Camping on the beach can be a fun and relaxing way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The sound of the waves hitting the shore will lull you to sleep, and the sea breeze is refreshing and beneficial for your health. However, camping on the beach is a lot different than camping in the forest or mountains. Given the unique challenges, here are 13 tips for beach camping to prepare you for a safe and enjoyable trip.
Tips for Beach Camping
1. Manage your Trash
It doesn’t matter where you’re camping, trash management is vital for keeping the environment undamaged and pristine. However, considering how fragile and sensitive the beach ecosystem is, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions to avoid contaminating your surroundings.
Naturally, you’ll want to remember the principles of Leave No Trace, especially since one of them is “dispose of waste properly.” At the beach, this means you should pack out all of your trash, or put it in any nearby dumpsters (if you’re camping in a more highly trafficked area). Keep a close eye on food wrappers especially, since these small bits of plastic are notorious for getting caught in the wind, blowing off to some far corner of the beach.
Properly disposing of waste also helps prevent unwanted animal encounters. Various creatures like bears, foxes, and raccoons will be able to sniff out any food that you’ve left exposed. Even if it’s only in the form of a few crumbs left over in a plastic bag, don’t be surprised if you receive a hungry visitor looking for a free meal.
Also bring more trash bags that you think you’ll need. I usually end up wishing I had more with me, since they can be used for more than just trash, and they’re fairly lightweight and inexpensive. When possible, avoid using plastic utensils and other single-use items, and replace them with biodegradable or reusable options. By keeping a close eye on your waste products, you’ll be able to protect the wildlife and water quality, while keeping the aesthetics of the area undisturbed.
2. Bring Extra Beach Towels
Beach camping means you’ll be spending a lot of time in and around the water, so having a way to dry off is a must. Like trash bags, I’d recommend bringing more than you think you’ll need, since they can be used for a variety of purposes.
When you’re not using them to get dry and stay warm after leaving the water, you can lay one out as a makeshift blanket. In a pinch, you could also turn it into something of a tarp, offering protection against the sun if you don’t have any other choice. While not all of your blankets need to be quick drying, it’s nice to have a few that are, to be used for specialized purposes.
3. Have Sun Protection
We all know that you have an ulterior motive for camping at the beach… You want to get tan! Especially if you’re a pale Scandinavian like me, a little extra color helps you look more full of life.
Still, the dangers of too much sun shouldn’t be overlooked. During the peak hours when the sun is at its strongest, those intense UV rays will wreak havoc on your skin. If you’re unlucky, you may get a painful burn that’s hard to sleep on. If you’re really unlucky, you may get some cancerous growths later in life that need to be removed. As someone who worked in dermatology for a number of years, I can tell you that you don’t want to take this route.
Sunscreen is a must, but don’t forget about sun-resistant clothing that can provide some UV protection. A wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and perhaps a long-sleeve shirt are all items that you should wear, even if they’re a little uncomfortable. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.
4. Create a Sand-Free Entryway to Your Tent
Sand feels great to sleep on, but I have to say, it’s really annoying how it likes to get everywhere. If you track any into your tent, good luck getting it all out again once you get home. I guarantee you’ll still be finding some grains several months (if not years) later.
To avoid this, one of my best tips for beach camping is to have a cleaning station outside your tent that you use to brush off any particles stuck to your feet, legs, or other parts of your body. I’d recommend keeping a bucket of water (doesn’t matter if it’s fresh or salty) just outside your tent, so that you can use the water to help you clean off. Some sort of brush, broom, or towel can also be helpful to remove as much sand as possible.
I know some people go as far as pitching another tent to act as a sort of “mud room.” It’s usually a small pop-up tent that you can get for a handful of bucks, and may be an attractive option for some of you. Either way, don’t underestimate the importance of this tip. As someone who’s had to clean sand out of a tent before, all I can say is that you should learn from my mistakes.
5. Bring Bug Spray
Aside from uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, bugs are the biggest complaint I hear from campers. Unfortunately, the little critters enjoy the beach as much as you do, especially during the warmer months of the year. To protect yourself from the discomfort and potential illness, make sure you bring your bug spray of choice.
Anything with DEET in it will be effective, but I prefer more natural methods, since my skin doesn’t react well to chemicals. Citronella candles (or essential oil in general) can help repel insects, but if that’s not your favorite smell, there are other oils that can get the job done. Lavender, tea tree, and cinnamon are just a few that you can choose from in your war against bug bites.
6. Watch the Tides
Changing tides are a unique challenge that beach campers will have to face. It can happen quickly and unexpectedly, so make sure you know where the high tide line is before you choose a place to pitch your tent. There are various websites and apps that you can use to check tide information, such as NOAA Tides and Currents. If you’re concerned about getting flooded during the night, I’d suggest making camp farther away from the shoreline than you think you need to.
Of course, this isn’t going to be as big of an issue if you’re camping on the beach of a lake. Still, I certainly wouldn’t camp right on the water’s edge, and you shouldn’t anyway, if you’re serious about following Leave No Trace principles. Try to stay a couple hundred feet away from a water source, especially when you’re cooking or answering nature’s call. This will prevent any contamination of the water source, which would have an adverse effect on the ecosystem.
