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How many times have you hunted online looking for pro tips to make your camping trip that little bit more awesome?
If you’re new to camping, you’ve probably done your fair share!
But I don’t want you to waste time looking for tips that don’t work. So I’ve created an ultimate list of camping tips and hacks that have all been tried and tested.
I have asked 34 experienced campers one simple question like this: “What is your top tip for camping?”.
Even though I was expecting only one tip, some of them were generous and offered more than one! Also, you can trust their expert opinions instead of spending hours browsing the web for genuine camping advice.
Quick note – this post is a biggie! To help you navigate, I’ve categorized the tips into different sections (campfire, cooking, safety etc.) and created buttons so you can skip to the topic of your choice.
Tips for Camping Preparation
When camping with kids you should always have a general plan, but plan to not stick to it. That might be counterintuitive, but you’ll find that going with the flow and being flexible is the KEY to happy campers when camping with kids!
A real neat way to carry a change of clothes in your rucksack, whether your away camping with the family or on Scout Camp. This is called the SKIVVY Roll. It has been used by people in the military for years.
Usually, patrol packs have limited space and this gives you a complete change of underclothes while taking up a very little amount of space.
You could make a couple of these, and have several changes of under clothes.
Camping with Kids
Make sure your little ones are protected from burns and bites.
Bring your favorite bug spray and sunscreen, and reapply both throughout the day.
Be aware of the plants around your campsite, keeping an eye out for poison ivy or anything else the kids might get into, and bring along a first aid kit just in case.
My top camping tip is one for the ladies since my travel and outdoor lifestyle blog helps encourage women to get outdoors safely and comfortably.
I highly recommend trying to plan your camping trips around your menstrual cycle. If that’s not possible, there are a few things you can do to make your adventure a bit more pleasant.
The rule of thumb outdoors is that whatever you pack in you pack out.
So to make things less embarrassing, I duct tape the outside of the ziplock bag that I use as my “bathroom trash” so that nobody can see what’s inside.
It also may help to wear a reusable diva cup during this time of the month, but make sure you test it out before your camping trip!
And if you’re someone that experiences cramps, try using hand warmers as temporary heating pads on your lower back while resting at camp!
I would say after your first couple of camps make a list of what you haven’t used and consider not taking them again (unless it’s first aid etc).
Always make a habit of cleaning/drying kit after each trip.
Always pack wet wipes.
When I’m camping, I’m hungry. I always pack more food than normal and lots of snacks, especially when camping with kids.
You burn more calories when you’re hiking, exploring, biking, boating and exploring so it makes sense that you need more food.
Plan your trip around a water source. I go wild camping, which means we have to do a lot of hiking to get to the camping spot.
Water is one of the heaviest items in our packs. To reduce weight, I make sure to plan the trip around a water source. I use a water filter (the Sawyer Mini) to filter the water so it is safe to drink.
It takes some time to filter the water, but it is one of the most enjoyable camping “chores.” There’s nothing like watching the view over a stream or lake while you filter your water for the day!
Plan your meals carefully. To save money, I make my own backpacking meals using my dehydrator. It gives me a lot more flexibility to choose the foods my daughter and I like to eat (plus, it is a lot healthier than those expensive camping meals in pouches).
Regardless of whether you make your own or buy camping meals, you still need to plan the meals carefully. All our meals are individually packed in plastic baggies so I don’t have to worry about measuring out portions at the campsite.
Always test the meals first at home to make sure you actually like the taste. Also pay attention to how many calories the meal provides.
You use up a lot of energy hiking, so you will probably be hungrier than you’d normally be.
Thinking of doing a solo camping expedition, especially if you are a woman. Here’s an advice from Two Blondes Walking.
Definitely to go for it but maybe to break the challenge down into steps. Go for a longish day walk alone first, then perhaps camp with some friends in the area you are planning for your solo camp.
Even if you get a bit chilly, end up eating cold dinner and hardly sleep, you will come home with a story to tell… and another adventure idea up your sleeve!
I would say my top tip would be always have a back up plan for when things go wrong. So many people go out camping but without a plan for if things went wrong. You should always have a bail out plan!
Practice before you go. Practice setting up your tent in the backyard so you know how to set it up in good weather, not in the dark in a storm. Practice what you’ve learned online, such as fire- building or emergency skills in real life. You’ll discover all the things you’ll only learn by doing, not just watching.
