The snowline is receding. The nights are getting warmer. And when the weekend comes, you're starting to wonder why you’re sleeping at home.
These are the signs of camping season. And it’s happening now.
Get equipped. Make plans. Reserve those sites. And read on for 15 camping hacks that will make you a campsite pro this summer:
1. Bring Wipes
Whether an outdoors-specific brand like Epic Wipes, classic Wet Naps, branded baby wipes or even those flushable toilet wipes that you’re really not supposed to flush, moist towelettes are musts on any camping trip. They keep you fresh, energize your spirit with a backcountry shower or sweat-wipe and maintain sanitary conditions around the camp kitchen and pit privy. Buy in bulk.
2. Repair Kit To-Go
What would you do if your gear failed two days' hike from the car? When preparing for a trip, ensure you have: an extra set of laces for your footwear (imagine hiking out with no laces); a zipper repair kit (turns an emergency into an inconvenience); fabric repair tape (nylon-specific for tents and jackets, or duct tape if you’re not picky); extra batteries for any device that needs them (headlamps, flashlights, satellite communicators); at least five metres of 550 paracord (multipurpose); and at least the same of baling wire (because between that and duct tape, you can fix just about anything).
3. Dress For Mosquitoes
The jury is in: mosquitoes are more attracted to dark colours than light colours. So if this information matters to you, dress accordingly. Bonus—brighter colours are generally a better idea in the backwoods too, as visibility increases safety.
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4. A Squirt Will Save You
A travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer is non-negotiable. Some evidence suggests it’s often bacteria from dirty hands that's the suspect in campsite tummy-troubles, not wilderness bugs like giardia. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer after every toilet break and before every meal or snack. But that’s not the only reason to bring it—it doubles as fire starter and even a topical antiseptic for wounds in a pinch (though it hurts like heck).
5. Homemade Fire Starters
We’re willing to bet you have cotton balls and Vaseline in your bathroom right now, even if you never use either. So grab a dozen balls. Roll them in petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Stuff them in a bag. When it’s time to light a campfire, remove a ball, fluff it up and spark it. Burns hot and long, often negating the need for paper.
6. Cooler Know-How
A quality cooler elevates the average car-camping or canoe trip. Use it properly and you can eat fresh for days. First, think about what you’ll eat and when. For a multi-night trip, freeze all meats/mains before leaving and place at the bottom of the cooler. Wrap with additional insulation if you'll be out for a few days. Layer in the food in the order you’ll eat it, leaving any items that require minimal refrigeration near the top. Foodstuffs not requiring refrigeration can be kept elsewhere. Add your coolant (ice block) last, as the cold air it creates will sink through your food settle at the bottom. Close the cooler tightly and aim to open only three times a day, maximum. Every second it’s open takes real time off the cooling capabilities—which is why organization matters. With proper use, even fresh meat or fish can be kept frozen for several days. Need to keep your bevvies cool? Skip the cooler (and the disposable containers) and grab an insulated growler or wine flask.
7. No Paper, No Worries
Read your newspapers, don’t burn them. Chances are, everything you need to make a campfire is within steps of the fire ring. Just follow this setup:
- Place two one-inch thick pieces of dry wood parallel to one another in the fire ring (each a foot long or so).
- Gather a selection of dry tinder—sticks or grasses thinner than a pencil’s diameter. Lay them across the parallel sticks like train tracks. There should be an inch of open air beneath.
- Find pencil-thickness sticks and build a teepee over the “train tracks.”
- Find kindling-sized sticks to keep at the ready.
- Put a lit match (or the fire starter from #3) under the tinder.
- Place kindling on teepee-style as the wood burns and crackles.
- Add firewood when the kindling is ablaze.
