When you start out camping it’s easy to make mistakes and they can make life pretty miserable for the time you are out there. Although these may be basic to seasoned campers, they will help avoid accidents, make your campsite comfortable, and eliminate flaring tempers!
1. Check the direction of storm winds, and prepare accordingly.
On a camping trip we were excited that there were oceanfront camping spots – the romance of enjoying a glass of bubbly while the sun set over the ocean was alluring.
No, said husband, we had to camp near the perimeter wall, sort of behind the ablution block because the wind could become gale force. So everything was set up and fastened down thoroughly while the kids and I were casting wistful looks towards those people set up overlooking the ocean.
During the night the wind came up – so strong it rocked the cars setting off their alarms, tents came crashing down, people couldn’t re-pitch the tents in the howling gale force winds so sat in their cars for the rest of the night.
In the morning we walked to the beach and saw those we had envied – tents ripped to shreds, belongings strewn all over. Our tent and a few others along the same wall – not a problem at all!
2. Check drainage
Before setting up the tent check where the flow of water will come if it rains, and set up the opening of the tent away from the rain side. Also set up on a slight slope so the ground around the tent won’t be waterlogged.
Case in point – friends with experience kindly pitched my tent on a slope before I arrived. No, this wouldn’t do! While they were at the beach I repositioned it on a nice flat piece of ground, wondering how they could have overlooked this ideal spot.
Husband and friends didn’t say anything. In the night it rained – the built in groundsheet kept the rain out but it was like we had our own waterbed, as the ideal flat spot was the lowest point!
3. Take a spade
This way you can dig a little trench around your tent to prevent water running under the tent during a storm and direct the flow away from your entrance and seating area.
It always comes in useful if vehicles get stuck; moving coals around a Dutch oven for baking bread; for digging a makeshift toilet; and you can even cook your meat on it with some coals underneath. This folding Rhino camping spade doesn’t take up much room and will get the job done.
4. Use camp beds
These days they fold up small, are easy to put up and keep you above creepy crawlies like scorpions, and off the ground should it rain. Make sure you choose one suited to your height and weight – and leave room for error.
People get raucous when camping and will tackle each other onto camp stretchers resulting in them collapsing under the combined weight – especially kids and teenagers, so pick one well above the maximum weight you think you’ll need.
The great thing about camp cots https://www.amazon.com/s?k=USA+camp+cots&ref=nb_sb_noss_2 is that they provide neat storage space underneath, usually come with side pockets for storage, and provide a comfortable sleeping area so you don’t toss and turn as your hips seem to connect with stony earth when you only have a sleeping bag.
5. Use storage boxes for clothes with snap tight lids
We used to take backpacks for clothes. Now we take backpacks for hikes, and the clothes for each member of the family are stored in neat Tupperware boxes with lids that clip shut.
When it rains the moisture in the air makes things smell musty – stored in the boxes, clothes stay cleaner instead of being strewn around, there is no risk of reptiles or insects getting into them and with a person’s name marked on each box every family member knows where their clothes are.
Plus the boxes make good bedside tables at night, and can be stowed under the camp beds during the day.
6. Silica gel sachets
Every time you buy a new pair of shoes or electronic stuff keep the little packets that say, “Do not eat”. These little packets of desiccant can be used everywhere – in your clothes boxes, in with your camera equipment, in your plastic tub with your matches, and your food storage boxes.
The silica gel absorbs water vapor in the atmosphere, keeping goods dry when you are out camping and exposed to far more moisture than at home.
7. A water station
The taps and ablution blocks are usually a walk away. When you are camping, hands tend to get dirty so establish a water station using a 2 to 5 gallon container with a tap on it.
Or go old school like in this picture with a watering can you can simply tip for a bit of hand washing water
Fill and situate on a sturdy little camp table solely for this purpose, or hang it from a tree branch near the tent. Hang up a hand towel nearby and put some liquid soap on the table or hanging up next to the water container so everyone can rinse their hands off without having to take a trip to the ablution blocks.
