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20 Essential Camping Tips and Tricks You Should Know About

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Spending our nights out in the wild is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

We go back to the basics, break free from the tedium of the beaten track, and substitute the hassles of home and the office with the many glories and wonders of nature.

However, it’s much easier said than done, and for the novice camper, there are countless pitfalls to avoid and lessons to learn before becoming the “Backcountry Badass” around the campground!

Camping Tips for Beginners

Gladly, just a few insider tips and tricks of the trade can make life a whole lot easier, transform your camping experiences from meh into marvelous, and make you as much of the above-mentioned badass as any veteran wanderer of the wild out there.

We’re going to introduce you to the very best of them with our list of twenty camping tips and tricks that every novice should know.

1. Know Before You Go

pitching a tent

Many first-time campers underestimate just how tricky it can be to pitch a tent effectively.

While this isn’t likely to be a big problem if you rock up at your campsite early and have several hours to get things in order before nightfall, if you happen to arrive late or the weather takes a turn for the worse, then you could be in for a very, very long night!

Ideally, you should practice pitching your tent at least four or five times in your garden or a local park before venturing out on your first camping trip.

To make it less of a chore, each time you do so, set the timer on your watch and try to beat your previous performance.

This tip, we should add, applies to all gear items—becoming familiar with their setup and workings before you go can save you a lot of hassle and frustration (not to mention the scorn of your camping cohorts!) when out in the wild.

2. Choose Your Pitching Spot Carefully

Many newbie campers are apt to think that any old, dry, and relatively flat patch of terrain will serve their purposes when pitching their tent.

While this may be the case if luck is on your side, there are a few other factors to be considered to ensure you’ve chosen the best spot for a safe and sound night’s sleep.

First up, look for natural windbreaks such as knolls, boulders, or trees—even if the wind isn’t blowing when you pitch up, that doesn’t mean it won’t kick up at some point during the night.

Secondly, look up. Are there any large or rotten branches above your prospective pitching place? If so, relocating might be in order.

High winds, heavy rain, and snow can all cause branches to break off and make an impromptu, unwelcome, and potentially deadly landing at your campsite. 

Finally, if you are camping in mountainous terrain, be sure to check that your tent will not be in the path or fall line of any snow or rocks should there happen to be an avalanche or rockslide.

3. Eastern Exposure

One of the more notable hardships of backcountry camping is the cool morning temperatures, particularly if you’re camping in high, mountainous terrain.

Depending on how much of a morning person you are, the prospect of getting out of your sleeping bag and getting the coffee boiled and the fire started on such mornings is unlikely to fill you with too much enthusiasm.

Making things more comfortable in the a.m., however, simply requires a little bit of foresight in the p.m.

When pitching your tent, do so in a spot where you’ll have the most exposure to the morning sun—that is, to the east—and let the big yella fella do his thing before venturing out into the open.

4. Convert Your Clothes Into a Pillow

pillow for camping

Carrying a pillow with you on your camping adventures might save you a smidgen of mild discomfort come bedtime, but it’s also going to take up a lot of precious pack space and, no doubt, earn you a little bit of ridicule from your co-campers!

Luckily, carrying a regular, sponge, or even lightweight inflatable pillow is entirely unnecessary—all you have to do to give your dome a comfy nocturnal resting place is throw some unused clothes in a stuff sack and pop a t-shirt on top as a makeshift “pillowcase.”

5. Do a Pre-Sleep Warm Up

Contrary to what many of us are apt to think, sleeping bags work by insulating (i.e., trapping) body heat rather than actively producing warmth. 

What this means for our campers is that crawling into our sleeping bag cold is the surest way to ensure we stay that way for quite some time and, of course, have a rough night’s sleep as a result.

To avoid this inconvenience, before getting into your sleeping bag at night, do a few quick exercises outside of the tent to warm yourself up—star jumps, jogging on the spot, press-ups, or any other exercise that’s going to get your blood moving and raise your core temperature.

6. Bring a Pee Bottle

Getting out of your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night to answer nature’s calls is undoubtedly one of camping’s less endearing eventualities.

It usually goes something like this: we tuck ourselves in for the night, listen to the start of a rain shower spattering on the walls of our tent, and happily count our blessings that we’re safe and sheltered away inside the cozy cocoon of our sleeping bag and tent.

