13 Camping Tips from an Imperfect Camper

My perfectly imperfect first camping trip


Traveling across England

I looked out of the train window and saw the gorgeous English countryside whizzing passed me. I could not believe it. I was in England! I had only been there for a few days, and I was already heading North to Cumbria County for a camping trip in the famous Lake District.
It was early in the morning, gray and misty, when we departed from the Accrington train station. During our one-hour layover in the town of Preston, we loaded up on some popular English snacks I had never eaten before: BBQ Beef Hula Hoops and orange Lucozade. Both snacks were a great combination of fantastically delicious and wildly unhealthy. After our layover, we took another train from Preston to a tiny, backpacking town called Ambleside. There we aimlessly wandered around in a fancy grocery store, unable to purchase even one expensive item.

After we finished drooling, we got our heads together. We actually needed to find a campground to camp in. I was quickly sidetracked while searching for the information center. I spotted a group of backpacking hippies, sporting dreadlocks and Bob Marley t-shirts, and carrying hiking packs protected by waterproof covers.Their hiking gear preparedness reminded me of our lack thereof. Traveling in leather jackets and borrowed rain boots (a.k.a. wellies, as the English call them), we were carrying a leather side satchel and a canvas backpack. Each were filled with a pair of one-piece footy pajamas, a bottle of water, and a change of clothes. Also split between our bags was a variety of fruit (soaked, mashed, and inedible by the time we got to it) and a very cheap (perhaps the cheapest) bottle of white rum. If that wasn’t enough, we were lugging around a massive two-person sleeping bag and a borrowed tent worth £20 (which might as well have weighed 20 pounds, it was so heavy).

 

The unheeded warning, and the damage that ensued

I took is trip in the summer of 2012. I was 24-years-old, six months away from college graduation, and I was in love! My head was high up in the clouds. Our friends and family warned us against camping that weekend, due to severe weather alerts, but we didn’t even hear them. We had just reunited after three months of living with half a country and an ocean between us. In our desperate minds, being together and in danger was better than being safe and apart.
What followed these warnings were dangerous storms, powerful gusts of wind, and some serious flooding. This crazy weather plagued much of England in June of 2012. The clouds dumped a month’s worth of rain on Cumbria County in a 24-hour period, during the weekend we camped. And there we were on foot in the Lake District, with almost nothing waterproof, a cheap and heavy tent, and little to no knowledge of what the heck we were doing.
But we weren’t without ideas. We pitched our cheap tent on a hill, as opposed to the soggy flat land below it. We thought we were so smart! Unfortunately, we hadn’t practiced putting up the tent beforehand, so we spent the next miserable half hour erecting this cheap and ridiculously-designed tent while the wind smacked us with thousands of tiny rain pellets. I felt like we were the targets and the wind was a bb gun with unlimited ammo, and a sick desire to torture us! Despite our difficulties, we got that tent in an upright position, atop that little hill, next to a tree. We climbed in and hung on for dear life. Due to the torrential rain, a powerful river surged through our campsite that first night. A river that wasn’t there before, and wouldn’t likely be there ever again.
 
Here we are at the end of the weekend at the Great North Swim wearing borrowed sweatshirts, waterlogged wellies,
and clothes that had been soaked and partially dried two or three times over.

 

That weekend, we were in a campground called Great Langdale. Thick fog covered the Langdale Pike mountain range on our first day there. By day two, the fog had lifted and the mountains were freely exposed to the sun (and my curious eyes). We hiked towards Windermere Lake through the mountains, in our wellies and the only clothing that was dry: our footy pajamas. We were exhausted, and looked ridiculous, but a natural Emerald City of greens surrounded us, and we were inspired to push on!


I still say it was one of the best weekends of my life. We survived on adrenaline and cheap white rum. It was nothing short of an adventure; one I was definitely not prepared for and will never forget.
Since then, I’ve made some MAJOR alterations to my camping techniques. These alterations are the result of research, more experience, and a whole lot of trial and error.

Without further ado, here is my list of 13 Camping tips:

1. Book your campsite way ahead of time.

You might be able to get away with booking a campsite in a private campground, the day before you leave for your trip, but national and state parks are particularly busy, and might require booking up to six months in advance.

There is plenty of information regarding national and state parks online at recreation.gov or over the phone at 1-877-444-6777.

2. Bring extra tent stakes.

You never know when one of them will get bent out of shape when you’re pounding them into the ground.

3. Practice putting up your tent ahead of time.

The quickest and easiest frustration on a camping trip can come when you’re putting up the dang tent. If you don’t know how, it just becomes an extra annoyance when you’ve just gotten to your campsite and you’ve got all your unpacking and setting up to do.
My best advice is to pick a nice day and then spend half an hour getting to know your tent out in your backyard or at your local park.

 

4. Bring a little lantern.

Having a lantern makes a world of a difference in your campsite. It’s nice to have your campsite lit up while you’re hanging out, or making dinner.


Here is my Ultimate Survival Technologies Brila Mini Lantern:

 

 

I bought this lantern at the REI in Fresno, California on my last camping trip, when I decided that it would really improve my camping experience. Luckily, it was around $15, so it didn’t break my wallet.

I like it because it’s small enough to fit in my pack or my pocket, and it has a hook on the top (so I can hang it in my tent, or on a tree branch) and a powerful magnet on the bottom.