8. Cups with lids
Bees are attracted to the sweetness in drinks and no one wants a camping trip ruined by a bee sting on the lips. Even for adults a lid helps avoid leaves drifting down right into your nice cup of coffee, or to avoid finding a fly doing backstroke in your wine.
With uneven ground, drinks tend to spill and camp tables are not that sturdy. A cup with a lid will save your drink should someone bump the table, or the camp chair you are using with the little drinks compartment in the armrest. Sitting on a damp camp chair is not pleasant!
9. Hanging shoe holder
If you have heard, “Where’s the torch/matches/ salt/ insect repellant?” for the umpteenth time and feel you want to scream at whoever asks for whatever it was, then get a see-through holders meant for shoes.
They fit torches, keys, mosquito repellent, suntan lotion, matches, sunglasses, and all the things that people just can’t find usually because they are too lazy to look. Now they just have to stand in front of it and all will be revealed.
10. Plastic jugs as ice bricks
Instead of ice bricks or buying packets of ice to keep stuff cold take along already frozen gallon jugs of water. They will keep stuff in your cooler cold for longer, plus you can drink the water once it has melted.
11. Invest in headlamps
These are awesome for camping leaving you hands free to remove splinters from toes, find stuff in the tent, to prepare food, check on how the meat is progressing on the barbeque, and they make a night light for the tent if you place them around one of the plastic gallon jugs of water mentioned in #10.
12. DIY insect repellant
Mix tea tree oil or citronella oil in a ratio of one part oil to two parts water and put in a spray container so you can spritz the bottom of pants, socks and your clothes – wherever ticks and other insects might like to hitch a ride, or attempt a little bloodsucking.
Prepare one small one for each member of the family to they can carry it in their backpacks and reapply when out on hikes during the day.
13. Pack a First Aid Kit
Especially if you are going into a fairly wild area where you will not be close to emergency services, then prepare for the worst.
Chances are you will not get to use all the stuff in your emergency kit, but if you don’t have it Murphy’s Law states that you will need it!
Camping involves fires – so take burn gel and dressings; preparing firewood involves axes – take those suture plasters to close a wound until you can get to a hospital. Take what you need to treat sprains and pulled muscles, tired and aching feet, and blisters.
Water and food may be different from that at home so take medication for diarrhea and dyspepsia. Poison oak, poison ivy and various other plants and insects can cause very unpleasant reactions, so be prepared with anti-histamines and calamine lotion.
14. Water Purifier
The Sawyer Mini or Life Straw could do just that – save your life. Water may be contaminated so use these if the water you have brought along runs out, to get rid of 99.999% of bacteria and parasites including E coli, salmonella, and giardia in water you may need to use when out camping.
They are light and portable, and easier than making a DIY filter with charcoal and sand etc.
15. River sand for scouring pots
A piece of cloth and some clean river sand works as a pot scourer if yours got lost or you forgot to bring one and are wondering how to get a really greasy pot clean.
16. Markers for guy ropes
Most campers will have tripped over a guy rope or kicked their toe on a tent peg in the dark. Mark these with reflective tape, Styrofoam cups slipped over the end of protruding tent pegs, or pieces of a pool noodle slipped over guy ropes, anything that shows up in the dark and lets you know which spots to avoid.
Even if you brought along commercial firestarters they often run out and a lot of people don’t like using them because of the chemicals they contain so you can DIY your own.
Collect the cardboard inners of toilet rolls, stuff them with dryer lint, and flatten the ends of the toilet roll to keep the lint secure. Store in a box or bag and use instead of tinder to get a fire going.
If you didn’t bring enough of those either, and tinder is hard to find maybe the ladies will donate a couple of their facial cleaning pads made from cotton wool – pour some melted candle wax (see #21) over and you have another DIY firestarter. Even cotton wool balls from your first aid kit rubbed in a bit of petroleum jelly (see #23) will work.