Here’s the link to my Top 3 Survival Tips video.
For those who don’t camp often, or only do it seasonally, it is a good idea to take out all of your gear before your big trip, and do so a few days in advance so you have time to fix any problems.
For example, make sure your tent has all of its poles, your camp-light’s still work and have working batteries, your stove still works, etc.
It’s pretty frustrating to finally get to camp to find your that your tent has no poles, or that you have no way to cook your food!
Always make sure to check for road closures before you go.
Closures can be seasonal, construction related, due to landslide, fire, snow, etc.
Closures to well-traveled routes can often be closed in winter and spring, depending on seasonal conditions, and Google/Apple Maps often does not show these closures on their routes.
The best way to find out about these types of closures is to call and ask local shops in the area, call a local ranger station, TripCheck, and various other online resources.
Don’t rely on your cell phone: print maps with directions or bring a Gazetteer in the likely case that you lose reception, or your phone dies.
Picking a Site/Location
For me, a single camping spot is not always the final destination, but on long road trips I like to find nice spots to rest my head along the way.
My favorite app/website is Free Campsites, which is easy to use, and has lots of information about established, primitive, fee, and for free campsites.
The only downside is that there are a lot of pop-up ads on the app, but the plus is that it is free to use. If looking for a destination, Outdoor Project has lots of trip ideas.
Make sure to check if you camping destination has potable water.
Many campsites do not have running water, or shut theirs off seasonally so you will want to know when you need to bring your own.
I usually bring a 5-gallon jug for most 2-3 day trips, with about 4 people sharing, and plan for more in extremely hot conditions.
The only thing I can say is be prepared, mentally and physically if you are going wild camping, especially in the mountains where the weather can change in an instant.
Be prepared for the weather to go from bright sun to torrential rain and windy conditions in no time at all.
If your not prepared with the right equipment for that to happen, then it could be a long night.
Always test your gear before you leave, air your tent out, make sure it was dry before you pack it away to stop mould.
Pitch a new tent in your garden first to make sure all the parts and poles, pegs etc are there otherwise you may get to your camping spot either struggling to set your tent up, or even worse missing parts and not being able to.
Never forget bug spray, and sunscreen. Forgetting them can make for a bad day.
And never underestimate how much water you’ll drink on a hot day.
Tips for Camping Gear
My top tip would be to start simple. When you are first getting into camping or simply testing new gear, you don’t have to be miles from home in the thick woods to know if your gear is going to work for your own personal needs.
The main thing I find is people buy gear that they based on the company standard and I feel all gear should be tested (even if it’s just in your own backyard) to your own personal standards.
Everyone is different which makes gear a very personal and deliberate choice for each individual.
The more comfortable you are, the safer and more enjoyable your trips will be!!!
Always bring a physical map if you’re hiking. Don’t rely on cell phone batteries, especially at colder elevations, for your navigation.
Take a solar charger with you to charge your devices if you are going long term, always useful especially if your like me who needs to charge a camera.
Less is more. You don’t need a lot of fancy, expensive gear to go camping.
While it can be nice to have gear like outdoor chairs, solar chargers, and marshmallow roasters, too much gear will just load you down. You’ll be able to connect with nature and de-stress a lot better if you go minimal.
A log makes a great camping chair, you can keep your phone turned off, and finding the perfect stick for marshmallows just adds to the fun.
Remove a few from a large package and put them in a ziplock bag to save on weight. I would suggest packing at least 2 per day that you’ll be backcountry camping.
It’s incredible how refreshed you will feel when you get to camp and wipe down your face with a cool, damp wipe or go a little wild and use three of them for a “wet wipe shower”!
They are especially helpful when backpacking with a significant other -- just do a quick wipe down before or after sexy times, and you’re good to go!
Remember to pack them out with the rest of your trash, rather than burying them!
Don’t carry too much water!
This one came to me by way of one of my mountaineering gurus.
If you’re going to be backpacking somewhere lush like Yosemite or Sequoia, don’t weigh down your pack with 3-4 liters of water. It’ll tire you out and give you joint pain!
Instead, opt to carry 1.5 liters at a time, and filter more water when you stop for strategic snack breaks.
Liquids are often the heaviest thing we carry into the backcountry, so limiting them is the first step to getting your pack weight way down!
