I always get so excited when the cold, dreary winter season is over and it starts to become warmer out. That only means one thing – it’s time to go camping! I go on annual camping trips with my friends every spring and summer around the state, and have gotten better at packing, cooking, and the whole experience in general each time I go. I’ve broken down each piece of advice into sections so it’s easier to refer to for when you’re ready for your own trip. Happy camping!
Know how to use your tent before you go.
Your tent is probably the most important item you’ll need when you camp, so always set it up at home first. You want to make sure you know how it works if it’s new, and check that you’re not missing any vital pieces. I’ve always loved Coleman tents, and personally use the Coleman Sundome 4-Person Tent, as it’s easy to set up and fits my little family of four (two dogs included) perfectly.
Protect your tent.
Before you set it up, pick a spot that’s completely level and free of rocks or other debris. Next, put a tarp underneath it to protect your tent from the dirt and any moisture on the ground. Always make sure you have a rain fly on top of your tent. It gives you some privacy, but also protects against a sudden rainstorm (believe me, they do happen even when the 10-day forecast says sunny and dry).
Set up everything as soon as you get there.
The last thing you need is to try to set your tent up when it’s pitch dark out and you only have a flashlight, or find something in one of your bags when you have no light. Set up your tent first, put your sleeping bags and pillows out, and set items you’ll use later such as toiletries and pajamas to the side in the front of your tent so they’re easy to grab when you need. Lastly, close the zippers completely in the tent as you leave so no bugs or animals get in.
Keep your food covered and away from your campsite.
If you’re camping in a national park or a known area for animals, cover your food and hang it high and away from the campsite (especially in bear territory). Even if you’re not dealing with dangerous animals like bears, pesky ones like raccoons love to come in the middle of the night for a midnight snack. Save yourself a headache and cover all food in a large Tupperware container or even put it in your car before you go to bed each night.
Read more: The Ultimate Hiking Packing List
Use wet wipes for everything.
Wet wipes are so helpful during camping. Use them to “take a shower” (I know those of you who aren’t campers are probably grossed out right now), clean wounds, and even clean the dishes. Camping should be about having fun and getting dirty, but it does feel good to be a little refreshed each day.
Dealing with Kids and Pets
Bring toys and games to entertain kids.
While some children will be more than satisfied with exploring the outdoors, others won’t. Bring plenty of interactive games the whole family can play to keep them entertained. Let them help with packing to feel more involved and excited about the trip.
Buy a first aid kit.
Camping should mainly be about swimming in the lake and eating s’mores, but accidents happen. Bring a first aid kit to make sure you have bandages for cuts and scrapes, ointments for injuries, and even special ones like snake-bite kits depending on what area you’re camping in.
Read more: Where to Camp in Washington State
Bring collapsible food and water bowls.
Your dogs will get hot staying outside all day along with any activity like hiking, so make sure they stay hydrated. I love these Travel Pet Bowl 2 Pack for Food & Water bowls for my dogs, as they’re easy to store in between uses. I make sure they have water all day long as well as have areas of shade they can retreat to. Also, make sure you bring their regular dog food. New dog food and especially human food isn’t what you want to be feeding them for their health, and camping isn’t the time to see how their body reacts to new food.
Bring a long leash for dogs.
Depending on how crowded the campsite is or how well-behaved (or not) your dog is, you might not feel comfortable letting them roam free. Buy a really long leash at the pet store to tie around a tree trunk so they’re secure, but still have plenty of room to roam.
Invest in an iron skillet.
Many meals can be made on this and it will go a long way. You can use it make everything from scrambled eggs for breakfast to heating up a can of chili for dinner later.
While the rare campgrounds have BBQs, most will just have an open campfire. Use tinfoil as an easy way to grill veggies, meat, etc. over the fire by wrapping them in it and putting it over the fire.
Buy cheap plastic plates and utensils.
Go to the store and pick up a cheap set of plates, cups, and utensils. You don’t have to worry about them breaking or getting lost, and they’re easy to clean.
Read more: How to Spend an Active Summer in Lake Tahoe
Wash your dishes.
Pick up some environmentally friendly soap up at the store before you leave along with a scrubbing brush. Depending on where your campsite is, you can wash your dishes in the river or with some distilled water after each meal. This way you only need to bring along a few items for cooking and eating to save room.
Don’t take too many clothes.
Bring one sweatshirt and one waterproof jacket that you can use if needed, and only one pair of supportive shoes. This will allow more space to bring the important items, like a bathing suit for swimming in the lake.
Camping isn’t the time to be fashionable, as much as the movies say otherwise. Skip the dresses and sandals, and bring clothes that are made for camping. ExOfficio has some of the best travel gear around, which are also perfect for camping. I recently tried out their BugsAway Quietude pants and loved them. They’re super soft and breathable, which is exactly what you need when you’re camping. They’re treated with Insect Shield, which gives you protection from pesky bugs (and it stays in the clothes, not on your skin).
Have the right undergarments.
I don’t normally advertise this kind of thing, but ExOfficio’s underwear is amazing. They’re lightweight, breathable, and easy to wash. The last thing you have time for when you’re camping or traveling is to wait days for your clothes to dry. I can personally attest that you can wash these easily in the sink (or river), hang them up, and within a few hours, they’re dry. More time to play is always a plus!
Buy bug spray.
Most people remember sunscreen, but bug spray is also important. You’ll be miserable for the rest of the trip if you’re bitten all over your body by the first day. Take a few extra minutes each day to diligently apply it so you won’t be swatting bugs all day.
Bring a blow-up mattress.
I always thought people who brought blow-up mattresses were “glamping” until I switched from sleeping on the rock-hard ground to this. I’m telling you, getting a good night’s sleep is priceless. It’s hard enough when it gets light out early, so any precious moments of deep sleep you can get is worth it. I really like the Intex Pillow Rest Classic Airbed with Built-in Pillow and Electric Pump because it has a built-in pump. I’ve had friends who have gotten to our campsite, gotten ready to plug in their electric pump, and then…oh right, nothing happened because there are no electrical outlets in the great outdoors. It’s so comfy that my two dogs always try to climb up on it too (they’re spoiled).
That is, bring your own toilet paper. You will thank me for this one! Never, ever rely on the campground to have it stocked. This on top of not having soap is not the situation you want to be stuck in.
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