the time to plan and stay up to see it.
Light pollution comes in many forms. Street lights, lights from cars, office buildings, houses, shops and any other buildings or towers that may have lights. The further away from these areas, you can get the better, you are really going to get to see the night sky in all its glory.
We are really lucky here in the UK that we have many places we are able to go where light pollution is minimal. These are called Dark Sky Areas or Parks. These are areas that are recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association. They are so recognised as they have large areas of low light pollution and are easily accessible to people. I will list some Dark Sky Parks at the end of this post.
The weather will also determine how many stars or how much of the night sky you may be able to see. The best conditions are nice clear and dry evenings where there are no or few clouds. If you are heading out for the night with seeing a sky full of stars as your main objective it is best to keep an eye on the weather forecasts for that area.
There are apps such as Stellarium, Nightshift and Clear Outside that will help you determine when and where is best to stargaze and apps such as Aurora Watch if it is the Aurora Borealis you would like to see.
Not Just Stars
Now if you get the right conditions for a night outside it may not be just the stars you are able to see. You may even get to see The Milky Way in all its glory too. The Milky Way is a Galaxy that contains Earths solar system and it stretches across our night skies giving us the view of it from the earth and it’s a wonderful sight to see.
Another experience that you might like is to go out and spend the night watching a meteor shower. Meteor showers are a delight to watch and the last time I was out watching one we were seeing about 15 shooting stars per minute, so it was quite impressive. Again, to see these meteor showers the conditions need to be fairly good. Most meteor showers that happen are discussed well beforehand in the media, so you will know when they will be happening. If you do not regularly watch or read the news the apps I mentioned above can help you to find times of meteor showers too.
Depending on where you are and the time of year you may even get spoiled by being able to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis as it is also known.
This light phenomenon is a delight to see and again is best viewed from Dark Sky Areas and during the winter months. The best time to see them is between October and February. And although the north of Scotland is the best place to see them, they have also been seen as far down as Kent and Cornwall in the UK.
If the Northern Lights is something that you would love to see there are many apps now that you can download to your phone that will allow you to check when and where is best to see them and Lancaster University also has Aurora Watch, a very useful resource. They will also post on Twitter when activity is expected and where, so it may be worth following them on Twitter too if you have it.
Dark Sky Areas In the UK
Below are some links to Dark Sky areas. Many of these areas have campsites on them and of course, you can always wild camp in Scotland for free so long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code.
Will You Be Enjoying Some Dark Sky Delights?
We really hope this post inspires you to take the time to plan and spend at least one night, naturally under the stars, watching them in all their glory and hopefully if you do this at a Dark Sky Park you will also get to see the milky way.
Remember that by using the apps and planning where and when to go and do this you are giving yourself and those who you take with you more of a chance of having a great nights experience. We feel that everyone should do this at least once in their lives as it really helps bring some perspective into our lives and just how small a part we play when we are there, lying below our galaxy in awe of what we are seeing with our naked eye.
If you do wish to spend a night doing this remember to ensure you do everything you can to stay warm. Laying there cold or freezing will only make it feel like a chore and take away from an amazing experience.
Have you seen any of the above on your camping trips? Why not share your stories or pics with the rest of us in the comments or on our Social Media pages? We’d all love to see them.