Sometimes, camping can be hard. Horrible weather, bugs, and sleepless nights are an unfortunate and sad reality of some camping trips. The good news is that they don’t all have to be that way.
Even when bad weather and mosquitos conspire to ruin your next camping trip, there are many things you can do to be prepared for a rollicking good time in the woods. Here are 35 of the best camping hacks that you need to know for your next adventure:
1. Do some meal prep before you leave home
You can save yourself a lot of frustration by planning out your meals before you leave home. If you know what you’re going to pack and you’re only going out for a few nights, then you can even prep some of your food to reduce the amount of kitchen work you have to do outside.
If you’re going out for three nights or fewer, re-chopping all of the veggies and placing them into a separate plastic baggie for each meal can make it easier for you to get the nutrition you need without having to chop an onion with a tiny Swiss Army knife on top of a pot lid.
2. Go environmentally friendly with Dr. Bronner’s soap
Soap and water is easily the best way to wash your hands in the outdoors as it can help remove gross pathogens that cause all sorts of nasty diseases. Instead of bringing your regular hand soap from your bathroom, however, opt for a biodegradable and chemical free option, which is better for the environment, such as Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. Just remember that you shouldn’t bathe or wash dishes and clothes directly in a natural water source!
3. Use an ultralight towel
If you’re planning on going swimming or you think there’s a good chance you’ll get soaked in the rain on your next camping trip, a lightweight towel can make a world of difference. Small microfiber towels like this one from PackTowel fit easily into a pack but can help dry you off after a quick dip in the lake.
4. Make a sage fire to ward off mosquitos
Mosquitos are a surefire way to ruin a camping trip, so instead of dousing yourself in DEET, you can put a pile of sagebrush onto your next campfire to ward the little bugs away. Natural and sweet-smelling – what could be better? Just make sure you keep control of your fire at all times!
5. Candle wax makes a great zipper lubricant
Are you sick and tired of tent and sleeping bag zippers that get caught every few inches as you try to open and close them? Thankfully, there’s a quick and easy solution – candle wax!
Next time your zipper is driving you crazy, take a thick candle (the type you’d have on your dining room table) and rub the bottom of it directly onto your zipper (not the metal zipper pull, but the zipper itself). It’ll leave behind a thin layer of wax that will lubricate the zipper pull as you slide it.
6. Crack your eggs into a water bottle
If you love to eat eggs, you shouldn’t have to go without them in the backcountry! Especially on colder shoulder season trips or car camping trips where you have a cooler, instead of trying to keep your eggs from cracking before you get a chance to eat them, you can pre-crack them instead! Simply crack all of the eggs you want to bring on your trip into a wide-mouthed water bottle (like a Nalgene) and pour them into a pan when you’re ready to use them for instant scrambled eggs!
7. Turn your headlamp into a lantern
Headlamps don’t provide nearly enough light for a social evening of cards or hanging out in your tent, so turn your headlamp into a lantern! Simply turn on your headlamp, place it on the underside of a Nalgene-like water bottle so the headlamp part is facing the bottom of the water bottle. Turn the headlamp on and you’ve made yourself a quick and cheap lantern.
8. Use tic-tac boxes to make a spice kit
Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean your food has to taste bad. In fact, it’s simple and easy to make your own spice kit to bring with you on camping trips to add flavor and dimension to your meals. All you need to do is get your hands on some empty tic tac containers, wash them out, fill them up with whatever spices you need and – voila! You have an adorable miniature spice kit.
9. Make a mini first-aid kit out of a prescription bottle
While you should certainly have a larger first aid kit with you at camp or in your car (especially if you have kids), you can also make miniature first aid kits out of old prescription medication bottles so everyone in your group can have one. Simply get an empty prescription bottle, and fill it up with bandaids, alcohol prep pads, single-use containers of antibiotic ointments, and the like!
10. Use chips to light a fire
If you just can’t get a fire to light, try using a small amount of snack chips, like Doritos or Fritos as kindling. The grease on these chips tends to catch quickly and provide enough fuel for the fire to catch onto small twigs and sticks, which is pretty cool. You probably only need three or four chips to get started, though, so don’t dump out the whole bag!