Then, disaster strikes: we realize we have to go. At this point, we have two options:

Choosing option one means accepting the risk of getting wet and cold, inadvertently stubbing a toe, or almost stumbling into an overhanging branch while navigating through the darkness to find a suitable urination spot, and then dedicating the next hour or so to attempting to fall back asleep.

Option two entails none of the above, allowing you to take care of business without having to leave the comfort of your tent thanks to the wide-rimmed water bottle or bladder you brought along with you for precisely this purpose.

Needless to say, we’d highly recommend you carefully color code your bottles so you don’t mix up your pee bottle with your drinking one!

7. Ward Off Mosquitoes

burning sage for mosquitos

Few things are quite as capable of ruining our good time in the great outdoors as the humble but horrendously irksome mosquito.

These miniature, modern-day pterodactyls have driven many campers absolutely nuts over the years and even caused a few of us—the author included—to pack up and head home prematurely rather than spend another minute on the receiving end of their wrath.

So, what to do?

Burning sage around your campsite is one of the most effective ways to repel mosquitoes.

Not only does it keep the airborne annoyances at bay more effectively than the commercial varieties of bug-blitzer carried by most campers, but it’s also—bonus of all bonuses—totally free.

8. Pack a Trash Can Liner

It might not be the most high-tech backcountry accessory out there, but the humble trash can liner has oodles of potential uses for the savvy camper.

Here are some of the more notable ways a trash can liner can moonlight in the outdoors:

  • As a stuff-sack
  • Use it as a doormat or flooring for the porch area of your tent.
  • To make an improvised, extended awning above your tent door or porch area (with trekking poles),
  • To temporarily fix a leaky tent
  • To stow wet clothes
  • To store food
  • Use it as a “curtain” on your tent walls when the temperature is high and the sun is scorching the interior of the tent and its occupants.
  • As a trash bag!

9. Sleep With Your Gear

No matter the conditions outside, putting on damp, cold clothes in the morning is never an enjoyable experience.

The cool ambient air inside your tent and the tendency of most tents to absorb condensation during the night make the clammy morning reclothing routine an integral part of the camping experience for many campers.

It is also, we’re glad to tell you, very easily avoided.

When hitting the hay at night, simply stuff your clothes (and boots, if possible) into the bottom of your sleeping bag and let your body heat do the rest.

If there’s no room inside your sleeping bag, you can lay your clothes out on top of your sleeping pad before getting into your bag, and in the morning they’ll at least be a whole lot warmer and drier than if you’d left them in your pack or on the tent floor.

10. Start Your Campfires in Style

starting a campfire

Sitting around a roaring fire at the end of a day’s hiking is one of camping’s greatest pleasures.

Therefore, arriving at your intended camping location only to discover a noticeable lack of wood or that the existing wood is too wet to burn can be quite disheartening.

Even in dry conditions and with ample kindling, getting your campfire up and running can be a tricky business.

To simplify things, before you set off, dip a few cotton balls in Vaseline or petroleum jelly and stash them in a ziplock bag in your backpack, and you’ll have your fire going in no time.

It’s cheap, easy, and more effective than the often-advised combo of newspapers and firelighters.

11. Use an Egg Box to Get Fire Roaring

While the cotton balls mentioned above will serve as an ideal firestarter, they won’t be of much use if there’s no dry kindling, branches, or logs in the area in which you’re camping.

If you’re especially keen on having a campfire, a simple and highly effective way to make sure you don’t have to go without in either wet conditions or tree-free locations is to pack an egg box with a few lumps of charcoal and set it atop your cotton balls.

It’s light, fast, and has a reasonable burn time for such a portable and lightweight fuel source.

12. Keep Your Head High

Sometimes, finding a perfectly flat spot to pitch your tent just isn’t possible, particularly if you’re camping in mountainous backcountry terrain.

Position the tent so that the top end is on the high side if you must pitch it on a slope.

This will not only prevent blood from rushing to your head during the night and giving you a headache, but also ensure that any condensation inside the tent drips towards your feet instead of your face.

13. Leave Tent Poles at Home

fast setup tent

Although ridge tents have gone ever so slightly out of fashion in recent years, they still have their merits and uses, particularly when it comes to making weight savings in your pack.

With most ridge tents, it’s possible to leave the structural poles behind and simply use your trekking poles to keep the tent upright.

This trick may only save you a few ounces of weight, but if you’re on a long thru-hike or backpacking trip, your back and knees will thank you for it!

