As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

10 Essential Camping Skills

By Thomas Ray

10 Essential Camping Skills

Do you know these 10 essential camping skills? Learn them and they are bound to improve all your outdoor experiences!

1. Plan a trip

Everyone has heard stories of “bad” camping trips. A lack of planning is the cause of many such episodes. Carefully evaluate where you are going, what you will do when you get there, the climate, and how long you will be on the trail. Don’t forget to make reservations if necessary, check the weather and make sure you have enough food and clothing. Also plan for water, or the lack of it. Make a gear list for each kind of trip you take. After trips, update your lists, improve them and save each for future reference. Finally, always plan for the unexpected. Check out this website for further information regarding planning, gear selection and shopping, reducing weight, and more. 

2. Pack a backpack

It is easy to pack a vehicle for a camping trip, but how do you pack for a backpacking trip? First, consider weight. A good rule of thumb is 25 pounds or less including food for a weekend trip. If you are careful, this can be pared down even further. When you pack your gear, try to arrange the heaviest items closest to your back and toward the top of the pack. The lighter the items, the lower in the pack and the further away from your center of gravity they can be. Additional tips on how to pack can be found on REI’s website.

3. First Aid

Always carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. If you plan your trip wisely, the chances of experiencing an outdoor emergency are greatly reduced. However, it’s always better to have the gear and training just in case.  For more information, and to check the location of a first aid class nearest you, visit the Red Cross website

4. Layer your clothing

The number one way to stay comfortable in the outdoors is to learn how to layer. Remember, keep your layers breathable. This will keep moisture away from your body and will prevent you becoming chilled when it’s cold out. If it’s warm, you can always remove layers until you are comfortable. Begin with a base layer (underwear) and regular clothing. Finish with a warmth layer and a wind or waterproof shell if necessary. Learn more about how to lay at this website.

5. Pick the right spot

Once you arrive at your campsite, it is important to pick the right spot in which to pitch your tent. Remember, if you are not in an established site and are choosing a spot from scratch, you will have many things to consider, such as proximity to water, issues with flooding and falling limbs or rocks and protection from wind and the sun. Read more about it in Step Outside’s article, “Setting up your campsite: Understanding the basics.”

6. Make water potable

Water is life—truer words were never spoken. Protect your safety and enjoyment by making sure you can effectively purify and disinfect the water that you will drink and wash with. This usually involves a filter and chemical treatments. Read and follow all instructions and practice with these items at home.  Check out comprehensive information regarding filters, purification and disinfection of water on REI’s website.

7. Build a fire

Practice building a fire under a variety of conditions (in the rain, wind or after a heavy snow). The ability to build a fire is a critical, even lifesaving, outdoor skill.  If you get stranded after dark, capsize your canoe or lose your pack, it could make all the difference. The mistake most people make when building a fire is not having enough small kindling and/or using wood that is too big too fast. First gather two handfuls of dry twigs the size of toothpicks or smaller. Next, gather two handfuls of twigs between toothpick and pencil size in diameter. If the ground is wet, build a little platform of dry twigs. Put the toothpick-sized wood down and then place the pencil sized pieces on top. Light it from the bottom and gradually add wood, slowly increasing the diameter as you go. Check out Eureka’s website to learn how to start a campfire in the rain. 

8. Read the weather

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight—red sky in morning, sailors take warning,” is an old weather adage that can mean precipitation within 24 hours of a red sky at sunrise. For an explanation of why, check out this website. There are other ways to read weather signs, such as cloud formations, a halo around the moon, animal sounds, changes in wind direction or sudden temperature changes. Much can be learned through observation and experience, but a quicker way is to read a book such as “Weather Wise: Reading Weather Signs” by Alan Watts.

9. Tie a knot

Tying knots may seem like a lost art, but it can be a valuable skill on a camping trip. If you are rigging a tarp, the taut line hitch is a very good knot to know. It will allow you to tighten or loosen a line without untying it. There are many other knots, but you will only remember the ones you really use. There are lots of online resources that teach knot tying. Visit this website and learn how to tie the hitch described above. 

10. Use a knife

Some campers don’t bother to carry a knife, but having one is handy for many tasks, from opening food packages to cutting rope and spreading peanut butter. The best knives for camping have a blade about as long as your palm is wide. Choose one you like and learn to sharpen and take care of it. Check out this article to learn more about backpacking knives. 

Once learned, these 10 skills will give you a sense of accomplishment, help keep you safe, and make your time outside more enjoyable!

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.