It’s only a few nights away from home, you can just not bother with your CPAP machine, right? Wrong! I mean you could just not bother, but at best you’re risking bad sleep when really a vacation is meant to recharge you. At worst you are making your body vulnerable to the many health implications that untreated sleep apnea can induce. So, CPAP camping? How is it done? Can it be done? If so, can it be done stress free and with minimal effort?
Camping is generally a social activity. You, the family, the dog, all packed into the car and heading off. Often to meet with other families on long lazy summer nights. What isn’t sociable? The noise of a sleep apnea patient who hasn’t made any effort to bring their treatment with them, so the loud spluttering, snoring, gasping and gurgling from their tent bleeds through the thin tent walls for the whole campsite to enjoy!
To make CPAP camping fun, easy and effective, you need to focus on three main potential problem areas.
- the right CPAP machine for traveling.
- the right CPAP mask for travel.
- the right power supply for your CPAP machine.
- cleaning your CPAP
Get these three nailed and you’ll have a camping trip to remember for the right reasons (being out in the country, seeing the stars, smelling the fresh air etc. Not the part where your own body tries to cut off your air supply through the night!).
CPAP Camping – picking the right equipment
Now, none of the following are compulsory. You can just unplug your regular bedside CPAP machine and take it with you. But it would be like unplugging your desktop PC and carrying that around with you when you leave the house, rather than just taking a tablet or smartphone.
- You’ll need a suitable CPAP machine. Essentially one that has been designed for travel. They are generally designed to be smaller, easier to set up, lighter and a breeze to transport around. We have a guide on the best travel CPAP machines, which is well worth a read at this point. And if you’re thinking you may have to sacrifice the level of treatment you receive whilst you are on your travels, think again. Users and critics alike have been stunned by how these little things pack a real punch. It’s worth noting here that you may be able to purchase your extra ‘travel’ CPAP machine on your insurance if your insurance company doesn’t cover your existing CPAP machine. If they are already covering a CPAP machine on the policy, then you may have to take the hit of the cost of paying for your travel CPAP machine. It is still worth noting that you can still go camping with one of top quality CPAP machines, such as the ones we have on our list of Top 6 Best CPAP Machines article, even though it is not optimized for travel. It will just be a little more cumbersome to do so.
- You’re also going to need a CPAP travel mask. You’re going to find that these are that bit lighter, more flexible, easier to pack and generally that bit more travel friendly. Take a look and our top picks here!
- Choosing the right power supply. There will be more on this topic very shortly in this article, but it’s something you must have a think about. Is there power at the campsite? How long does my CPAP machine hold its charge? How can I recharge my machine if there isn’t power at the campsite? Don’t just assume you’ll be ok!
- Cleaning. It’s generally a bit dirtier out camping than it is in your own home. You don’t want to risk infection, illness and poor performance thanks to a build-up of dirt in the wrong places. Pack some mask cleaning wipes to help tide you over whilst your away. In addition, ‘SoClean’ have an ‘on the go’ version of their product which makes CPAP camping as clean and hygienic as possible. Be sure to have a thorough clean once you’re back home though!
CPAP camping – getting power!
You’ve got a few options here! But first, a WARNING; be sure to check what volts alternative power supplies are pumping out. Have the appropriate adaptor if needed for your CPAP machine.
- Find a campsite with power. Ring ahead, explain your situation. They’ll want to help you out! You may need to take a few extension cables, but unless you are planning on spending a few days in the absolute wilderness, ‘normal’ camping should provide you with some access to power.
- Power generator. You can buy mini-power generators to take with you. They are not as expensive as you might think, plus they can be charged in a car or by solar power if you buy a particularly clever one!
- CPAP battery backups. We’ve talked at length about these elsewhere because they can be very useful in many scenarios, not just camping. They provide you with a reliable and consistent power for your CPAP machine and, depending on your settings, can give you up to 3 nights of CPAP treatment. NB – using your humidifier really drinks your battery, but you’ll be fine to not use that for few nights of treatment in order to save battery. You’ll find compatible battery backups for the majority of main makes and models, such as ResMed and Respironics. Although it is worth checking if the battery backup is compatible with the ‘standard’ or ‘travel’ version of the model in question. Check out our guide on CPAP Batter Backups here!
- The car battery. Bit of a last resort this one, and only do it if you know what you’re doing! Those CPAP machines ain’t cheap! There are some instructional videos online to give you an idea of what you’re doing. But it is possible to connect your CPAP machine to a 12-volt car battery, similar to how you would a generator with the appropriate adaptor. Make sure you don’t drain your car battery in the process though! That could be easily done so either charge your CPAP in bursts and once unplugged, give the engine of the car a go at recharging. Or make sure you’ve got some decent footwear for when you are jump-starting your car at the end of your camping trip (sure there will be a few instructional videos for doing that too!)
Going off-the-grid totally?
What if you are going camping somewhere a bit more remote? Somewhere where there’s not a nice clubhouse a few meters away with showers, vending machines and that all important power plug? Surely that means, that as a CPAP user, you either put up with poor sleep and risk your health or just don’t go!
Well, no actually. If you fit into this category of camper or traveler who does find themselves a long way from civilization, there is a relatively new development which is well worth spending the cash on.
Solar power. Some travel CPAP machines and battery backups now have this amazing feature. They may come as an add-on which you’ll need to purchase, but it well worth spending the money. So as you enjoy your day, you can leave your kit in the sun to charge. When it’s time to slip into your sleeping bag, you’ve got a fully charged CPAP machine or battery backup.
Transcend seem to be leading the way in this field, so if you are a more rural explorer this may be the make to focus your attention on. You’ll find a full review of the Transcend Mini CPAP here.
Do I have to take my CPAP machine to get CPAP camping treatment?
It is advised that you make arrangements to ensure you get your prescribed CPAP treatment i.e. buying a travel CPAP machine, sorting a power supply etc. However, for less severe cases of obstructive sleep apnea there are some alternatives which may see you through for a couple of nights.
Provent is a nightly-use nasal device. It is put inside the nostrils and held in place with a light adhesive. The idea is that Provent uses a patented ‘MicroValve’ that creates pressure as you breath out which in turn keeps your airways open. It’s a bit like a dam – where behind a dam you’ll get a build up of water, here you get a build up of air that keeps the pressure high and prevents obstructions. Obviously though, some air is allowed to escape as you exhale.
You can also purchase dental devices that work by almost propping up the soft tissue at the back of the throat and stop it sagging and obstructing the airways.
Both of these should only really be temporary solutions to obstructive sleep apnea and are by no means as effective as CPAP treatment with a CPAP machine. But they may be worth considering if you don’t suffer from more severe sleep apnea.
This article should have reduced any concerns you may have had about CPAP camping. CPAP treatment shouldn’t be an obstacle to living your life, however sometimes you may need to make a couple of tweaks in order to get a good night of sleep. But with the advice you’ve read here, the only thing you need to worry about when camping is lighting your fire, not getting lost and avoiding bug bites. Oh and bears. You need to watch out for bears.
Written by Dr. Gilmore. Cara is an expert in getting a good nights sleep.