What I Learned When I Slept With 10 Total Strangers
By Tania Taylor | Managing Director of Wild Women On Top
When I signed up for the exceptional experience of hiking in the spectacular Mt Aspiring National Park in New Zealand with 11 other Wild Women, it was my first time for many things – hiking through snow, waist deep river crossings with boots ON, a loo with a view that makes you want to sit with the door wide open and sleeping in huts.
The Aspiring hut is a beautiful, quaint hut that looks like a farmhouse, nestled snugly between the mountain ranges and green, green grass. It has two dorm rooms with a communal eating and lounging area. Up to 10 people snuggle up in a room.
I was excited by the prospect of hut life. I had not really given much thought about what it would actually be like, and I had certainly not considered it in relation to personal space.
The dorm-style rooms have a long, single sleeping platform where you lay out your sleeping gear side by side with the other hikers. There is no gap or boundary between you and the person next to you … you just line up nice and tight. It is a very intimate scenario! The closest I’d been to this style of sleeping was 16-bed hostel rooms when I went on school camp at the age of 13 … and this is WAY more intense!
I was completely naive to the importance of selecting your sleeping buddy and was pretty oblivious to the negotiations and side glances that were being exchanged by the more experienced among us. When the seasoned hikers started asking each other questions like ‘Are you a light sleeper?’ or ‘Do you snore?’ I thought they were being rude! I soon learned how important these questions were.
That first night was awful (according to my buddy on the left)!
About two hours after the last whispered ‘good night’, I was sharply nudged in the ribs. I thought it was just an accident so rolled over and went back to sleep.
Sometime later, another jab.
I was now fully awake, aware I was obviously doing something wrong and actively listening. The night noises were loud – sleeping bags rustling, snoring, creaking floorboards from night trips to the loo, some muttering, some giggling, some exasperated sighs.
This was not what I expected at all.
I was slightly annoyed and for the first time in my life could not go back to sleep. As the night stretched on, I was too scared to move. My bladder was about to burst but I was not sure how I was supposed to get up from this tightly-packed scenario without rolling over everyone. I lay there and waited for the sun to come up.
I learned the next morning that I am indeed a slight rumbling snorer, ‘like a little tractor engine’ and that I roll over waaaay too often in my sleep. Also, that my sleeping bag rustles like plastic being crumpled up. Ugh.
Over the next 6 days, I learned a lot of things about sleeping communally, but I took away some valuable hut etiquette which I want to share with any newbies out there:
- Pick a spot and roll out your sleeping mat and sleeping bag as soon as you arrive.
- Plan your bedtime routine before it gets dark - looking for things in your backpack with just a headtorch can be tricky. Lay it all out on your mattress so you can quickly and easily get ready for bed.
- Make sure you plan and lay out what you need for the next day.
- If you don’t want to get naked in front of 10 strangers, wear a base layer and change your undies before bedtime in preparation for the next morning. Doing the sleeping bag shuffle (dressing in your sleeping bag) is an interesting and time-consuming manoeuvre that can leave you exhausted and entangled in your clothing!
- Know whether you snore or not! Be self-aware or ask your partner.
- Take earplugs (plus a spare pair to share) and hut slippers.
- Pick your sleeping buddy carefully… you’re going to get close!
- Always keep your head torch handy (… but don’t blind someone by rolling onto it while you sleep!)
- Take your boots off in the hut and hang your wet gear in the right place.
- Never be tempted to nudge someone who is sleeping in the back! A gentle whisper will do!
- Ask before you spoon!
Once I learned how to do it properly, I loved the community of hut camping. There’s a sense of camaraderie as everyone just finds something to do, shares their food, collects firewood, sweeps and slips into the rhythm of getting ready for bedtime. It’s quite a natural thing and once you get used to it, sharing the space seems effortless.
Come nightfall, headtorches come out and some of the more seasoned hikers show off their fancy gear and hiking delicacies. I learned so many tips and tricks from the others about gear that can make your hiking experience a hundred times better. Next time I will bring foldable shoes, more socks, less clothes, more undies, less toiletries, more chocolate!
Dinner time is a gourmet feast prepared by our guides and each person in the group brings a special treat – one of our Wild Women traditions from way back.
I was in a warm fuzzy heaven of happiness, coffee in hand, sitting in a window seat, staring out the window at the stunning landscape and enjoying the serenity. In that moment, my life was complete.
It's all worth it for this view.
Would I do it again? Without a doubt. The snoring and night noises are all part of the fun and experience of hut sleeping. Accepting that you are sharing an intimate space with other people and being tolerant of their quirks goes with the territory.
Not much in the world beats the beauty, the community spirit and the adventure. So, go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff. Go ahead take the leap and sleep with some strangers when you get the chance … your life will be richer for it.