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15 Proven Camping Hacks You’ll Wish You Knew Sooner

Whether you're a camping fanatic or pitching a tent for the very first time—make your campsite safer and more comfortable with these camping hacks

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Camping supplies spread out on a tarp in the grass
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Insider camping tips

Connecting directly with nature, spending uninterrupted time with family and getting off your devices … these are just a few of the benefits of getting out there and camping under the stars. But realistically, whether you’re a beginner camper or an intermediate one, there is some know-how required to make your camping experience as comfortable and safe as possible.

Whatever your camping comfort level—from camp cooking hacks to new uses for existing camping gear—you will find something in this list of camping hacks to upgrade your next plein air adventure. As a forever nature-lover (and a past editor-in-chief of an outdoors website), I have spent years cooking, sleeping and campfire-making under the stars at campsites and glampsites all up and down the east coast. These camping tips won’t steer you wrong.

lint in a labeled ziploc bag in front of a pile of firewood; matches nearby
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Carry some lint

We know you may be tempted to discard this kind of stuff as trash, but lint is verrrrry flammable, and at some point during your campout, you may find yourself without great kindling and in urgent need of starting a fire. That tangle of string and fluff hanging out at the bottom of your pocket can be a lifesaver if you discover that all your burnables are wet or have disappeared. If you can remember to plan ahead, start collecting the lint from your dryer for your trip—or you could invest in a fire starter.

GIF of coffee in a coffee filter bag being brewed on a tree stump
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Brew coffee “tea”

Lugging a French press to camp isn’t always possible or desired, but morning coffee is obviously non-negotiable. Get your morning fix when cooking at camp by making a coffee bag, which takes a page out of tea prep. While you set water to boil, lay a coffee filter on a flat surface (your hand works). Add one to two tablespoons of finely ground coffee per cup of water in the center of the filter. Fold up the coffee filter like a pouch, and tie it closed with some cotton twine. Dip it into your mug of hot water and steep until your coffee tastes the way you like it.

a pile of rocks surrounds a tent peg in the grass
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Build up your tent pegs

It’s the middle of the night, and you realize you have to pee. It happens. As you emerge from your tent in a sleepy haze in darkness, 10/10 chance you will stumble horribly over your tent pegs on the way to the woods. No one likes a surprise toe stub, but it’s even more miserable under these circumstances. Trust us: After you put up your tent, gather rocks around camp to make a little pyramid pile over each of your tent pegs, both so that you have a better chance of seeing and avoiding them in the first place, and also so that when you do inevitably run into them, you will first disturb the rock pile and have a better chance of righting yourself rather than go immediately flying after tripping over the peg or the cord.

a live branch nicked with a camping knife to reveal the green inside; smores supplies nearby
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Make s’mores sticks from live branches

S’mores time is always the best time when you’re making camp, but if you try to use a dead stick for a s’mores stick you’re basically just adding more kindling to your campfire. Instead, head to the periphery of your campsite and find a long, thin, sturdy twig still attached to a tree. When you remove it, make sure it’s green on the inside and that it didn’t snap right off the tree. This is how you know it’s still alive and will be less likely to burn up over the flame of your campfire, taking your marshmallow with it. (And then, of course, you’ll want to try some of these campfire songs as the s’mores are toasting.)

a hand placing a warmed rock into a partially unzipped sleeping bag
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Use rocks to warm your sleeping bag

Snuggling into an already-warm sleeping bag is so much more pleasant than zipping up a chilly one, waiting for your body heat to do its thing. Instead, take a trick from the spa and try this camping hack: Find a few smooth, clean rocks around the size of your palm and put them right near your campfire in the evening—they retain heat beautifully. Once they’re nice and toasty, put them into the foot of your bag about 30 minutes before you’re planning to call it a night When you’re ready to climb in, your sleeping bag will be pre-heated and lovely. Just make sure the stones aren’t screaming hot, as you don’t want them to burn your bag. A good test: You should be able to handle the rocks for three seconds with your bare hands.

