When I was sixteen I was sent to a wilderness program in Utah where I was told to learn how to survive in the woods with nothing other than a knife. Dig your own latrine, whittle the wood needed for a bow drill set, create an ember with that bow drill set, use the ember to create a fire to keep warm and cook food, create a tent from a tarp, whittle yourself a spoon. Anyway, all that time in nature I noticed made me calm. I had never been calm in my life up until that time. Twenty years later I’ve made the outdoors a large part of my life and racked up some pretty important camping hacks that apply to nearly every situation, whether you’re car camping or tent camping. 

Camping hacks to simmer your nerves

It’s so much more than just a way to connect with the outdoors on a more intimate level, it’s the time you spend in your tent, the drive to the site, the hike to the campgrounds, the way you pack, the people you go with, the activities you do, the code of conduct you present to your camping neighbors, the food, safety, teaching others that know less, learning from others that know more…  

And this is all pretty important cause I’ve had some pretty scary experiences camping when I wasn’t prepared, so I put together some camping hacks that don’t seem so obvious when you’re packing your backpack. Whenever I’ve not taken my camping life hacks into consideration, I’ve ended up in places that nearly killed me. Nature will swallow you whole if you underestimate her. But she’ll blow you with soft lips if you dance politely together. But yeah, there have been times that I nearly died cause I got over-confident in my outdoor abilities, like the time I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and nearly never came back, but that’s another story. The first camping hack is your drive to the camping location.

The key is to see as much as you can on your trip without disrupting your time in nature. Here’s how I do it:

Before the camping trip, plot it out, but don’t plan it out

Find a destination that excites you that is no more than four hours away. Four hours is the perfect amount of time because it gives you enough time to wander your way there and wander your way back. It adds an element of a road trip. So we go from one camping trip to two road trips and a camping trip, and don’t worry, I’ll show you how to make a four-hour trip into an adventurous short road trip.

The first thing you gotta do after you find your campsite that’s about four hours away is plot out four areas of interest along your route. For instance, if you live in NYC and you’re going camping in Vermont, you may mark down:

  • Woodstock
  • Saratoga Springs
  • Beacon
  • Lake George

These are examples from a recent camping trip I took to Branbury State Park in Vermont, and they make perfect places to stop off at. I don’t live in NYC but I used it as an example. My exact trip was this:

Beacon, NY → Lake George, NY → Burlington, VT → Branbury State Park, VT (campsite) → Saratoga Springs, NY → Beacon, NY

Another example is:

Beacon, NY → Bath, ME → Georgetown Island (campsite) → Wiscasset, ME (home of the best lobster roll) → Portland, ME → Beacon, NY

The four areas of interest don’t need to be on the way to your site, they just need to be in the general direction of where you’re going. These are more camping life hacks than camping hacks. You don’t just wanna go camping, you wanna camp the fuck out, right? Make it damn memorable. Do the shit you thought you didn’t have time to do; you do have the time, just gotta rearrange it properly. When I camped in Branbury State Park, I traveled a couple hours north of there to spend the day in Burlington (for example) with my girlfriend who had never been there. It wasn’t on the way but that’s not important. Think of this as a road trip where you’ll be camping one of the nights.

That brings us to the most important camping hacks of all: how to have crazy camping adventures even if you don’t have much time.

In fact, even if you work 9 to 5 I’m gonna show you how to show up on Monday with wild tales that your coworkers won’t understand how you had time for. Let’s say you work Monday through Friday, okay good. Take off Friday, and leave Thursday night. Don’t save your days off for a couple weeks in a row, take wild short adventures more often throughout the year.

Spend the first night (Thursday night) in Area of Interest 1 (it’s okay if you get there when it’s pitch black) so that you can have fun at a shitty motel or fun AirBnB, watch a movie, then wake up early and explore for a few hours in the morning, get breakfast, and make it to your second point of interest by noon.

You can then spend a few hours in Area of Interest 2, have lunch, then make it to your campsite before sundown to set up camp.

During the camping trip, add a day trip to flavor the memory

So to recap, here’s what we got so far…

  1. Drive to your first point of interest and spend the night in a hotel (or whatever) on Thursday night.
  2. Wake up early Friday and explore place #1 and have breakfast at a fun breakfast joint.
  3. Then head to interest point #2 and spend a couple hours in town and have tea and lunch at a fun lunch joint.
  4. Then head to your camping area to set up camp before sundown.

The only thing left to do now is to get to know your neighbors, stock up on firewood, get the tent cozy, download some movies on your iPad from Netflix, make some dinner, eat some S’mores, and hang out watching RomComs till you pass out. That’s Friday night.

Before all that…

If there’re camping stores close by, get to your campsite first before you buy firewood, set up your tent, then head to a local firewood joint. This may be firewood for sale on the side of the road, or firewood for sale at a camping / general store.

Why not bring your own firewood?

