Our list of do’s and don’ts will help you pack and prep, set up camp and get the most out of your next tent camping adventure.
Planning, packing and prep work
- Start with the essentials. You know what your group needs on a day-to-day basis, so start your list with those items.
- Pack items that have multiple uses. A light poncho, for example, packs easily and can be used as a rain jacket, windbreaker, ground cloth or mosquito shield.
- Plan to bring really comfortable shoes. They’re one of the most important things you’ll pack. That short hike to the top of the hill can turn into an endless journey back to camp if you're fighting a blister.
- Pack clothing in trash bags. The bags keep clothes dry in wet or humid weather and can double as laundry bags or makeshift ponchos in a pinch.
- Think in layers. Temperatures can change a lot from morning to afternoon to evening, you’ll be glad you have the option of peeling clothing off or piling it on.
- Bring a pair of polypropylene long johns—even in the summer. They dry fast and wick water and sweat away from your body. Pull them on if a sudden storm blows in or if you get cold sleeping.
- Plan a menu and bring menu-specific measured items to save time and space. For example, measure all of the dry ingredients for pancakes and pack them in a covered container. When you're ready to cook, add the wet ingredients, put the lid on and give it a shake to mix it up. Remember to label the containers.
- Pack insulated mugs with lids. They keep hot beverages hot, cold beverages cold, and insects out of everything.
- Invest in a solar-heated camp shower. This mini shower can double as a faucet and is ideal for dish rinsing and hand washing.
- Throw in an extra bundle or two of firewood. You never know if it might be tough—or illegal—to find it in the wilderness.
- Don’t forget to pack toilet paper. Everything else is secondary to this necessity.
Setting up camp
- Remember the early bird gets the best campsite. If you don’t have a reservation, arrive as early as possible, walk or drive around to check out all the options, find your campsite (one with the least compromises) and get set up.
- Know which places to avoid. Steer clear of the following: narrow canyons (which pose a risk of flash floods), open fields (where a lone tent can attract lightning), clay soils (which drain poorly and get messy in rain), cliffs and ledges (which can't be seen at night), and stagnant water (which is often home to biting insects).
- Camp near water, but not too near. A ready supply of water is a necessity when camping, but you don't want your campsite to be flooded, so set up camp at least 200 feet away from the nearest water source.
During your stay
- Keep your matches dry. Starting a fire is difficult with wet matches. Store yours in a plastic baggy or sealed in a small container.
- Partially unzip the upper window in your tent. This removes unwanted moisture and condensation from perspiring sleepers. On muggy nights, also zip open a lower window to draw cooler air through to create a chimney effect.
- Locate or collect firewood along the hike. Firewood may be scarce where you are camping, so pick up a few bundles before you head to the campsite (but be sure to check site rules first).
- Consider hanging your food from a nearby tree. If there is wildlife in the area, this will help keep your meals safe. You'll need rope to tie to the container, and try to find a sturdy limb at least 12 feet in the air. If not, put your food containers inside your car at night. Do not keep food in your tent. And don't feed the animals around your campsite.
- Be considerate of those camping around you. If you camp with your pets, keep them away from others. Keep them quiet, and be sure clean up after them promptly.
- Leave no trace. If you brought it with you, be sure to take it with you when you head for home. As a rule, you should leave the campsite looking better than it was when you arrived.
- Don’t rush this final step. Set aside enough time to get it all done, as it always takes longer than you think.