14 Camping Tips and Hacks to Help You Truly Enjoy the Outdoors

Advice from some of the most veteran, hard-core campers and backpackers around

Sun-soaked summer days and warm star-filled nights are here and that means you probably want to spend all of your time outside. You spend your weekends hiking, whole days swimming in the lake—heck, you’ll even sleep out there.

Whether you’ve been camping for years or you’re gearing up for your first time out, there’s always something new to learn. We asked some of the most veteran, hard-core campers and backpackers for their favorite tips and hacks. Here’s what they had to say.

Embrace Lavender Essential Oil
We all love the outdoors but dislike the bugs that often come with it. Lavender essential oil is an incredible tip that will keep away both mosquitos and chiggers, while letting you avoid harmful chemicals. You can pick up a bottle for between $4 and $10 and it will last for several years and you really cannot got through it. Simply take a few drops and apply to your waist line, a few more on each forearm and another couple of drops around your ankles to keep the chiggers away. Place a drop or two around your neck and you won't have to worry about mosquitos either.
—Don Uhlir, nationally-known survivalist and president and founder at Extremely-Sharp Survival Gear

Make Your Own Fire Kit
Tons of people will try to sell you a fire starter kit but you can make one for less than two dollars that will hold up better. Simply take an old Altoids tin, fill it with cotton balls and a small container of petroleum jelly, toss a few waterproof matches in it and close it with a rubber band. The tin will keep it all dry. When you need to use it, coat the cotton balls in petroleum jelly and light them. If you want to upgrade your kit for long-term use, buy a small fire starter and include it instead of the matches.
—Don Uhlir, nationally-known survivalist and president and founder at Extremely-Sharp Survival Gear


Flickr/ DeaShoot licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Branch Out
When heading to popular areas think outside of the main tourist spots—some of the best camping sites are located just outside of the major National Parks. These lesser-known spots are less crowded and less expensive or even free.
—Mark Koep, founder of CampgroundViews.com

The Best 0.1-Ounce Accessory for Camping in the Rain
It's raining, it's pouring, and despite your best efforts water is leaking into your tent. To keep you and your gear dry, you need to get it out. And the only way to do that is to mop it up.

You could use a camp towel, sock, T-shirt, or bandana—and I've used them all over the years—but the single-best solution is an inexpensive sponge. You know the type, the small cleaning sponges that measure roughly 5 by 3 inches and cost a few dollars for a multi-color pack of four. Dry, each one weighs less than a tenth of an ounce. Having one on-hand makes it much, much easier to remove unwanted water from inside your tent and you won’t be carrying around soggy water-logged T-shirts the next morning.
—Matt Heid, author, contributor and researcher of several books on hiking, including "AMC's Best Backpacking in New England" and blogger for AMC Outdoors


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Keeping Warm in a Pinch
In the terrifying instance that you get caught camping in conditions colder than you had planned for- namely your sleeping bag isn't properly rated to handle the overnight low—fill your Nalgene with boiling water and place between your thighs. Nalgenes are terrific insulators, which will keep the water hot all the way through the night and placing the hot container between your thighs delivers heat directly to your femoral arteries, one of the largest blood suppliers in the human body and the gateway for blood flow in your lower half. 
—Zach Davis, owner and editor-in-chief at AppalachianTrials.com, USA Today’s Top Hiking and Outdoor Blogger

Keeping Drinks Cool
Use nearby water as a beverage cooler. Take two mesh bags and a paracord packed in an empty Nalgene bottle. Once in camp, fill one bag with rocks, tie this bag to the second bag filled with beverages. Tie this bag to the Nalgene and toss it all in the water. The floating Nalgene will tell you where your beverages are and the water will keep them cool.
—Carol Christensen, REI Outdoor Programs & Outreach Market Coordinator

