Planning on a camping trip this year? I know many people are – some of you will be seasoned campers who will be going out there knowing exactly what you are doing, but others will be heading out for the first time as a way to get a UK based holiday at a reasonable price as we (hopefully) exit from this time of pandemic-related restrictions.
I absolutely loved camping as a kid. It gave me such a special feeling of freedom. And while it is an easy way to take a holiday of any length, it doesn’t come stress-free. In this post I want to share ten camping mistakes to avoid, to hopefully help you be prepared for your camping trips this year.
This is written with tent camping by car or motorcycle in mind, but these tips and tricks could easily be relevant to those in caravans and motorhomes, or even those who are planning to go bike-packing or backpacking.
When you’ve read my list, I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks, and any stories you have of your own camping mistakes – let me know in the comments below.
Ten Camping Mistakes to Avoid
01. Not Making a Packing List
Camping, whether you are glamping it up or carrying everything on your back, involves a lot of stuff. I mean, you are arriving at a patch of grass expecting to turn it into some kind of home, you need a whole bunch of bits and bobs to make that happen. Not just your tent, sleeping bags and a stove, you’ll also need to remember the pegs, your pyjamas, and at least one spoon.
There is honestly no way you will remember everything you need without a list. Not making a packing list is a sure way to make sure that a vital ingredient for your campfire dinner, or the clean knickers you want to put on the following morning, get left behind. From someone who’s tried multiple times to remember everything without a written list, believe me, you should have one.
I have a master list saved in OneNote on my computer, which I copy and adapt for each trip depending on how I’m travelling, how long I’m going for, and who I’m going with. If you want to see my master list, I can share that in a future post – let me know.
02. Relying on the Internet for Directions
The best thing about camping, in my opinion, is that you get to spend time in beautiful rural areas of the country, away from large towns, and nestled in the scenery. This means that more often than not, you will not have decent mobile phone signal – and that’s not only at the campsite, but also on the roads in and around the area. Therefore, you shouldn’t rely on a connection to the internet from your phone for directions to and around your destination.
Add to that the fact that many campsites are down tiny lanes or even farm tracks, and you may well find they are not even mentioned on your car’s built-in sat nav, leaving you a little lost trying to find exactly the right field or entrance to woodland.
Campsite owners are fabulous humans, though, and will always give you directions to follow, at least for the last couple of miles. Get those committed to memory (or printed out, or saved in notes on your phone…), and have a map in your car just in case.
If you’re looking for a small but useful and user friendly map of the UK to use for road trip planning and navigation, I highly recommend Ordnance Survey Road Maps. I’ve sung the praises of these lesser known green maps many times (and have offered some tips for using them successfully in this post), and it seems only right that I should mention them again here.
If you do choose to use on Google Maps, even if it’s your means to get into the general area before you switch to other directions, don’t forget to download the map to your phone so you’re not relying on or using up all your mobile data to view the maps. To download Google maps to your phone, open the Maps app on your phone (with GPS on), make sure you’re signed in, tap your face to the right of the search bar, select “offline maps” and then “select your own map”. You can then tap the download button for the area you want to download, and it’ll save directly on your phone. Make sure you leave Maps open until the download is complete.
03. Arriving Late
While night hiking and pitching camp in the dark may be a consequence of long-distance hiking from time to time, arriving at your campsite late only leads to stress in my opinion. I prefer my evenings at camp to be all about relaxing, with a warm campfire if at all possible, and not putting up a tent by feel and cooking dinner by the light of my headlamp.
I highly recommend checking and taking into the account the time the sun sets and aiming to be at camp at least an hour before that; this will give you plenty of time to make camp, get the dinner going, and have a seat. You might still be eating in the dark, but at least you’ll not be bashing in pegs or chopping veg. And of course, if you’ve chosen your site accordingly, you can be sat in your comfy camp chair with a cup or glass of something, watching a beautiful sunset over the horizon.
04. Planning for the Best Weather
While we all have romantic ideas that camping will be lovely in the warm summer sun, not too hot, not too cold, minimal wind, and no rain, we should all be honest that it never works out that way. Planning for only the best weather will leave you under prepared and unable to make the most of your camping trip.
While you won’t want to overpack, making sure you have gear for wet weather and cold weather is a must. Take gloves and a hat, a coat, waterproof shoes and over trousers. You should also ensure all the guy lines are attached to your tent and ready to go in case it turns windy. Also make sure you’re covered if you end up in a really midgey area, as that can be utterly miserable if you’ve not got smidge and long sleeves.
It’s also wise to be prepared with wet weather activity ideas for both daytime and evenings, just in case rain or wind would make your hikes and beach days miserable. A list of museums, shopping centres, bowling alleys, a book to read, board game to play, some art supplies, maybe even a film or two downloaded to your laptop or tablet. We have found ourselves at afternoon showings of movies on more than one wet camping trip, which is always an excellent option.
Don’t let me put you off; camping is fun in all weathers… okay, most weathers… but it will be absolutely no fun at all if you’ve only packed shorts and a light white jacket. And if you’re looking for tips on keeping warm when camping, take a look at this post about layering your sleep system.
05. Not Checking your Kit Since Last Year
This is your friendly reminder that if you haven’t had your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, lantern or gas canister out of the cupboard since you last camped in the early Autumn last year, you should do that this weekend. Especially if you are hoping to hit the campsites as soon as they are allowed to reopen in the next few weeks.
