Summer is my second favorite season for one reason alone…CAMPING! I’ve camped in many sorts of campsites; anything from rustic to electric and water at the site to RAGBRAI. It doesn’t matter to me. I love it anyway, though it is good to know what you are getting into.
Despite thinking everything is all put together and ready to go, it never ceases to amaze me the sort of creative solutions that we come up with along the way. Last Fall, when we were camping at Starved Rock in Illinois we had a huge Yellow Jacket problem. Those little monsters with wings were making it hard for us to enjoy our stay. Well, Pinterest to the rescue! In 5 minutes flat we had a handful of DIY traps made and we even shared with our camping neighbors.
Whether you are new to camping or a seasoned pro looking for some new ideas here are 21 tips/tricks/hacks to make camping a little bit easier.
Around the Campfire
Fire Starters: I know how to build a fire seven ways to Sunday. If the campsite is abundant with tiny twigs for tinder then I’ll go at it the traditional way. However, sometimes you get a spot that is thoroughly picked over. Lighter fluid isn’t enough to keep the fuel logs going and you don’t want to be caught with a lighter fluid stream on an open flame. Thus, fire starters are quick and easy, and DIY. You can even turn them into crafts with the kids.
Pinterest has a ton of ideas. A few of my tried and true favorites are cotton balls dipped in leftover wax, cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly, and lint stuffed paper towel tubes. All of these will stay lit long enough to get your fuel going.
Welding Gloves: Sometimes a poking stick just isn’t enough to move an errant log in the fire. It would be nice if you could just reach in and move it. Well with a pair of welding gloves, you can! Granted you can only hold it for a second or two before the heat is a bit much, but that is all you need. You can also use your welding gloves to handle cast-iron. Just make sure to cover your whole arm before reaching into the flames or you’ll end up singeing your arm hair (speaking from Hubby’s experience).
Pie Irons: These are camp supply must have. I love a tool that has many functions and this one can handle all you cooking needs from breakfast to dessert. Seriously, think breakfast burrito but in sandwich form. Hot ham & cheese, pizza sandwiches, fried (but not fried) peanut butter & jelly, fruit pies. The possibilities are endless! If you can imagine it between two slices of bread then the pie irons are perfect.
Meal Prep: I like doing as much meal prep at home because I don’t want to waste leisure time or get food poisoning. I recommend cooking all meats ahead of time as the priority. You definitely don’t want to have to worry about the internal temperature of your meat over the campfire. Simply cook, freeze, and then warm it up over the campfire when it is meal time. I also like to cut as many veggies as possible at home and use lidded condiment cups to hold measured spices.
Pot and Pan Free Cooking: If I dislike doing dishes at home, then you can imagine that dishes while camping is disliked with a passion. Two of my favorite, and most versatile, pan free recipes are breakfast in a bag and hobo dinners.
Essentially, for breakfast in the bag, you take a paper lunch bag and line the bottom with bacon. Then you crack a couple eggs on the bacon. The bacon grease keeps the bag from catching fire and it helps time breakfast. When the grease is about half way up the bag the eggs are done. Rip those babies open and enjoy, then toss the bag in the fire. Done.
Hobo dinners are simple. Throw your favorite veggies and meat in a foil packet and then toss said packet onto some hot coals. If you already have your meat cooked then you just need to make sure your dinner is hot. Don’t forget to turn the packet so one side doesn’t scorch.
Roasted Pop Tarts: This was just discovered last year. We always keep a few boxes of Pop Tarts on hand for a quick grab ‘n’ go breakfast. However, if you are have a fire going in the morning you can carefully thread the pastry onto some roasting stick and toast those babies over the fire. So yummy! Especially with a cup of coffee.
Gourmet S’mores/Walking S’mores: It is time to amp up your s’more making game. Don’t make the traditional when you can be gourmet. This list has something for everyone! Additionally, walking taco fans will rejoice at the idea of walking s’mores. Use a bag a Teddy Grams; add chocolate piece and roasted marshmallow, then devour with a fork. BAM!
Keeping It Together
His/Hers Bath Caddies: My best buy is two caddies from the dollar store filled with toiletries and shower necessities. One is for the men’s room the other is for the women’s room. I like to divide and conquer when it comes to shower time.
