The more you camp, the more you learn tips and tricks from other people, and modify your camp set up to be as comfortable as possible without adding too much weight either to your backpack or to your vehicle. It’s often trial and error…
You come home and say, “Well, that didn’t work!” and out goes the offending gadget that the sales pitch promised would make life easier. Often, it’s the little hacks using really basic stuff that are either inexpensive or free that work.
Of course, there are more modern innovations available that do help. We’ve assembled exactly 101 tips and hacks to make your trip to the camping spot and your time away a pleasant one.
Table of Contents
1. Prepare food at home for that first night and take it along in a cooler bag – a hearty potato salad, and roast chicken will do the trick.
The chances are you will arrive late and be kind of stressed putting up tents and setting camp so it’s good to have something all ready for hungry kids and enable adults to relax with a beverage and enjoy the meal without having to make a fire and be under pressure to have food cooked in time.
2. Keep some silica gel packets with your cast iron cookware so it doesn’t rust. Cast iron, although heavy, is robust and the best for generations of camping trips.
3. Prepare your pancake mix at home. Put all the dry ingredients for a batch in a Ziploc bag – then you know you just need to add eggs and milk, straight into the bag. Mix, then snip off a corner to drop straight into the pan.
Take along enough mixes in Ziploc bags for the number of times you plan on making pancakes. It’s much cheaper than buying boxed pancake mix.
4. Spoil the campers in your group with sachets of ready-to-make cappuccino. These save space as everything is in one handy pack, all you need is hot water – these are unsweetened so if you really need sugar you will have to take that along.
5. Invest in a Kelly kettle – all you need is some sticks to get boiling hot water – you don’t need a big campfire, gas, or electricity to have a hot drink anywhere – even on a boat – which is why they were invented in Ireland – so fisherman could have a hot cuppa out at sea.
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6. The Sawyer Mini personal water filter takes up very little space and assures you of clean water when out hiking or at camp.
7. An open cutlery tray on a table under the awning soon accumulates leaves, twigs and the odd feather drifting in between meals, and it gets damp on rainy days, so swap to a plastic toolbox with a removable tray, and only take the tray out holding knives, forks and spoons when people are ready to select their (clean) cutlery at meals.
The sections and can be used for keeping matches and other small items like spices. The part under the tray is useful for storing serviettes, barbeque implements and clean dishcloths.
8. Damp seems to be everywhere when you are camping. Take containers that seal well to store your food, and drop in a couple of little packets of silica gel – the things that come in with shoes and electronic goods labelled “Do not eat”.
They draw humidity from the air, keeping crisps crisp, and biscuits fresh.
9. Bake biscuits and cupcakes that will last. Shortbread and carrot cake are good choices that will last a couple of days without being in the fridge.
Carrot cakes need not be iced, or can be iced at camp. Carrot cake stays moist and is, at is best, after a couple of days.
10. For storing spices use tiny containers like these. Pack just enough various spices for the trip in these little boxes that are easy to clean and reuse for the next camping trip.
Remember, most ground spices don’t last more than a couple of months so use up what is left over from the trip at home. The boxes I recommended should give you years of use, are made from non-toxic polypropylene – considered the most robust of plastics, are BPA-free, recyclable, and safe for food storage.
11. You can prepare the dry ingredients and spices in the same way as above to make batter for fresh caught fish – beer batter makes a lovely crisp coating for fish.
12. Instead of planning for green salad – lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber are hard to keep fresh – opt for salads like a couscous salad that uses sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, walnuts, and a twist of lemon for a taste sensation that can all be easily transported in small containers, and put together quickly.
13. Short of plates? Mold some aluminum foil over a tin or bowl, and use as a plate. Or go Indian style, and eat from the pan or pot with your fingers. Mop up the juices with Native American fry bread (link to recipe) or camp bread (link to SS recipe or THH recipe), or roti – all easily made in a Dutch oven.
