Sometimes tough choices need to be made while you’re camping. Do you give up on building a campfire because there isn’t enough usable kindling? Do you resign yourself to having cold feet all night because you don’t think there’s another option? And what about a lantern? Sometimes there just isn’t enough room for it inside your pack, not to mention the weight.
Well, with the camping tips and hacks that we’ve laid out below, you won’t have to make some of these decisions anymore. Check out the steps that you can take to become a camping magician, so that you can get the most out of your trip.
16 Camping Tips and Hacks
1. Turn a Water Jug Into a Lantern
As a kid, I was scared of the dark. Even now, I can’t help but feel a little edgy once the sun goes down, which is why it’s a tad unfortunate that I’m more of a night owl than an early bird. When I’m home, I can pop on a few lights and call it good, but when I’m spending a few nights in my tent? Well, there aren’t any light switches there. Some tent lanterns can get the job done pretty well, but let’s assume they didn’t fit within the budget, or they were forgotten back home.
To DIY your own camping lantern, all you need is a jug of water and a headlamp – items that any prepared camper will have on hand. It doesn’t really matter what type of water jug you have, though I’d recommend something about the size of a gallon for the best results. Take your headlamp, and attach it securely to the water jug, facing the light inward toward the water. Make sure you remove any labels from the outside, so that the light isn’t blocked by anything. Then all you have to do is turn the headlamp on, and enjoy the calming, diffused ambiance created by the light refraction.
2. Line Your Backpack with a Trash Bag
Any seasoned backpacker knows that you can never be too prepared – especially when it comes to Mother Nature’s fickle moods. For the most part, backpacks do a pretty good job of repelling rainwater, especially if it only sprinkles for a few minutes. But if you get caught in a torrential downpour, not even the best backpacks will be able to save the rest of your gear from getting wet.
Once your sleeping bag and spare clothes get wet, it’s curtains for you and your health, especially if you’re expecting the night to be chilly. A cheap and easy way to solve this problem is to line the inside of your backpack with a trash bag. It only costs about a dime to complete this hack, and in exchange, your clothes and sleeping arrangements will stay warm and dry. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
Read More: The Best Backpack Rain Cover to Keep Your Gear Dry
3. Use Candles to Unstick Your Zippers
Sticky zippers are the bane of campers everywhere. In fact, many of us get turned off by a certain product just because we read a few bad reviews about the zippers! But gone are those days, because now we can make them smooth as butter thanks to…wax?
I know it sounds like I’m making this up, but trust me on this one. By rubbing wax (either a candle or wax paper) on both sides of the zipper, you can say goodbye to the snags that you hate so much. Now you can lower your blood pressure AND keep your perfectly good tent or sleeping bag, even if you’ve struggled with the zippers in the past.
4. Save Space by Turning Your Stuff Sack into a Pillow
Have you finished packing your backpack, only to realize you had room for everything but your pillow? Or perhaps you couldn’t afford to buy one, or you’re trying to stay ultralightweight and the pillow didn’t make the cut.
Whatever the case, don’t feel like you have to rest your head on a flat rock you found at the campsite. To make a DIY camping pillow, just grab the stuff sack that your sleeping bag came in and fill it with some bunched up clothes. It’s a comfortable option that doesn’t feel too different from a normal camping pillow anyway – it’s even about the same size. And if that doesn’t suit your fancy, try folding your fleece jacket up instead. It’s my go-to option every time I go camping, and sometimes I prefer it to my pillow back home.
5. Trouble Starting a Fire? Use a Dorito
Want to make a campfire, but can’t find any kindling to get it going? Pack a few Doritos (or corn chips), and you shouldn’t have any trouble creating a roaring blaze.
If you’re curious as to why this method works, a little research may keep you from ever eating a Dorito again. Ultimately, it’s all the starch, chemicals, and oil inside of the chip that make it combust so easily, transforming it into a miracle worker when you need to start a fire.
Doritos are recommended because they do it best, but any corn chip will get the job done too. All the corn oil inside of them creates a slow and steady burn that’s perfect for setting the rest of your kindling ablaze.
6. Shave Your Soap
Staying clean on the trail is going to be one of the biggest challenges you face. Many people just give up on it, but I believe there’s a minimum amount of hygiene that needs to be retained, even when the nearest shower is 100 miles away.
Water is easy enough to find and heat up, but that’s not really going to get you very clean. Soap is the key here, but honestly, soap can get heavy. Especially when you’re backpacking, and you want to cut out as much needless weight as you possibly can.
One of the simplest solutions to this problem is to just shave off a few slivers from some bar soap. Grab your handy vegetable peeler and get slicing – it works surprisingly well, and the pieces that you create are just the right size for a couple days in the wild.
7. Store Your Eggs in a Bottle
Eggs are a breakfast staple, but they sure are difficult to pack. The ovular shape is difficult to work around, and when you’re camping, there’s a very real chance that they’ll break before they’re supposed to.
Don’t sacrifice your egg craving just because you think they’re too inconvenient to pack. You’ll have to do some prep work at home, but find yourself an empty water bottle that you can use as a storage container. Crack your eggs, beat them, and carefully pour them inside the water bottle (I’d suggest using a funnel for this part). And voila! On demand eggs that you can easily squeeze out into the frying pan while you’re at the campsite.
8. Use Straws for Storage
My wife and I are foodies, and as such, many of the traditional, dehydrated meals fall a little flat for us. They’re great for packability and sustenance, but it would be nice if they had a little more flavor, you know?
