18 Camping Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

camping mistakes to avoid

camping mistakes to avoid

Skip The Stress By Avoiding These 18 Camping Mistakes

Camping is easily one of the best ways to get outdoors, either alone or with friends, and fully immerse yourself in nature. If you’re craving fresh air, natural landscapes, and some time to disconnect, then taking a camping trip just might be your best solution. However, a camping trip can easily go from relaxing and enjoyable to a disaster without the proper preparation.

Surprisingly, it’s not as easy as setting up a tent and campfire and calling it a day!

During our first few camping trips together, we’ve encountered numerous camping mistakes causing much unnecessary stress. Some camping mistakes we couldn’t even avoid until after we found ourselves caught in the situation!

Our 76 day road trip across the US involved camping almost every single night. We can honestly say we now know better now and we didn’t necessarily learn the easy way.

18 CAMPING MISTAKES TO AVOID

Below are 18 camping mistakes to avoid during your next camping trip. Properly plan and prepare to get the most out of your camping trip!

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1. Arriving to Your Campsite Late at Night

If you’re planning to head out to your campsite just after work, you probably won’t be arriving till after dark. We completely understand wanting to start your camping trip from the moment your weekend starts. But honestly, the frustrations of setting up your campsite at night is not worth the stress.

Setting up a tent, arranging your gear, getting your bed ready, and maybe cooking dinner are all much more difficult to accomplish in the dark. It’s doable and we’re not saying it’s impossible, but if you can avoid it you should.

setting up camp at night - camping mistakes

Also, it’s not the best camping etiquette to start your camp setup late at night. Your neighbors won’t be too happy with you making a bunch of noise after quiet hours.

If you can, try to arrive early in the day so you have enough light to easily set up and to keep your neighbors on your good side.

2. Bringing Way Too Much Stuff

While it’s good to be prepared, it’s easy to complicate things more by over-packing. Of course we’re not saying to under pack, but bring the essentials and what you know you will use.

Things such as your tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and so on are all must have items. If it’s not necessary and you won’t use it more than once we recommend leaving it at home.

For a general packing list of what you should bring, check out our master packing list of things we bring with us on all our trips.

3. Leaving Food Outside 

This is probably one of the biggest (and most common) camping mistakes we see newbie campers do. When packing and cooking food, make sure you never leave your food out if you’re no longer using it.

Especially if you’re leaving your campsite for the day or going to bed.

leaving food out while camping

Camping outdoors involves sharing your space with wildlife. The last thing you want to do is attract a hungry bear to your campsite. Other animals such as raccoons or squirrels are less harmful but are just as pesky and will come in and swoop any food left out.

Not only do you lose out on food but human food is not healthy for animals. Once animals become dependent on human food, the species begins to suffer as they forego their natural diets and forget how to gather naturally.

Store Your Food Properly

You can properly store your food in a multitude of ways. Either in your vehicle, in a bear box (some campsites have these on site), or locked in a cooler that has animal proof locks.

We use a Pelican Cooler that is certified bear proof by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. It’s one of the only coolers that can handle a bear without padlocks. Dry foods we normally leave in our car or bear box if available.

bears camping wildlife

And yes, we’ve heard mama bear and her cubs in the middle of the night attempt to get inside our cooler. I can say it was pretty terrifying hearing our full cooler being knocked off our table and pawed at just outside our tent. Happy to say though the cooler won this round and the bears were unable to get inside.

IMPORTANT TIP: Do not ever store food in your tent! Not only is a tent not very secure, you do not want to draw bears to you at night while you are sleeping inside. Same goes for storing in your vehicle if you are sleeping in your car.

The main point – Do not store your food in the same area where you sleep. (Yes, we learned the scary way with this one)

4. Using a Campfire for Cooking

While it may look fun to cook all your meals over a cozy campfire, it’s really not the most practical.

Maybe you’re firewood got wet and it won’t light, or you’re running out of firewood and still have a few days of camping left. Sometimes wood burns off chemicals or plumes too much smoke.

campfire cooking

Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t only rely on your campfire to cook your food. Eating is vital and campfires are not always the most reliable.