Cook Easy, Customizable Dinners
Make "pocket" dinners or tin-foil dinners by filling a small square of tinfoil with meats and vegetables before throwing it onto the coals. Each pocket is customizable and fun to eat. The best part is when you're done there are no dishes to clean.
—Maddie Pass of the National Association of RV's and Campgrounds

Remember the Important Stuff
It’s easy to forget things and based on personal experience, I’ve found a few ways to make sure I have the essentials covered. First, it’s important to make a packing list and to actually use it. We’ve got a few Rubbermaid bins to store all our camping gear so it’s always ready to go before every trip— our own camping kit of sorts. And when you do forget something it seems that you remember only once it’s needed. So, I keep a packing list in my camping kit and bring it with me to jot things down immediately so I’m sure to have it next time around.
—Nasahn Sheppard, Divisional Vice President of Product Design at REI

Don’t Forget the Music
Having a little bit of music at your campsite goes a long way. A portable speaker has become a staple in my camping kit. I want something portable, compact, durable and waterproof.
—Nasahn Sheppard, Divisional Vice President of Product Design at REI

Don’t Buy or Pack a Backpacking Pillow
The best pillow for backpacking is a stuff sack, clothes, and a soft fleece. Here's how I make them work for perfect, soft, head-supporting, sleep-all-night comfort.

I use my sleeping bag stuff sack as my pillow. I take my extra clothes—be it rain gear, socks, long underwear, an extra shirt—and place them into the stuff sack. Next—and this is crucial—I wrap the stuff sack with whatever fleece I'm carrying to provide a soft layer next to my face and ears. If the stuff sack is sufficiently bulky, I will usually just zip up my fleece jacket, slide the stuff sack inside, and then position it so that the jacket zipper is against the ground. Without this fleece layer, I have to lie directly against the nylon fabric of the stuff sack. Not only is this unpleasant to the touch, it also creates a horribly unpleasant suction against my ears.

I prefer using this stuff sack system—rather than simply creating a pile of clothes or fleece—because it keeps everything neatly contained throughout the entire night, even if you roll, toss, turn, or even thrash your way through the midnight hours.
—Matt Heid, author, contributor and researcher of several books on hiking, including "AMC's Best Backpacking in New England" and blogger for AMC Outdoors
 

The Must-Have Cleaner
My personal camping hack is pretty basic, but I have never seen it in camping hacks lists...Baby wipes! I put just what I need (plus a few extras for friends) in a sealed ziplock bag, and accompany it with another, empty ziplock bag to keep the soiled wipes (never leave them behind). I use them for everything: going to the toilet, replacement for a shower and deodorant when there isn't one available, wiping down a table or bench, washing hands before eating, on the neck to cool down on a hot day, cleaning feet before sliding into the sleeping bag.
—Delphine Berbigier, avid camper and traveler, Business Development Manager at Aloha Campers

Skip the Pack Cover
Instead of wasting money on a pack cover, which is both expensive and typically ineffective, use a heavy duty trash compactor bag as a pack liner.  They are light, cheap, durable, and completely waterproof.  
—Zach Davis, owner and editor-in-chief at AppalachianTrials.com, USA Today’s Top Hiking and Outdoor Blogger

The Instant Lantern
Create an instant lantern by strapping a head lamp to a jug of water.
—Chris Fairlee of KOA (Kampgrounds of America)


Flickr/ Dave Dugdale licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Plan Your Next Trip on the Way Home
We dream and talk about next summer's bucket list of camping destinations while we're camping or driving home. It’s especially important for national parks like Glacier, Mt. Rushmore, etc. where space fills up quickly. I will usually set up an appointment reminder in Outlook or on my phone to remind me in December to make reservations for the following year. This is even more important if you want to stay in a deluxe cabin. I'd recommend booking a year in advance for National Parks.
—Polly Mulvaney of KOA (Kampgrounds of America)

Related:
The Best National Parks for Camping
7 Essential Tips for Bicycle Camping
America’s Best Campgrounds

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