Heading off on a camping trip with gear you’ve not checked since last year could mean the end to your trip before you even start. At one level you’re making sure that your tent hasn’t gone mouldy after being put away a little damp and your lantern batteries haven’t leaked acid everywhere. But on another level you’re making sure that you still have all your pegs and all the parts of your cooking stove, along with enough gas to make a cup of tea at breakfast time.
It doesn’t take long to go through gear ahead of time, and it could save your trip.
06. Not Taking Cash
Being able to pay for everything either online or by card has certainly been sped up thanks to the pandemic, but card payments are still nowhere near universal. Many of my favourite campsites, often run as side businesses by farmers with a bit of spare space and a desire to help us have a nice break in the countryside, still only take cash.
And even if you pay for your campsite online in advance, you will be disappointed if you can’t make use of the honesty box full of eggs, bread and homemade flapjacks because you only have Apple Pay. Or don’t have coins to hand to pay for parking at your must-see beach. Or buy an ice cream from the van perfectly situated halfway through your day hike.
Always take cash; if you bring it all home again it’s a bonus.
07. Not Packing Enough Light
This isn’t about packing light, but packing light… campsites get really dark, and you’re going to struggle if the only torch is the one you have on your mobile phone.
And if I may suggest that a bog-standard handheld torch is just not going to cut it, however bright and rugged it might be. Having a lantern that will sit on the floor or a table will make doing anything in the evening much easier; good for cooking by, sorting out your bed, and playing board games.
There are so many camp lighting options around now you will certainly be able to find the right solution for you and your style.
I have a couple battery operated lanterns that do the job very well for me. My little one fits in my motorcycle panniers that is also good when I’m camping alone in my little tent (read my review of the Vango Banshee), and the larger one takes massive batteries that is good for when we take the big tent and might want to sit inside in the evenings. The latter also has an orange bulb which doesn’t attract the bugs in the same way a warm white light will do. These are the ones I have but there are loads on the market to choose from.
I also highly recommend taking a headtorch. I know they’re a bit funny looking, but honestly, this is one of the most useful bit of camping gear around in my opinion, a must. Good for any use for which having both hands free is beneficial, such as sorting out guy lines or lighting your camp stove, and especially finding and using the loo in the middle of the night… Honestly, if you don’t have one, add it to your gear box.
08. Forgetting a Large Water Bottle
One of my most common mistakes when packing for camping trips is forgetting a large water bottle to keep at the tent. I always have a water bottle, but unless I’m planning a significant day hike, it’ll just be the 500ml bottle I always have when I leave the house. And while that’s perfect for car journeys or short walks, it really doesn’t cut it for camping.
I mean, if you take just a small 500ml water bottle you’re going to be visiting the tap a whole bunch of times to make dinner and breakfast… and if you’re luck is anything like mine, said tap will be as far away from your tent as possible, and the route there will be muddy.
Do yourself a favour and take something of a decent size – or more than one – so you have plenty of water at your tent.
Or, the other thing I’ve done when I am camping and hiking, is only having my water bladder. Bladders are fantastic for hiking because they make keeping hydrated on the move very easy. But they are rubbish for using at camp – I have honestly never been able to fill my Jetboil cup from it without spilling water everywhere. So if I’m camping I now always have a water bottle in addition to my bladder, just for ease.
09. Forgetting a Bin Liner
Where are you going to put your tea bags, your porridge pot, your sweet wrappers? In a pile in the corner of your tent? I didn’t think so. For some reason bin liners, or carrier bags, or zip lock bags, or a reusable bag you can wash out, whatever you prefer to use for your rubbish, are so easy to forget.
I have so many stories of why it’s important to have bags for your rubbish – and to put that rubbish a proper bin at least once a day. Camping in the UK I’ve had foxes, rabbits, hedgehogs, and even a New Forest Pony in my tent over the years. (If you’re interested, the rabbits made the most noise, foxes make the most mess, the pony was the funniest, and hedgehogs run much faster than I realised.) Getting rid of your rubbish before you turn in for the night or before you leave your tent unattended for the day, especially food waste, is an absolute must.
While we don’t need to go quite as far as those who are camping in bear country (using a bear cannister or locker is still a novelty to me after just a small handful of times), we should always do ourselves a favour and get rid of food smells if possible.
There are lots of reasons why bin liners and carrier bags are useful to have when camping; not only do they mean you have somewhere to put your rubbish, ensuring that you leave no trace when you pack away, but they are also very handy indeed if you have a wet night and need to pack away very wet gear. Add them to your packing list.
10. Not Taking A Second Pair of Shoes
I used to pack shoes for every occasion when I went on holiday, and while I’ve definitely grown out of that these days, I am still a huge advocate of taking more than one pair of shoes when camping, even if just for one or two nights.
Not taking a second pair of shoes camping means you’ve not got a second option if you get wet through, if you find yourself on the muddiest campsite in the world, or if you just decide that you’re fed up of wearing your hiking boots all the time.
A bit like the reasons behind making sure you don’t only pack for the best weather, having a second pair of shoes, even if it’s a pair slung into the boot of the car just in case, means that you are set up whatever the weather and conditions throw at you.
Honestly, even if you only have the tiniest amount of space for your gear, take a second pair of shoes; you’ll be hugely grateful for that cheap pair of flip flops when you want to make use of the campsite shower.
If you want some ideas for great “second pair” options, this post about my favourite camp shoes might be useful.