If you have sleep apnea and other sleep disorders you probably rely on your CPAP machine. Not just for safety but also to get a good night’s sleep and awake, energized and well-rested. Because of your dependence on the machine, which requires electricity, you may think that camping is out of the question.
But I have good news! Even if you have a CPAP machine you can still go camping, and even dispersed camping, as long as you are well prepared. Some ways to get into the outdoors with a CPAP machine include:
- Finding a camping site with electricity
- Bringing extra CPAP batteries
- Using a car or marine battery
- Relying on CPAP alternatives
We will take an in-depth look at each of these throughout the course of this article. But the bottom line is that your CPAP machine shouldn’t prevent you from going camping.
What is CPAP?
Chances are good that if you are reading this article you use a CPAP machine and already know the ins and outs of your machine. But for those who are reading for a family member or friend, or just out of curiosity, here is the low down.
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure therapy. This therapy actually refers to a machine that helps individuals maintain breathing and an open airway while they are sleeping. Usually, they are put on a CPAP machine because of sleep apnea or other conditions that can impair their breathing while they sleep. It does this by increasing the air pressure in their throat.
A CPAP machine has a few components. These include a mask or tube that fits onto your face, tubing, and the machine itself. The face portion can be a mask that covers your mouth and nose, a mask that only covers your nose (commonly called an NCPAP), or prongs that rest inside your nose.
The tubing or hose connects to the CPAP machine. These are usually four to six feet long so the wearer can roll and move during the night. The machine with the motor typically must be plugged into an outlet and therefore usually resides on a bedside table.
The motorized CPAP machine sucks in air from its surroundings and pressurizes it. It does so with the small and relatively quiet compressor contained inside. The tubing works to deliver this pressurized and humidified air to the wearer.
The use of a CPAP for sleep apnea or even snoring can help the individual wearing the mask sleep longer, deeper, and more safely. The only problem is that individuals who use a CPAP often feel reliant on their machine, which must be plugged in and can be cumbersome to haul around.
So how can you leave home and head for the great outdoors without sacrificing your sleep?
Camping with a CPAP
First, going without your machine is not recommended. Though you may be able to get by for a night or two, you may still suffer some ill effects. If you have a serious sleep condition it just is not safe not to use the machine. Even if you only rely on a CPAP to prevent snoring, going sans machine will often leave you feeling tired and lethargic due to poor sleep. Not a great way to feel on a camping trip that often includes a good deal of physical activity.
So it is a good idea to bring your CPAP. But for it to work it will require power; and you have a few options to satisfy this requirement.
Choose Your Campsite Wisely
If you want the most hassle-free camping experience with your machine, choose a campsite that has electricity. Many modern campgrounds, including the ever-popular KOA’s, have campsites with a power supply. You can simply plug in your machine and peacefully snooze the night away.
This is another huge advantage to electricity equipped sites other than not having to deal with batteries; humidity. Many CPAP machines include a device that humidifies the air being sent to the wearer. This is because without the humidification the air would be extremely dry, resulting in a sore throat, mouth, and nose.
However, these humidifiers result in a huge draw on the battery. Often draining it much faster than if the machine was used without the humidifier. If you choose a camping spot that provides electricity, you will not have to worry about conserving your battery and can still use the humidifier.
As a bonus, electricity will be available to power your other devices too, like a radio or electric griddle. Campgrounds with power often include bathrooms, showers, and even Wi-Fi, making for a comfortable trip.
However, if a usually crowded campground and less than rugged trip don’t strike your fancy, you may need to explore other options to power your CPAP. In most cases this means batteries.
CPAP battery packs are available. These portable power sources can be used to power your machine if you want to go off-the-grid camping or even if you lose power at home. Though they will run your machine without needing to rely on an outlet, there are a few drawbacks.
Typically, these batteries do not have a long period of use. Most will only get you a night, or at most two nights, of use. This will decrease if you plan on using the humidifier too. As most camping trips are longer than a night or two, you may want to bring multiple battery packs.
Fortunately, many of these battery packs are available and work well with most brands. Additionally, you can find some that are FAA approved. This means they are approved for in-flight use as well as to carry along; significantly expanding your choice of camping trip location.
However, even though widely available, they can be pricey. Some batteries can cost upwards of $600, though most fall around the $300 range. Still, buying multiple battery packs at that price point can certainly be very costly. Additionally, you must be careful with the type of battery you select. Lithium-ion batteries are known to be dangerous in extreme heat conditions.
