The best camping hacks

Stay prepared wherever the trail takes you with these vital camping hacks

best camping hacks kindling
123RF/Mikhailkayl

One of the most stressful aspects of camping is packing for the outing itself. Similarly, if we forget something or an item breaks during a trip, we could literally be left up a creek without a paddle. Fortunately, there are dozens of clever tips to help you minimize the gear you need to pack beforehand and tricks to replace lost or forgotten items. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

As best exemplified by Born Survivor Bear Grylls, there is often more than one way to complete a given task. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and if you forget your wetsuit, remember you can always skin a baby seal and wear the remnants of its blubbery corpse to ward off hypothermia, although hopefully it never comes to that.

That said, we can all use some helpful hints and tips to make our next backcountry adventure a little better, and we have more than a few to share. From using a tasty snack as kindling to creating your own lantern, here are some of the best camping hacks to utilize on your next outing.

Cooking hacks

best camping hacks snow peak mug

Cup o’ Joe on the go

For some, the idea of starting the day without a cup of coffee is unthinkable. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to brew a cup of coffee outdoors without all the fuss or gadgets. Before you head out on your adventure, place a scoop of coffee grounds into a filter and tie the wad in place with a little string or even some dental floss. Simply let this steep in a cup of warm water for awhile and you’ll be all set to start your day.

A spice rack for your pack

When it comes to cooking on weekend outings, some individuals prefer more extensive camping recipes. However, towing around an entire spice rack isn’t exactly efficient. Thankfully, it’s easy to keep small amounts of your most frequently used spices and herbs on hand using waterproof Tic Tac containers. Need a little thyme for that hot sauce? Bam!

Scrambled eggs on the fly

Eggs aren’t the most portable foods. That said, use a funnel and crack your eggs into a plastic water battle before your trip and you’ll never have to worry about cracked eggs in a cramped cooler.

Make a lightweight alcohol stove

If space is at a premium or you simply want to cut some weight from your pack, consider making your own alcohol stove. There are variations on this hack depending on the materials you have at your disposal, with some options to make the stove from a cat food can or a can of soda. Either way, you’ll end up with an incredibly lightweight and efficient camping stove that uses regular rubbing alcohol for fuel.

Fire and kindling hacks

best camping hacks fire

Faux wood “chips”

Here’s a little-known fact: Doritos are flammable. The expanded surface area of Doritos 3Ds makes them particularly ideal for use as a source of kindling. As anyone who has ever tasted a Doritos Flamas knows, these items were most certainly not meant for human consumption and this haphazard, ancillary purpose makes much more sense.

Waterproofing your matches

Dipping your individual matches in candle wax will protect the phosphorous tip from the elements. Or, you could simply add these already-waterproof matches to your pack.

Stowing matches

Similarly, storing your matches in a plastic prescription medicine bottle will add another layer of protection. It’s tough, lightweight, and doesn’t take up much room in your pack. You may also want to keep a piece of sandpaper inside the container too, just in case the striking pad on your matchbox becomes wet or worn.

Cotton balls

Simply soak a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly and store them in a plastic bag. These are highly flammable and will burn slowly, making them a solid alternative to kindling.

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is actually about 60 percent alcohol by volume, which means it is highly flammable. Need to get your fire going a bit faster, why not try using that hand sanitizer you packed in your backpack.

Fixes and first aid

best camping hacks first aid

Mosquito repellent

One of the real downfalls with the great outdoors is dealing with bug bites and stings. When it comes to mosquitos, however, there are plenty of easy ways to minimize the risk of bites and ways to treat them after the fact. While cooking meals or simply enjoying a fire, add a little sage to the embers. The herb naturally repels mosquitos and should at least lower your chances of being bitten.

Treat mosquito bites

So you burned some sage and you were still bitten by a few bugs? Well, fortunately, you can apply most brands of deodorant directly to your bite to minimize the itch. The aluminum present in many deodorants acts as an astringent. Just be sure to check the ingredients before applying.

