You don’t need to know all the best camping tips and tricks to have an amazing, memorable camping experience. All you need is a sense of adventure and an eagerness to have fun. But to get you started, check out my favorite camping tips, tricks and advice that will set you up for fun.
*I’m re-sharing this classic Creek Line House blog post today because this post always sees a lot of readers at this time of year when people start to get ready for camping season and we’ve added a few new tips. Hope you find it helpful if you’re hoping to do some camping this summer!
It seems like every time I talk to someone who says that they’re going “camping” they’re actually really only renting a cabin for the week, or staying in a friend’s trailer. When the subject of tent camping comes up, which is what we do with our family, almost everyone I’ve ever spoken with about camping says “Ooooh no. Nononononono. That’s just not for me. I’m too old for that.” They’re always too old for that, even when they’re not old at all. You’re never too old when you know the best camping tips and tricks. 🙂
I didn’t grow up camping, so I definitely understand their nervousness about the whole situation. I felt the exact same way when we first started camping 12-ish years ago. Actually, I was probably much more worrisome about it than most people are. That’s just my way! Chris and I are pretty stubborn though and we were determined to get good at this whole camping thing. Over the years, I really think we have! It’s such a great feeling to be able to do something that’s a little bit hard like living completely outside for a few days, and live to tell about it afterwards. Well, no. The first few times I felt a little traumatized by the whole thing, but these days I just feel refreshed, clear-headed, and like one tough chick for learning how to thrive so well in the camping environment when so many others find it so scary.
The real truth of the matter is, that a lot of people wouldn’t even consider what we do to be “real camping”. We go “car camping” meaning that we can drive our vehicle right up to our campsite, loaded up with our tents and sleeping bags and all of our supplies. We don’t hike in to our site or canoe in carrying all of our gear on our backs. It’s funny, but when I hear people say that they’re “too old” for tent camping, I always think that I actually feel a little “too young” for real camping. I have so much to learn still before we get to that level! I definitely think that this is something that you get better at with age.
Camping Tips and Tricks
So anyway, what we do is your regular family tent camping experience. It’s great for kids for building a sense of adventure and confidence, and it’s great for adults for learning to let go of some of the things in daily life that really don’t matter. I thought I’d share a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned that have really helped to convert me into a happy camper and helped me get over feeling kind of nervous about the whole experience.
Use the Good Stuff
People always seem to feel like the stuff they pack for camping needs to be second-rate. Like the stuff that you wouldn’t mind getting dirty or ruined in some way. It seems to make sense at first, until you realize that means that the entire time you’re camping, whether you’re cooking, or tidying up, or sleeping, you’re subjecting yourself to being just a little bit frustrated because every little job seems just a bit more difficult than what you’re used to. And you can sometimes project that frustration onto the whole camping experience when really it’s just that dull knife that you’re using. Or the frying pan that’s a little warped and doesn’t conduct heat evenly. The reason we like to use certain items at home is because they work really well for us, even during difficult situations, so camping is the perfect time to use them! I like to bring my favorite knife, cookware, and super absorbent tea towels with me camping. These things get dirty in the regular kitchen at home anyway and they clean up just as well outdoors as they do indoors!
Camping Hacks: Equipment Does Make a Big Difference
Along those same lines, the actual camping-specific equipment that you have available to use really does make a big difference. Sure, you can survive with just basic, low-quality equipment, but it will definitely make your life more difficult. I think a lot of people feel like if this is stuff that they’ll only be using once or twice a year, then it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. For us, we always feel like these are some of the most high-quality family time moments that we get to spend together, so having the gear to help us make our camping time extra special just makes sense. Plus, you really do gain a little bit more of a sense of confidence in yourself as a camper when you have stuff around you that actually works. It gives you a few more of those “Hey, I can actually do this!” moments each day and that really makes a difference.
The More Shelter The Better
Chris’ one thing in camping that’s really important to him is having the tarp set up really well. A tarp is nice because it will protect your eating/working areas if it rains and it really helps with shade too. Plus whatever rope/cord you use to hang it up makes a great clothesline! For Chris though, the tension of the tarp and the placement must be perfect so he loves using ratcheting straps. He swears by them. Obsessively. Maybe a little too obsessively. 🙂 But the point is, that one little piece of gear really helps him enjoy the whole experience a lot more. Update from Chris – buy a quality tarp! When I was using our good tarps during the big mudroom renovation a couple summers ago I had to run out a buy a new one for camping. I went with a cheap one and… big mistake! The ‘value tarp’ ripped apart within minutes under the tension of the ratchet straps. Spend a couple extra dollars on this item, it’s worth it.