Instead, bring a propane camping stove to guarantee hot meals every day. These are fairly compact and do not take up too much extra space.

A Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove is a popular option for those car camping.  Whichever stove you choose, make sure it has wind protection like the Colemans.

coleman stove for cooking while camping

5. Didn’t Test Equipment Before Leaving

Your gear will make or break your camping trip. One of the biggest camping mistakes most don’t think about is making sure you’ve tested your gear before your trip.

Set up your tent at home so you know exactly how to do it and if you’re missing any important parts. Make sure batteries are fresh for air pumps, lanterns, and flashlights.

You don’t want to find yourself out in the middle of the woods and discover you’re out of propane for the stove or you can’t set up your tent because you’re missing poles.

In most cases there won’t be any convenience stores around so it’s best to double, triple check before heading out.

6. Not Bringing Warm Enough Clothes

While one of the more obvious camping mistakes, it’s shocking how easily it is to under-prepare by not bringing enough warm clothing. Many people, including myself, underestimate just how cold it can get in the middle of the night.

Even if it was warm and sunny during the day, expect night time temperatures to generally be much colder.

warm clothing for camping

The key to staying warm is to not just bring warm clothes, but to bring multiple layers of warm clothing. Having comfortable layers allow you to add and subtract clothing until you’re comfortable.

For a more detailed breakdown on how to stay warm outdoors, check out our post on these 12 Articles of Cold Weather Clothing.

7. Didn’t Bring Enough Light

Not only does it get cold at night, it also gets very dark. Well duh. If you plan on staying up into the night, then it’s important to have multiple sources of light.

Working around your campsite at night without enough light is one of the most annoying things to deal with. 1 lantern is really not enough.

bringing alternate sources of lighting for camping

Make things easier by bringing several different types of light.

  • LED Lanterns – lightweight, efficient, long battery life, but not the brightest or coziest (white vs yellow light)
  • Gas Lanterns – heavy, long lasting, very bright, but can be messy requiring gasoline or kerosene
  • Propane Lanterns – very bright, propane canisters are easy to find and work with camp stoves (more convenient than gas lanterns)
  • Flashlights – easy to stow away in pockets, tent, car etc.
  • Head Lamps – hands down the most efficient for camping – lightweight, hands free, long lasting, and great when setting up, cooking, and making midnight runs to the restroom
  • Battery Operated String Lights – adds great ambient light to your campsite – hang them between trees, over your table, and across your tent

Bring any combination of the above and you’ll be a happy camper. If there’s one light source you shouldn’t forget, it’s a head lamp. They’re invaluable when night hits.

8. Forgetting A Shovel, Toilet Paper, or a First Aid Kit

All necessities for camping.

A shovel for preparing and putting out campfires and for digging your car out of dirt, sand, or snow.

snow while camping

Ever run out of toilet paper or have no toilet paper when nature’s calling? Yeah. It’s not a good feeling and it doesn’t feel any better when this happens while camping. Don’t count on all campgrounds to have plentiful toilet paper available. Be sure to bring a roll or two anytime you plan on camping somewhere.

A first aid kit is obvious, but often forgotten or purposefully over looked. It’s just camping. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, when you’re outdoors there many more opportunities for injury whether they be big or small.

More minor things involve scratches, cuts, scrapes, bug bites, rashes, and burns. More severe injuries involve twisting, straining, or spraining fingers, hands, wrists, knees, and ankles. Unfamiliar and uneven terrain can easily result in any of these injuries.

We’re not saying these things happen often, but it’s best to be prepared if and when they do.

9. Poorly Storing Food

Out of all the camping mistakes on this list, we cannot stress this point enough. Properly store your food.

When you camp, you’ll most likely be cooking all of your meals yourself. How you pack and store your food is extremely important, especially if you’re dealing with perishable food.