18. Prep beforehand and vacuum pack food
Vacuuming packing meat will help it keep cool longer. Foods that are vacuum packed take up less space; the packaging keeps the food safe from insects and it’s less likely to develop a split in the packaging and spill all over the place.
Think of vacuum packing rice and other dry goods in smaller packs appropriate for a family meal. Chopping vegetables like butternut and cabbage and vacuum sealing them will leave you more time for fun and exploring during your trip.
You may want to invest in one of these handy vacuum sealers to make it all happen.
19. Packing eggs
I doubt there is a camper who doesn’t have a story about broken eggs – and they take so much time to clean up and getting rid of the smell is hard work.
If you don’t have one of these hard-shell plastic containers for eggs. then you can plan ahead and break eggs into a jug at home and store in small plastic water bottles for making pancakes or scrambled eggs.
When you put in the first egg make a mark on the outside of the container and after adding each egg make another mark, so you can judge how many eggs you are using if you are say making pancakes and need 2 eggs.
Also, never put eggs with dry goods like flour or rice. Rather pack them with tinned goods to avoid mishaps. If you want whole eggs, say to do fried eggs then use a wide mouth plastic jar with a screw top so you can gently insert and retrieve your whole eggs.
There is no guarantee though if the road is very bad, or someone drops the box in which they are packed that they may not become scrambled – scrambled eggs on camping trips are probably the best option!
20. Packing spices
You may find small stackable containers you can fill with the amount of spice you think you need for a camping trip, or use empty tic-tac boxes, plastic pill bottles, or small Ziploc bags with all the packets or mini- containers stored together in a larger plastic sealable container.
If tumeric and curry powder spill they can create an awful mess and stain things, so make sure the lid of the larger container fits tightly.
21. DIY dry pancake and batter mixes
You may only want to make pancakes once on a trip, or fry fish once.
So prepare the dry ingredients for the batter and store in a plastic jar with a screw top lid, allowing enough room for you to add the milk and egg into the jar, and shake to mix without having to take along a bowl, a whole packet of flour, baking powder, spices etc.
Just label your containers “Pancake mix with cinnamon – add I egg and 1 cup milk”, or “Fish Batter – add 2 eggs and 1 cup milk”.
The kids may not be impressed with fish spiced pancakes if they aren’t labeled. A good idea is to slip a piece of paper inside the container saying what it is and what must be added in case the labels get rubbed or washed off.
22. First night food prep
Usually when you arrive at a camping site you are tired from having been on the road, plus then you have to pitch tent as dark is closing in, and there may be of wails of hunger and frazzled nerves.
To obviate the necessity of preparing a camp fire to actually cook food rather bring along stuff that is ready made, like a chunky potato salad, and a homemade bread.
Have some ready cooked sausages that just need re-heating on a stick over the fire – bring the sticks with you too and some s’mores for a relaxing evening with a few drinks after making camp.
The next night you can get into fires that are the right temperature for cooking, make your bread in a Dutch oven, kids can find the right kind of sticks from wood that is not poisonous and really enjoy getting involved in the whole campfire cooking process.
23. Petroleum jelly
Bring along a small pot of petroleum jelly to smear a third of the way up table legs and chair legs so insects can’t get past and attack food you have on the tables, or that you have stored in the side pockets of chairs.
Also put a bit on the ends of the rope where you sling up your hammock or on the rope that suspends kids chair tents, so the ropes don’t become an ant highway – kids are notorious for leaving candy or crisps lying around – perfect ant magnets.
24. A candle
Candle wax will act as a sealant when smeared on tent seams, or you can buy a sealant like this and spray before it starts to rain.
Trawl though the Internet for games to keep both adults and kids amused. Sometimes the weather just does not play along and when rains sets in for three days people get bored and they start getting ratty with each other, so have a large stock of fun activities and games printed out with the rules, or stored on your phone, as well as plenty of jokes to keep people laughing.