Camping gear can get expensive, but the good news is that most of the best items are classics that will last you a really long time, so you can build your collection up slowly over time and end up with some really great gear after a few years. Chris has always been really comfortable with the whole camping thing, but there are a few pieces that really made a big difference to me in terms of my comfort level and confidence about my abilities to run my life and feed my family while living on a square of dirt. The year that we got one of these steel-belted coolers was an eye-opening year for me for sure. It felt great to see our ice lasting for so much longer and for me to know that our food was cold and safe at all times, without having to guess. The difference between a basic plastic cooler and the steel belted cooler was huge!
Some of the Gear That Really Makes a Difference to us
1. Ratcheting Straps | 2. Outdoor Tablecloth | 3. Hanging Tent Lights | 4. Propane Lantern | 5. Your Favorite Knife | 6. Door Mat | 7. Camp Soap | 8. Steel-Belted Cooler | 9. Solar-Powered Garden Lights
Get Creative (or steal other people’s creative ideas)
There seem to be a million ‘camping tips and tricks’ or ‘camping hacks’ posts online. Honestly, a lot of the ideas I see there are really fun to look at but don’t necessarily really apply to me, but every once in awhile I do find camping tips and tricks out there that really will be useful to the way we camp. So then I use it! I mostly look for camping info online that’s a little more in depth and a little more applicable to the real challenges of camping than another way to store cooking spices in small containers. Seriously, there are so many tips on how to store spices for camping! (BTW, I just usually make one or two universal spice blends and bring those.)
Chris decided to come up with his own solution this year to one little annoying camping problem and it actually worked really well! When you’re camping with messy kids, you usually end up with a box of baby wipes, paper towels, and a box of kleenex sitting out in the middle of your picnic table. These things both take up a ton of space and seem to always get blown over whenever there’s a breeze and land in someone’s food or just get in the way. Not a big deal, but still. Annoying. So Chris made this little contraption to hang off the side of our table using a kleenex box cover, a simple paper towel rod and some L brackets! It was perfect!
So don’t be afraid to come up with your own solution if you find there’s some little thing about camping that annoys you. Building your own little temporary home just the way you like it is a big part of the fun!
See the Light
Oh boy is this ever a big one for me. Or rather, it was! I find that even though we live in the middle of nowhere and it gets really really dark at our house at night, I still used to greatly underestimate the need for light on the campsite at night to make me feel comfortable. When you’re camping, you’re already in unfamiliar surroundings, doing everything a little differently than you would at home. Once you add pitch black darkness into the mix, you just can’t find anything that you’re looking for and that can be anywhere from kind of annoying to super stressful and scary. I always like to bring a lot of different lighting options to the campsite from small kid-sized flashlights, to a big propane lantern for the middle of the table, to smaller battery-powered lanterns for each room in the tents.
This year, we were walking through the grocery store to get our camp food when I saw a bunch of little solar-powered garden lights on sale! Perfecto! We put them near the entrances to the tents and also right near the entrance to our campsite so we could easily spot our site on our way back from the washroom in the dark. At $2 each and with no batteries needed, you can’t really beat them for making your camp site feel a little more comfortable at night!
Plan Your Meals Really Well
Cooking can be one of the most fun parts of camping, but it can also be a huge challenge. There can be so many things to pack for a single recipe when you don’t have your usual fridge or pantry to rely on and necessary ingredients can get misplaced or forgotten pretty easily. We like to plan all of our meals and snacks out each day on a spread sheet, and then we print that sheet out and bring it with us. Knowing what we’ll eat and on what day allows us to pack things in order and also to plan for which food items will last the longest in the cooler and which ones are best to be used up when they’re super fresh.
If you’re camping with friends and family, assign meal nights to the various groups. That way everyone gets a chance to serve up their specialty while the others enjoy a little extra time on the beach, a longer bike ride or a chance to settle in front of the fire a little earlier that night. Last year, a group near us created some of the most delicious smelling camp food each night as each family went all out on the one night they were called upon.
Find Your Perfect Campground and Go Back Year After Year
Camping is just like anything in life. The more practice you get at it, the better you get. If you’re really nervous, find a great campsite that you love and that offers a lot of amenities that will be fun and helpful to you, and then go back to the same place year after year until you get really good at it. You’ll know when your sense of adventure starts to tell you to try new places, but for nervous campers, the familiarity can make it so much easier to enjoy the whole experience. We go back to the same place every year and it makes it a lot easier to navigate things like a 4-year-old who can’t nap in a tent, or keeping kids happy and busy on that third day when everyone is starting to get tired. The place we go has canoe and kayak rentals, a great sandy beach, lots of bike trails, an ice cream shop, a camp store for things like ice and milk, and even a little restaurant if something goes wrong with one of our well-planned meals.
