Tips to help convince someone new that camping can be comfortable!
I did not grow up camping so I’m always looking for ways to make our camping experience comfy, cozy, and relaxing. We could just throw a sleeping bag on the ground and call it a day. Some people do. But I could only do that for one night and my family prefers longer trips. Therefore, here are some things we have tried over the years which help make our camping comfortable.
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Please note these tips are geared to those who are tent camping. If you are camping in an RV, some of these will still be applicable. Others won’t be necessary.
If you haven’t already booked a campsite somewhere, we have some suggestions for you. We recommend a campground which is geared towards the casual camper with lots of amenities. The KOA Kampgrounds are a favorite for exactly this reason. However, our first time out, we went to a state park less than an hour from home. That way, if we absolutely hated it, we could pack up and sleep in our own beds in just a short while. Luckily, we had a great time, and I was hooked.
Within that campground, take a look at the map online before selecting your site and consider the following:
- Try to be at least 2-3 sites away from the restrooms for more peaceful sleeping. But don’t go for the ones farthest from the restrooms unless you enjoy a late-night hike.
- Look for one in the tent-only section of the campground for a quieter time.
- Don’t choose a site at the trailhead unless you enjoy chatting with everyone. Because everyone will be walking on by.
- Remember that shaded or sites with a lot of trees may shield you from weather such as wind and rain but they will also be buggier as a result. Additionally, the shade will cause your tent to dry more slowly from the morning dew. And your view of the night sky will be blocked. On the other hand, wide open spots will allow your tent to dry quickly but tend to be hotter during the day and if it is windy, you will feel it. For these reasons we recommend picking the part shaded/part sunny sites on the map.
- If you think you might return to this campground again, take a few moments on your way out to scope out the sites you would like to try out in the future.
For more tips on how to choose the perfect campsite, we wrote up all of our suggestions in one handy article.
First, if you are an experienced camper you will already know this but make sure to look over the ground before you lay your tent down. Remove any large rocks or debris from the area and aim for level ground. If there is a slight slope to the spot, put wherever your heads will be at the top. We recommend laying a tarp down under your tent as well. There are quite a few reasons for this but, in this case, the most important reason would be to help keep the inside of the tent clean and comfortable. There is nothing that frustrates me more than finding dirt or sand inside my sleeping area.
Next, I’m not sure if you are planning on sleeping bags or bedding. Either way, if you can add some sort of padding on the ground before laying down your sleeping gear, your body will appreciate it. We have used children’s foam tiles, air mattresses, and even camping cots depending on the situation. Camping cots are the most comfortable for me, but not necessarily the most practical. I try to always bring along our sleeping pads. We have these sleeping pads which do not require any pump so are usable no matter where we are camping. (I’ve even used them during a cub scout lock-in on a gym floor. They help!)
Too Hot? Too Cold?
Let’s talk about temperature and air flow. I don’t like to be too hot and I don’t like to be too cold. In fact, as a child my father joked about me having a half degree temperature tolerance. As an adult, I like to say that it is at least a degree and a half. However you and I both know that tents don’t come with HVAC systems and we can’t control the weather. What we can do is control our attitude towards the temperature and bring along appropriate clothing.
Additionally there are a few things we can to help regulate the extremes. If camping when heat is a concern we can encourage air flow by placing the tent to face any sort of available breezes. There are also reflective materials that can be placed on the tent to keep the sun from baking the air inside. And if your site has electricity, using a fan will not lose you all of your camping credentials. Tent air conditioners also exist if needed for comfort.
Now if it is going to be cold out you are going to want to pack layers, lots of layers. Having warm feet at night does wonders for my attitude so I always want an extra pair of clean socks. And I’m not going to make fun of anyone who indulges in the old fashioned habit of placing a hot water bottle (bonus points if they are cute like our little monkey one) in their bed prior to going to bed. Or you can invest in a tent safe heater unit. These are all things that help make camping more comfortable for me. In fact, this is so important to me that we wrote an entire article on how to heat a tent without electricity just in case.
Don’t underestimate how much an organized area will help towards making that cozy nest. When you can find what you are looking for, when you are looking for it, well that just helps make the experience more comforting. We subscribe to the tote system of packing which helps us keep track of our essentials. Our categories include Living, Sleeping, Kitchen, Safety & Set Up, Play, and Last Minute Grabs. I have packing lists for each of these totes because that makes me happy. Even if you prefer to be less anal about your packing, you should probably still have some sort of list to make sure you don’t forget something important. Additional items we like to bring along for comfort would be our canopy shelter to set up over our food area and a broom/dustpan to help keep our tent clean.