26. Hanging cocoons/hammocks
Nothings says ‘leisure’ more than a hammock slung between two trees. The bonus is they keep you off the ground if it’s damp and away from biting insects. Kids love these hammock swing chairs where they can bob on a tree branch while they read, chat or play.
Take along some hardwood for your fire. You’ll need around 12 or so split logs per evening for cooking – more if you’re staying up late to chat around the campfire. If it is really cold the campfire may be going most of the day
Do your research – some places do not want you collecting firewood and you have to bring your own – other places it’s not a problem to collect tinder and fallen branches for kindling.
Get kids involved in collecting and create 3 different piles – one with tinder materials, one with smaller fast burning kindling pieces and the other with the larger logs for once the fire is going well.
Remember to store firewood under cover should it rain – a piece of plastic weighted down with some stones found around the site will do the trick.
28. A plastic toolbox for cutlery
After trying various methods – a stand with hanging cutlery that kept getting bumped over and an open cutlery tray that acted as a magnet for leaves, dust, and insects, we settled on a plastic toolbox.
It has those flips covers on the lid to store matches and other small items like little packets of salt, then the top lift out section has the knives, forks and spoons for the evening meal while underneath is stored the roller towel, serviettes, and larger items like the tongs for turning meat and larger knives. Everything stays clean, and is in one place.
29. Washing up station
Set up a tub where everyone can place dirty dishes after a meal, keeping the campsite tidy. There’s the choice of going across to the ablution blocks and the wash-up section usually behind them, or setting up your washing up station next to camp with a large bowl and dishwashing liquid on hand with hot water heated on the gas or over the fire.
30. Stainless steel water bottles
Plastic water bottles are out! Invest in stainless steel water bottles, which have a special insulating layer, built into their thin walls – they are lightweight, sturdy, reusable and keep warm drink warm and cold drinks cold.
31. Rivers as fridges
Your drinks will get as cold as the steam or river water you place them in. Take along an onion pocket and a bit of rope of paracord to fasten to a stone or to a tree branch as the river’s edge. Pop your drinks inside and leave them to cool.
If you do what we did, i.e. leave them loose in a rock pool they may float away. We did this during a hike expecting to come back to two icy-cold beers on our return – we returned just in time to see them floating downstream headed for a thundering waterfall.
Washline is lightweight and a 5 to 10 yard line with a few pegs packed into an empty see thru plastic container with a screw top lid will keep everything together. It’s one of the first things I put up after setting up tent as it keeps camp tidy.
No clothes pooling in heaps at the ends of tent ropes as they slide down and no wet towels hanging over camp chairs and making them damp!
33. Fold away camp chairs at night
It’s tempting to roll into bed after an evening around the campfire but too many times the dew or a light rain overnight means no dry chairs to sit on under they have dried out for half a day. Spend a couple of minutes putting them under cover and you’ll always have a comfortable dry seat.
34. Gloves come in handy
Gloves are useful for when you are working with firewood (they beat taking out splinters), they avoid burns when you are handling cast iron cookware and shoveling coals or adding logs and moving logs around the fire – also useful for picking up heated stones, which brings us to the next point.
35. Firepit rules
Make is quite clear right from the start that no kids are allowed to sit on camp chairs near the fire. Too many children get burnt as they wiggle and squirm on camp chairs and they tip over into the fire. Organize them a handy log near the fire or camp pads to sit on.
Also, kids love to stir and prod a fire – make sure if they have pokers that they are all accounted for and have a safe spot where they know they must put them. Kids tend to put pokers down on the ground and another child can easily stand or sit on the hot end.
36. Rocks around the firepit
To keep kids from falling into the firepit edge it with stones you find around the site – they can get involved. Make sure there are some nice rounded stones that are clean to put near the edge for warming toes and later for warming beds.
