Spring Forward by Looking Back: 11 Lessons Learned from my Camping Mistakes
Spring is here and I’m itching to get outdoors. As I’m prepping my gear, I thought I’d share some common mistakes from my past in hopes of helping you get outdoors to explore with confidence.
(Some links are to affiliates. Most links are to products I invented to solve a problem or common mistake. All links are to products we love, and all opinions are genuine. Hope you find them helpful.)
1. Test Gear Before Going
Camping at Clohesy Lake, Colorado
You’re setting up the tent and that’s when you see it – that hole you forgot about from last season just staring at you. 🤦♂️ Grrr. Test the gear before you go so you don’t have to MacGyver your gear. Duct tape really comes in handy. But really it’s better to test gear before going. I typically find a couple of bent tent stakes …or one is missing. Sure a stick will work, but it’s just best practice to come prepared.
Open up each bag to make sure the tent poles and stakes are all accounted for & the tent is in good repair. Check out the stove and each component. Go through the fishing gear, swimming gear, etc, and make sure that everything is in working order. Making repairs and finding replacements is so much easier to do at home than in the great outdoors.
Last time I went out I discovered my tent lost its spring in the shock cord (that assists you in holding the poles together). I love my REI half dome because it sets up in 3 minutes. But when the bungee cord loses its spring, it takes like 27 minutes and it’s not a fun setup. I called REI and they told me how to repair it. I picked up some shock cord from Amazon. It worked perfectly.
REI vid for repair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNx0vHCrNXU It took me about 15 min to replace/repair my tent.
$10 Amazon cord; 15-20 min of repair time. Save $200-250 for a new tent. You’re welcome. Being able to repair your own tent, priceless. I love YouTube for this very reason.
2. Know Where You’re Going
I’m all about being spontaneous but when it comes to camp safety and comfort, some planning is key. Planning amazing campfire experiences to learn that all fire is banned in that area, or worse, finding that all campsites are full can really put an end to what could have been a great time outdoors.
I highly recommend using The Dyrt to find camping for tents, trailers, RVs, cabins, free sites, and discounts. The reviews and photos on their site are from fellow campers and are so helpful! The Dyrt is a great resource to plan your next camping experience. We like this app so much that we've partnered up with them to offer you a free trial. Try The Dyrt Pro free for 90 days using promo code: ELE3M at thedyrt.com.
AllTrails is also another great app to hope you navigate your adventure. True story: I was hiking around Snowmass, CO area with some youth, and what we thought was the formal trail turned out to be a game trail that put us on the wrong side of the lake and 100% lost. I pulled out my phone and even in airplane mode, it will GPS locate you. Just be sure and download the trail/map before you start your hike. I think the pro version of AllTrails is around $30 a year. Both the Dyrt and AllTrails are worth it.
And PS…Be sure to tell someone your plans so they can find you in an emergency.
3. Dress for Success: Layer up so you can cool down
Photo courtesy of TikTok
I know it feels warm at the house and it’s so easy to assume it’ll be the same temp or warmer where you’re going. Maybe it is, but probably it isn’t. Dress in layers. It’s so easy to shed a layer if you’re too warm. Think t-shirt, then flannel, or fleece, and windbreaker. Don’t forget extra socks in your pack in case your feet get wet. Better to be over-prepared than to be miserable outdoors. I also love learning from outnbacktrails on TikTok.
4. Comfortable Cold Nights
Photo courtesy of Klymit
Me making a snow angel in comfort – using NearZero’s pillow
Sleep is critical for any adventure. For protection from the cold, always sleep with a layer between your sleeping bag and the ground or tent floor. The extra layer provides needed insulation and keeps you comfortable all night. I used to think the key was a great sleeping bag. But the loft and R-value (ability to keep you warm) from the insulation in the sleeping bag is essentially lost when you lay on it because your body weight compresses it flat. Even a cheap foam mattress will do the trick in spring and summertime. During the winter, a cheap foam mattress is not the trick. Ask me how I know. Personally, I like Klymit Sleeping Pads. They’re super lightweight and really comfortable!
I recently adopted a pillow for camping. I have no idea what took me so long to start using a pillow. It changes everything. I like the Near Zero inflatable pillow so much we started selling it on our site. It’s simple and it does the job perfectly.
5. Hospitable Hot Days
Spring is notorious for cool nights and warm days. The day’s sun warms an area nicely–maybe too nicely–when in direct sun for an extended time. Set up your sleeping quarters in the shade. And bring at least two tarps; one for over your tent to provide shade during the day & protect from unexpected spring showers, and then string the second tarp over a table or gathering area.
I was camping with my folks one sping. We went out for a hike in the morning. While we were gone, it rained at our campsite. When we got back, my parents’ tent was soaked…every internal square inch of it, including their sleeping bags and backpacks. It’s always a good idea to put on the rain fly (no matter what you think the weather is like) and double-check your tent for holes. We ended up taking some paracord and making a clothes dryer line.
Our custom paracord is perfect for hanging those tarps & making a make-shift dryer line. Grab 100’ of custom, made in the USA, paracord from Outdoor Element. We designed this paracord to support up to 550 lbs, and it also contains 2 strands of 20 lb braided fishing line, jute to work as fire tinder, and 7 strands of multi-purpose nylon. Strong and multi-functional, this is the ultimate in survival paracord. (It’s the same paracord used in our Kodiak Survival Bracelet.)