7. Use Sand Tent Stakes
From firsthand experience, I can tell you that sand is a lot different than dirt. What I mean by that is the fact that your regular tent stakes are going to be completely useless when you’re camping at the beach. The long, smooth tubes of metal will slide in and out of the sand without resistance, so you’ll need to update your camping gear to include stakes designed specifically for sand.
Tent stakes for sand are flatter (less cylindrical) than regular tent stakes, and they often have holes at regular intervals down the length of the stake. Sand will fill these holes, giving you much better traction, keeping the stake firmly rooted in the ground. It’s worth noting that these stakes still won’t feel quite as secure as a normal stake in dirt, but I’ve survived 40 mile per hour wild gusts in the desert without any trouble.
8. Use Reflectors
It’s probably not something you would initially think about when considering tips for beach camping, but the beach is a very popular place. When night falls and darkness stretches out around you, your tent is going to be very easy to miss. Not only will you have a little difficulty finding it again when you’re coming back from a bathroom break, but other people walking along the beach might run into your setup as well.
Some tents already have reflective materials built into them, but it never hurts to have a little more. You can use tape or other markers on your tent to make it more obvious when light is shone on it. Or you can get reflective stakes that can be shoved into the ground around your campsite. Either way, it’s a good idea to do something to make it obvious that you’re living there for the night, even if you’re the only one around.
9. Stay Away from Dunes
If you’re at a “traditional” beach, you may not need to worry about dunes. But assuming you’re camping in a place where these big, sloping mounds of sand exist, I know it’s tempting to find the highest peak and make camp there.
Even so, I’m going to tell you to resist that urge. Dunes play a vital role in the ecosystem as a break wind, and it’s best if we don’t do anything to interfere with that role. Not to mention, camping in the valley behind the dune will offer some of the wind protection for you as well. Gusts come blowing through pretty hard when there aren’t any trees or rocks to stop them, so you’ll be glad to have some extra shelter. The integrity of your shelter may depend on it, even if you have a wind resistant tent.
10. Stay Hydrated
If I ever wrote a manual on how to camp, my first rule would be to bring more water than you think you’ll need. If you’re beach camping, bring even more.
Both the sun and the salt water can have a dehydrating effect, which means you need to be extra conscious about putting fluids back into your body. If you’re camping by a lake or river, use a filter to create potable water. If there’s a hose or drinking fountain nearby, even better (just make sure you still filter it, especially if it’s coming from a hose).
Salt water is going to be more difficult to convert to drinking water, but it’s not impossible with the right tools. You’ll need to distil the saltwater using a pot and a heat source, which will take more time. However, if it’s the only option you have, it works like a charm every time. To find out how to purify water this way, and many others, check out our water purification guide below.
Read more: The Complete Guide on How to Purify Water in the Wild
11. Check the Weather
I’ve spent a good portion of my life by the coast, so I can tell you with certainty that the weather can change at the drop of a hat. Just like when you’re in the mountains, it’s important to stay sky aware, paying attention to warnings, advisories, and alerts. Especially when they’re related to high tides, waves, strong winds, and storms that might be rolling in from the ocean.
For the most part, you shouldn’t run into any problems if you keep your campsite far enough away from the shoreline. Even so, it’s a good idea to bring some jackets, extra clothes, and emergency supplies to see you through any bad weather. And of course, I can’t stress the importance of having a waterproof tent enough, since it will be your firs line of defense against the rain and wind.
12. Bring Beach Camping Chairs
After a long day of playing on the beach and swimming in the water, it’s nice to have somewhere comfortable to sit and relax. Beach chairs are a must when you’re camping in a sandy environment, but not just any chair will do. You need to find something that will support your weight without sinking into the sand, is comfortable to sit in, has at least one pocket for your beverage or phone, and is fairly lightweight. While there are a few options that fit the bill, I’d suggest checking out the KingCamp beach chair to start.
Along with your beach chair, you may consider bringing a camping table or cooking stand for more convenience as well. These will give you a solid place to make food, eat it, and perhaps play some games to pass the time.
13. Bring an Extra Cooler for Ice
The beach is a place that’s known for being hot, unless you decide to camp there during the dead of winter (which, why would you?). That being said, it’s nice to have a way to cool off and keep your food and beverages chilled. Ice is the best way to accomplish this, but unfortunately, it doesn’t grow on trees and there aren’t usually any dispensers at the beach.
One way to fix this problem is by bringing a separate cooler just for ice. It’s going to add some bulk to your gear list, but if you can afford the extra weight, I’d recommend going for it. Using this method, I’ve been able to store ice for about three days before it all melted. That’s usually enough time for most people, unless they’re hardcore campers/backpackers who want to spend a week in the wild. In that case, they’re probably not bringing items that need to be refrigerated anyway.
To help your cause even more, consider freezing your food before you head out as well. Not only will it preserve the food for longer, but you can also use them as ice blocks for other things.