14. Make a Lantern With Your Water Bottle

Rather than using all of your group’s headlamps and blinding each other every five seconds while you move around inside your tent,

Fill up a clear water bottle, aim your headlamp’s beam into the bottle, and let there be soft, warm, non-blinding light!

15. Extend Your Zippers For Easy Access

Unfortunately, many zippers on outdoor gear items don’t cater to cold or wet-handed campers.

When our hands are numb or damp, or it’s dark and we don’t have our headlamp handy, trying to open or close the zippers on our gear can test our patience to the max and empty our wallets of many a dollar gone the way of the swear jar.

To simplify matters and save yourself a lot of fumbling and frustration, tie a small loop of string through the eyelets of your zippers or clip on small carabiners.

If you have some glow-in-the-dark tape to stick on them, that’s great!

16. Use Your Bivvy Bag

using a Bivy bag

Most hikers and backpackers carry some form of bivvy bag to use in case of an emergency.

These lightweight potential lifesavers typically take the shape of a bright orange polythene item or the affectionately named mylar “space blanket,” spending most of their existence stowed in the bottom of their owner’s pack without ever seeing daylight.

Instead of following suit and leaving your bivvy to lead a life of shiftless luxury, we highly recommend you make it earn its place at the party!

You can accomplish this by using your bivvy as a simple doormat or groundsheet in the porch area of your tent, or by attaching it to the tent with guy lines or door ties and suspending it over the entrance to create a makeshift awning that will provide additional dry storage space.

17. Use Bivvy Bags to Reflect Sunlight

In warm weather, the interior of a tent can very quickly come to feel like a steam room or a small, sticky, and usually odorous torture chamber.

In such a scenario, the obvious course of action is to simply open all the vents and pray that any marauding insects have already had their lunch and are hunting elsewhere.

A less obvious but equally effective method of keeping things tolerably cool is to use the same reflective emergency bivvy bag mentioned above to deflect the sun’s rays by laying it against the wall of your tent that is most exposed to the sun.

Granted, it’s not quite the same as having built-in A/C, but it’s not a bad solution in a bind!

18. Make Miniature Moats

When eating at a camping table, there’s always a chance that a few “locals” whose names didn’t make it onto the invitation list will nonetheless make their way to the party by way of the table legs.

To deny these gatecrashers access to your dinner, place each leg of the table in a small, water-filled tub, tray, or jar to make a simple but highly effective bug barrier.

19. Pre-Prep Your Meals

camping meals

Setting up your stove and cooking kit and then spending half an hour or so waiting for your dinner to cook at the end of a long day’s hiking is no fun at all.

Pre-preparing your meals so they’re ready to go when you are will not only allow you to avoid the horrors of post-hike hunger, but it will also allow you to cut down on mess (and, hence, cleaning), weight (cooked items generally weigh less than uncooked, and you’ll need fewer utensils), and earn some serious kudos from your hunger-stricken camping companions.

20. Go Spartan

Carrying way too much gear is one of the biggest mistakes novice and old-hand campers make.

Over the years, we’ve seen teddy bears, at least a dozen volumes of Harry Potter, laptops, elaborate kitchenware and cooking sets, cans of soda, and even the odd musical instrument.

While a lightweight creature comfort or two might be excusable if we’re pitching our tent close to where we park the car, if we’re camping deep in the backcountry, then our efforts to replicate the setup we have at home will only detract from the backcountry experience.

More importantly, unless we happen to have a personal Sherpa who will carry all those added items for us, our chances of enjoying the trek out to our desired camping spot—if, indeed, we make it that far—become slimmer with each additional pound of nonessential items weighing down our pack.

Our advice? If you can live without it, go without it. Commit fully to the outdoor experience and enjoy it for what it is—your toys and trinkets will be waiting for you when you get home; nature will not.


Over the many years I’ve spent camping around the world, I’ve witnessed almost every rookie camping mistake there is.

I’m not too proud to admit, however, that I’ve made a fair few of them myself. Fortunately, these experiences, along with the assistance of the people I encountered, have provided me with a wealth of insights into enhancing the ease and enjoyment of camping for everyone.

In sharing the above tips, it’s my wish that newcomers to the world of camping can avoid the long process of trial and error that so many newbie campers go through and skip straight to the fun!

Happy camping, people! So, how did you like our list? If we missed anything out, please feel free to point it out in the comments box below!