Pinterest is full of great camping hacks, but how many of them are realistic? I mean, REALLY realistic? I’ve got two kids, two good-sized dogs, a husband, and a Hyundai SUV. I don’t have room for a bunch of plastic totes if I’m actually going to take a cooler full of food AND the dogs! Packing a bunch of interlocking foam floor tiles to soften the tent floor? Come on. For that amount of space, I’d rather have a sleeping bag.
I didn’t grow up camping, so I’ve only been camping since my husband took me for the first time. I learn something new each trip. I’ll be honest, I’m still striving for a trip where we don’t forget anything and can avoid a stop at the store after we get there. But I have picked up some tricks along the way.
I’ve come up with a top 10 list of REALISTIC camping hacks for the rest of us-
- Take some battery operated string lights or some glow sticks for night lights.
I’ve got younger kids who don’t like to sleep in the pitch black great outdoors. Every search online showed LED lights that were super bright, and the one that we did try out burned through my batteries overnight! I don’t need something to read by, I only need to keep the kids calm so they’ll go to sleep. Grab a glow stick for each night you’re there, and attach it to the inside of the tent roof. In our tent, there’s a little shelf right on the inside of the peak, so it’s perfect! It’s enough ambient light that the kids are happy and we’re not awake all night. They also sell little battery-operated string lights that you could use the same way.
- Invest in collapsible kitchenware.
These days, they’ve got affordable and long-lasting collapsible dish pans, mixing and serving bowls, and even cups. I take a regular cup for each person, and I just stack them all together in my small tote. Last summer I got a collapsible dish pan and I love it! I use two dish pans for cleaning up – one for a small amount of soapy water, and another for rinsing. I used to reuse a regular mixing bowl for washing dishes, but I find it easier with two pans. When they’re collapsible, they don’t take up much room at all. Sweet!
- Camping Space Bags
These things are great. You can squish towels, an extra blanket or two, pillows, and other soft items to save space. No need for a vacuum, as you just roll them up to force the air out and flatten them. I’ve also used them for wet swimming suits from the kids’ last dip in the lake as we’re breaking down camp.
- Prep meals ahead of time (as much as you can).
Brown and season your taco meat. Clean and cut veggies and fruit. Mix up your dry pancake ingredients. You get the picture. The less you have to prep at camp, the less you have to bring along. It also simplifies mealtimes so you can spend more time having fun and less time getting food ready. You can also prep your (ahem) drinks ahead of time. Mix your limeade and tequila in a Rubbermaid bottle, or use a skinny plastic jug with a spout on it. I’ve found them at our local big box store, and they look like those big table-top water jugs, only skinny. Stick them in the freezer before you leave, and you’re packing a big ice cube that will help keep your cooler cool.
- Take along only what you need.
It kinda sounds obvious, but you don’t need a full pack of napkins if your family of four is only heading out for 4 or 5 days. Guestimate what you’ll need per person for your various meals and only take that much. Do you need a full box of cereal, or just part of it?
- Hit the dollar store.
There are some things I don’t 100% trust from the dollar store. Right or wrong, I’m nervous about that toothpaste. But that’s where I picked up my small bottle of Dawn dish soap. Strong enough to cut through any grease we create, and small enough to fit into a shoebox-sized plastic bin that also houses our napkins, spices, kitchen knife, spoon and spatula. Pick up a pill organizer to hold whatever spices you’ll need during the trip, or repurpose one of those sprinkles containers from the cake decorating area that has dividers and can hold five or six different kinds of sprinkles.
- Think outside the box. (or bottle, in this case)
I got rid of nearly all of our baby bottles, but I held on to one 4 oz. bottle that had a flat lid option (no nipple). I pour my coffee creamer in there. It takes up a fraction of the space a small bottle of flavored creamer would and it’s the perfect amount for a weekend. While we’re on the topic of coffee, sometimes I’ll take a small French press with me, but other times I take single serve instant coffee packets, a la Starbucks Via. It’s decent coffee, super fast to make, and takes up virtually zero packing space.
- Freeze water in half-gallon or gallon-size jugs.
I repurpose plastic milk jugs for this one. Fill up a clean milk jug with water, leaving about two inches of headspace before you put it in the freezer. Make sure to leave the lid off too, as this will keep the ice from busting through your container as the water expands during the freezing process. Not only can you reduce the amount of ice you need when you leave the house, but you’ll have a supply of ice cold water as it melts!
What’s your favorite camping hack for the real world?