With the New Year full of promise, and folks adapting to the “new normal”, everyone is going out into the wilderness for some fresh air and sunshine. Camping and outdoor adventures are now more popular than ever. I have done my fair share of camping over the years, from canvas tents in Girl Scouts to yurts at Burning Man, and I have definitely learned how to camp smarter, not harder over the years.
This post is designed to level up your nature experience. Activity ideas, pimp campsite decor, food/prep tips, and game-changing products & gear, I’m going to cover all of it! Click on the product pictures below to learn more about or to purchase an item. I may receive a small commission if you purchase something from the links provided as I am now an official Amazon Affiliate!
* ACTIVITIES * DECORATIONS * FOOD * GEAR *
Some of my favorite memories are from camping events. There really are endless ways to entertain yourself when you are out in nature, but here are a few extra ideas that might spark inspiration…
- Birdwatching. Fun fact, there are roughly 10,000 bird species in the world today. Over 2,000 can be found in North America! Birding is a great way to connect with nature with your eyes and your ears. The really cool thing, you only have to go as far as your backyard to discover some avian beauties. Grab a bird guide book or check out the National Audubon Society for some online resources.
- Climb a tree. Embrace your inner child, maybe scuff a knee and get some sap on your hands. Either way, it is a very nostalgic way to enjoy nature. Climbing trees also gives you a higher vantage point to get a broader view of your surroundings, and who doesn’t love a fresh perspective?!
- Spelunking aka Caving. The National Speleological Society has a great introduction to caving that includes videos and lots of tips. Plus, fun fact about caves, they are naturally temperature-controlled year-round, so great no matter the season.
- Fire. Take that bonfire to the next level by tossing on a few Magic Fire Color Changing Packs to see a rainbow of flames. The blue, green, and pink colors especially are a real eye-catching surprise as you watch the flames dance. Fun for all ages, and a fast way to upgrade your campsite.
- Fire 2.0. Feeling extra adventurous? Give Fire Spinning a try! Dancing with fire satisfies your soul on a very primal level. Want to know more, watch this short clip about Fire Dancing Safety. While the video is directed to the Burning Man audience, it is extremely applicable to the average camper wanting to get a quick, well-rounded intro. Here is a printed list of things to know if you preferrer to read about how fire works. To find out more about the Fire & Flow Arts, check out The Flow Art Institute for more info.
- Stargaze. typically, campsites have significantly less light pollution than urban areas. This makes it more desirable for viewing the night sky. Look for constellations, try to find the milky way, and wish on shooting stars.
- Forage. Want to compose a meal out of wild produce? Start by grabbing a guide book, and joining a local foragers club IRL and/or virtually on Facebook. Maybe you don’t want to go full gatherer right now, but it never hurts to hone those survival skills. Learn what plants are native to the area, can any be used as medicine? Are there any that are poisonous that you should make sure to avoid? Never a bad idea to educate yourself about your surroundings. Also, check your local and state rules before you set off on this adventure…for example, California has prohibited nearly all foraging on state-owned lands.
- Release sky lanterns. I love floating sky lanterns. They are magical mini flaming globes that float into the heavens and can be seen for quite a while after they have been released. Originally started in China, there are now floating lantern festivals all over the world including Night Lights and Lights Over America which both take place across the US. But you don’t need a big festival to enjoy these, get your own and have fun wherever you are! Personalize them by writing messages or drawing designs, then send them off.
- Hide-n-Seek. Fun during the day and extra fun in the dark. At night this activity tends to turn into flashlight tag, but regardless, fun for kids and adults alike.
- Orienteering. This is a group of sports that require navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. This is an organized event usually, as a race. Check the linked websites for times/locations. While this is not typically associated with camping, it is an outdoor activity. The first time I ever did one of these events was at night with my Grandfather, who was an ultra-marathoner, and I wasn’t even old enough to drive. We had a blast! Perfect for family bonding or anyone who wants to get a taste of what Amazing Race would be like.
- Geocaching. A real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. Super fun for all ages and great to do on a whim. This is fun because these things are hidden in some really trippy spots. I did this a few times when I lived in San Francisco and I went to parts of the city I didn’t even know existed…and I lived there for almost a decade! Really great way to get out and explore where you live, or wherever you find yourself, and who doesn’t love a real-life treasure hunt?!
- Junior Ranger Programs. Almost all parks have Junior Ranger programs where your child and yourself can go through a series of special activities to highlight some of the fun duties performed by Park Rangers and to get a better look behind the scenes through a unique hands-on experience. My mom actually did this with my sister and me at a handful of national parks when we were on a West Coast road trip in 1995 and it was pretty awesome. Sometimes we helped feed animals that were being rehabilitated, other times we participated in a Flag ceremony or got to do things like go on a special night hike.
