With these tips, your next campout can feel utterly indulgent.
There are those who will tell you that camping has to be rugged, uncomfortable, and “character building.” This is a lie. Camping isn’t about surviving misery; it’s about being in the great outdoors—something so beneficial to mental and physical health that some doctors prescribe spending time in nature to patients with a range of ailments such as anxiety and high blood pressure.
Today, unless you’re looking for a challenge, you needn’t endure a trying camping experience. The outdoor adventure industry has long been working to make camping more comfortable, not only with new, high-tech gear but also by providing tips, guides, maps, and more to help anyone access nature. And the young and diverse population driving a nationwide increase in camping has even pushed the boundaries of what it means to sleep outside today, with options like creature comfort–filled safari tents and vans.
But if you’re still nervous about the whole sleeping-on-the-ground situation and other infamous inconveniences, know that there are a few easy things you can do to make your traditional camping trip quite comfortable indeed.
The fastest way to turn your camping trip from fun to frustrating is picking the wrong spot. Like a hotel or an Airbnb, selecting the right spot can smooth out travel hiccups (unexpected weather, late arrivals, and charred hot dogs), but the wrong one only magnifies them.
Think about what you want to be doing with your vacation time and pick your destination accordingly. Want a fun and educational experience for the kiddos? State or national parks that offer ranger walks and visitor centers with museums and exhibitions keep everyone entertained during the day, and they often have well-developed campsites with trash service, decent bathrooms, and running water that will save you a million tiny hassles in the evening. If you’re looking to get a group together for a weekend, reduce the organizing stress by finding a campsite close to home with access to daytime picnic areas in case noncampers from back home want to join in for a time. Or if you just want to get away from it all, pick a spot based on its sunset views, nearby hot springs, or plentiful hammock-ready trees.
Choose wisely with websites like Hipcamp and The Dyrt, which feature well-curated reviews and photos of different campsites that can give you a good idea of what to expect. Nature is full of surprises—don’t let a bad campsite be one of them.
Cutting-edge camping gear can keep you cushioned and cozy while you sleep, but nothing beats the comfort of your pillow from home. For many, the best thing about car camping (staying at car-accessible campsites rather than hike-to ones) is the ability to bring pillows. And that’s “pillows,” plural. Bring more than one; bring as many as you’d like. Bring a top-of-the-line air mattress, too, and then fill your tent with pillows and nestle in the middle of it all. If you’ve got the space in your car, the possibilities are endless. Worried about getting your favorite one dirty? Invest in a pillow protector or double up on pillowcases, using the outer case to cover the opening of the inner one.
Cooking outside can be incredibly intimidating, but that shouldn’t stop you from indulging in delicious food in the great outdoors. The key is to treat yourself to high-quality ingredients (and s’mores, of course). After that, it doesn’t really matter how you prepare your meals.
If you’d rather skip complicated cookstoves and open-fire grilling, prep some loaded cold salads, pack a lavish charcuterie and cheese spread, and combine it all with your favorite wine. And overnight oats are an excellent no-cook breakfast.
If you’re up for cooking over grated firepits and charcoal grills, a project meal like paella can become the highlight of your trip. Those unaccustomed to open-fire cooking might want to pick up a copy of The Campout Cookbook, a well-rounded recipe collection and how-to on all the different ways to cook outside, including pointers on using Dutch ovens and cast-iron pans, plus a list of essential outdoor cookware.
Whatever you end up cooking, you’ll need to get creative about leftovers to save precious cooler space. For example, fish tacos for dinner and breakfast huevos rancheros with the leftover tortillas and salsa is an excellent, efficient combination.
Pro tip: Start your evening meal earlier than you think you need to. Adjusting to a new cooking space comes with some run-of-the-mill setbacks, and hangry campers are not happy campers.
Any seasoned camper will preach the importance of layered and waterproof clothing—after all, when camping, you can’t simply escape to a climate-controlled space if you aren’t prepared for the elements. It’s easy to anticipate and pack for hot weather, but don’t forget that many environments get cool in the evenings, even during the summer. A cozy hat and jacket are often welcome after the sun sets or while you’re drinking coffee alfresco on misty mornings. And on cold nights, it can take time for your body heat to warm your sleeping bag, so a pair of wool socks is crucial: By warding off a sometimes painful chill, they’ll help you fall asleep faster, and they’re easily shed when your sleeping bag has reached the perfect temperature.
It’s easy to get tired with all of the planning, organizing, and setting up that goes into a camping trip, not to mention all of the fun activities like hiking, swimming, and s’mores-making. But at the end of the trip, you still have to break down camp, repack the car, and then unpack it when you get back home. So make sure you finish your trip feeling rested, not exhausted, by taking time every day to relax and soak up your surroundings. Sit in the sun, zone out around the campfire, or swing in a hammock—just be in nature.
After camping, chances are you’ll be the good kind of tired and sore that comes from playing hard. Rather than just taking a hot shower and scrubbing the dirt out from under your fingernails, take it a step further and treat yourself to some end-of-trip pampering. That might mean booking a massage. It might mean making sure you have face masks on hand to restore dry, sun-damaged skin. Or it might simply mean ordering takeout for dinner and leaving the unpacking for tomorrow. However you do it, savoring those post-camping feelings will help cement the good memories—and get you thinking about your next camping trip.