11. Freeze water in milk jugs for your cooler
No one likes dumping out gross cooler water every day, so instead of making a mess in your cooler, you can make gigantic home-made ice packs! All you need to do is fill up some empty plastic milk jug containers with water, freeze them in your home freezer, and then place one or two in your coolers before you fill them up with food. Quick, easy, and mess-free.
12. Use contact lens cases for liquids and gels
If you’re only going out for a night or two, you probably don’t need that 45oz bottle of skin cream. Instead, get your hands on some contacts lens cases and use them as a miniature travel container for your liquids and gels. This way, you only bring what you need, which will save space and weight in your pack in the long run.
13. Make a pre-trip checklist
This one isn’t really a “hack” but more of some solid advice. It’s easy to forget an important item when your packing process solely involves scrambling at the last minute and some minor freakouts over gear you can’t find. Instead, make a list of the gear you need a few days before your trip and organize it into categories, such as “clothing” and “kitchen.” Doing so will help you make sure you have everything you need before you leave home.
14. Leave the pillow at home – make your own instead!
We all love pillows, but unless you’re car camping, most standard pillows are a bit unwieldy for backcountry use. Thus, if you’re going out on a backpacking trip, instead of bringing a pillow, you can bring a small stuff sack and fill it with spare clothes before you go to bed for instant comfort at night.
15. Make yourself a hot water bottle
Cold, sleepless nights begone! If you get cold at night, try filling a water bottle up with hot water from your stove right before you go to bed. If you use a Nalgene or non-insulated Kleen Kanteen-esque water bottle, you can simply cuddle up with it in your sleeping bag at night for extra heat from your new hot water bottle.
16. Use a garbage bag as a pack liner
For the most part, rain covers for backpacks don’t work because they fly off in the wind or dislodge as you walk. Instead of trying to protect the outside of your pack, use a thick, compactor garbage bag (the type you’d use for lawn refuse) to line the inside of your backpack. Then, pack your bag on the inside of the garbage bag liner and you’ve got a waterproof system from the inside out!
17. Always keep a pair of socks in your sleeping bag
A clean pair of socks is a beautiful thing in the outdoors. While your hiking socks can be dirty and gross, it’s important to make sure you have at least one pair of clean, comfortable socks to sleep in at the end of the day that you keep dry at all costs. If you keep these socks in the bottom of your sleeping bag, you won’t accidentally use them on a hike, keeping them warm and cozy for when you curl into bed at night!
18. Pack a snack for the drive home
We all know the feeling – you stagger back to the car at the end of a long hike, starving because you haven’t eaten since you devoured all of your trail snacks before 10 am. If you don’t live in bear country, you can keep some snacks in your car as a treat for the ride home. Or, if you do live in bear country, set aside a spare candy bar or granola bar in your pack for the end of the day. You’ll be happy you did.
19. Use crumpled newspapers to dry your boots
Wet boots are the worst. Unfortunately, they take forever to dry out. So, instead of hoping that they’ll get better (they won’t), stuff some crumpled newspapers into your wet boots to help draw the moisture out of them and reduce the risk of developing mold.
20. Lint is a good fire starter
If your campfire just won’t start and you’re all out of kindling, check your clothing and gear to see if you can’t find any lint lying around. Lint catches on fire quickly and easily (which is why you should always clean out your lint filter on your drying machine at home), so it’s a cheap and effective way to get your campfire going.
21. Make tarp grommets from rocks
Tarp grommets (those little holes at the ends that we tie guylines into) tend to rip fairly easily, even in the best-made designs. While this is annoying, your tarp is still useable if you know this camping hack. Simply find yourself a small rock (no larger than a quarter) or acorn, place it on the underside of the tarp at a corner, and wrap the tarp around the rock. Then take a piece of paracord and tie a tight loop around the rock to create an anchor point-like grommet!
22. Dry your down gear with tennis balls
If you want to keep your down gear warm and fluffy for your future adventures, put some new tennis balls into the drying machine after you wash it. Doing so will help restore the loft in your down sleeping bag or jacket and extend its lifespan.
23. Make a match container out of an Altoids tin
A cheap and easy way to make your own set of “waterproof” matches is to take some strike-anywhere matches and place them into an Altoids tin or an old prescription medication bottle. Place a small sheet of sandpaper in there, too, and you’ve got a waterproof matches container that’s ready for an adventure!