Decor is a very personal choice, and camping in the elements provides a unique challenge all on it’s own. If you are looking for easy ways to quickly jazz up your camp site to make the experience that much more magical, I have you covered! Some ideas are practical, others are pleasing to the eye, all are FUN!
- Festival Banners, Bunting, flags. No matter how you refer to these items, they are usually colorful, made of either cloth or waterproof plastic, and great ways to add pops of color to your outdoor space. Line the top of your tent canopy, decorate nearby trees or adorn them from your car/chair/tables.
- Personalize your gear. Use some Spray Paint or decorate with cool colored duct tape! Add reflective stickers for a bonus. Do anything you can to differentiate your items from others, its a great way to ensure your items don’t get accidentally mistaken as someone else’s and makes them easier to spot in general.
- Tapestries and sheer curtains. These large wall coverings can provide shade and are good to make “walls” for your camping site for some added privacy/art. They also add a whimsical element with the flowy movement in the breeze.
- Rugs. Use an old one, make a new one. Also, try to use a woven beach “blanket” so that you can make the space feel a little cozier, have somewhere you can safely roam around without shoes on and still have your feet protected. Nice to have a smaller rug just outside your shelter so you can take off your shoes and have somewhere to stand.
- Lights. Blinky lights for personal adornment, clip-on hanging lightbulbs with 3 different light modes and/or Fairy lights to ad pops of color and give your site a whimsical touch. Whatever the choice may be, you are sure to never miss your tent in the dark again! *PRO TIP: Try to find solar charging options for your lights. It’s perfect as they can charge during the day and cut down on the need for batteries.
Ah! That primal feeling of cooking over open flame! Something about a campfire that can really take cooking to new heights. Below you will find a few recommendations for recipes that are great to cook over a fire, some gadgets that make outdoor cooking easier, and smart ways to organize your food stuffs & cooler to ensure all your food is not waterlogged or bug infested.
- Metal Skewers. Whether it’s hotdogs, S’mores, or any other thing you can think of, take your roasting game to new heights with these camping tools that put the FUN in functional.
- Flavored Marshmallows. Speaking of S’mores, level up with these cool marshmallows from SMASHMALLOW! Fun flavors that play well with chocolate and graham crackers as well as just a tasty treat to pop all on its own. My personal favorites are Mint Chocolate & Cinnamon Churro!
- The Banana Boats. Want to mix up your dessert game? Try a camping classic, a the Banana Boat! Leave the peel on a banana, split id down the middle, add marshmallows, nuts, fruit, chocolate chips, cereal, granola, peanut butter, Nutella, caramel, etc., then wrap it up win foil and place it on the fire to cook down and get ooey-gooey. *PRO TIP: These are sometimes best to do the last night of camping also, so you can use whatever you have conveniently leftover.
- Dutch Oven. Go old school and bust out this timeless cookware to make sweet and savory camping yum yum in this time tested favorite. My personal favorite recipes to make in a Dutch Oven while camping are deep dish pizza and peach cobbler.
- Cooler Racks. The best way to utilize your cooler space and elevate items out of the icy water by incorporating a stacking system. Use the shelves to make your cooler more functional for storage and protect your food items from being waterlogged. Compact enough to fit most standard coolers, and allows for easy access to floating ice-cold beverages below while keeping all other items dry.
- Snacks. Food game is a challenge especially when you want to have things that do not have to be refrigerated but also won’t melt in the heat. Some of my personal favorite snacks to take on outdoor adventures are things I would not normally ever crave or eat normally. That being said, my first must-have snack is Perkey Jerky, Turkey Jerky in Teriyaki flavor. It is so tender for a cured meat. Full of flavor and not overwhelming on my jaw to chew, this brand of Jerky is some of the best I have come across…and I’ve been looking! Continuing on the salty side of life, I recommend dried seaweed sheets. Paper-thin sheets of crunchy seaweed that flakes ever so tastefully in your mouth. You will find yourself craving these long after they are gone, so make sure you stock up! *PRO TIP: Trader Joe’s always has a nice flavor selection of these. Next, Peanut M&M’s are always with me, even in the default world. Great way to make sure you will get your chocolate fix as they don’t melt, plus they are the perfect combination of salty, crunch, sweet! Moving on to, Baby carrots. A great little snack that can survive out of the cooler for a few days if they have to. Perfect mid-day pick me up and a great way to add some hearty crunch to any meal. And then, fruit cups. These are magical to leave bobbing around the bottom of your cooler with the beer and other beverages. Gets you some fruit, a nice little sugar treat, and when they are ice cold like that, there’s just something extra satisfying about them, swear! From there we go to, Werther’s Original Hard Candies. If you want something sweet that travels easily and lasts a little longer, got to have these. Perfect addition to any morning coffee for a little flavor boost as well. Flip back to salty, and I’m talking Sunchips, any flavor. That corny, crunchy flavor burst that hits your mouth with every bite, but doesn’t leave you feeling greasy. Plus, they take a little bit longer to go stale once exposed to the elements I have found. Lastly, one of my must-have camping yum yums is a timeless classic, Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup. Great In the event someone doesn’t feel well, also clutch if you want to warm up from the inside on a cold night or just enjoy a hassle-free meal that can easily be heated up over a fire or a portable stove.