Raw meats, eggs, dairy, and previously cooked food should all be stored safely in a cold place.

coolers for camping and food storage

Prevent food poisoning by always keeping your perishables cold and under ice. A cooler is the obvious choice, but if you’re camping for multiple days with no accessible ice, you’ll need a strong cooler that will keep ice longer.

If you don’t have a cooler or need one that holds ice longer, check out any of these 4 Best Coolers for Ultimate Food & Drink Storage. In this article we also teach you several tips on how to keep your ice colder, longer.

10. Skipping the Weather Forecast

When you camp, you’re at the will of Mother Nature. Make sure you check the weather forecast before your trip to avoid any weather related surprises. Rain, high winds, snow, and extreme heat are all things you want to look out for when scoping out your destination.

Rain and snow are more manageable to camp in assuming you have the right gear.

check the weather before you camp

High winds and extreme heat are more of a cause for concern. Strong winds can completely destroy a tent from snapping poles to tearing fabric. We’ve experienced this first hand.

Extreme heat makes it difficult to stay hydrated and it’s just uncomfortable to be in.

11. Eating Junk Food

If you’re camping, you might be doing other outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, climbing, or mountain biking. (At least we hope so!)

In order to keep yourself energized, bring healthy foods with high protein and healthy fats. Leave the junk food at home. Unless it’s s’mores of course!

breakfast burritos camping healthy food

We prefer to bring meals that keep us satiated for longer periods of time. Hearty sandwiches with turkey, cheese, and avocado are a good lunch option. Snacks like nuts, protein bars, tuna, and kipper snacks are high in fat and calories giving you the boost you need when you need it.

Skip the chips and cookies unless you like feeling lazy and lethargic! Nothings worse than feeling yourself crash and getting hungry more times throughout the day while you’re trying to enjoy your outdoor activities.

12. Running Out of Fire Wood

For campfires, it’s best to follow the 3x rule when it comes to firewood. That is, bring 3x the amount of firewood you think you would use. It’s better to be prepared by having more than less firewood on hand.

You’d be surprised how quickly a whole bundle of wood can be burned! You don’t want to be left out in the cold should you run out.

campfire and firewood

While purchasing wood from the camp host or from the campground store (if they have one) helps fund campground maintenance, we still recommend buying wood from your local grocery store before you head to your campground.

Wood is not always available, can run out, or may be sold at a undesirable premium.

13. Didn’t Bring Enough Food

If you want to avoid running out of food or mismanaged meals, you should plan your meals ahead of time. Follow the 3 meals per day schedule and make a list of what it is you exactly want for each meal.

We generally use the following meal schedule below. We aim for easy to make meals that don’t require much prep or clean up.

  • Breakfast – pre-made breakfast burritos or sandwiches with turkey sausage, egg, cheese, and bread/tortilla
    • Make a batch of 3-4 breakfast burritos before you leave home, that way all you have to do is heat it up on a pan!
  • Lunch – Turkey Sandwiches with cheese with either fruit, nuts, or crackers as a side
  • Dinner – A variety of options such as pasta, burgers, turkey hot dogs, and sometimes steak when you’re feeling fancy!
    • All foods that use little ingredients and are easy to cook

cooking breakfast burritos camping stove

By having a solid meal plan, you’ll know exactly what foods you need to buy beforehand and won’t be left eating a snack bar for dinner.

For more convenient camping recipes, check out these 52 delicious camping food ideas from bloggers Fresh Off The Grid.

14. Should Have Brought a Warmer Sleeping Bag

As we mentioned earlier, depending on the location and time of year, nights can get uncomfortably cold. Much colder than most anticipate.

Know what season or seasons you plan to camp in and invest in a quality sleeping bag that is rated to keep you warm in a specific temperature range. If it’s summer you most likely won’t need a winter sleeping bag and vice versa.

Also, when shopping for a temperature rated bag, remember that the number quoted is for comfort, not survival. If a sleeping bag says it’s rated for 20°F that does not mean you’ll be feeling super warm in 20°F weather.

