My parents had a VW Bus when I was a kid, and some of my earliest memories involve camping in that van. My dad would pack everything up, my mom would load me and my twin sisters into the back, and we'd drive down a dirt road for what felt like forever until we'd land somewhere in the forest for the weekend. The top popped up and I slept in a hammock above the driver's seat while my parents and sisters all slept in the bed in the back. We'd roast marshmallows and swim in mountain lakes and play until we fell over from exhaustion. It was magical.
My camping program looks a little different now, but I still love spending the night outside. I've been lucky to have the benefit of "camping mentors" over the years to help me become more proficient, and I want to share some of their best advice. Whether you're new to camping or a seasoned pro, these tips will make your next trip easier and more comfortable, and give your gear a long, happy life.
#1: Stuff your sleeping bag inside out
Recommended by: Elise Sterck
Maybe it's just me, but I find stuffing a sleeping bag to be exhausting. My arms get tired, I start to sweat, and I struggle to make the bag transform into a neat, tidy little package. It sours me toward camping before the trip even beings. I was complaining about this to my friend Elise, who suggested turning the bag inside out before stuffing it. Theoretically, the outside material is less breathable than the inside (to keep the water away) and if you turn it inside out the air will compress more easily. I don't know if this is scientifically proven, but I must agree it's easier this way.
#2: Put a backpack (+ everything else) under your sleep pad
Recommended by: Theresa Sippel
A few years ago Jordan and I hiked into Russell Glacier for a weekend of skiing and celebrating Lisa's Birthday (recap here). We had just come from a Tom Petty concert at the Gorge (may he rest in peace) where we slept in the back of the truck. In our haste to meet our party, we left our sleeping pads in the back of the car. This being a snow camping trip, we were going to freeze, but thankfully everyone loaned us what they could spare and we spent a surprisingly comfortable night atop a bed of backpacks, buckles, and clothing. In the morning we found out everyone else had been cold, while we were warm. From then on I started sleeping with my backpack under my sleeping pad.
Layering under your sleeping pad makes a huge difference in terms of warmth at night. The ground is cold, your sleeping pad is only one layer and can get permeated by the cold, so more layers under you will keep you warmer. Theresa showed me the ropes for the best layering system on our recent trip to Glacier Peak: put your backpack under the top half of your pad, with the hip belt toward your head (to prop you up) and the brain flap open to give you extra length, then layer everything else you aren't going to be wearing under your lower body (like ski pants, extra gloves, gaiters, etc.). This will keep you nice and toasty.
#3: Sleep with a hot water bottle
Recommended by: All women, everywhere.
I sleep cold. Most women do, especially in the hip/bum/thigh area. Even if I'm generally warm, the cold skin from that part of my body will make the rest of me cold as it slowly comes up in temperature. A down skirt will help (blog about why here) as will a Nalgene full of hot water.
Fill your water bottle with boiling water before bed. Make sure the lid is on tight and toss it into your sleeping bag for a little pre-warmth. Sleep with it by your feet, on your chest, or, for the ladies, in between your legs at the upper thigh. I'm not sure who taught me this, suffice to say all of the women I know do this, and you should too.
#4: Store trekking poles upright and away from the tent
Recommended by: Jordan Tursi
I like to hike with trekking poles. I heard once that using poles can take up to 30% of the weight off of your tired legs, and I get really swollen hands when I don't hike with them, so they're usually in my camping kit. And I sweat on them. I have sweaty hands anyway, so they get...damp. A lot damp.
Animals are attracted to the salt in your sweat (and urine) and will attack anything with traces of that salty goodness. A few years ago some critters went to town on the handles of my trekking poles and kept me up for part of the night. On a recent backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, Jordan suggested we keep the poles away from the tent and jammed in somewhere so they'd be standing upright. This kept the critters away from both the tent and the pole handles. I give this solution five stars. will do again.
#5: Fold your tent poles from the middle
Recommended by: Abbie Feigle
Shortly after I bought my tent (an REI Half Dome) I was camping at Skaha with my friend Abbie and a few others. She was a river guide and has put up and torn down her fair share of tents over the years. Tents are like anything else: they wear out over time with use. Abbie had all types of tricks to keep the guide and client tents in good shape. Most people, she said, start at one end of a tent pole to begin the collapsing process. She starts in the middle. This causes less uneven stretching to the tension string inside the pole, meaning the string will keep it's elasticity for longer. If you want your tent to last, fold those poles from the middle. Extra bonus points if you store your tent with the poles not-collapsed, as that's the very best for them.
Best of luck on your next camping adventure!