6. Keep Organized
The joy of camping can quickly diminish when you spend all your time looking for your gear. That’s why I created Charlotte’s Webbing. String Charlotte’s Webbing between two trees, two vehicles, within your tent, or van, or even in your garage. The webbing is made of recycled plastic bottles (cuz I love the environment as much as you do) and it comes with laser cut holes spaced about every 6 inches (20 eyelet holes total), perfect to hang gear using carabiners or clips. This would have been perfect for my parents' wet camping experience. Keep gear off the ground and easily accessible. An organized camp is a safe camp.
7. Stock the Kitchen
Cooking outdoors should be a pleasant experience. Having the right gear makes all the difference. To get ready I literally do a walk-through of cooking a meal in my kitchen at home.
Consider all the utensils, kitchen tools, and cleaning supplies you use in your home kitchen, then grab what you’ll need for your camp kitchen. You might even consider having a mockup meal in the backyard to ensure you are not missing anything. There have been a couple of times where I forgot a trash bag, napkins, and forks.
Don’t forget you’ve gotta clean those dishes after cooking. You’ll need dish soap, hand towels, and scouring pads. I created the Camp Kitchen Cleaning Set with a cleaning towel (made of recycled plastics–cuz you know I love the environment) and two silicone scouring pads. The pads scour without scratching and they resist mildew. Both the towel and silicone pads dry quickly and are the perfect size for camping. Traditional sponges tend to mildew quickly, especially when you put them in a zip-lock bag before they are 100% dry. Then when you pull them out next time, they stink to high heaven. Because silicone resists mildew, they resist the funk. Let’s not get funky when we don’t need to.
For car camping and ease of packing, my bride keeps a tote in the garage dedicated to our camp kitchen. It contains tin foil, plastic bags, cooking utensils, seasonings, hot mitts, dish soap and the Camp Kitchen Cleaning set, and more. Makes for easy grab-n-go when it’s time to pack up.
8. Keep it Clean
I love this carpet from Surf Grass Mats. I didn’t know I was missing out until I started using it.
Any vanlife person constantly sweeping out the dirt, will greatly appreciate this simple and fantastic carpet. The Surf Grass Mat keeps so much of the dirt from ever entering my van.
It looks like regular artificial turf, but the Surf Grass Mat is a little special. It is soft enough to stand on barefoot, while still strong enough to knock off sand and dirt from your shoes or barefeet. What I really like is that the backing has holes in it that allow for excellent drainage.
It drains so well, I used it in my make-shift camp shower. Talk about elevating your camping experience! It was awesome to have clean feet to dry off and slip into clean socks and shoes.
I also highly recommend adding some type of carpet to the floor of your van (a small remnant does the trick). Not only does it look nice, but it also helps control dust and sand from going everywhere in the van. Plus, it is so nice to jump out of the hammock and put your feet on something soft first thing in the morning. Sure beats a gritty, cold van floor any day. I think our dog, Wednesday, would agree.
9. Always Bring Tinder & Fire Starters
Fire is essential for survival. Never worry about high humidity levels or rely solely on matches. When it comes to sources for making fire, two is one and one is none. I invented the Firebiner®️, Wombat Whistle/Vial Accessory Kit (outdoorelement.com), and other Outdoor Element products with this in mind.
The EverSpark sparking wheel on the Firebiner®️ and the tinder held in the Wombat Whistle Vial companion perfectly together to provide a fire source in any weather condition. I also invented and patented the fire starting buckle on the Kodiak and Woolly Mammoth Survival Bracelets to contain a flint rod and striker plate to give off a strong spark anywhere, in any condition. The bracelets also contain jute to use in an emergency as tinder.
10. Never Suffer from Lack of Lighting
Photo courtesy of REVEL GEAR
When night comes, it gets dark, fast. It always seems to creep up and before I know it, I’m scrounging around digging out lanterns and flashlights–in the dark. Luckily, my friends at Revel Gear Camp Lighting Evolved | REVEL GEAR® have the solution and make it so easy for me to see around my campsite.
I love TRAIL HOUND™ 30 FT. CAMPING LIGHT | REVEL GEAR® used with any USB power bank. String it wherever you want lighting. I string it up when I set up my shade cover and then I don’t even have to think about lighting. It comes on when I need it and lights up the space beautifully.
11. Get in Shape
Photo by Josh Watt, Sunrise from Mount Bierstadt, Colorado
Prep for your trip by taking small excursions outdoors beforehand, building up stamina for your upcoming adventure. Begin now. March 30, 2022, is Take a Walk in the Park Day. Get out, get some sun, and exercise. Your body will thank you later.
I recently attempted summiting another 14’er, Mt. Bierstadt. I work out religiously but I was underprepared physically for this adventure. I was with a couple of buddies and we started the hike at 1:30 am in an attempt to catch a sunrise summit. The high elevation snow was deep. For one section I was post-holing each step. My mind was willing but my body gave out. I was literally sinking thigh-deep with each step. Sadly, I didn’t make summit on that trip. I couldn’t overpower the terrain that day. Oh, but next time, you can bet I’ll be ready!
Little things make all the difference in having a successful camping experience. Justin Su’a recently said:
Pay your dues. You don’t get to achieve mastery without embracing the boredom of consistency. You don’t get to have success without experiencing failure. You don’t get to always feel good. You signed up for the hard road the moment you committed to going after your dreams.
Keep playing outside, chasing your dreams. Keep a positive attitude and embrace some failures on your journey to success. I hope my little list of common mistakes to avoid helps you prepare for success as you get outdoors and explore with confidence!
Got some tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. Comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.