Spices make all the difference when it comes to cooking, but they’re notoriously difficult to pack for a camping trip. The glass jars they come in are heavy and bulky, and if you dump a little into a baggy, it can be hard to get back out again. At least, in the desired amount.
An easy way around this is to cut up a plastic straw and seal one of the ends using a lighter. Then, fill it with whatever spices you want to bring, pop a piece of tape on top, and you’ll be good to go.
9. Make a Belt and ‘S’ Hooks Your Best Friends
When it comes to useable space, there aren’t too many options to pick from in the wild. Perhaps you want a place to hang your coat or dry some freshly washed pots and pans, but there aren’t any good places to put them. You could set them on the ground, but that would just get them dirty again. And the inside of your tent will get wet if you leave your cookware there to dry.
To get out of this pickle, all you need is a belt and a couple of “S” hooks. Wrap the belt around a tree trunk and cinch it tight enough where it won’t slide down. Then add your hooks, slide your gear onto them, and you’ve got yourself a makeshift coat and drying rack.
10. Put Sage on Your Campfire
Mosquitos can quickly turn your pleasant night at the campground into a scene out of a horror movie. Instead of enjoying conversation around dinner by the lake, you may find yourself holed up inside the safety of your tent, hoping that none of the little buggers managed to follow you inside.
Don’t let the mosquitos dictate when you can and can’t enjoy time outside. If they’re starting to get obnoxious, just make a fire and toss a few bundles of sage into the flame. Mosquitos are naturally repelled by sage smoke, so make sure you have some handy when you need it. This will typically be at dawn and dusk, though they can be active at all times of the day.
11. Keep Your Cooler Frosty with Frozen Gallon Jugs
Considering there’s no refrigeration out in nature, you’ll have to get a little creative with how you keep your food cold. Car campers, chances are that you’ll making more extravagant meals than backpacks will be. As such, you’ll likely be bringing a cooler filled with things like cheese, vegetables, and meat. You might be tempted to dump a couple bags of ice in there to keep everything cold, but hear me out on another option that I think is even better.
Grab a couple gallon jugs of water from the store and freeze them solid. These will be your ice packs inside the cooler, keeping everything cold enough so that it stays edible. As the jugs melt, you’ve got yourself some extra drinking water. It’s a win-win scenario that doesn’t leave your food items wading through a lake of melted ice inside your cooler.
12. Wrap Your Trekking Poles with Tape
Tape is the ideal solution when you need to make a few quick fixes on the trail. Patch up your tent, sleeping bag, or puffy jacket, repair your guylines, add support to your tent poles, make some DIY shoelaces, seal bags of food…the options are literally endless.
However, tape is another one of those things that can be heavy and bulky, making it less than ideal for backpackers. Don’t worry, though – as long as you have trekking poles, there’s a solution that might work for you. Just cut off as much tape as you want to bring and wrap it around your poles, making sure the sticky part wraps on top of the tape below it. If you attempt to cover your entire pole, like you’re mummifying it, it’ll lose more of its stickiness when you take it off again.
13. Bring Paracord
Along with tape, paracord is pretty much the most useful item that you can bring with you on a camping trip. It might just seem like a piece of cord, but let me tell you, it can do a lot more than just tie things together.
Did you somehow manage to lose your shoelaces? Use paracord instead. Do you need to secure your tent to the ground better? Paracord can help. How about injuries? You can use paracord as a tourniquet, a sling, a component in a splint, or even to make stitches, if you’re really desperate. Point being, there are endless uses for paracord, so it’s worth stocking up on a few feet of it before you start your next adventure.
14. Cold Feet? Use a Hot Water Bottle
For all you ladies out there, this one is probably going to feel a lot more relevant than the other hacks listed so far. We all know that women tend to struggle with cold feet more than men do, though it certainly does go both ways. My wife gets a little upset when we go camping and she can’t stick her freezing feet on me to warm up, so this tip has made her very happy.
Grab a water bottle (disposable or reusable) and fill it with hot water. Shove that down your sleeping bag by your feet, and you’ll be surprised by how warm they stay during the night.
On the off chance that you don’t have access to hot water, there is another option available to you as well. When I was in Nepal, one of my companions was getting pretty cold at night. To solve this problem, he would pee in a bottle and get cozy with it inside his sleeping bag. It might sound a little gross, but it did work very well for him, so don’t knock it until you try it…I guess?
15. Dry Your Shoes with Dirty Clothes
Wet shoes aren’t just uncomfortable – they can give you blisters and trench foot, if you aren’t careful. Even waterproof shoes are bound to get a little damp inside, simply because your feet sweat throughout the day.
Taking your shoes off at night certainly helps them dry out before you pop them on again in the morning. But what if they got really soaked, and a few nighttime hours aren’t enough to get them back to normal?
This is where you’ll be able to make use of your dirty clothes. I find that more absorbent materials work better, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Shove them inside your shoes while you sleep, and when you wake up, you’ll have dry footwear that’s ready to help you tackle the day.
16. Leave Clean Clothes in Your Car
A fresh change of clothes waiting for you in the car can feel just as good as a hot shower when you get home. After a few days of getting dirty and sweaty with no (good) way to clean yourself off, changing into a clean outfit just might bring a tear to your eye. At least, it did for me after I got back to my hotel in Kathmandu after a long trek through the Himalayas.
Read More: Annapurna: A Journey that Brings Dreams to Life – Part 1