14. Freeze plastic gallon jugs of water, and place them in your cooler to keep other goods cold. As they melt, you can drink the water – they will keep the contents cooler longer than if you scatter ice cubes in the cooler.
15. If buying a pack of ice cubes don’t open and empty in the cooler – keep the bag closed with a twist tie, and just remove a couple of blocks for drinks before resealing. That way the ice won’t melt as fast. Twist ties are your friend when camping for sealing all sorts of stuff.
16. Whole eggs invariably break and get mixed in with the flour creating a smelly sticky mess! Get smart and save some clear plastic bottles with screw-on lids.
Break eggs into a bowl, whisk with a fork and using a funnel tip them into the plastic bottle. Write how many eggs are stored in the plastic bottle so you can calculate how much of the mix to use for pancakes or scrambled eggs.
Cleaning Up Tips
17. Forgot a pot scourer? Take a handful of river sand and an old cloth – it will get the gunk off your pots. You shouldn’t need this though for cast-iron cookware that is well-seasoned.
18. Boiling water cuts grease. Boil a Kelly kettle and pour over greasy pots and pans if you are short on dishwashing liquid, or forgot to bring any. If you have baking soda, use some in warm water to clean pots.
19. Take lots of baking soda – it can be used for washing dishes, washing clothes, washing faces, brushing teeth, as a powder deodorant, absorbing smells in cooler boxes, mixed with water to clean a car, removing acid build up on car batteries. Handfuls can even be used to extinguish small fires.
20. For ambient tent lighting, fill a 2-gallon plastic bottle with water – place headlight facing inwards over the bottle. You can always drink the water during the night too.
21. Little battery operated stick-on LED touch lights will keep children happy should they wake and be afraid of the dark. Fasten them to a side-table or camp cot so they can locate them easily.
22. Tea lights provide ambient lighting outside on a calm night, but if the wind is blowing simply take a soda can and cut two little doors in the side that you can bend outwards – place the candle inside and turn so the solid part faces the wind.
Put some sand in the bottom to weight the can, so it does not blow over easily.
23. Take a folding shovel to dig a trench around your tent so the rain won’t run inside. Some come with a handy saw edge for sorting out kindling and firewood.
24. Put reflector tape on tent pegs and tent lines so you can see them in the day and in the dark, and avoid tripping over them. Some people use pool noodles cut into pieces to mark pegs and guy ropes.
25. A candle will give you light when all else fails, but it can also be used to stop the zips sticking, and warmed and rubbed over tent seams to act as a sealer if your tent seams threaten to let in rain.
26. Interlocking foam tiles usually used for kid’s rooms, make a soft floor for the tent, and provide some insulation.
27. Take butterfly clips to hold back the rolled-up canvas on tent windows and doors – those toggle things on the tents soon break then you have an untidy hanging bit of canvas. These office butterfly clips come in a handy pack of 20 and in six different sizes.
28. Fasten a piece of paracord across the middle of the tent with carabines to hang up torches, headlights, keys, sunglass– all those things you fumble for in the tent, or stand on and break.
29. A clear mesh pocket shoe organizer hung up outside the tent, under the awning, or hung inside the tent if you have room enables you to find sunglasses, mosquito repellent, hand sanitizer and various other items.
Sleeping and Seating Tricks
30. Warm a rock by the fire, wrap in an old towel and place in the bottom of your sleeping bag an hour before you climb in – toasty warm toes.
31. Keep a few pairs of no-show socks stashed in your sleeping bag so you can put them on when you go to sleep – all nice and clean instead of your hiking socks. Take a pair for each night of the trip if it’s a short one – they take up very little space!
32. Short of a seat? A cooler box is fine – just don’t give it to a very heavy person to sit on.
33. Large logs of firewood can be used as stools as long as they are dug into the ground a bit, for stability.
34. Envious of those people who have hammocks? Get handy hammock chairs like these to hang on a tree branch – they fold up to be quite compact.