8. Morning Warmth
Even the most diehard campers lament chilly mornings, when we loathe the idea of emerging from a cozy sleeping bag and into the wet air. Make it easier. Stuff a fleece, warm pants and even a toque, gloves and a puffy—if it’s really cold—into the foot of your sleeping bag. Now you’ll have toasty warm clothing to slip on come corning, turning your wakeup from dreadful to dreamy. (Pros can do the costume change before they even get out of the bag.)
9. Sleep Socks
Amp up #8. Pack a pair of cozy wool socks and reserve them for in-tent use. Stuff them in your sleeping bag as soon as you set up and slip them on when you curl-up for a restful, cozy sleep. Remove in the morning and leave them in your sleeping bag for the next night. Luxury for tired feet!
10. Waterbottle Lantern
Up late chitchatting or reading past the witching hour? Turn any transparent or semi-transparent water container (Nalgene or a water/milk jug, for example) into a lantern—in seconds. Just fill the container with water and loop your headlamp around it, with the light shining inwards. The water diffuses the beam and fills your tent with ethereal luminescence.
11. Treats for Your Soul
Sometimes, camping is rough… downpours, trail closures, bad group dynamics. Or maybe it’s just some low moments when you really need a pick-me-up. I know we’re told not to eat our feelings, but forget it, you need this. Pick your poison on keep some on reserve—quality chocolate? Sour candies? A small bottle of hot sauce when dinner is depressingly bland? You can always find room for treats. Suffering breeds contempt and camping is meant to be fun. (Just don’t eat it all at once. Tomorrow could be worse.) A variation on this, for backcountry campers, is to leave a sumptuous treat in the car. When you return, tired and sore, it's waiting to soothe your soul.
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12. Seam Sealer for the Win
Scoff at storms! With a cheap bottle of seam sealer, you can upgrade any tent, whether it's just been bought or it’s been kicking around for years. First, determine your tent’s material (nylon or silicon-coated nylon, for example) and buy the right sealer. Then simply paint it on the outside seams and your waterproofing with be exponentially better. (Don’t forget the rain fly.) Bonus tip—consider a UV protectant too, as the sun’s rays deteriorate nylon. Note—you likely can’t apply this protectant on a new tent, as they’re often DWR-treated, which will stop the UV protectant from absorbing. So wait a season, let DWR weaken, then use a spray-on UV treatment.
13. Bag O’ Bannock
If you camp without this, don’t invite us. Seriously—every night afield should end with a group-roasting of bannock on a stick. Here’s the prep: Combine 2-1/2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. sugar and ½ tsp. salt in a zip-lock bag. Bring one of those bags for every bannock feast you’re planning. Also pack 3 Tbsp. of cooking oil per bannock bag. At the campsite, mix a bannock bag with 3 Tbsp. of oil and 1 cup of water until a dough is formed. Wrap it on a stick and roast until golden. (If you’re in a campfire ban, fry it in a pan instead.) Up your game with some cinnamon-and-sugar or Nutella toppings.
14. Roll Out Early
The moment you arrive at your site, roll out your air mat and inflate it, or leave it to puff-up if self-inflating. Same goes for the pillow. Then roll out your sleeping bag (employing tip #8). The latter is not simply so you can crash later with minimal prep, but unrolling your bag early allows the insulation to loft-up from being compressed. More loft, more immediate warmth.
15. Fuel Economy
A modern canister/regulator stove can boil a litre of water in just a few minutes—though you’ll likely only break the four-minute barrier by using a wind-screen. These heat-misers can reduce your fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent. So pack one—but make sure it’s a canister-stove specific model. Anything that encloses the fuel canister is an absolute no-no. If you use a white-gas stove, you can use a larger, white-gas-stove-specific windscreen. Next tip? Limit the simmer! If you’re cooking foods that require simmering (rice, for example), let it simmer for no more than half the recommended time (one-quarter is best), then turn the gas off, leave the pot covered and let residual heat do the rest. A pot cozy will help it along. Finally, consider the amount of boiling water your party requires. It’ll take more fuel to boil one cup of water three times than three cups of water once.
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