FOR CAR CAMPING/GENERAL:
Bring Categorized Bins!
I cannot recommend enough to store your car camping goodies in different, categorized bins.
It makes packing a breeze when it’s time to set off into the wild! Also, be sure to take the time to be a little OCD and put things back where they belong so that you declutter your tent each day at camp. That way, you’ll know exactly where to look for your light-up cowboy hat or your stainless steel French press.
Some ideas for categories include: warm layers/jackets, costumes, kitchen stuff, dry food/pantry, cooler, technical gear (headlamp, pocketknife, microspikes, spade, crampons…)
Get creative and organize your gear!
I suggest you take a tarp with you, it can come in handy for extra shelter and also as a ground sheet if there is a lot of dew on the grass when you are packing your tent away the next day it will stop you getting wet kneeling down.
Always test your gear before you leave, air your tent out, make sure it was dry before you pack it away to stop mould.
Make sure your sleeping bag is warm enough for the weather conditions, camping in the winter in a summer sleeping bag could end up being a very long night shivering.
Also don’t go overboard with your gear, don’t carry too much, make a check list and just take what you need.
No fancy add ons that will just add weight to your pack.
Make sure you have enough water or if your camping near a stream or river that you can filter or boil the water so it’s safe to drink -- there could be a rotting carcass in the stream further along.
Carry enough fuel and make sure you have a lighter or fire steel as back up if your relying on an ignition on your stove, if it fails and you can’t light your stove, then you could be screwed.
Tips when Camping
My favorite is to fill up a 1 lt water bottle or 0.5 lt water bottle with hot water and put it inside your sleeping bag before going to sleep.
If you ever cut or burn yourself, you should pop a pine tree blister and place the resin on your burn/cut etc.. which will ease the pain and help it heal.
Pine sap also has many other uses like making glue or for fire lighting.
The best tip I have learned while backpacking and camping in various places deals with staying warm at night.
A lot of people try to avoid camping and backpacking when it is cold out (understandable), but on a few of my trips I have found myself struggling to stay warm, especially while sleeping.
First off, buying a sleeping pad helps a lot with staying warm while camping because it minimizes the amount of heat leaving your body into the ground.
If just sleeping in a sleeping bag, your body will lose a lot of heat to the ground through the process of conduction. A lot of people underestimate how effective the sleeping pad is for warmth.
Having been a person who used to think sleeping pads were a waste of space, I always highly recommend them now.
Even with a good sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and proper clothing it can still be very difficult to get warm at night.
On nights like this I will boil some water at my campsite and put that boiling water into my water bottle. I will then put my water bottle filled with hot water into my sleeping bag before I fall asleep.
This is, without a doubt, the best way that I have found to stay warm on really cold nights. Once the hot water heats up the sleeping bag it will be warm and cozy for the rest of the evening.
In addition, you then have a water bottle filled with purified water that is ready to drink in the morning.
A tip I can give for camping in the rain is definitely use an axe and saw to get to the center of big logs where it’s dry. It burns the best.
Don’t waste time finding sticks hanging above the ground because they’re still wet. Also for tinder get some birch bark/fatwood because they’re pretty water resistant.
In terms of gear you definitely need a poncho or rain jacket obviously. For shelter setups make something that rain can run off of easily.
I prefer my aqua quest tarp because water can bead up easy and run right off.
Most importantly bring an extra pair of clothes (shirt, pants, socks) because getting wet and staying wet sucks.
Free Van Camping. Traveling across the US and staying out of RV parks or paid campsites.
The “Ask for forgiveness” approach.
Half time we find ourself to be in a city, where there is no BLM land to park on for the night. After traveling for a while and stressing on where are we going to sleep for the night, we decided we would just find a nice street or parking lot and hope we wouldn’t be asked to moved.
Nine times out of ten, it was fine. We have found that most mall parking lots have security that will ask you to leave, but usually that knock is not until 6:00 am.
Hotels, Walmart’s, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Grocery stores, gyms, and many other places tend to be ok.
In a six months time we have probably been asked to leave the most of 3 different times. 2 of the times it was at a mall parking lot, and the 3rd time was on an Indian reservation.
Don’t stress where you’ll park for the night. Find a safe place and if you’re asked to leave, apologize and go about your way.
As the name Moonwalker suggest, I like to walk mountains by moonlight and to get the sunrise.
