Full disclosure: we are still very much camping amateurs and we are learning as we go. That said, we’ve already picked up some tips and tricks that might help others avoid some of the face-palm moments we’ve encountered. Here they are.
Selecting the Site
Not all campsites are created equal. Before you set out on your camping adventure do your research on the location.
There is a mega difference between camping at a “campground resort” and backwoods camping. Of course, there are pros and cons to each.
You’re more likely to find peace and quiet and your own bit of wilderness with backwoods camping. It will also likely be for a way smaller price tag (even sometimes for free) than a campground. But you will almost certainly not have access to electricity, bathrooms, or showers. Also, you may or may not have access to a car during your stay – obviously if you are hiking into a camping spot you can only bring what you can carry on your back, versus the luxury of pulling up and popping the trunk. When staying at a campground you have access to more amenities, but also have to deal with more people – womp.
All of these factors should be considered when packing and mentally prepping for your trip.
If you are already confident that you have a tent that meets your needs, then skip this section. If not, when selecting a tent, you should consider whether you will be using it for backpacking or drive-in camping only.
If you ever plan to use your tent for backpacking or for traveling beyond where you can go with your own car, then weight and size of the packed tent should be a large factor in the tent-selection process.
Our tent has a floor area of under 29 ft, and honestly it’s tiny, but when you need to walk 20 miles with it, and all of your supplies on your back, you’re thankful it’s under 5lbs. This also makes it extremely simple to assemble. We can proudly assemble our tent in under 3 minutes.
We have only used our tent in temperatures above 40 degrees F, but it has faired well in both high heat and on cooler nights. One thing I would change about our tent are the outside zippers. There are entrances on two sides (convenient) but they only have 1 zipper each which makes it difficult to stand in the entry area and keep a second barrier against bugs when entering and exiting. This is a minor thing and not a deal breaker but consider the door formations when selecting a tent.
If you don’t ever plan to travel by plane or backpack with your tent then you can size up. Opt for a model that accommodates 1 more person than you think you will need (if you’re a couple go for a 3 person) to give you space to fit your bags.
Enjoying extra space does not necessarily mean a higher price tag either. Since some of the innovations that make tents lightweight also make them more expensive, if you don’t need to minimize weight and size you might be able to get more for you money.
“How do you sleep on the ground?” Is probably the most common question we get after posting about a camping trip. Well, we don’t sleep directly on the ground. We always bring sleeping pads on our camping trips. They pack up to the size of a waterbottle and are lightweight. Admittedly, we currently use these easily inflated pads and I plan on doing some research on the foam version instead, but it’s based on personal preference. The pads we originally selected are affordable, easy to inflate, small and lightweight, and come with a pillow… though after sleeping on it for 4 nights in a row we were READY for a beddie.
The right sleeping bag is also critical for a decent (not promising solid) night of sleep while camping. Sleeping bags are temperature rated – something to take seriously when packing.
There is nothing worse than waking up hot as hell in mummy sleeping bag because you brought something that was meant for lower temps. We have both mummy sleeping bags that are rated for warmer temps and lightweight sleeping bags (disclosure – these are both cheap sleeping bags, a good sleeping bag can be a serious investment, something we want to do but are happy we are learning our preferences first). ‘
We like the lightweight bags because not only are they easier to pack but they unzip fully and can be zipped together into a giant two-person pocket which is optimal for camp snuggling – they’re also softer but not suitable for temps below 45ish.
Food and Water
We love to eat! Camping does not mean skimping on the tasty delights, but it does require a bit more planning. For example, you often take advantage of the fact that you have that paprika laying around, let alone salt and pepper. Well, anything you want to make your food yummy while camping you’ll need to either bring or purchase but a few things to consider before planning the perfect menu:
How you plan to cook may impact what you’ll bring. Of course, there is the option of cooking over a campfire. Some site have grill grates which makes this a little easier, and other you’ll need to cook over an open flame.
Pro Tip: bring aluminum foil – not only is it helpful for storage but you can wrap just about anything up in it and throw it in the embers of a campfire to cook – we love this with veggies and beans and also add some meat that’s been cooked over the fire. Also, pack tongs that are long enough to retrieve said aluminum pocket from the flames!
If grilling or cooking over a fire isn’t an option, consider purchasing a camp stove. We have this camp stove which can be attached to universal camping propane. This allows you to rapidly boil water or heat up food like soup or rice. There are also a variety of pre-prepared camp meals that you can purchase but due to their price and sodium content we avoid these.
Pro Tip: you cannot fly with propane so if you’re traveling to your destination the fuel will need to be purchased upon arrival.
If you’re worried about cooking in the great outdoors altogether, it can certainly be avoided by eating ready made food. Items like chips and salsa, snack bars, nuts, apples, avocadoes, and other foods can be great to take camping. Consider the next section, food storage, before branching out too far though.
Pro Tip: Bring the utensil’s you’ll need for eating AND for food prep. Often forgotten items include cutting board, knife, spices, hand towel.
Finally, depending on where you’re camping you can explore the option of local restaurants for take-out or ready-made dinners from grocery stores, but if you’re going on a multi-day trek this is likely not an option.
Food storage is not only important for keeping things neat and tidy but for safety. Consuming foods that haven’t been properly stored, especially in the heat, can be dangerous. Selecting foods that can withstand higher temperatures without melting or growing bacteria is important and if not, then you must have a plan to keep these items cool.
We have a small cloth cooler that we fill with ice. Unfortunately ice turns into water pretty quickly on a hot day, so layering the bottom with items that won’t be ruined by being soaked is critical. Avoid leaving the cooler in the car on hot days, and if you can’t maintain a chilled temp by refreshing the ice then don’t put yourself at risk by consuming items like lunch meat (we are suckers for a good turkey sandwich picnic).
Another way to keep things cool and maximize cooler space is to pack frozen items to be consumed the next day – some thawing is welcome to prep the food for dinnertime and the frozen items keep other items in the cooler chilled. If you choose to use you cooler only for White Claws, power to you.
Water storage is equally if not more important. While most campsites have potable water (ensure water is safe to drink before consuming!!), if you’re backpacking this may not be an option. Having enough water is literally the key to life. We travel with 2 bladders, and a Nalgene and also have a LifeStraw for places where water might need to be filtered. Also, carrying a camp stove means easy access to boiled water if necessary.
A lot of campsites have access to showers, but we like to bring our own supplies. Shampoo, conditioner, and bodywash always make it into our packs, as well as hygiene wipes in case we end up in a showerless situation. Makeup remover or facial cleansing wipes also come in handy to start or end the day with a quick refresh. Sam also packs her makeup bag and a travel mirror to primp on the road.
You might also be wondering about how to keep your clothes clean while camping. Well, the truth is you’re going to get dirty, but it’s also not hard to get clean again. A little detergent and hand-washing goes a long way. Pack a clothesline to string between trees or just throw your wet items over a branch to dry out.
Spooky sounds and mysterious movement in the dark can make camping scary. The solution: good lighting! We each use a headlamp at night. They have multiple settings that allow us to see far into the distance or a lower glow we use inside our tent. We also have a small lantern but often deem it unnecessary unless we are prepping food after dark, in which case an extra glow is nice.
No camper is ready for an adventure without packing their first aid kit, sunscreen, and bug spray. No matter the terrain, we always have all 3.
Of course, the adventurous hikes while camping are great, but so is the downtime. Don’t forget to pack your book! Also, bring chairs or hammocks to enjoy your afternoons or sit by the fire. We are currently experimenting on this front and will report back and are also open to suggestions!
Stay tuned for more tips and tricks as we continue to make mistakes. 😊