Camping on a slope or uneven ground: How to make it work

by | Jun 14, 2023 | Backcountry camping

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Setting up your tent on a hill or uneven ground can be a daunting task, but sometimes, you might not have a choice.

Most campgrounds and established backcountry campsites have at least one tent pad area where the ground has been cleared and flattened, but it’s a different story if you’re bush camping or camping at a site that’s rarely used.

A tent set up on a hill

The risks of sleeping on an uneven surface are twofold.

First, you might end up with a bad back or other aches and pains from the lumps and bumps of the terrain.

And second, your tent could be at risk for flooding if it’s too low and the rain pooling around it.

But you don’t have to let the slope or uneven ground deter you from enjoying a night (or multiple nights) in the great outdoors.

Try hammock camping instead of tent camping

A camping hammock under a tarp.

The easiest way to to get deal with a sloped or uneven campsite is to get your sleep system off the ground, and hammock lets you do exactly that.

Hammocks are generally lighter than tents and are quick and easy to set up, making them a great alternative for getting a comfortable night’s sleep on a hill or slope.

We recommend one that’s designed for overnight camping, like the Easthills Outdoors Jungle Explorer double camping hammock.

Hammock camping requires two trees that are close enough together to support the hammock, so before you commit to this style, be sure that the location you’ll be camping in has trees that are large and not spaced too far apart.

If you’re on an incline, you may need to adjust the height of your hanging points so the hammock is horizontal and stays level during sleep.

Get a camping cot

A camping cot inside a tent.

A camping cot can be a game-changer for uneven terrain—especially if you want to sleep in a tent.

We’re big fans of the Helinox Cot One, which we slept on during a winter camping expedition where snow and ice made the ground super uneven.

When setting up your cot, you might notice that the legs aren’t level due to the slope.

One clever way to fix this issue is to use shims—small wedges that can be placed under the cot’s legs to help balance it out.

By using shims, you can adjust the height of each leg, compensating for the uneven ground and creating a more comfortable sleeping surface for the night.

You can purchase pre-made shims designed for levelling furniture, or you can make your own using materials like wooden wedges or even folded cardboard.

Make sure to place the shims under the appropriate legs to balance out the slope.

Not only will a level cot make your sleep more comfortable, but it can also prevent the cold ground and any moisture from affecting you during the night.

What to do if you have to tent camp on a slope without a cot

If you’re not interested in purchasing a camping hammock or cot, or it doesn’t make sense for your budget, there are still ways that you can make tent camping on a slope more manageable.

The best way to maximize your comfort is to look for the flattest spot in the area.

You may have to trim back some small plants or move debris to get the most even surface, but the effort will be well worth it.

Lie down to test the spot

A green camping air mattress lying on the grass.

The first thing you should do is get your sleeping pad or mattress, place it on what looks to be the flattest spot, and lie down to see how it feels.

This will help you determine if it’s comfortable and whether you need to make any adjustments.

Pay attention to any uncomfortable lumps or bumps, as these will become more pronounced when you’re trying to sleep at night.

Position your head uphill

A sloped ground in the forest.

This will help prevent blood from rushing to your head while you’re sleeping and can make a significant difference in your comfort level.

You may have to test out a few different positions to see which one works best for you.

Consider levelling out the ground

A person digging out the ground with a shovel

If the slope is very noticeable, you can try to level the ground by using branches, leaves, and pine needles.

Start by driving a couple of tent pegs into the ground and placing a log or branch against them.

Fill in the gap between the log and the hill with smaller branches, leaves, and pine needles to create a more level surface for your tent.

Alternatively, if you have the luxury of being able to bring a shovel, you can use it to dig out the most uneven parts of the ground and create a more level surface for your tent.

Use a groundsheet

A tent with two extra groundsheets.

A groundsheet will protect your tent from any water that pools on the ground, and it will also provide a buffer between you and the cold ground.

Make sure to get one that’s large enough to cover the entire area of your tent site.

You could even double up by using a tarp for the first layer and a groundsheet over it.

Add extra padding for extra comfort

Inside a tent with lots of extra blankets to stay warm.

If the spot is still too lumpy or uneven, you can add some extra layers of insulation for an even more comfortable night’s sleep.

If you’re still feeling awkward about the slope or uneven ground, you can experiment with using extra blankets, clothing or other camping gear in your bag as a makeshift shim to level out the area underneath the mattress and make it more comfortable for sleeping.

Use a thick air mattress

A super thick camping air mattress inside a tent with two sleeping bags.

The thinner your air mattress, the more noticeable the slope or uneven ground will be.

We recommend a thickness of at least 2.5 to 5 inches, but even more is better.

Thicker mattresses are a bit heavier, so they may not be a great choice for backpacking or ultralight camping trips, but the extra cushioning will make up for it in terms of comfort.

Air mattresses with built-in pumps also tend to be more stable on uneven ground and less prone to slipping or sliding around while you sleep.

Next up: How to keep your air mattress from sliding around in your tent

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What’s the best way to pitch a tent on uneven ground?

When pitching a tent on uneven ground, position your tent parallel to the slope, with your head uphill to prevent discomfort during sleep.

Clear the area of rocks and debris, and use tent stakes at an angle to secure it into the ground.

If needed, place a footprint or tarp underneath the tent for extra protection against moisture and uneven terrain.

How can I make my sleeping spot more comfortable on a slope?

To make your sleeping spot more comfortable on a slope, start by sleeping with your feet downhill.

Placing a flat object, like a travel bag or a rock, near your feet can give you extra support if needed.

You can also use an inflatable sleeping pad that adapts to the contours of the slope, providing a more comfortable surface for sleeping.

Are there any camping cots designed for uneven terrain?

Yes, there are camping cots designed for uneven terrain that feature adjustable legs.

These cots allow you to level out the sleeping surface, providing you with a flat and comfortable spot to sleep even on a slope.

The YOUGYM XXL camping cot, for example, features adjustable legs where each leg can be individually height-adjusted to accommodate for uneven ground.

What tips are there for sleeping on a hill while camping?

When sleeping on a hill, sleep with your head uphill and your feet downhill to avoid rolling onto your downhill side and prevent headaches.

Place a sleeping pad or cushion underneath you to improve comfort and maintain consistent body temperature throughout the night.

How do you secure a tent when camping on a hill?

Securing your tent on a hill involves using additional guylines and tent stakes to anchor the tent properly.

Angle the tent stakes away from the tent, and tighten the guylines to maintain tension and stability.

If you’re camping in windy conditions, consider adding extra stakes or weights to further secure your tent.

Can you recommend a good tent for camping on an incline?

For camping on an incline, look for tents with a freestanding design, and durable materials to withstand various terrains.

Tents with ample guylines and strong poles will provide better stability on slopes.

The MSR Hubba Hubba NX and the Nemo Dagger 2P are examples of lightweight, freestanding tents that can handle inclines well.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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