You want to use local wood so you don’t bring insects not native to the place where you’re camping that may affect the ecosystem, so that’s why it’s important not to bring your own wood from home (where it’s likely cheaper). Spend more on local firewood (and help out the community).

If you want to chop your own wood rather than buy it, by all means. But that shit is too much work for me…

Also shop local. 

If you’re going to use their campgrounds, any money you plan on spending should be spent in their local community.

That brings us to camping food hacks…

Camping food hacks and tasty treats

Here are some tasty camping meals that always work. If you’re vegetarian, you’re on your own. I don’t know how to make anything tasty for ya with the exception of a good ole burrito and S’mores. This isn’t some kinda camping cookbook or whatever, but here are a few yummy thingamajigs I always munch on when camping that don’t require too much anything.

  • Turkey burgers
  • Sausage and onions and green peppers
  • Hamburgers
  • Hot dogs
  • Beans and rice and tortillas (season that shit)
  • S’mores

Yeah, I know. Not too helpful but it’s there anyway. But what you might wanna know is how to store your food when you sleep.

If you’ve got your car right next to ya, throw all that shit in there and make sure there’s nothing edible still out. Clean up any mess every night and burn your sticks that you used to roast marshmallows with. 

When you’re cleaning your dishes, do it a hundred or so yards away from your tent. If the campsite has bathrooms (and it will) then it’s best to just bring your pots and pans there and clean ‘em off. Otherwise you’ll have tasty dirty water all around your tent. 

If you don’t have your car with ya and you don’t know where to store your food, you’re gonna wanna buy a food bag before you leave with some rope. The best thing to do is to stuff all your food in that bag after you eat and walk it out about a quarter of a mile away from your tent, tie the rope to it, and throw it up in a tree. Then tie the other end of the rope around the trunk of the tree. I was always taught to make sure it’s about twenty feet in the air. 

Mark your way! Don’t forget where the tree is!

As far as what to pack, here are camping essentials that I always bring…

Shit I bring when I go camping

Now if you’re parking your car right next to the campsite, there’s no reason not to bring a ton of shit. I always look for campsites that allow me to park next to the tent. Then here’s what’s in my car or backpack…

  • Duct tape
  • Tarp for below the tent
  • Tent (or hammock if hammock camping)
  • Container with all your cooking materials packed in one place. I usually bring one pot, one pan, enough silverware for the amount of people, a wooden spoon, and two cups that can be placed over fire.
  • Coffee (instant even tho I’m a coffee snob)
  • Dinner for 2 nights
  • Cooler
  • iPad with downloaded movies
  • Air mattress
  • Blanket for the bottom of the tent
  • Dog bed
  • Outdoor blanket for dog to rest on by fire
  • Log dog leash (20 ft)
  • Towels for swimming
  • Rag for dishes
  • Water bottle
  • and 4 jugs of water (or to fill it up)

Packing for camping is really not the point of this post, the idea of the post is to turn a simple camping trip into as much of an adventure as possible. Those are just some things I bring.

Anyway, when you wake up on Saturday morning, enjoy the scenery and explore the campgrounds then head to Area of Interest 3 to walk around town and spend some time there. I usually go there for lunch and only cook breakfast and dinner at the campsite. That leaves you with plenty of time to hike and kick it around the campsite in the morning and the evening and also spend some time in another place.

I mean for me, there’s only so much time I can spend around a campfire before I need to move. That’s why breaking up Saturday in another town is a fun way to do it.

After the camping trip

When you wake up on Sunday morning, clean up your shit and get outa there sometime around ten. That’s what time you’ll need to leave anyway. Now it’s time to head to Area of Interest 4. You’ve got a four hour or something drive home, so this town or city you plan on stopping at should be directly on your way home. If there are no places to stop btw, you’re wrong. There’s ALWAYS somewhere fun to stop no matter where you are. Just gotta do a bit of research before you leave.

Atlas Obscura is a great place to research when you’re planning this trip on Monday or whenever you plan it out. I like to do my itinerary a couple weeks out so I can get a decent campsite without having to reserve a million years in advance.

I always pick a campsite near the bathroom.

Anyway, on your way home you’ll stop at Area of Interest #4 and spend a few hours there. You want to get home sometime around six in the evening to really feel accomplished, so do some shit wherever you are. Do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you can’t find anywhere to go, you fucked up during the itinerary process. That’s part of determining where you’ll camp (the places that surround it that will make for a good road trip).

So, if you were to ask me what the greatest of all camping hacks is, I would tell you it’s this: make as much of an adventure out of the little time you have with a jam-packed itinerary of a weekend. The more shit you do and see, the longer the weekend truly was.

The moral of the story is to make every camping trip ALSO a road trip. That’s how to enjoy the living shit outa yourself. It’s like a hybrid. We’ll call it camping on the road. That’s how you do it.

Now here’s a story about my favorite hooker.

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