Know your body and if you generally sleep colder or warmer and go from there.

sleeping bag

15. No Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress

If you’re using a sleeping bag on the ground, you’ll need a sleeping pad or an air mattress. A sleeping pad or air mattress lifts your body off of the ground and introduces a layer of warm insulation between you and the cold, hard floor.

Sleeping pads and air mattresses both have their pros and cons. Decide which is best for you based on what you’re personal preferences are.

Sleeping Pad

Pros

  • Packs Rather Small
  • Much Warmer than the Ground

Cons

  • Not the Most Comfortable
  • No Room to “Roll Around”

We recommend the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad. This pad has an Aluminized surface that reflects heat, returning it back to your body. The egg-carton pattern increases softness and adds insulation by trapping warm air under your sleeping bag

Air Mattress

Pros

  • More Comfortable Sleep
  • Generally Warmer

Cons

  • Packs Rather Large
  • Requires Air Pump or Iron Lungs

16. Not Enough Drinking Water

Water is vital and you definitely need to bring enough water to stay hydrated for the duration of your trip.

Some campsites have potable (drinkable) water spouts where you can fill up on water. However, you shouldn’t bank on campgrounds always having potable water. Many don’t.

bring enough water nalgene container

To be safe, stock up on ample water beforehand. Depending on your level of activity you may want anywhere from 1 to 5 gallons of water per person per day.

To save time and money, we eventually invested in a 6 gallon water container for lengthier trips. Any time we camp we also bring several jugs and insulated water bottles full of water.

Pro-Tip: Account for the extra water you will need for doing dishes, washing your hands, or any other cleaning you might need to do. If you’re cooking every day, you’re going to have to clean your plates, pots, pans, and silverware frequently.

For optimal drinking such as cold water or hot coffee, don’t forget these top 3 insulated containers! We bring them for every camping trip and consistently use them in everyday life.

bring extra water hydroflask canteen

17. Failing to Tell Others Where You’re Going

With any outdoor activity, there’s a level of assumed risks. Normally cell service is spotty or non-existent, meaning you’re on your own while out in nature.

Before you leave, make sure you tell your family or friends where you will be camping and for how long. If they don’t hear from you after your planned trip, they’ll have an idea of where to look.

We hear too many stories of hikers getting lost in the woods while camping or backpacking. Many cases involving people whom never told anyone where they were going or what they were doing. Always let others know where you’ll be camping and what activities you’ll be doing.

18. Not Following The Leave No Trace Rule

Last but not least, please, please, please adhere to the “Leave No Trace” or “Pack In, Pack Out” rule. Camping is a privilege and we need to respect the grounds we are using. Be responsible for any trash you produce and dispose of it properly.

Some campgrounds have large trash bins which is great. If not, pack out all the trash you brought in with you and throw it away when you get home. Do not leave any behind.

camping-mistakes-13

Nothing bothers us more than seeing a campsite littered with trash everywhere. We always take an extra 5 minutes to collect trash that was left before we got there. Do your part and leave it better than it was.

Enjoy Your Best Camping Trip by Avoiding These 18 Beginner Camping Mistakes

Camping trips are one of the best ways to get outside and unwind from the daily stressors of life. Although if you haven’t been camping before, there are tons of things you are probably unaware of. Which is completely normal since it’s a new and unique experience.

From food, to warmth, to comfort, and safety, it’s easy to overlook a lot of these factors and make the above camping mistakes. The good news is that these are all easily avoidable with the right preparation.

Avoid uncomfortable and unsafe situations by following these tips to ensure you’re next camping trip is a smooth one. Trust us, we’ve learned the hard way with a few of these. We don’t want the same for you!

For more an even better camping trip, don’t miss these 5 Do’s and Don’ts to a Successful Camping Trip!

What camping mistakes have you ran into? Did we miss any from this list? Share with us in the comments below!

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About the Author

Shelby Kirk is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. With a strong love for nature and adventure travel, she hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore our natural playground that we call home.

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