Merino wool top and leggings inside a tent with sleeping back and other supplies nearby
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Pack a Merino wool base layer

Temps can drop without warning when you’re out in the woods, and you’ll want to be prepared to stay comfortable. Make sure to practice good layering: For the clothing layer closest to your skin, you’ll want to bring a Merino wool legging and long-sleeve top set. This super thin layer will help retain your body heat, wick away moisture (aka sweat) and resist odor. You do not want cotton next to your skin, because it absorbs water, doesn’t retain body heat and will make you colder.

Metal rake clearing the ground near camping supplies
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Pack a rake

It may seem like an odd suggestion until you see your campsite for the night, covered 12 inches deep in branches, wet leaves and other forest debris. Add a small collapsible rake to your pack and make quick work of all that gunk—neatly and efficiently clearing your plot for a comfortable night’s sleep.

a lamp made from a plastic jug and a headlamp outside an orange tent
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Make a headlamp light

You don’t realize how dark it is out there until you spend your first night away from civilization. Bring some illumination to camp by filling a big plastic water jug with water and wrapping your headlamp around it with the light shining in. The water will amplify the light from your headlamp beam, creating a lovely portable ambient camp light.

GIF of socks being rolled up and stuffed into camping boots
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Keep critters out of your hiking boots

Typically you stash your dirty footwear outside your tent, but who knows what kind of bug party is happening in your warm, dark hiking boots while you sleep? Avoid shock and horror the next morning by using your worn socks (the ones you wore today and need to dry) to keep intruders at bay. Flip the socks inside out (so the inside of the sock touches the inside of your boot, and stretch the ankle over the boot shaft so that you’ve created a liner in your boot, right sides outward, sealing out the creepy crawlies and drying your socks.

GIF of small essential items popping out of a metal mint tin
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Fill a metal mint tin for emergency essentials

A tiny packable case that’s easy to find in your bag is ideal for an emergency kit and a must-do camping safety hack. Keep a few strike-anywhere matches, bandaids, any essential meds, a small amount of gaffer tape (for taping together broken toes or other emergency needs), antibiotic ointment, a whistle, etc. You can customize the case based on your specific camping adventure. The key is to take this everywhere: In your pocket, while you look for kindling, on your day hike—wherever you go, it goes. This is especially important in bear country!

a tent footprint laid down beneath a tent for camping
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Lay a foundation

Use a tent footprint or tarp beneath your tent to add extra protection to your tent floor and make sleeping more comfortable. That additional layer between you and the ground does wonders to keep in the warmth and keep out groundwater seep.

slide sandals sitting right outside the door of an orange tent in the grass
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Bring camp shoes

You wouldn’t wear muddy shoes in your house, so don’t wear muddy shoes in your tent and risk tracking in dirt and mud from the woods. Instead, keep a pair of easy slip-on camp shoes right outside the door. These are the shoes (think Crocs or flip-flops, depending on the temperature) you slip into when you need to tend the fire or relieve yourself in the middle of the night. Instead of having to spend five minutes getting yourself in and out of your hiking shoes, keep the tent clean and your sanity intact by toting an easy slip-on.

hand applies seam waterproofing to a tent seam with a small applicator brush
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Re-waterproof your tent

Many tents, even some of the very best tents for camping, do not come with their seams already waterproofed. Plus, all waterproofing eventually fades over time. Make sure you shore up these seams with a basic seam waterproofer that you easily brush on. You will understandably regret skipping this step if you encounter any unforeseen weather.

sock on a pillow with a sleeping bag inside a tent
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Slip-on just-for-sleeping socks

Imagine the fun you’ve had hiking and scrambling all over the park. But those hiking socks need a break—you will be dirtier than you usually are when you sleep in a tent. Do not assume the socks you’ve worn all day will be comfy to wear all night. Bring a fresh, just-for-sleeping pair of socks, and store them in your pillow so they stay clean and dry in the tent.

a contractors trash bag sticking out of an open backpack full of camping supplies
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Stash a contractor’s trash bag in your backpack

An extra contractor’s trash bag weighs next to nothing and can save more than a trash disaster. Use it as a makeshift rain jacket or a thermal layer, for bathing or as an emergency stow point. You won’t know how you lived without this one. 

Liz Zack
Liz has been writing about travel, food, home and real estate for national publications for over 20 years.