A man once described camping as “nature’s way of promoting the motel industry”. Perhaps he had a bad experience. Perhaps he made mistakes. I know the feeling… So if you want to be a happy camper, here are 13 camping mistakes to avoid.
I have done my fair share of camping. From family activity holidays on campsites surrounded by children, to impulsive adventures in the wilderness surrounded by animals (although the latter two parts are not that dissimilar).
In my time I’ve made just about every mistake in the book. And I’ve come to realise that a little planning beforehand can be the difference between a happy camper and a disaster.
13 camping mistakes to avoid
Drawing on these experiences, here are 13 camping mistakes to avoid if you want to be a happy camper!
Never leave without checking your gear
Whether you have brand new equipment or previously used things from your last camping trip, it’s always important to check it is all in working order before setting off. Although new equipment is unlikely to be broken, it could well be different from what you had expected, or inappropriate for the situation.
And, just because the batteries in your torch worked last year, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll still be working this time round. If you don’t have time to check absolutely everything, then just make sure that the essentials are okay. Be sure that your tent poles aren’t broken and that your sleeping bag is in good order.
Don’t pack last minute
There is nothing worse than realising you have forgotten something. It’s often hard to find a convenience store if you’re on foot in rural England, let alone locate a camping shop in the wilds of Patagonia. To avoid such problems, simply take a little longer when packing.
Try to imagine what lies in store, and what clothing and equipment will be necessary for your trip. Write a checklist if it helps! Remember, not every camping trip requires the same gear, or the same amount of preparation, so always taking everything doesn’t work either.
Never arrive in the dark (if you can help it)
Arriving in the dark can be a nuisance. If visiting a busy campsite, negotiating a path through a minefield of tents and guy ropes can be particularly tricky.
And the last thing you want to do is set up a tent at night – it can be tricky enough in broad daylight particularly with a new or infrequently erected tent! If possible, try to plan your journey so that you arrive with enough daylight to get fully set up, and learn a bit about your whereabouts.
Never hurry setting up the tent
Remember; your tent will be your home for the forthcoming days. The last thing you want to do is set it up incorrectly. Take a moment to fully understand the instructions, and plan how you will go about setting it up.
Failure to set it up correctly and you could be punished by internal dampness, poor insulation, and general discomfort. One of the most important camping mistakes to avoid is to properly use the guy ropes, they help keep the tent rigid in wind and will help keep you dry if it rains.
Avoid water and trees (if possible)
The extra protection trees offer is tempting, but don’t pitch under them. Rotten branches and falling trees can be a hazard as are lightening strikes under isolated/tallest trees. More of an inconvenience than a hazard, but under trees the dripping carries on well after the rain has stopped, the wind is much louder and bird poo more frequent.
One of the most important camping mistakes to avoid is getting flooded. So if you are camping near water don’t set up right on the edge in case it rises. Likewise don’t camp in the bottom of valleys or gullies where flash floods could be a problem. In a field try to avoid the lowest point as this will also be the wettest.
Never leave a tent empty
A completely empty tent can be like a sail if the wind picks up. Put a couple of heavy items in the corners. This will help ensure it doesn’t blow away if the wind goes wild, while you are off fishing (seriously this happened to me). This is one of the easiest camping mistakes to avoid.
Don’t forget your torch
Although the stars may be beautiful, getting back to your tent after a night time stroll can be hazardous. Be sure to pack a torch to help guide you back to your tent after a midnight stroll…or a toilet visit.
Although a mobile phone can do the trick, this will use valuable power which you could come to regret if you need your phone in an emergency situation. It’s advised to take spare batteries, as an alternative wind up torches are very handy.
Always bring duct tape
It doesn’t matter what the problem is duct tape can normally fix it. From broken poles to a ripped ground sheet, and deflating airbed to holes in boots it’s versatile and will help you correct any camping mistakes you make.
Never be inconsiderate (to neighbours or nature)
In peak seasons campsites can become congested (get over it). It’s not uncommon to find yourself living on the doorstep of another camper, and vice-versa. Campsites often have a great sense of community, and the last thing you want to do is annoy your fellow happy campers.
So keep your neighbours’ feelings in mind. A few moments of friendly chit-chat will usually keep them sweet. And be sure to keep the area around your tent tidy – nobody likes a litterbug. Remember, everyone is there to have a good time, and nobody wants their camping adventure to be ruined by feelings of negativity.
Also consider mother nature. In most places there are critters that will get at food or rubbish which is left out, in some places this could attract wildlife you really don’t want to meet. Which is why in bear country food needs to be stored off the ground and away from your campsite.
Never use gas, charcoal, or liquid fuel in your tent
These produce Carbon Monoxide, which, with inefficient ventilation, can prove deadly. These include some fridges, lamps, stoves, generators, heaters and barbecues. I’ve not done this myself, but every year I hear of someone who has made this grievous mistake – and paid dearly for it.
Always wash up after eating
It’s been a long day in the great outdoors. You have just finished eating your dinner, and the temptation to sit back and relax is overwhelming. DON’T DO IT not just yet anyway.
Although camping is all about being at one with nature, a little distance is always healthy. Dirty pots and pans will draw all manner of unwanted wildlife, which could be annoying or dangerous. But also dirty dished become harder to clean (both literally and motivationally) the longer you leave them.
Don’t pack a wet tent
At the end of a camping trip you may feel exhausted and desperate to get back to the comforts of your home. But trust me, it would be a bad idea to pack away your tent if it is damp. Otherwise the next time you want a camping adventure, you may find that your tent is smelly and inhospitable to anything other than mould!
If you’re packing up in the morning, it’s likely your tent will be wet, even if it hasn’t been raining. That’s because the sun will not have had time to evaporate the morning dew.
If you can, allow time for your tent to dry as much as possible. If you are really desperate to get going, try shaking the tent to get rid of any water. Be sure to unpack the tent when you get home and allow it to dry out fully, one of the biggest camping mistakes I ever made was ruining a brand new tent by leaving it packed wet.
Never be over-optimistic
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Things go wrong – It is a part of life. We can do everything we can to prevent bad things happening, but some things are just out of our control. The best thing to do is take a moment to consider what problems could occur, and take precautions when packing.
With appropriate equipment on hand, you can prevent unexpected accidents from ruining your holiday. Always consider bringing a first aid kit, a tent repair kit and a good supply of back-up food – especially if you’re heading out into the wilderness.
Not going camping = no happy campers
While all these tips on camping mistakes to avoid are important, by far the biggest error is not going camping. The only way you can guarantee there will be no happy campers is by not camping at all. So although you should take notice of all these tips, don’t let worrying about them put you off.
Part of the fun of camping is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. You will make mistakes, but as long as you’re first camping trip isn’t to the Arctic, a bear infested forest or on top of a mountain, you’re errors will only lead to discomfort – you’ll learn from them for your next trip.
Hopefully these 13 camping mistakes to avoid will lead to plenty of happy campers. Be sure to check out our other camping articles for more useful information.