35. Forgot a pillow? Wrap clothes in a towel, or use a pair of track suit pants and stuff the one leg from thigh to knee area with clothes, fold over and use.
36. Not enough room for a pillow? Take along a pillowcase only and fill with clothing, or use your sleeping bag storage bag stuffed with clothes.
37. Forgot a sleeping bag, and you have no blankets? This is serious! Layer your clothes and wear socks and a woolly hat. Use your needle and thread to put two large towels together as a sleeping bag – big stitches.
It’ll probably only last the night but that’s fine – you can use the towels in the daytime and hope they dry in time for the evening otherwise you are going to be drying them over a fire and you know what that will smell like.
38. Sleeping bag hopelessly inadequate for the cold? Use a few of rocks heated by the fire, then wrap in clothing or towels on either side of the outside of your sleeping bag, plus one inside the base of the sleeping bag to keep you warm for the night.
39. Take along some hand and toe warmers if you are camping in cold conditions. Toss them in the sleeping bag for a comfy sleep.
40. Dress in layers for a hike (with swimming gear as the lowest layer) so you can just strip off and enjoy a swim in the pools when you go hiking to waterfalls. Take extra underwear to change into so you don’t chafe in wet gear on the hike back.
41. Ladies, pack matching underwear with bright prints that could double as a bikini if you find an awesome spot to swim or tan.
42. Take a sarong in your day pack – it serves as a towel after an impromptu swim, worn under a hat provides protection for the back of your neck and shoulders, if the sun is blazing.
43. Tired of the chaos of clothing spilling out of back packs? Keep the backpacks for hiking trips, and buy plastic boxes with snap on lids. These come in a handy set of four boxes.
When you leave home each person’s name will be on the box, all their clothes inside, and if it rains or is damp inside the tent the plastic boxes will stay dry – even if you have a mini river running through the tent. They also stash away neatly under camping cots, or can be used as side tables at night.
Clear ones allow kids to see where their clothes are in the box, avoiding them tossing everything on the floor in their search.
44. Needle and cotton. Great for a quick mend of clothing, and use the needle for taking out splinters or thorns – especially when the skin seems to have covered over the thorn/splinter so you can’t pull it out with tweezers.
45. Forget peaked caps – the sun gets in the sides and doesn’t protect the back of your neck – a wide brimmed cowboy hat or straw hat provides much better sun protection. The cowboy hat also keeps the rain off your face!
46. Clothes wet and it’s still raining? Rig up a piece of tarp as an awning, and hang the clothes to dry on a line rigged up alongside the fire – fasten with pegs so the clothes don’t fall in the fire.
You won’t win prizes for smelling good, and the clothes will probably require a few washes to get rid of the campfire smell, but what the heck, you camped dry instead of shivering in wet clothes.
47. Take along Wellington boots. They will save you when it rains and the ground is muddy – particularly true for camping at music festivals where it always seems to rain.
48. Put dry baking soda in sneakers to absorb foot odors – we did say baking soda has dozens of uses!
49. Sneakers wet? Stuff them with newspaper to absorb the moisture or failing that your dirty clothes – remember to remove the inner soles first.
50. Take along a collapsible crate that can be set up just inside or outside the tent for dirty clothes – stuffing them in a plastic bag is only going to make them smell worse but mold may grow before you get home to wash them.
51. Always have wet wipes on hand – even if there are no babies or kids. You can at least go to bed feeling clean if you don’t have access to a shower.
52. There are jokes about camper’s crotch – not being able to shower as regularly as usual, humid conditions, and damp clothing, can all lead to fungal growth down there, but an herbal balm made from natural oils and organic ingredients can sort it out, keeping campers comfortable and fresh.
53. Pure, natural 100% Tea Tree Oil mixed in a 1:4 ratio with water in a small spray bottle will keep the ticks at bay.
Tea tree oil also has a number of other uses for campers – it can be used to treat athletes’ foot, cuts, scrapes, and it will repel flies. Follow the instructions on the label, as 100% pure oil is very potent, and will need to be diluted for certain applications.