Ziploc Bag Packing: It is insanely hard to dress a kid in the morning when they have seven shirts to pick from. My trick is to pack an outfit a day in a gallon Ziploc bag. All they have to do is pick a bag. Each bag contains a bottom, a top, undies, and a pair of socks. I also usually have an extra gallon bag with extra undies and socks. Our morning routine is a million times easier with this method, and we save a bunch of space this way.
Weather Radio: I feel like this a traveling must have. We all know that weather can change in the blink of an eye and nobody should be caught unaware. Buy a weather radio and learn how to program it. We just had storms that tossed campers. Knowing what is coming can save your life.
Plastic Drawers: Each yeah I struggle with a bunch of loose utensils, kitchen gear, tableware, and miscellaneous things stuffed in the back of the van. It causes anxiety and makes it hard to pack. I happened to need to grab something out of my sister’s vehicle and saw she had a plastic drawer tower that held a lot of the loose stuff. Brilliant! It’s already on my list of things to get for the next camping trip.
Toilet Paper: You never know when you are going to come across a toilet with no toilet paper, even in the least rustic camp grounds. It is always a good idea to have your own toilet paper at the ready. Storing toilet paper in reused coffee cans is the perfect way to keep your necessities safe from the elements and from accidentally TP-ing the back of your vehicle.
Making It Easy
Blow Up Mattress: A much younger version of myself claimed that she was never going to use a blow up mattress because using one is for wimps. Someone needs to smack my younger self. I waited way too long to invest in a good blow up mattress. I’ve done my time on the ground. If I’m going to be out in a tent for a week at least I am going to be comfortable. Blow up mattresses these days are pretty nice with their self inflation. No need to pack an extra pump. Usually all you need is an electric hookup. Even if you are in a non-electric site, most modern vehicles have a prong outlet to use.
Cooling Towels: This one is new to me but I am told they are all the rage in youth sports. I wouldn’t know because my kids aren’t sporty. However, my husband saw them in use on RAGBRAI and wants to get some. Since, the summers seem to be getting hotter every year we are probably going to get some.
Deodorant: Sometimes we also camp when the temps are on the chilly side, especially the overnight temps. I use stick deodorant but Hubby uses a gel. You don’t want to be putting cold gel in your arm pits…as my hubby. His recommendation is to switch to a stick deodorant while camping or, if you just prefer gel that much, to sleep with the gel deodorant in the sleeping bag so it is your body temp when you put it one.
Solar Showers: This nifty gadget uses the sun to warm water in a bag for later use. I’ve been to busy camp grounds and showered in cold water because the water heater couldn’t keep up with the demand. It sucks. I’ve not used a solar shower before, but with the recommendation from a friend we will be getting some because finding a shower during RAGBRAI is hard and expensive.
Frozen Water Bottles: Start with frozen water bottles in the cooler because it won’t melt as fast as bagged ice. Over the course of your trip you can drink the water once it melts and add ice as needed. You will save room and the chill will last longer this way.
Shoes in the Tent: Shoes stay outside on the welcome mat during the day but we pull them into the tent for the overnight. I cannot tell you how many times we have left our shoes outside overnight to find them soaked with dew in the morning. Then you have to find a sunny spot to dry them out or walk around in wet shoes. Neither of those options are fun.
Just For Fun
Stellarium: This star gazing app is a must have for your phone while camping. Described as a “fully-featured planetarium for your phone. It shows a realistic and accurate night sky map, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.” You are in for hours of fun and learning after the sun goes down. It does cost a little pocket change but it is soooo worth it. Stellarium can be found on android and ios.
Mystical Fire: We got this for the kids, but honestly the adults enjoyed this just as much, if not more. A campfire can only get better if you throw some magic in and watch it change colors.
Fishing with Leftovers: Sometimes you can’t get your hands on some big, fat, juicy nightcrawlers before you go fishing, but you have a toddler who is adamant on going. The other guys on the dock will laugh at you while you bait the hook with hotdog pieces. You’ll beam with pride as your toddler reels in a fish and internally scoff at the guys who laugh because they still haven’t caught anything. We often find ourselves in situations that require a creative solution. Sometimes you have to fish with leftovers and sometimes that works. You never know until you try.
There are plenty of tips, tricks, and hacks here, but it is not an exhaustive list.
What are some of your favorite must-dos or must-haves for a successful and relaxing camping trip?
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