The only downfall is that the lantern runs on AA batteries, which means I will need to keep buying them.

 

5. Bring an extra tarp.

I say extra tarp because you should already have a tarp for underneath your tent, if there is even the slightest chance of rain. I haven’t had any water leakage in my tents when I’ve use a tarp, but I have definitely had water leak into my tent when I didn’t use one. Many times it’s not necessary, but it’s good to be safe.


Camping Fail: It started raining on day two of my camping trip in Sequoia National Park. After hiking all day, we didn’t have an awning or a tarp to hang out under. In sheer desperation, we constructed an overhang for our picnic table out of whatever scraps of plastic we could find, and some rope and duct tape. The plus was that we had an overhang to use, but the minus was that everything underneath was already soaking wet.





How to use the tarp:

  • You can tie your extra tarp to trees, your car, or even a broken tree branch shoved into the ground (as I recently witnessed a neighboring camper do).
  • Stretched out, your tarp can be an overhang for a picnic table or some camping chairs.
The extra tarp is also useful for:
  • sanity, when it’s been raining for 3 days straight, and anyplace is a better hangout than your the tent you’ve been banished to since the start of the rain
  • playing a game of cards in your campsite, during a downpour
  • drying out wood, clothing, blankets, or sleeping bags
  • impressing fellow campers who aren’t as prepared as you are
  • storing extra gear
Active.com has a great article called 15 Ways to Use a Tarp at the Campsite. Check this out for tips and ideas on tarp use while camping.

6. Get organized!

 

This is a no-brainer. I always make a list before I go on any trip, but especially before I go camping.
The list works for the physical items you’re planning to bring, but also for the things you have to do before you leave like putting gas in your car, asking your neighbors to feed your pets, or asking your work for time off.
Scoutlists is a website filled with all sorts of packing lists broken down by climate, season, and potential activities of your upcoming camping trip.

7. Think ahead about devices and chargers.

Let’s be realistic. Most people bring their devices everywhere they go; even camping!

  • Pack chargers, back up batteries, and extra memory cards.
  • Empty the pictures out of your phone so you have plenty of space for new ones.

With that said, plan to have no signal or anywhere to charge your devices. That way, there’s no shock or disappointment when you realize you’re out in nature where you’ll be left to your own devices.

Major camping fail: On my most recent camping trip, I brought the wrong charger for my digital camera. After the camera was dead, that was it for great quality photos in Yosemite National Park. And I could have avoided the whole mess if I had been more careful while packing.

8. Think about what kind of a camper you are and pack accordingly.

Some people can camp with very little, and some just can’t. That’s okay, but make sure you realize what kind of a camper you are before you’re out there camping with more or less than you are comfortable with.

9. Tell someone where you are going.

If you have an itinerary, print off an extra copy for a family member or a friend. If you don’t have an itinerary, give someone a basic idea of where you’ll be, just in case anything goes wrong.

This tip is especially beneficial for people who plan to hike while camping. Here is an article that includes phone apps designed for safety: 10 Must-Have Smartphone apps for Hikers.

There are also handheld GPS devices available for hiking, and other outdoor activities. Here is an article that compares and reviews several of these devices: The Best Handheld GPS Review.

10. When camping in bear country, hang your food or store it in a bear canister.


These (sometimes even human proof) devices are designed to keep bears out of your food and away from you and your campsite. Anything with a scent is fair game for a bear This includes toiletries like soap and shampoo This stuff isn’t safe in your car either, unless you’re okay with a few broken windows, dents, and bear paws all over your stuff

Bears that eat human food can become aggressive and in some cases required to be put down. Using a bear canister is for the safety of you as well as the bears Click on this link for more information from the National Park Service about bear safety and food storage in human-and-bear-shared nature areas.

 

 

Check out my blog post on safe camping in bear country for more info!

11. When camping ANYWHERE, store food carefully.

There are plenty of other animals that would love to eat your tasty human food.

Camping fail: Years ago, while camping, our group left the campsite to visit a neighboring site. We returned to find a family of raccoons tearing the campsite apart, because we had been foolish enough to leave our food unattended.

12. Semi-plan your meals ahead of time.

It’s always annoying when you have too much food and end up going home with an abundance of stale, fire-stinking, dirt-filled food that doesn’t seem nearly as appetizing in the comfort of your own home, where you have an array of fresh (and hopefully clean) foods to choose from.

What’s not only annoying, but potentially dangerous, is going on a camping trip and realizing that you don’t have enough food and that you’re going to have to ration the little food you do have.

Estimate how much food you’ll need per day and work off of that estimate:

  • Scenario 1: Dehydrated meals for EVERY meal!
  • Scenario 2: Oatmeal each morning, snacks during the day, and a big meal cooked over the fire each night
  • Scenario 3: Three big meals, all cooked on the grill
  • Scenario 4: Glamp it up with bacon and eggs or a tasty tofu scramble! With this scenario, you won’t want to forget your sides and condiments like olive oil or butter, ketchup, bread, cheese, milk, etc.
You get the point. Without a tentative plan, you might end up being the little piggy who had none!

13. Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

To other campers, to the wildlife, and to the environment. Simple.
 

Do you have any helpful camping tips?

Share your ideas in the comment section!

If you need anything, come on by! I’m Two Tents Down!

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