37. Hot rocks for bed warming
The stones placed around the firepit will warm up nicely and you can take one, wrap in an old cloth to insulate it and prevent any dirt from the stone getting in your bed while it warms up your sleeping bag.
38. When is a fire ready start cooking meat?
If you can hold your hand at a distance of around 6 inches above the coals and count to 10 slowly without having to snatch your hand away then it is ready to start barbequing your meat
39. Old cloths
There is always something needing to be cleaned in camp – far more so than at home, for example, axes need to be oiled, vehicles need wipe downs, spills need wiping up, and hot rocks need wrapping. So in addition to a dish towel a few cloths perhaps from an old sheet will be very helpful.
40. Storage totes – go smaller rather than bigger
Camping shops loves to sell huge totes – but they are not practical. Rather buy more more smaller sturdy ones with clip on lids, than the bigger ones They are easier to lift, you can pack them more easily into a vehicle than a couple of large ones and you can keep similar goods together.
Make sure they are labeled on the outside to people know where to find things. For example I have one labeled LIGHTING and inside are extension cords, electric lights, headlamps, torches, candles and anything to do with lights.
Dry food is packed into a tote labeled dry goods and snacks – flour, biscuits, pancake mix, crisps, nuts, trail mix etc. Then oils, chutney, and vinegar are packed with the tinned food in another tote – should anything break it can’t ruin the canned goods.
41. How many drinks per day?
When I first started camping I asked an old hand and for the quantity of beers and he said 12 per person per day. I looked horrified – this wasn’t going to be a drink all you can trip.
Then he explained. People are going out fishing. They take along water but it’s nice to have a couple of beers out there – perhaps 4 per person for the whole day, then when they hit the shore and clean fish it becomes social so maybe a couple more.
Friends wander in and start talking and you offer a beer or two, then round the camp fire in the evening with the food it’s a couple more – so 12 isn’t entirely overdoing it.
The same goes for drinks for kids – they make friends quickly and bring them back to the campsite for snacks and a cool drink – so you need to have extra on hand, unless you plan on restricting them to water only – then you will need more water too!
42. How much water should I take?
Water is seriously heavy and lugging in large 5 gallon containers with your supplies takes up space too. Try to ascertain if the water at your intended campsite is potable and if not then plan for 4 to 5 pints per person per day.
At home you would get away with less, but when people are active outdoors and in the sun they need more water. If it is impossible to take along enough fresh water for the trip then you need a water purification system (see #14).
43. Forgot a pillow?
It is amazing how often these get left behind! Possibly because people think they will pack them in last and in the excitement they are forgotten. Folded clothes tucked into a pillow shape in a hoodie certainly give a better night’s sleep than no pillow.
Put your mobile in an empty glass to amplify the sound when you want some music around the campsite if no one has brought along a guitar for a sing song around the fire.
45. Keeping sand out of the bed
Some people simply won’t go camping at all because they can’t stand the feeling of sand on the tent floor or in a sleeping bag. For starters, use an open mesh woven ground cover outside the tent that allows sand to drop through.
Secondly take along a small bedside rug to put next to your sleeping bag or camp bed to get most of the sand off before you get into bed. Some people put a bowl of water near the door of the tent with a small bathmat and towel handy so before going inside you can wash feet, and dry off before stepping in.
46. Choose your neighbors
Don’t be in a rush if you have a choice of campsites. Perhaps have a chat with other campers to ascertain what they seem like. All night party animals are just as bad as neighbors who glare at anyone who talks above a whisper!
One guy we got to know well bought out all the campsites around where he wanted to camp then conducted interviews as to whether you would be suitable neighbors before giving you the campsite for exactly what he had paid for it.
He and his friends enjoyed a bit of a guitar playing and sing song around the fire and had endured one killjoy couple who went to bed at 7:00 pm on New Year’s eve of all times and gave him a hard time for the whole of his stay.
