Most people hit their favorite campground for a 3 day weekend. A smaller percentage camp for a week or more at a time. But you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for adventure in the great outdoors if you know how to camp like a champ. It helps to know the difference between essential camping gear and luxuries.
Select a campsite
- Be aware of widow makers. Dead trees can fall at any time and ruin a perfect camping trip. Downed limbs and debris around the site can be a good indicator of what’s to come.
- If you’re a walk-in (meaning that you arrive at the campground without a reserved site), be sure to survey the landscape. Nothing ruins a great camping weekend like loud neighbors. Know camping etiquette and expect it from your campground neighbors. Don’t be the one that pisses off their campmates.
- Many campgrounds have picnic tables and firepits. Look for campsites with a bit of tree cover (healthy trees of course – see previous bullet) which could be beneficial in a light rain.
- Know the general wind direction. Nobody wants to be sucking down the neighbor’s campfire smoke all night. Look for sites that are upwind whenever possible.
- Determine where the sun will rise and set. A site with tree cover may block some of the early morning sun. A nice sunset view could be equally rewarding so think it through.
Choose the best shelter for your needs
- Choose a tent size that fits your needs. Be careful not to go overboard; larger tents typically require more effort to put up and break down.
- Smaller tents provide more flexibility for placement on a specific campsite than larger ones. Options for where to place the tent are good to have.
- Consider the wind direction. Placing your tent downwind from your campfire could make for a smoky night’s sleep.
- Double doors on a tent can be a real plus. If you’re using the fly, the vestibules can be used for gear storage. Less gear in the tent, more room for movement. Plus, the added storage that vestibules provide could allow you to choose a smaller tent to get the job done.
- Your favorite shelter may be a hammock. Hammocks offer a unique option for solo campers and are versatile enough for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Hammocks can also be effective in minimizing your footprint or where space is limited.
Dial in your sleep system
- Go traditional and choose a good sleeping bag and pad system that fits your body and the conditions. A combo like the Big Agnes down sleeping bag with an integrated pad sleeve is perfect for side sleepers. Learning how to camp using your lightweight backpacking system can save you some hard earned duckets.
- Many camping families prefer to use inflatable mattresses instead of pads. In warmer weather, an inflatable mattress is a perfect compliment to a Teton Sports double sleeping bag or for families that still have little campers that are more comfortable sleeping with mom or dad.
- Like to sleep above the ground? Then consider a cot system and a larger tent. Though they require more room, cots paired with pads and a sleeping bag can make for a wonderful night’s sleep. Cots typically breakdown and stow in a small 3 foot long carrying case.
- Hammock camping can be bliss if you can dial in your sleep system with the right top quilt an insulating pad or bottom quilt.
- Consider sleeping bags designed specifically for children. The science is simple and your kids will be more comfortable in a children’s bag than in your old spare bag.
Camping tips for creating the perfect campsite and shelter:
- Do a quick campground audit at the end of each trip to make notes about the campsite you used, list the ones that might be better for next trip, and document the campsites to avoid. This is especially useful for campgrounds that you plan to revisit later in the season.
- An old area rug is a great way to add a bit of comfort to your tent. It helps to manage dirt and feels great on the feet at bedtime.
- Spice up the tent with rope lights. Simply wrap them through the pole structure on the outside of the tent but under the fly. A small power pack will do the trick and the ambient light is perfect for putting the kids down before adult time commences.
- Water bottles filled with either cold or hot water are a great way to boost comfort in your sleeping bag. Fill your favorite Nalgene bottle with hot water right before you turn in. Place it in the bag with you near your feet or snuggled in where you need it. You can even drop it in your bag 15 minutes before you climb in. Never slide into a cold bag again!
- If you’re using a smaller backpacking tent for a solo outing, consider taking a cot anyway. Many 2 person tents will fit nicely on top of the cot. No one ever said the cot had to go inside!