Solar batteries are a great way to have to carry fewer batteries and still get the power you need. Some battery models are made specifically for travel and even include a solar charger. These compact solar panels can gather energy while you camp or hike and then your battery will be charged by evening. These are a great option for those who plan on an extended off-the-grid trip.
If you are a frequent camper and often find yourself at campsites without electricity, investing in several battery packs might be worth it.
Alternative Battery Types
It may seem odd, but certain car and marine batteries can be a viable alternative to commercial CPAP battery packs. These lead-acid, deep cycle batteries will last you considerably longer than their lithium-ion counterparts. They are also usually less expensive. However, keep in mind you cannot just plug into a car battery, you will need a few additional pieces of equipment.
In order to hook up to a car or marine battery, you can choose from one of two options. Either an inverter or a DC adapter cable.
An inverter is a type of adapter that converts the DC power coming from the battery to AC power accepted by your CPAP machine. These inverters usually look like the type of cable you would use to jump your car battery and have alligator clips on one end. But they have a plug on the other end that fits your CPAP machine plug.
Be advised though, some CPAP machines require a special inverter, a Pure Sine Wave Inverter. Purchasing and using the correct type is necessary to safely operate your machine.
If your machine is not DC capable you will need some method to convert the power to AC, and while an inverter can do this it may not be the best choice. This is because the inverter itself takes power to convert the power to AC. This means that it will rely on using some of the battery power to perform the conversion, draining power from the battery faster than if you were to use another conversion source.
Such as a DC Adapter Cable. These cables look similar, featuring the alligator clips on one end, but the other end has a cigarette lighter style plug. You would need the proper cord type to plug your CPAP machine into this lighter receptacle. A few models have the lighter plug built into the actual battery, meaning you won’t need an adapter.
The downsides to using a car battery are that they are heavy and not FAA-Approved. If you plan on flying to get to your destination, this type of power source will be a no-go. Additionally, if you hope to trek or kayak into your destination, struggling with a hefty car battery probably is not the best choice.
Another heavy but doable option is a portable generator. This often has AC/DC inverters included along with a variety of plug-in ports. They can be charged by an outlet, your car, or even the sun. As these generators are often produced with portability in mind, they may be easier to carry than a car or marine battery.
Still, both are far from compact and lightweight.
But don’t get discouraged, there are a few final options.
Some nasal and oral appliances can temporarily replace a CPAP machine. However, they may not be as efficient as your CPAP and are not recommended for prolonged use.
Provent is one such nasal device. It is so small and travel friendly that it is actually disposable. It features two small microvalves, one for each nostril, that are secured with an adhesive resembling a Band-aid. Each microvalve can create a small amount of pressure by exhalation that works to keep your airway open.
Oral appliances usually resemble dental equipment. They commonly look like a hinged retainer. These devices help to prevent throat tissue from obscuring your airway.
Neither nasal or oral devices require electricity and can, therefore, be a good option for rugged or dispersed camping. But the drawbacks are efficiency and duration. Most devices are nowhere near as good as your CPAP and are recommended only for occasional use by those with moderate sleep apnea or sleep disorders.
A Few Final Tips
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to camping with your CPAP machine. It largely depends on your preferences; where you want to camp, for how long, and how much money you want to spend on alternative power sources or devices.
However, one thing will improve your experience no matter which solution you choose. Investing in a travel CPAP machine is often immensely helpful.
Travel CPAP machines are usually lighter and more compact. This makes it easier to fit into a backpack or suitcase and take along with you on a trip. This can be especially helpful for those hiking a long way into their campsite.
Additionally, their small size often makes them simpler to use in confined spaces such as a tent, camper, car, or airplane.
Because travel CPAP machines are a bit newer, they may have better and more advanced features than older CPAP models. Sadly, there is no current model available that has a built-in, rechargeable battery.
Still, it does not hurt to have more than one machine. You can have a machine for your home and on for on-the-go so you will never have to be without a great night’s sleep.
Also, don’t forget travel accessories to keep your machine in good working condition. These can include things like sanitary wipes to regularly clean your mask, hose, and machine. You may also want an extra filter since sleeping outside will probably be a bit more dusty and dirty than sleeping at home.
Many CPAP suppliers may have a travel bundle available for purchase that includes everything you need to take your therapy on the road.
A Well Rested Camper is a Happy Camper
So you see, it may not be as simple as throwing your suitcase in the car and taking off, but camping with a CPAP machine is doable. There are a handful of options when it comes to CPAP travel components that should suit nearly any camping experience.