10 Tips to Camp Like a Pro

6 Min. Read
10 Tips for Camping Like a Champ

There are more Americans camping than ever before. In 2015, a reported 2.2 million of us slept outdoors. That’s an encouraging trend, but no matter if you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, some day your desire to camp will hit a rut. Whatever the rut may be—your favorite campground is always booked, your tent smells like mildew, or you can no longer find the time—it happens to us all. The good news is that camping is still super easy, fun, and cheap. All you need is a swift kick to regain your mojo. So here it is: How to camp like a champ.

Tip 1: Don’t Buy More Stuff

Once you own the basics, you’re set. You don’t need a new cuben fiber tent just because it exists. The more you buy doesn’t equal more fun. It’s actually more to keep track of, pack, unpack, and clean. One good rule of thumb for gear is: Rent or borrow before you own. See how much you’ll actually use it. If not a lot, forget about it. A little ingenuity and problem solving is what makes camping fun. Stringing a tarp between trees can beat owning a $200 pop-up rain shelter. Getting by with less is one of the joys of camping, so don’t buy more stuff unless you need it.

Tip 2: Make a Box

Packing for a camping trip often takes way longer than it should. Your headlamp, after searching, is inexplicably in your sock drawer, and who knows where you put your spork. That’s why it helps to make a camp box. A Rubbermaid tote or something similar will do. You put all your gear in it, your pack, your sleeping bag, your cookware, etc., and when the urge strikes, you’ll be ready to go. The secret is making sure all your gear gets cleaned and ends up back in the box when you get home.

10 Tips for Camping Like a Champ

Tip 3: Go Unplugged

You live your entire life within reach of a smartphone. Try a weekend without. One of the reasons we camp is to escape modern conveniences, or to go back to basics. Try to remember who won the World Series last year instead of Googling it. You never know what will come up in conversation. Afraid you’ll miss out on some epic photos? Bring your actual camera instead. You know you still got one lying around. Going unplugged is good for your attention span, and it’ll help you focus on the natural world, and isn’t that why you went?

Tip 4: Walk a Little

Car camping is great, but if you’ve slept between RVs running their generators a few too many times, then try walking. A general rule is the farther you walk, the better your camp. Very few campers stray far from their cars. Doing so will put you at a campsite much closer to what you imagined. You might hear an owl, see the stars, and feel like you’re all alone. Also, if you have to carry what you bring, you’ll bring much less.

Tip 5: Master a Meal

A quick way to kill your camping mojo is to eat bad food. There are a ton of good recipes out there for camping cuisine. Get creative. A pizza in the backcountry? You bet. You just have to warm the dough on your belly so the yeast will rise. These little things make outdoor cooking a lot of fun. Plus, they say hunger is the best spice so it’s very rare anyone will complain about your dish. If you want to up the ante, the world is your supermarket for hunting and foraging.

Sea kayaking Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Tip 6: Do Something

Camping for the sake of camping is mostly sitting around. Instead, choose your site based on an activity. Do you love rafting or kayking? Great, choose a campsite near a river or lake and plan on paddling all day. Is hiking or mountain biking more your thing? Make sure you’re close to a trail you’ve always wanted to check out. There’s no better feeling than returning to camp after a day well spent. Start a fire, cook dinner, and chill beneath the stars. You’ll sleep more soundly if you go hard all day. Plus, when you wake up in the morning you’ll have immediate access to your favorite activity, and that’s a major bonus.

Tip 7: Find the Sunset

Gorgeous Instagram photos don’t happen by accident. They’re made by someone who seeks a particular shot. So don’t waste the golden hour tinkering with your camp stove. Bring your camera and hike to a vantage. There’s a fine line between candid and composed and you want to find that balance. The added benefit of a sunset hike is you’ll see more wildlife. You’ll hear more birds singing in the trees, maybe see a deer or elk, and you’ll have much better odds of snapping a photo that you’ll proudly add to your Instagram feed once you get home.

Tip 8: Leave No Trace

To camp like a champ you need to know the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. If you’re camping with folks who aren’t familiar with Leave No Trace, then nonchalantly share some tips with them for how to keep campsites clean. With more people camping each year, there’s a much greater likelihood for soiled, unkempt campsites. You are the first line of defense. Take it upon yourself to practice Leave No Trace and pass along the wisdom to others or we’ll all be surrounded by landmines of poo buried in shallow graves when we’re camping.

10 Tips for Camping Like a Champ

Tip 9: Keep a Tally

The saying, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure” holds true for camping too. This New Year’s Eve set a camping resolution. Choose how many nights you’d like to spend outside in the upcoming year. Stretch yourself. Then hold to it. It will make camping feel more like an accomplishment. Instead of farting around in the woods you’re working toward your goal. See? Perspective can make a world of a difference. It’s also nice to remember the name of the campground and your favorite sites in case you ever go back.

Tip 10: Be Spontaneous

You don’t need to always plan epic trips with complicated logistics. Most times it’s just as rewarding to make simple, spontaneous plans. Is it raining? Who cares! Take a road trip. Pitch your tent in the forest. You won’t see nearly as many people, and that’ll be a nice surprise. Camping on a whim makes for the best trips because you don’t have as many expectations. You go because you’re curious, and that’s what camping is all about. Be up for it. The world is waiting for you, and somewhere, right now, there’s a perfect, soul-stirring campsite that is calling your name. If you don’t find it this time, no sweat. There’s always next time. Just go camping.

Portrait of Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins

Tim Gibbins lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His articles have appeared in Outside magazine, The Oregonian, Montana Outdoors, and he has worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park.

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