My tip for this type of walking then is to camp on the ridge during the middle of the day when it is warmer, and walk in the moonlight and sunrise and then again for the sunset.
Learn and follow Leave No Trace principles for having as little impact as possible when spending time in the outdoors.
Never cut down limbs or branches or remove leaves from trees in and around your site.
Respect wildlife by not feeding or harassing them, even if they visit your campsite.
Keep your camp clean of food, especially if you’re in bear country, so you don’t tempt any animals to visit.
Many campsites provide bear-proof storage lockers in which you can fit entire coolers full of food. Use them.
Control your leashed pets at all times and if you can’t, leave them with a sitter at home.
I really like this tip, which is an excerpt from my cookbook Feast by Firelight: Simple Recipes for Camping Cabins, and the Great Outdoors:
Save on washing by licking your plate or mopping it clean with bread.
Scrape off remaining residue with coarse salt or good old-fashioned dirt, a natural abrasive sponge!
Plus, a little bit of dirt is good for you.
Think of Others
Be kind and courteous to your camping neighbors.
Most campsites have rules about when you can play loud music, but make sure to be aware of how your experience might be affecting those who are around you (don’t force people to be a part of your experience).
A good rule of thumb is to only have your noise/lights carry to the perimeter of your site, if possible.
Final Gas Stop
Campsites are not often close to established areas, so I always try to gas up at the last town, and plan it out in advance (i.e make sure before you take off that the last town actually has gas before relying on it).
For those backpackers that enjoy setting up their campsite away from the popular spots, special measures are necessary to avoid a possible late night disaster.
Always try and set up your campsite on raised ground to avoid a possible wet experience, this allows for any rain shed from your shelter to run away from you instead of flowing underneath.
Avoid depressions or anyplace where there is evidence of standing or running water too.
It is best to avoid herd paths as well, unless you want animal guests “crashing” your shelter during the night.
Always place something reflective (e.g. Kelty triptease) on your shelter (or somewhere nearby) in the backcountry (that is, if it is not already equipped with such).
If you have to go out to relieve yourself or chase an animal away from your food stash, the reflective surface makes it a lot easier to retrace your path back to your shelter.
The dense forest can get really dark at night and shivering in your long underwear until dawn just yards away from your shelter is a humiliating experience best avoided.
When setting up your shelter, especially underneath any coniferous trees, take some special steps to prevent water from running underneath you.
Jab your hiking pole (or a stick if you do not carry poles) into the ground around the perimeter of your shelter’s fly/tarp.
This allows for water to seep into the ground, instead of running underneath as often the tree’s shedded needles often make an almost impenetrable barrier to water.
Only poke a few holes on each side though, do not dig a trench, as that would obviously violate the leave no trace philosophy.
If you like to leave an uncovered container of water out overnight at your campsite for handwashing, etc., place a few substantial sticks in it.
The sticks allow any little critter that jumps into it (e.g. jumping mouse) from drowning as the sticks provide a ladder for them to climb out and escape instead of drowning.
When hanging a food bag, it is best to use a rope with a rock tied at the end.
Avoid using a piece of wood or a stuff sack filled with something heavy inside, as these often get snagged in the tree branches.
Do the hanging early when setting up camp, do NOT wait until it is nearly dark, as sometimes it takes more time than you imagine to find a proper tree, hang the rope, etc.
Use black rope (paracord is ideal) as it is harder to see, but make sure to tie something bright near the tied off end, so you can more easily find it later.
Always pick up a rock well before getting to camp unless you are staying in a place where rocks are plentiful.
Look for rocks in stream banks, near edges of lakes and ponds or along herd paths – if out in the deep forest, check out every tip-up mound as rocks are often exposed by the downed tree’s roots.
If your clothes are wet when you go into your tent, keep them in the porch of your tent if you can.
Or in a bag if your not going to wear them again the next day.
Otherwise the heat in the tent will cause condensation to occur and things can get damp in your sleeping area.
When camping in buggy weather, a bug net is a life saver.
When camping in the rain, always have a dry set of clothes to change into.
If something gets wet throughout the day, keep wearing it and do not change until you are ready to stay dry.
A tarp is handy when camping in the rain to create an area for relaxing without having to sit in a tent.
And as for me, I always bring extra stuff. I’d rather have and not need over needing and not having.