Mini emergency kit

An old pill bottle can easily double as a miniature first aid kit. Throw in a couple bandages, a bit of gauze, and some disinfectant and you’ll be able to treat minor scrapes and cuts on the trailhead. We’ve also compiled a list of the best items to put in an outdoor emergency kit.

Easy fix for broken grommets

If a grommet on your tarp breaks don’t fret, there’s an easy fix. Simply wrap a small rock in the corner and fasten it in place with a zip tie or piece of string. You can then use this rock to fasten ropes and extend the life of your tarp.

Preventing rust

Stow a few silica gel packs in your pots and pans, which helps prevent your cookware from rusting between uses.

Duct tape

You may not need an entire roll of duct tape for a basic weekend outing, however, sooner or later you’ll probably need a strip or two for unforeseen mishaps. Simply wrap a foot or two of duct tape around your water bottle, flashlight, or a few inches around a lighter and you’ll have some durable tape handy at all times.

Bread bag tags

Let’s be honest, the small clip sealing our loaves of bread rarely makes it past the first sandwich. Luckily, there’s a handy use for these extra tags. Those little, square clips make for convenient clothespins when you need to dry wet garments and other materials on the trail.

Tent tips

Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 2 mtnGLO Tent

Foam floor tiles

Even if you position your tent on a flat, grassy site, sleeping on the ground can be rather uncomfortable. Believe it or not, the interconnected tiles often used in children’s playrooms and gyms can add a little cushion for a more comfortable night’s sleep. You can also cut these foam panels down to size to better accommodate your tent and these waterproof padded mats are a solid option. If you’re venturing deeper into the backcountry, bring a sleeping pad instead. For a more comfortable alternative, take a gander at our roundup of the best tents on the market today.

DIY lantern

A lantern is a handy tool to have at your disposal. However, rather than purchasing an expensive device, you can simply strap your existing headlamp to a transparent or translucent water bottle to create a rudimentary lamp using items you’re probably already bringing along. We’ve also curated a list of some of the best headlamps if you’re looking to pick up something more capable.

Makeshift pillow

A pillow is arguably a rather superfluous item to bring on a camping trip. Luckily, you can save space in your vehicle — and your pack — by simply stuffing extra clothes or other soft items into your sleeping bag’s stuff sack instead. If you still need to pick up a seasonal sleeper, check out our list of the best sleeping bags you can buy.

Keep your clothes warm at night

Hate to get out of a warm sleeping bag in the morning to face the cold air? Try keeping your clothes warmer by stuffing them in the bottom of your sleeping bag at night. Not only will this provide additional insulation for your feet but your clothes stay toasty and dry, too.

Keep your zippers zipping

Tent zippers can be difficult to open and close, particularly in the dark. Add a bit of chapstick or dry candle wax to them to keep them zipping right along.

Weather tips

Tent in the middle of a rainy forest.
Stephen Meszaros/Unsplash

Keep yourself dry

If you find yourself camping in inclement weather, it doesn’t have to ruin your trip — there are plenty of great hacks for camping in the rain. Perhaps the best is using a black garbage bag to act as a sort of rain poncho for your backpack. If you prefer something a little more official, try a rain wrap. You can also stick wads of newspaper in your shoes at night to suck up excess moisture and fill a bottle with warm water and put it in your sleeping bag to stay warm while you sleep.

Bring good socks and underwear

Bring two pairs of high quality, quick-drying socks. Wear one pair and always keep the other dry, alternating between the two. Make sure you also have quick-drying underwear — once that gets wet, you’ll be miserable.

Sleep in a hammock

A good hammock elevates you off the ground, keeping you from dealing with damp tent floors, mud, or elements like snow and ice if you’re winter camping. It also keeps you clear of ground-dwelling insects and other ground-dwelling critters — plus, hammocks are incredibly comfortable and are a quintessential piece of camping gear.

Flip your water bottle

Water freezes from the top down so if you’re camping in cold weather and the temps drop below freezing, the lid will freeze first. Keep your water bottle stored upside down so that if this occurs, the bottom freezes instead and you can still drink water from the top.

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