47. Garbage bags
Some places require you to take out your garbage with you as they don’t have facilities for garbage disposal and others have bins pretty far from the campsite – so take plenty of garbage bags so you can leave the place clean.
They come in handy too when packing up and let’s say cast iron pots are black from the fire on the outside and you don’t want them marking other camping gear, or tents are still wet and need to be covered with two garbage bags end to end to prevent your vehicle getting dirty.
48. Cast iron cookware is best
A Dutch oven, a saucepan, and a skillet will be all you should need to prepare great meals. Using thin non-stick ware means pots and pans can warp on the fire, and we know that aluminum isn’t particularly good for you. Cleaning enamelware after it has been blackened on a fire isn’t fun either.
49. A gas stove can save the day
If you arrive somewhere and no open fires are allowed because of fire danger, or if it rains and you have no firewood or its all wet, then a small camping gas stove that takes up very little room can save the day.
50. Plan one-pot meals for easy cleanup
Try to plan your menu in advance. You can’t be too rigid but having a day-by-day menu plan certainly helps with quantities and makes for easy prep. One-pot meals mean less washing up, and if it rains keep youngsters amused with baking pancakes.
A couple of jaffle irons can be used for making lunches or desserts over the fire, try our banana, Nutella and honey jaffles or our milktart jaffles (link to recipe).
51. Steel grate
A steel grate with legs that sits about 4-5 inches above the coals is useful for placing your Dutch oven on a sturdy base, rather than trying to suspend it from branches over a fire.
52. Going solo
If you are camping alone and taking a one-man tent then take along a camp cot and put the tent on top. You’ll have reasonably dry storage space underneath and will be above the insects and ground, making for a more comfortable sleep.
53. Camping under trees
Check the type of tree in the campsite carefully looking for decayed branches as in winds they can snap off. In Australia the eucalyptus trees are quite brittle and with no warning and no wind a huge branch may suddenly give way and come crashing down.
While you want some shade and may want to use trees to shield you from early morning sun pouring into your tent, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of trees. If it rains and you are under trees it will take far longer for the campsite to dry out than in a sunnier spot.
54. A tent to meet your needs
Huge tents although they are spacious and comfortable often need more than two people to erect them – so choose the tent according to the size of the group you are camping with.
You want a lightweight, sturdy tent that meets your needs for the particular trip. Many people take along tents for sleeping and a separate tent for the group to use as a kitchen/dining tent.
55. Choosing sleeping bags
Choose your sleeping bag according to the climate – a fully insulated one suited for winter in mountain regions is just not going to cut it for summer camping.
If you camp a lot you may need two types of sleeping bag. Also make sure you have a decent damp-proof roll up sleeping pad to take the edge off hard ground.
56. Fire making
When you make your fire add wood from one side only, so as you go along you have a bed of coals on one side ready to start cooking, while the other side is burning providing a backdrop to fireside stories.
57. Start fires early
Hard woods burn quite slowly and fires, unlike electricity and gas, are not a source of instant heat for cooking. Avoid hungry wails and kids bingeing on snacks while they wait an eternity for the fire to be ‘right’ for cooking by organizing the fire early, so all you have to do it light it once you get back a bit late from a hike.
58. Ensure chairs have drinks holders
Simply as a safety measure ensure drinks are off the ground – particularly if you are having a glass of wine – so many people have stood on wine glasses in the dark placed next to chairs with serious lacerations to the foot as a result. Buy camping chairs that have drinks holders for safety.
59. Camp tables
You never seem to have enough of these. Camp tables are so light and fold up into nothing – so take along 2 or more. You’ll need one for food prep, one for a drinks station and setting out dinner, and it’s good to have a separate activities tale for kids to they can draw and paint in peace.
60. Last but not least: take notes
If you find a campsite you really like and plan on returning to the area in the future then make notes of which campsites are the best so if you pre-book you can ask for the site by number.
If there was a really bad campsite then also note this down so if you are offered it when you make a booking you can negotiate for a different site.