When you find the campground you really love, take a walk around one evening and try and find the best site that fits your needs. Perhaps you prefer to be close to wash facilities, trails or the beach. Maybe you like seclusion in the woods or you’d rather be near other campers and open spaces. The best campgrounds often offer a variety of experiences based on site selection. When you find that perfect site don’t forget to book early and avoid disappointment.
Don’t be Afraid to Bring as Little or as Much Stuff as you Need
I hereby give you permission to pack exactly what you want to pack. Don’t feel like you absolutely need to adhere to someone else’s camping list if you know that your family does better when you pack light. If bringing everything but the kitchen sink makes you feel more comfortable, then do it. The point of camping is not to do it right, but to just get out there and do it. Load yourselves and the kids in the car (or 2 cars) and go make some memories and do something challenging together that you can all be proud of! On our last camping trip we saw one family with a couple of small children pull into the camp site right next to the washroom with 2 cars and a uhaul trailer packed full of everything you could imagine. And even somethings you couldn’t. By the time they were set up, they had some kind of giant semi-permanent structure complete with foam floor, baby gates/fencing all around the perimeter, and an exersaucer right in the middle for the baby. And then all of the usual camping chairs, bikes, kitchen, and all that. Except they had extra folding tables to work on of course. I’m sure so many people laughed at them and thought it was all a little much and just not the “right” way to do camping. But the fact is that they were out there. They were doing it. And their kids knew they were out there doing it and creating memories and being that family that goes camping. So don’t be afraid to do it your way, whatever way that may be! 🙂
Don’t Expect to Love it all Right Away
Let me tell you this: The things that you think you’re supposed to love about camping, probably won’t be the first things that you’ll actually start to love about camping. It will probably be some random moment, like the walk to the store to buy ice cream, that you’ll find yourself enjoying the most at first. And that’s kind of the great thing about camping. It puts you in a place and in a mind frame that most of us never really get to experience in our everyday lives. Slowly over time, you might start to appreciate all those things that you hear other people (like me!) talking about, but don’t worry if you don’t. When you’re camping there’s time for each member of your family to find their favorite thing, and to make space for it in your day’s not-so-busy schedule.
Don’t End The Trip With a (Potentially) Negative Experience – Reckless Packing is Sometimes Okay
Our goal on the last day of each camping trip is to create a smooth transition back into our normal, productive, everyday life. We try to avoid lingering camping ‘mess’ from dragging on for days, taking over the whole house, leaving a chaotic, messy feeling that could cloud the happier memories. We achieve this in two simple steps: first, pack up early, just after breakfast, so we have the whole day to work with. Second, hit the (home) ground running: the first load of laundry starts as soon as we walk in, the coolers and dishes are unpacked and the camping gear finds it’s winter home in the basement. If all goes according to plan, we wake up the next day fresh and ready to go, without the burden of post-camping chores around every corner.
This however, as we’ve learned from experience, requires a little give and take. Let’s go back to that “camping gear finds it’s winter home” idea. In order to get ALL the camping gear into storage immediately, we have to properly and fully pack EVERYTHING at the campsite. As our family has grown along with our affinity for sunny, sandy sites, this has become increasingly difficult to pull off. What was once one average-sized tent has become one rather large tent and one even larger, somewhat (very) hard-to-pack tent and tarps and air mattresses (see above: Don’t be Afraid to Bring as Little or as Much Stuff as you Need). This can create a rather uncomfortable, frustratingly long morning.
Food all packed up, cool morning shadows creeping away, sand that sticks to literally everything! Not a great situation. So the solution? Just toss it in a garbage bag. Really. That hard to pack stuff? Just toss it in a bag, stuff it in the truck and get outta there. You might even have time for a short hike or trip to the beach on the way out if you’re quick enough. And it’s okay. That hard to pack stuff is usually the kind of thing that can sit in the garage out of sight for a couple days. Save that work until you have a nice, quiet evening to lay it out on the lawn, hose it down if you need to, and pack it up casually with a cold drink nearby and the ballgame on the radio. You know, rather than a couple hungry kids and the hot sun screaming down on you. The added bonus here is that you can take the time to ensure that your tents, tarps, air mattresses, or whatever are properly cleaned and you can repair any damage so you’re ready for many more adventures to come.
Do you have any favorite camping tips and tricks?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.