54. Mosquitoes can make life very unpleasant, but this ultrasonic device takes 2 AAA batteries and fits in the palm of the hand – it can be used in the tent at night or taken with you fastened onto a backpack or belt to keep insects at bay.
It uses no chemicals. If you are in an area where the mosquitoes are voracious, you might also need to apply an insect repellent as well.
55. A citronella candle in a tin is useful for keeping flies away when you are preparing food, then comes into its own at sunset when the mosquitoes come out.
56. Take along activated charcoal capsules for gas, stomach aches and bloating, as well as mild cases of food poisoning. The capsule can also be broken open, and used on your toothbrush to clean your teeth in case you left your toothpaste behind.
57. Hanging mesh holder for odds and ends. If looked after, it will last for 20 odd years. It keeps paper plates, plastic cereal bowls, etc., handy and visible so people don’t have to ask, “Where’s the xxx?”
58. To save unnecessary trips to the ablution blocks organize a hand wash station – put a container with tap on a small table, place a hand towel pegged nearby on a line strung between tree branches and have some liquid soap standing next to the container.
A stainless steel liquid soap dispenser will last for a long time instead of single use plastic containers. Get liquid antibacterial soap and refill as you need.
59. Stash toilet rolls in various places for emergencies – one in the car’s trunk, one in each person’s personal clothing box or backpack, one or two in the food storage containers. Just in case you run out, you can draw from the secret stashes.
60. Always overestimate the amount of toilet paper needed – virtually double what you use at home, because toilet tissue will be used for all sorts of things, and for its intended purpose by everyone at camp all the time, unlike home where many people spend part of the day at school, work or at other people’s homes,
61. A little container of hand sanitizer next to your sleeping bag is useful for a quick hand and foot clean before snuggling into your sleeping bag after a busy day.
62. To sort out infected scrapes, cuts and nicks on hands and feet, especially after fishing or hiking, mix ½ cup baking soda with ½ cup Epsom salts, and add to a gallon of hot water in a basin.
Get the person affected to soak hands or feet in the mixture for around 20 minutes. The next day you will see the inflammation subsiding – it’s a magic fix. After this, apply a solution of the tea tree oil mentioned in #53.
Barbeque Area Hacks
63. Hand sanitizer will help start a fire in a pinch.
64. Lint from the dryer at home stuffed into the cardboard inner of a toilet roll, together with a few shreds of newspaper, makes a free fire starter.
65. Basting makes your food succulent and tasty. Don’t forget to pack a silicone basting brush for the barbequed meat.
67. Use a glow in the dark pen to mark your box of matches, or your lighter so you can find them in the dark. In fact, mark anything you need to find in the dark.
Tired of matches that won’t light because the cardboard box is damp? Take your matches out of their carboard box and put in a tiny plastic container, glue the striking area on the inside of the lid, not the outside, so it won’t get damp, drop in a couple of handy silica gel packets and voila – matches that work every time.
Or save the effort of gluing and just put a couple of boxes of matches marked with the glow in the dark pen in a clear plastic container, and add the packet of desiccant.
68. Children can be at risk of falling over a campfire, or bumping over a barbecue. Establish with them a safe distance, and use sticks they find around the campsite to mark a ‘perimeter’ and place a piece of bright red or yellow pool noodle or reflective tape on each stick.
This marks a no-go safety zone. Establishing boundaries works, and can avoid burn accidents.
69. Whenever you barbecue or sit around a campfire, have burn gel handy – not in the first aid kit in the tent, or locked away in the vehicle, but right there on the table near the barbecue to apply instantly in case of burn accidents.
70. There is never enough place to put your barbecue implements – tie a piece of paracord or fasten a belt around a handy tree and put some S hooks on it so you can hang your stuff up for organization.
