The sun is out and camping season is just around the corner! While we’re all for more rugged hike-in adventures, car camping is a great way to ease into the season and convert even the most reluctant campers in your family or friend group. The work of packing the car and setting up camp is worth it, because nothing’s better than that first sigh of relaxation in nature.
To get you inspired and help you up your camping game this summer, we pulled together 50 tips and hacks from our own experience and from all over the internet. Let us know which ones you try!
Before you go
Competition for campsites is fierce at many of Canada’s most popular parks. Reservations in British Columbia open four months prior to the date you’d like to camp, so either start planning your trips early (like, now!), or try some of our country’s less frequented campgrounds. Locally-run conservation areas sometimes have well-equipped and picturesque campgrounds, without the crowds. You may also have better luck with parks farther from the city, or with public lands that allow camping (but you’ll have to live without the amenities). One last tip - if you’re camping on a Canadian long weekend, try American state parks just over the border!
Cut down on wasted food (or the chance of forgetting ingredients), by coming up with your meal plan before you go. Meal planning will make shopping and packing more efficient, and will save you time while camping, since you’ll know what you’re cooking next.
Pre-cutting vegetables and doing as much meal prep at home as possible makes camp cooking and cooler maintenance so much easier, giving you more time for exploring and relaxing.
No more egg cartons in the cooler!
Nothing worse than soggy matches. Solve it by glueing a piece of sandpaper to the lid of a small mason jar, and store your matches inside.
You don’t want to spend precious Friday hours trying to scavenge utensils from your kitchen for camping. Get out of town faster by buying and storing camping-specific gear. If you really want to maximize your pack space, upgrade and get stuff specifically designed for camping, like a mini cutting board, multi-purpose utensils, and stacking pots.
Keep your camping gear organized in transparent bins, organized by function (cooking, setting up camp, sleeping, cleaning). When it comes time to pack the car, you’ll be able to just grab your bins and go. At the campsite, you can easily see what’s in each bin. Bring extra bins (or repurpose your empty bins when your site is set-up) for washing dishes (or children!).
You don’t need to take the whole bottle of olive oil, or cumin. Pack your favourite ingredients in compact, re-usuable containers, and keep them in your camping supply bins for the season. Many outdoor supply stores sell durable Nalgene bottles as small as 1oz for this purpose!
The wilderness doesn’t always include phone reception, let alone WiFi. Avoid getting lost without toothpaste or a morning Americano by finding out where your nearest gas station, coffee shop, or grocery store will be before you get out of town.
Packing the Car
Micro-fibre is compact and quick-drying. No soggy tea towels this summer!
Outhouses. That is all.
For sticky kids and campers.
It’s lovely to wake-up to songbirds in the morning, but not a pack of crows (or an all-night party) right outside your tent.
Car chargers can take awhile, and you won’t always be driving to charge your phone. Keep in touch with the outside world (if only for emergencies) with a portable charger/battery pack.
Tarps can be rain shelters, sun shelters, tent pads, and shelter for your stuff. It’s always a good idea to bring at least one, with ropes.
There’s no need to buy single-use plastic water jugs at the store - buy a reusable water jug for your drinking water (or hand-washing station), and either fill at home or at a campground tap you know is safe to drink from.
Keep your tablecloth where it belongs - on your table.
A small camp mirror with a hook or string to hang on your tent or a tree can save you a trip to the bathroom.
Lounging somehow isn’t as relaxing in shoes. Bring a pair of slip-on sandals to wear around your site, and to make middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks easier.
If you don’t have an advance camping reservation, you may have to pay for your site in cash. You’ll also definitely want cash to buy firewood.
Keep the tunes going (and at a respectful volume) with a portable speaker that won’t short circuit in the rain or morning dew.
If you have the space (and lots of drinks), it’s a good idea to separate your food and beverages into separate coolers. The more frequently a cooler is opened, the warmer it gets. Keep your food cool while grabbing drinks out of a separate cooler.
If you have some pop bottles or old plastic milk cartons lying around, fill them with water and freeze before you leave. Use them in your cooler as ice, and then once they melt, as drinking water.