24. Wrap duct tape around your water bottle
Duct tape can be useful in a variety of situations, but can also be cumbersome to carry around. Thus, instead of lugging around a whole roll of duct tape, you can simply wrap some around your water bottle or trekking pole for some super portable duct tape whenever you need it.
25. Bring a small pack of baby wipes
If you’re the type of person who really doesn’t like to be dirty, you can bring a small pack of baby wipes on your trip to help you freshen up at the end of the day. Limit yourself to just one baby wipe a day and give yourself a “dry shower” to stay clean and fresh in the woods. Just be sure to pack all of your garbage out and to dispose of it properly when you get home!
26. Print your own maps
Maps are expensive and many of us don’t actually need the entire map for a trip. Instead of buying $15 map every time you want to go camping, you can go to CalTopo and make your own custom maps with different layers and dimensions for your next trip. You can even use this free software to plan out hiking route and campsites. Then, you can download and print your custom maps onto Rite in the Rain All-Weather Paper or you can print onto regular paper and laminate your map.
27. Make no-mess s’mores
We all love s’mores, but they make a huge mess, especially when kids are involved. Ditch the messy smores and make a slightly less messy, but equally delicious alternative with a waffle ice cream cone. Simply fill the waffle cone with marshmallows, chocolate, bananas, peanut butter, or whatever you might want, wrap it in aluminum foil and place on top of the coals of your fire. Remove when the chocolate is melted and enjoy!
28. Bring your own outdoor seating
Although you could just sit on the ground, sitting on wet grass or mud isn’t much fun. Instead, make your own lightweight outdoor seating pad by cutting up an old foam sleeping pad into small squares. These ultra-light “butt pads” help keep you comfortable and dry, even when sitting in the rain.
29. Opt for zinc oxide
Those of us who spend lots of time outside know how easy it is to get a sunburn. While sports sunscreens have become very popular, they wear off much more quickly than we would think when we’re hiking. Thus, the go-to sunscreen for outdoor enthusiasts is zinc oxide, the thick white stuff that looks sort of gross but does an amazing job protecting your skin. It goes on thick, but really works!
30. Avoid ticks with permethrin
Depending on where you live, ticks can be a huge issue. If you spend a lot of time outside, it might be worth investing in some permethrin-infused clothing, which has already been treated with a type of bug spray to keep the ticks away. Permethrin is an odorless insecticide that can be infused directly onto clothing, instead of your skin, and can last up to 70 washes if commercially infused or 3-4 weeks if done at home. Plus, people who use permethrin-treated clothing are up to 73 times less likely to be exposed to tick bites than those who don’t. We like those odds.
31. Get a dehydrator
Trail mix and dehydrated fruit can be expensive, so why not make your own with a home dehydrator? These nifty machines can be used to dehydrate anything from apple rings to hummus, so they’re a great way to make ultralight rations for your next backpacking trip!
32. Set up a hand washing station
Gastrointestinal illness is one of the most common issues that plagues hikers. The cause? Poor hand hygiene. Especially if you’re camping with kids, you’ll want to set up a hand washing station using a large water container propped onto a table, a bucket, and some soap. Use the water container as a sink and have the bucket below to catch the grey water for later dispersal in the woods. If you’re backpacking, you can bring an MSR Dromedary, fill it with water, and hang it from a tree, and use that as your hand washing station!
33. Get rid of extra food packaging before you leave home
You need to carry out any garbage you produce while backpacking, so if you spend some time getting rid of that extra food packaging on your rations before you leave, you’ll have a lot less to carry around on your back during your trip. Even if you’re going car camping, you don’t want to have to deal with all that trash in the outdoors. So, do yourself a favor and get rid of that extra food packaging before you leave!
34. Use reflective cord for tent guylines
Some of us are experts at tripping over tent guylines as we stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night. An easy solution to this problem is to use a reflective cord for your tent guylines. That way, it’s easier to see with a headlamp in the dark of the night.
35. Hang your headlamp from the roof of your tent
If you’re hanging out in your tent at night, it’s sometimes nice to have some overhead lighting. Most tents have some sort of loop or hook on the inside of the tent near the roof, which can be a great place to attach your headlamp to if you want to cast some light on the situation.