The internet is full of camping advice for beginners. There’s no shortage of information on what to pack, the best camping meals, and fun camping hacks for families. Those are all practical, valuable topics, but what about lesser-known tips and tricks for camping trips? What do some of the most experienced campers know that many people don’t?
We went in search of the answers and found eight awesome pieces of camping advice, all super useful but not necessarily widely known.
Bring More Than Enough Water
It’s common to underestimate how much water you’ll need. Typical camping advice says to bring “plenty” but usually fails to specify an amount.
Potentially running out of water is disastrous when camping. In the unlikely event of an emergency, like getting lost or stuck, water can sustain you for several days.
The National Park Service recommends two liters of water per day per person for front country camping. That assumes you’ll have access to potable water, but if you’re backpacking or dispersed camping with no reliable water source nearby, bump that up to at least one gallon. Remember, you’ll use water for cooking and cleaning, in addition to drinking it during your time camping.
Piggybacking on the first piece of camping advice, it’s easy to overlook bringing enough appropriate cold-weather layers. Even in summer, campsites at high elevations or completely exposed locations like the desert drop to near-freezing temperatures at night.
Aside from being uncomfortable, getting cold and/or wet while in nature is dangerous. It’s important to do everything possible to avoid that.
Buy the best sleeping bag you can afford, invest in quality thermal underwear and wool socks, bring rain gear, and pack extra shoes in case yours get wet. Also, pack a few just-in-case items, including single-use hand warmers and emergency blankets.
Take the Road Less Traveled
When boondocking, it’s tempting to pull over and set up camp at the first decent-looking site, but don’t. It’s almost always worth it to keep going. As a general rule, campsites get significantly better, with better views, more space, and less noise, the further you get from the main road.
Know Where You Can and Cannot Camp
Be sure to follow all local laws and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. Whether you’re in a developed or dispersed site, don’t camp too close to a water source, trailhead, recreation area, or fellow campers.
Wherever possible, set up your campsite and fire on established areas. Keep in mind, however, that just because someone had a fire or pitched their tent in a specific spot doesn’t necessarily mean it was legal. Know local restrictions and do some due diligence before setting up.
Tarps are Underrated
The humble tarp is easily one of the most practical yet underused pieces of camping gear. It acts as a shelter in inclement weather but can also be used as a makeshift awning, floor mat, footprint under your tent, truck bed cover, tablecloth, or even an emergency blanket.
Familiarize Yourself With Local Fire Restrictions
You can’t think of camping without picturing a campfire, but you can’t always have both. Many newer campers are surprised to learn that in some places, particularly in the West, campfires aren’t permitted during much of the camping season because of extremely dry, dangerous conditions.
Luckily, you can usually still cook with propane, even when the highest fire restrictions are in place. To find out about current conditions where you’re going, call the campground, Forest Service, or county.
More camping advice on the topic of campfires: in many places, it’s illegal or highly discouraged to bring firewood from somewhere else. To be safe, wait to gather or buy it until you’re close to camp. Also, avoid wood with lots of sap for cooking, as it’s particularly smoky.
Pack it Out
An unglamorous but very important camping tip: you typically have to pack out everything you bring in while camping. And yes, everything truly means everything, including food scraps and human waste. This is always true when boondocking, and sometimes even at designated campsites.
To keep trash to a minimum, it’s a good idea to swap single-use items like plastic sandwich baggies for reusable versions. Purchasing a small trowel is also wise, as is learning how to use the bathroom in the woods. It sounds funny, but these tips are among the most important, according to seasoned campers!
Less is More
There will always be an exciting new piece of camping gear to add to your stash. However, keep in mind that more stuff = more things to store, set up, transport, break down, and clean. Camping is innately simple, and having that philosophy with your gear will help keep it that way.
For anything you’re truly interested in buying, particularly big-ticket items, consider borrowing or even renting before purchasing. Companies like REI and Outdoors Geek rent gear from camp stoves to sleeping bags and tents, and of course, Cruise America rents a variety of RVs!