Camping 101 – Tips and Tricks

This post will give you a list of useful tips that were not mentioned in other posts- they will come in handy, whether it’s to buy something to have on hand, to take and use something you already have at home or use something a certain way.

Tarp: tarps can be very versatile. They’re very inexpensive and pack up nicely.

  • You can lay them down in front of your tent so when you step out, you’re not on dirt or grass, but something clean. You can take and keep your shoes here so you’re not taking dirt in your tent with your boots (turn your boots upside down)
  • They can be used as makeshift tents with some ropes
  • They can be used as shade with the use of ropes (for sun or rain)
  • I now use a tarp to cover all my camping gear in my truck and then tie everything down – no chance of anything fly away and I don’t have to loop ropes around everything.

Christmas lights: Christmas lights are inexpensive (especially if you buy them right after the Christmas season), provide a lot of lighting, but use very little energy. They pack up nicely and can be used in many ways: inside and outside of your tent.

camping 101, camping gear

my campsite with solar lights. The picture doesn’t give it justice it looked so much better in real life

Go solar ! The next step is to buy solar Christmas lights. They will be a little dimmer but will still give you enough to see (of course you need a couple of lanterns) but what makes up for the brightness is that you don’t need a generator (it’s very loud, constantly requires gas and causes pollution), you can just use the sun to charge it. In case of no Sun, you can charge it the same way you would charge your phone.You can also use other solar lights, I’ve seen people use the lights we use at home in our garden to light the pathway or around the campsite.

Solar shower: this is essentially a large, few gallons size plastic bag that you can fill with water and hang up to take a shower. It has a tube with the showerhead ending. You would normally leave it out on the sun all day and then you take a shower. The downside is that only one person can use it, the water is not enough for more. The solution? Heat water on your campstove and then add it to the bag. This way unlimited amount of campers can take a shower, and this even works if the day was cloudy.

Get your fire going

  • Take some fire wood: usually but not always there is ample fire wood around the campsite. Sometimes you can pick some up on the way, but there are times when you can’t find anything that would sustain a burn for more than 10 minutes. It might have rained a cople of days prior and all that wood laying around is damp. You can buy some fire wood at the store, there are people giving them away on Craigslist, etc. IT doesn’t hurt to have some on hand at least to have a campfire on the first night, or as a back up option.
  • Lamp oil toilet paper rolls: what I have always done was saving toilet paper or paper towel rolls. I would take those along with cotton balls and a bottle of lamp oil. I soak the cotton balls in lamp oil, put them in the rolls and that is my version of a fire starter. The lamp oil will burn on it’s own for at least 5 minutes, giving a chance for other dry wood to catch on fire. If I’m looking for a big campfire, I take a paper bag (grocery bag) place twigs and small pieces of wood inside, but also some cotton balls help. Pour lamp oil on it, then place some large piece of wood around it and light it.
  • Firestarter: an inexpensive solution that you can buy at any sporting goods store, or Walmart, etc. You place one piece in the middle of the wood pile, and it will burn for a few minutes.

Keep in mind none of this will work with damp or live wood. You need wood that has been dead and dried out for a while

Separate things for camping – after you realized you love camping as much as me and you’re out there at least once a month, consider getting and storing items separate for camping: take some old frying pans, small pots and retain them for camping only. Same goes for utensils, even spices. If you don’t have any additional, old cookware, go to some yardsales and buy a few old pots and pans. Keep all this in containers and when it’s time to go, you will know you have everything. In the beginning there were times I had to drive back home for the frying pans (luckily I was only 5 minutes away as I was doing a mental checklist) or I had to stop at a gas station to buy salt, etc.

Trial size things : it is a good idea to buy some travel size items and store them with your camping gear: toothpaste (have a separate toothbrush), shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, baby wipes (this will come handy for washing your face or clean your hands without water, feel fresh, etc), deodorant, soap, etc. Pack them in your campig bag and you know you will have everything.

Foil: have a roll of foil with your camping gear. It can be very versatile. In case you forget cookware, you can wrap up your food (potato, vegetables, meat) in foil and throw it in the fire to cook. You can wrap up leftovers. You can mold it into a small cup or bowl and eat out of it.

Iodine tablets: as I explained before in a previous post, this will allow you to drink out of a creek or river.

Ice with salt: if you are camping for a few days in the summer, one problem you will run into is having your ice melt. Consider taking another cooler and fill it with ice mixed with large salt crystals (like the ones you would use to make ice cream). The ice will stay ice a lot longer, potentially for 3-4 days. The downside is that you won’t be able to use it in your drinks because it will be salty, but you can cool drinks and keep meet and other foods cold and safe.

Have a checklist: I have all my camping gear in my garage and because I go camping almost every weekend, I pretty much know what I need and never forget anything. As I’m driving away, the first 20 minutes I’m frantically doing a mental check to see if I packed everything. (this is worse if I packed half of my things onto my truck the night before). Make a checklist, print it out, make some copies. Check off the items as you pack them. This will be very important when you’re taking your family with you and they’re good times and comfort depends on you.

Have a back up plan: some things can be helped, but try to have a back up plan.

  • What if it’s colder or warmer than you expected? -> always a little more clothes than you need. Pack that tank top and shorts even if you won’t need it, or that additional warm sweatshirt, or extra layers.
  • What if there is no wood? -> well, I already explained this.
  • What if your campstove doesn’t work? -> you will need to cook your food on the fire. Have
    campfire cooking, camping

    a few pieces of chicken cooking on the campfire

    some cookware that may be place on a fire gril. What if you don’t have a grill? Take the grill sheet form a small bbq, and you can set it on the fire ring, make a ring with rocks, etc. I actually bought one that already had foldable legs. It saved me many times. I actually use this too cook my meat on the campfire and I cook everything else on the stove.

  • What if there is no water around? How are you going to put out the fire? Or water for your dog? -> take a few gallons on tap water in addition to your drinking water.
  • Heater goes out? -> this happened to me and I just had to suck it up. Luckily I packed a lot more clothes, as I always do so that helped. Also keep in mind that your sleeping bag doesn’t provide heat, it helps retain your body heat. So don’t get inside your bag cold hoping you’ll warm up. Do some jumping jacks or other quick exercises to get your heart pumping and elevate your body temp, then the sleeping bag can help retain it.

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