71. Make a sling for the kids to collect kindling. Lay two 2 to 3-foot sticks on the ground 1 yard apart. Take two lengths of paracord just over a yard each, and fasten approximately six inches from either end of the one stick – fasten the free ends to the other stick.
When kindling is collected lay it across the cords with the ends of the kindling sticking over, gather up to the two ‘handles’ and you have a neat carrier for your light firewood.
72. Keep cool with a portable rechargeable fan. It will stop insects landing on you in the evenings, and keep tents cool at night. If you have electricity on site an electric fan works well.
Washing Clothes Tricks
73. Forgot washing powder? Shampoo, body-wash or hand-wash will work. Put clothes on the floor of the shower and use your feet to tread the clothes as you shampoo and soap yourself.
Afterwards, the clothes will need just a light rinse and will smell good. Alternatively wash clothes in a basin with baking soda, or a little dishwashing liquid.
74. Use a smallish plastic container with a screw type lid to store a clothes line and pegs inside. The reason for the screw type lid is it will last for years instead of a plastic box where the lid may warp with time, and not close properly.
Choose plastic rather than wooden pegs, as wood may get moldy if not thoroughly dried before storing. Simply string your wash line between two trees, or between tents if there are no trees.
75. Often clothes take a long time to dry because you don’t have a spin dryer.
Use a dry towel to wrap clothes in and squeeze – the towel will absorb a lot of the moisture allowing them to dry faster. The towel will only be half wet and should dry soon.
76. Soggy damp toilet paper? Keep it in a small plastic bucket. Some people cut a slit in the side so you can get at the toilet paper without taking off the lid – whichever way suits you. As long its dry and does the job.
77. No toilet where you are planning to camp? A sturdy bucket, a toilet seat will make a makeshift toilet.
78. No privacy? This quick erect tent will provide privacy for a camp toilet, shower, or simply a change space. Those with rooftop tents will understand the need for a private change space.
79. No toilet paper? Leaves will work, just check you know what poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac look like before using any leaves.
80. Everyone needs some light relief – take a couple of simple fun games along that will get people laughing, like Exploding Kittens where there are loads of laughs as players desperately try to avoid drawing the exploding kitten card!
And if you don’t have any board or card games, there are plenty of old-school games you can improvise.
81. If you have a cell phone, amplify the music by putting the phone in an empty glass.
82. Have musical fun forming a percussion band, use an improvised shaker (a container with some rice or dry pasta), blow across bottles, create an impromptu drum from an upturned plastic bucket, make seed pods rattle and use whatever else you have collected on your hikes to make music.
A box with magic tricks will have everyone wondering how it’s done. Teach them and let them practice for hours of involved fun.
83. Doing your homework before camping is the single most important tip – speak to people who have been there before, find out all you can online –take cognisance of the positive reports, but don’t write off the negative reports
If you read carefully you’ll be able to overcome the problems that maybe made someone else’s trip something of a nightmare.
84. Pack according to a list. Have your various lists pre-prepared for various scenarios: camping with electricity or without, camping in winter versus camping in summer, camping at a place where there are no ablution blocks versus one where there are showers and toilets.
Camping requirements for cooking with gas, electricity or just relying on a fire will determine the type of food you take and the cooking utensils. Absolutely everything should be on the list.
I know someone who forgot all his clothes – he thought his wife packed them, she thought he had taken them. Three weeks in a wilderness area in only the clothes he was standing up necessitated a three-hour drive to the nearest store for some kit.
Or what about the guy who forgot all the tent poles? He improvised using long sticks, to keep the tent up.
85. Invest in a groundsheet with an open aperture lock stitch. A good size is around 6 feet by 9 feet. It will go in front of the tent and under the awning so you can walk barefoot -the sand and dirt fall through the apertures so it always feels clean, the rain goes through so you are slipping in pools of water.
This type of groundsheet also doesn’t kill the grass, as it allows light and air through.