- Coffee Press. If you are anything like me, that little morning pick me is always extra needed when camping. An important thing to have is a good coffee press. You can always skip that step and hit the instant, but some people feel a certain type of way about ground beans, understandably. You’re already roughing it, don’t actually punish yourself by taking away that morning caffeine boost! This is an all in one camping french press coffee mug with a collapsable handle and seal-tight lid for travel.
- MIO drink quirts. Small, compact flavor boosters that you can add to any drink. Water, Lemon lime soda, vodka. These tiny drink bombs are perfect to keep on hand whenever a mixer is needed, and they even include B Vitamins and electrolytes. Pretty much like a case of gatorade in the palm of your hand, talk about space saving!net “pop up” dish covering for outdoor picnics.
- Food storage containers. Pack up leftover food, store prepped items, even double as a bowl/plate set. SO many uses. *PRO TIP: stockpile those fancy plastic to-go containers from your favorite take away restaurant and make them a staple in your camp kitchen!
- All-purpose WypAll wipes. Not just a roll of paper towels. Waterless cleaning wipes. These clothes are sturdy enough to be reused a few times before they have to be tossed. Great for cleaning up a multitude of surfaces and actually cleaning them as it wipes. Handy for spills and small messes and easier dinner/kitchen clean up.
I can never stress enough the importance of being radically self-prepared when it comes to any adventure, let alone exploring the great outdoors. Over the years I have come to find many gadgets and pieces of equipment that have been total game-changers. Don’t just survive your camping trip, thrive in your chosen temporary environment!
- Pop-up canopy. Great for providing shade over your tent, allowing you to sleep in or take a midday nap much more comfortably. Also great to hang lights and decorations off of the frame. In addition to adorning the structure, you could paint a design on the actual tarp covering. Bonus points for a canopy with a sun wall or mosquito netting!
- Folding tables. The great thing is these come in a variety of sizes and there is always a need for a table. It can pull double duty and act as a prep area, card/game table, even a place to eat meals. This table comes with 4 chairs that conveniently fold away into the table for compact storage. This particular example includes these little chairs that also make great footrests!
- Comfortable Chair. This chair is complete with a side cooler, pockets, cup holder, and holds almost 500lbs. Perfect for cuddling! My chair is my home base when camping and I love being able to curl up in this and store all my random gear in one easy-access spot. I have seen many a collapsable chair break while in the middle of a trip, and have always found this reinforced frame as sturdy and durable.
- Sleeping cots. Total game changer. I’m not in my 20’s anymore, so comfort while sleeping is more of a priority for me. Cots are great as they elevate you off the hard/cold ground and provide ample storage underneath. I’m on the shorter side of life but have had a few 6-foot friends who said they were surprised how well they slept on them. They fold up easily and are nice and compact for storage. Takes no time to set up and strike alone, we’re talking 2 min max per cot. Load bearing up to 450lbs, no middle cross body bar, and a storage bag with lots of pockets for easy access to items and general organization.
- Quality footwear. Boots/shoes with a good sole are a must. Shoes that are comfortable and you have worn before. Breaking in a new pair of shoes on a long weekend is no fun. I have always been partial to Columbia brand boots as they are a benchmark in the world of outdoor gear. Always comfortable, and I like that they have a wide variety of color choices and they offer a limited lifetime warranty. *PRO TIP: Always have a spare pair of shoes, bonus points if they can double for water play like crocks or flip flops. Also, for those times when you’ve taken off your hiking boots, but just need to walk a short distance to the bathrooms…Take it from me, nothing will spoil your trip faster than a foot injury…Bacalar, Mexico – Thanksgiving 2019 I impaled my heel on a fence gate I was closing behind myself, totally sober. Eesh. God bless Tetanus shots!