Decorating your site is always fun. There are so many good ideas out there and every time we go camping I see items that tickle my fancy. However starting out it is best to keep it simple. Items you might already own could include a welcome mat, fancy lights, or a sign stating your attitude (along the lines of “what happens at the campsite gets laughed about all year long”).
Our favorite decoration came about the summer after those outdoor holiday projection lights became so popular. A neighbor at the campground had set one of these up behind them and it looked like fairy lights all through the trees. We couldn’t figure out how they had achieved this look so as they were leaving they took pity on us and told us their secret.
Additionally, you can create a cozy setup with some comfortable chairs, a nice outdoor rug, and a small table for drinks and snacks. It sounds a bit crazy, but we also like to have a box fan next to our seating area to help keep bugs away.
We love to play with the flames of our fire by throwing these Magical Flames packets on the firepit after we are done cooking for the night. We would love to experiment more with natural flames, but we never seem to be prepared. If you want to try it is said that borax makes green flames, water softener salt turns flames purple, table salt makes orange, and Epsom salts turn the flames white. If you try this, let us know how it works.
It is also claimed that dropping a bundle of sage into your fire will keep the mosquitos away. We have found better success with garlic spray but that can be disconcerting to close neighbors as it does impart the odor of garlic for a while.
What activities does your family or group of friends enjoy? Are you looking to go hiking? Or fishing? Maybe there are bike paths, and you will bring your bicycles. Or did you pick a campsite with some water access, and you will go swimming, kayaking, or just splashing around? Possibly you enjoy playing card or dice games. What about inviting your neighbors to play frisbee or volleyball? Or is the plan to be lazy and sit around the campfire telling stories or singing songs? At the end of the day, it can be nice to kick back and spend time chatting and making friends.
We absolutely are about good food at all times and even more so while camping. In fact planning the menu is my favorite part of getting ready for camping (#icampforthefood)and I’m always ready to talk about our next camping meal. Pretty much anything tastes better when cooked over a fire and I don’t even need to go camping to enjoy eating smoky food. We enjoy pie iron meals, foil packet meals, and cast-iron meals. What do you enjoy eating? And can you recreate it, or make it even tastier, by cooking it over a fire? Or maybe food is not as important to your family and hot dogs with chips is sufficient. That is completely okay as long as it makes you happy.
If you are concerned about being able to build a fire, or that the weather might interfere with said fire, we recommend bringing along a camp stove to heat any food you might want to eat warm. We bring ours to ensure we have coffee every morning. And it comes in handy when it is raining too hard for cooking comfortably.
Now, not all locations allow alcohol but if they do and you enjoy it, an enjoyable end to the evening can be had with a delicious dinner and tasty beverage. We can actually support our Tennessee state parks by purchasing a local brew so we tend to do that while camping in them. Other campgrounds might have a good craft brewery nearby and we will purchase some of that to sip on before bed. Again, I’m sure you know this but it is never nice to get drunk while out camping. No neighbors want to hear or see that and we always want to be a good neighbor.
If you are tent camping, you will need to use the bathhouse for any restroom needs. We like to keep all of my bathroom essentials tidily contained. We also do not like to touch anything unnecessary in the bathroom. Our shower items are kept on a lanyard which keeps them neat and clean. The rest of our supplies are kept in a bag which is easily washed. We also use a large sized towel and water appropriate shoes. If you haven’t thought about these things, we find it is worth mentioning to everyone in the group.
I am not a fan of getting up in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, to find my way to a bathroom. One way to limit the need to get up in the night is to force myself to use the restroom twice before going to bed. I think of my own response to my son when I tell him to go to the bathroom and he says he doesn’t need to go: “Even if you only pee a few drops, that means more space in your bladder to wait longer until you need to go again!” However, sometimes my body doesn’t cooperate. When this happens, having a red light flashlight to help see is definitely a plus. We also appreciate other campers using red lights on their walks around at night. We enjoy looking at the stars so the less light pollution the better.
Keeping it Personal:
Now, this last thought should maybe have gone first but my question to you is what items are most important to you? Do you or anyone in your family sleep with a mask or blackout curtains? Find a way to make the tent really dark. On vacation do you require your own pillow? Bring it! Is your first coherent thought in the morning a need for coffee or tea? Make sure you have it available. Do you enjoy a bed snack every evening? Pack something for a treat. Think about what makes you comfortable at home and if you can replicate those at the campsite you will enjoy your time there.
We hope that you will find at least some of these ideas to be useful and that you will enjoy your camping trip in comfort. If anyone has other suggestions, please tag us on Instagram @campinganswer and let us know what we missed. We hope that everyone will become camping converts and that we might meet you on the road someday. The memories you make will be priceless!