86. If hiking into a camping area, line your backpack with a garbage bag, or separate items and pack them in plastic bags and tape and seal. Should it rain, or your backpack lands in the river you should be fine with dry items for the evening’s camping.
87. If you have the room in your vehicle bring along a couple of bundles of dried sage to add to the campfire – burning sage will help keep mosquitoes away.
88. A soap bar tends to become slippery, you drop it and it get covered in grass and sand, and then you have to clean it.
So get clever, use a vegetable peeler to shave soap flakes, store them in a solid container or a Ziploc bag and take out enough for a single use like washing hands or in the shower. No more slimy soap!
Vehicle and Trailers Tips
89. If you take a camping trailer make sure you have one full set of wheel bearings just in case the wheel bearings collapse – always check wheel bearings and grease before you leave, but still take at least one spare set.
90. If you are going over rough ground with a caravan or trailer, the jockey wheel often vibrates loose and drops and then it breaks off and you lose it – rather take it out and put in the vehicle.
You can always put it back in place when you arrive and need to maneuver the trailer/caravan into position.
91. Take a portable tire gauge and inflator so, if on sand you can let tires down to the correct pressure, and pump them up again.
92. A two-wheel drive vehicle with diff lock and tires let down to the correct pressure, plus a skilled driver can outperform a 4 x 4 if the driver does not let down his tires.
A person at a camp in Mozambique, Africa (where there is a lot of sandy ground) was sitting around a campfire bemoaning how terribly his newly bought Land Rover Discovery was performing – until someone else walked over to his vehicle and pointed out that his tires were far too hard for the sandy terrain.
The next day he was very impressed with his Land Rover’s performance!
93. If traveling in sandy areas and you get a flat, you won’t have anything to hold your jack and it will sink in the sand – keep a plank of wood in the vehicle for this type of scenario so you can change the tire quickly.
94. Take a portable air pump so you can get your tires back up to pressure. Don’t buy cheap – a quality air pump will not let you down and, it should be checked a few times a year to ensure that the valves are not sticking.
95. If you get stuck, you can use your winch to get out – take along a super strong steel peg you can hammer into the ground at an angle facing away from the direction the vehicle is facing. It enables you to put the winch cable around it so you can pull yourself out.
Never put the pole up straight, or facing at an angle towards the vehicle. If you use a tree to winch yourself onto be very careful – you don’t want to be stuck and have a tree crashing onto your vehicle as well.
96. When traveling in convoy, put the most experienced driver with the sturdiest vehicle, equipped with a winch, in front. Should anyone get stuck, that person can go ahead, turn around, and pull the other vehicle out.
Don’t put the inexperienced driver who is not used to tough conditions in front as if the person gets stuck or doesn’t know how to handle the terrain, this will hold up the whole convoy, and no-one will be able to get past to help if the road is narrow, or the going tough.
97. Take along a toolbox so you can do basic repairs on the road. A number 10 spanner is one of the most useful tools, as well as a star and a flat screwdriver.
98. If someone has a flat battery and you don’t have jumper cables, remove the battery of the vehicle that is going to assist and, using two spanners, connect the terminals of the assisting battery to the flat battery terminals, then start the vehicle.
99. On rough ground, the light connections on the vehicle can shake loose and bulbs may not work – always have spare globes for vehicle and trailer lights, pliers and electrical tape to effect repairs.
100. A tire plug and the knowledge of how to fix a small puncture will enable you to repair tires. If going to very rough and out of the way places you cannot take more than 2 spare tires simply in terms of the space and weight.
There are people who have crossed continents overland who have got 4 flats at once and only their tyre plugs have got them going again!
101. Always carry a tarp with you – it has a multitude of uses from protecting gear from the rain to slung up as an awning, a makeshift tent, something to lie on when working under a vehicle, to catch rainwater or even a makeshift slip and slide for kids with some soap flakes.
Do you have any camping tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below. And don’t forget to pin this for later on your favorite Pinterest board!
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor.
Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.