Tips for Campfires
The number one tip is firewood prep. That is key to a successful fire.
The more you process and prepare your dry wood into small and fine kindling, the easier igniting it will be.
No half assing.
Make the smallest kindling possible by using your knife or hatchet. And make feather sticks.
Birch bark is the best natural tinder if available in your area.
Don’t have kindling to start a fire?
Potato chips, Fritos corn chips, and other greasy snack foods can serve as quick and easy fire starters.
Seven Campfire Safety Tips
- Dig a small pit away from overhanging branches. (Most parks have campfire pits ready and waiting for you.)
- Circle the pit with rocks or be sure it already has a metal fire ring.
- Clear a five-foot area around the pit down to the soil.
- Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby.
- Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire.
- After lighting, do not discard the match until it is cold.
- Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute.
I always like to be prepared to start a fire quickly.
That said, here’s something that will help you do that: Cotton balls are lightweight and are extremely flammable (100 percent cotton!).
Just pull the fibers apart first so it looks like a fluffy cloud. Place a small layer of wood on the ground, then place the cottonball on top (this builds a nice layer off the ground for your fire to build upon.)
On top of that, place the finest, driest wood you can find- smaller than a pencil if possible.
Don’t pack it down too much! Just lightly place a nice little bundle over the cotton ball.
Now light it. You should have other wood in place in successively bigger diameter ready to go to feed that fire slowly- until it can sustain itself with larger pieces of wood.
Remember not to smother your young fire! It will not support bigger wood until it has a nice bed of coals underneath, and is self-sustaining.
Just keep feeding it until you have a nice blaze! So remember, keep a few cotton balls in your pocket to help get your campfire going -- and use the driest wood possible.
If you are having an open fire and the weather is rainy or there’s a lot of morning dew, you should collect your resources the night before like your fire lighting materials and your kindling and timber then place it in your shelter so it keeps dry and out the elements so its easier for the morning.
As a scout leader I always teach my scouts to “grade their wood pile” taking time to grade their wood in size order….
From The small fine twigs that you will use to start your fire to your maintenance logs that you will use for cooking and using for light.
Taking time to grade you wood will make starting your campfire less stressful as your wood is nicely laid out in a Logical order and you won’t be scrambling on the ground trying to find your kindling.
I’ll also give you another simple trick for when your struggling to find tinder or the wood is wet.
Use a metal pencil sharpener.
You have to use twigs and then “start sharpening” just like you would for a blunt pencil.
You will create some lovely dry tinder and it sparks really nicely.
Tips for Camp Cooking
Before you head out on any camping trip, you need to plan your meals.
Cooking outdoors is much like cooking at home, just with slightly different scenery.
Pick foods that store easily in a dry box or cooler and that can be cooked without a lot of fuss.
That way you can spend less cooking and more time enjoying the outdoors.
Bring good quality food on the trip. Good food lifts your spirits when you are out camping.
Especially, when something starts going wrong on the trip. Maybe the weather changes for the worst or you are having a hard time getting a good night sleep.
A good meal can make the difference between an ok day and a great day!!
Keep your food simple
- Freeze single serving leftovers from home to reheat.
- Prepare and season entrees ahead of time so you don’t have to carry lots of seasonings.
- Buy fruit and veggies at local farm stands.
- Wrap food you’re bringing in parchment paper that you can just burn.
- Keep frozen water bottles and snacks in a cooler instead of the RV fridge. Opening the fridge less often improves efficiency.
Top tip is to stew you wild game!
If you’re into wild game, rabbit, grouse, duck or goose, beaver or bear, even groundhog, don’t be afraid to meat it out, fill a pot with water some spices and let it stew for a long time. Add in the bones for added taste and flavor.
When you are ready to eat add in some carrots, onions, potatoes -- serve when soft. We did this one on a beaver, and the longer it stewed, the more tender the meat became. The fat from the beaver also complimented it very well. Stewing will let you mostly ignore your cooking, just keep heat on it, and stir it and you don’t have to tend it as much.
My best dish to recommend though, is fresh smoked trout. Gut, butterfly, and build a high rack with wood. Then smoke your fish overnight with green alder branches.
If you have seasoning all the better. If not, it will still be the best fish you have ever had and worth the time and effort it takes. I’ve managed to do this slowly over what is called a “fish basket” which is woven dogwood over coals.