- Headlamp. Great to have on your person at all times. I usually wear mine around my neck to provide ambient lighting on demand. This handsfree lamp is my favorite thing when using any outdoor bathroom and general visibility at night.
- Collapsible LED Lantern. These bad boys pack a bright punch for such a small container. I like the fact they can be collapsed part of the way to control the amount of light you want to shine. The handles make it easy to both carry and hang. Plus, the battery draw is low, so they usually last for well over a week. When I got mine in 2014 they came in a 2 pack and these babies have paid for themselves over and over again!
- Small portable fan. Sometimes I need a little white noise to doze off to for an afternoon snooze. Other times I need a little cool air in my tent to help me fall asleep. This fan provides all that along with LED lights and convenient hanging hook and USB charger. Mobile air on demand is a blessing when it’s hot and you need to cool down.
- Hand warmers. These babies are amazing. Once the sun goes down, the temperature typically does too. Perfect size to stash in your pocket or bag and a great way to heat yourself up when it is cold out. I have gifted these to many thankful souls on a chilly festival night. *PRO TIP: Toss one or two in your sleeping bag before bed, cozy all night long as they last about 10-12 hours.
- Earplugs. Ensure you can drown out the noise so you can catch some ZzZ’s. Inexpensive, compact, and lightweight, there is no reason not to stash a pair of these in your toiletry bag forever!
- Clear plastic tubs. Easy to see through, pretty watertight, and stackable…which allows them to double as a table/flat work surface. I like the more shallow tubs as they are easier to store under sleeping cots 😉 Bonus if the handles latch down.
- Arc Lighter. Rain or shine a fire starter is great to have. Starting a fire is already a feat for some people, but when the elements are acting up is a whole other challenge. Flameless lighters are a real time saver when trying to get a spark. Perfect for trying to light kindling, fireworks or smokes even when it is blustery out! These are often charged by USB (car outlet) and require no fuel or batteries!
- Pop-up trashcan. Littering is never an option. It is important to make sure you secure all things you brought into that environment with you, especially trash, and carry them out with you. Make being responsible with your waste easy by setting up a personal camp trashcan. This particular model is 33 gallons, waterproof, and comes with a zipper lid, perfect for keeping out unwanted critters and ideal for collecting all your food scraps, plastic wrappers, bottles/cans, etc. It collapses down so takes up very little space when not in use there’s no reason not to bring one of these with you!
- Luggable Loo. Aka Camping Toilet. Bathroom matters are no joke. There is nothing worse than when you are all tucked in and then all of a sudden you have the dreadful thought of having to hike all the way to the latrine just to tinkle. For dudes, this is not so much a problem, but ladies know the struggle is real. Check out this detailed post I wrote previously titled *Porta Potty Etiquette* that tells you how to construct the best DIY camping toilet I have found so far, and also gives you some bonus Porta Potty tips!
- Sleeping bag onesie. So incredibly comfortable. If you toss and turn at night, this night be your best answer to staying warm and comfortable. Plus, you could just wear the onesie sleeping bag around, so you are warm everywhere and also ready for bed! Nothing says “here to party” like wearing a sleeping bag! Easy access zippers to allow you to use your hands and feet to move about freely and a hood for keeping in all the extra heat.
- Shiftpod. This tent has been one of the greatest innovations in a shelter that camping has seen in a long time. Easy to assemble, I mean like set up by one person in 2 minutes or less easy. The reflective material that is covering the outside keeps this domicile cool during the day and insulated at night. Made and developed specifically to withstand the harsh environments of Burning Man, this design has come a long way to now include portable AC units, fans, and other cool accessories.
- Kodiak Canvas Tent. One of the primary advantages of a canvas tent is its durability and ability to be used in all types of weather. Plus, a well taken care of canvas tent, when stored properly, can last for decades, making it a worthwhile investment. The Kodiak tent also comes in a wide variety of sizes and are known for being able to stand up in them as well as having a lot of useful add on accessories available. Not the easiest to put up, requires 2 people for sure.
- Hexayurt. Want to make your own structure? This dwelling space is a design that was literally gifted for public use to create temporary living spaces in refugee and other areas that have less than desirable environments. Like the Shift Pod, a Yurt typically is constructed of a material that also has a reflective coating that makes it great for insulation, and like the Kodiak tent, you can stand up in a yurt. This is a DIY construction project, but almost all your materials can be conveniently found at your local big-box hardware store. There is one thing I have had to consistently order offline, and that is the *special tape that you need to join the pieces together.
As always, thank you for reading this and I hope you found some fun and inspiration ideas & gadgets to make your life a little easier. May you thrive in your adventures and flourish in nature. Heres to hoping you now will camp SMARTER not harder…Cheers!
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