Keep your cooler food safe by packing it in the order you’ll use everything, with the exception of meat, which can be frozen and kept at the bottom.
Setting up Camp
An organized camp is a happy camp!
For a homey touch, and to keep dirt from tracking inside.
For summer camping, it’s easier to control your temperature with sheets and a blanket, and feels more like home. If space is a concern, use your sleeping bags as a duvet, but pair them with a sheet set reserved just for camping.
A simple piece of rope hung between two trees gives you a place to dry wet clothes, bathing suits, and towels
Remember those transparent bins you used to pack your gear in? Now that you’ve set-up camp, you should have one or two empty ones kicking around your site. Use those to store dry food to keep out moisture, bugs, and squirrels.
Cut a v-shape out of a banana, leaving the peel connected at the top. Stuff the banana with chocolate chips and marshmallow bits, then close the bit you cut out overtop. Wrap it in tin foil and bake in the fire for an gooey dessert.
When you get tired of smores.
Because everything tastes better outdoors - even pizza.
The trick to any easy campfire meal is heavy-duty aluminum foil. You can wrap pretty much anything and cook it over the fire. Just make sure you get the heavy-duty stuff, so you’re delicious dinner doesn’t end up spread over the coals.
Sangria may seem like a fancy drink, but remember that it’s just liquor and fruit. Make your own camping mix by chopping up some seasonal fruit in a jug, add wine, vodka, and Orangina (or San Pellegrino Aranciata) to taste. The longer you let it sit, the better! Pour over ice when ready to drink.
Pack a few Rumbles for fast, portable, and healthy snacking throughout your trip - because it IS possible to eat too many chips. Remember that Rumble is shelf-stable, so you can keep it with your dry foods and stick it in the cooler (or cooler bag) when you need it. Rumble Coffee Bean is especially suited to camping, since you can get your snack and coffee fix in one!
If you anticipate a chilly morning, keep tomorrow’s clothes at your feet in your sleeping bag. When it’s time to get up, you’ll have a pre-warmed outfit to wear.
If you forgot your camp lantern (or could use another one), wrap a head lamp around a nalgene bottle, water bottle, or jug, with the light pointed inwards. The liquids inside the container will spread the light, just like a soft lantern.
A simple cotton rug can add a cozy touch to your tent, help keep the tent floor clean, and provide a barrier against the cold ground for your feet.
If you find yourself tripping over tent lines (like everyone, ever), or have young children camping with you, slice up a pool noodle to wrap around the bottom of the lines. It’s much easier to see than ribbons.
Who has time to roll the tent flap and properly wrap it with the provided ribbon or toggle? Binder clips can do just as good of a job in half the time.
Smoke repels mosquitos, but did you know sage does as well? Double-down on your mosquito shield (and enjoy some aromatherapy) by putting sage in your fire.
Let time do the drying by hanging your wet dishes in a mesh bag.
Nice drinks taste better in a fancy cup. It is a fact. Find collapsable or stackable wine cups to save storage space.
Maximize your lounging with a camp hammock, which are more affordable and easier to set-up than ever. All you need is a site with two trees.
These small stake lights can keep your site (or hazards) illuminated.
Add a bit of fun and cozy whimsy with solar-powered string lights, which you can hang in your tent or around your eating area.
Good food tastes better with the right ambience. Burn tea lights or small pillar candles in a tin foil trough on your table to improve your lighting.
Check-up on the status of your food by keeping a thermometer in your cooler. Be sure it’s at least as cold as your fridge (35° F/ 1.6° C)
Upgrade from an air mattress to a camp cot, which uses suspended fabric to keep you comfy and elevated off the floor. With the right cot, you’ll be able to use the space underneath you as storage.
Use it as a nightstand, game table, or storage spot for important things like your keys and wallet.
But most importantly - enjoy your surroundings! All the gear, tips, and hacks in the world won’t make for as memorable a trip as enjoying the view and getting out to explore. Get dirty and embrace your escape from town.