Beginner tips, tricks and hacks for camping, backpacking and hiking

camping tips and tricks

Who doesn’t love tips, tricks, and hacks? In this post, we list out some of the best and interesting tips, tricks, and hacks for camping, backpacking, and hiking. Some of these suggestions were contributed by our readers and are attributed accordingly. It is worth stating that some of these hacks would work better than others, so give them a shot and share your feedback.

Kindle the fire

One of the most important aspects of camping in the wilderness is starting a fire. In order to kindle the fire, you need tinder to use with your fire starter or lighter. Instead of spending money on buying instant fire tinder, you can try out the following hacks to make your own tinder.

  1. Cotton balls or pads coated in Vaseline or paraffin wax as fire tinder: The most popular tinder technique is to simply coat some cotton balls with Vaseline or solid/liquid wax, let it dry and put in a small Ziploc bag.

    In our experience, the Vaseline-soaked balls catch fire quicker compared to the wax-coated balls. But the wax-coated balls last longer and burn more slowly.

    If you want to make the Vaseline ones last longer, just wrap them in some aluminum foil and they will last a little bit longer.

  2. Dryer Lint: The fiber lint left out after a drying cycle in your dryer makes for an excellent tinder, and it is free. For best results, you can soak it in some alcohol or lamp oil. Moreover, if you have empty toilet rolls, you can fill the lint inside them to use as a long lasting tinder. For some other dryer lint fire starters, check our article on DIY fire starters.
  3. Wine corks: You can use the wooden corks from your wine bottles, soak them in alcohol or lamp oil by putting them in a bottle and adding liquid. Now you have one more reason to try out your favorite wine.
  4. Household mop strings: If you have a discarded mop, you can cut and use its strings, soak them in liquid wax and keep them for use as fire starters. Because of the long thread shape, these things also help in distributing fire evenly.
  5. Tampons: Sorry ladies, but tampons have an excellent absorbing capacity, and we are not the only ones to think so. Tampons soaked in lamp oil or alcohol can make an excellent fire starter. And that is not all! Tampons can be split and used for wound dressing or absorb blood during nose bleeds.
  6. Hand sanitizer: You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (most hand sanitizers are alcohol based) to kindle a fire.
  7. Crayons: Next time you pack your camping gear, don’t forget to include some crayons. When lighted on fire, they can burn for an extended amount of time, close to 30 minutes, which makes them an excellent tinder or makeshift candle. One more reason to encourage your kids to try coloring during camping!
  8. This tip was submitted by our reader Scott Fre****.

  9. Pencil Shavings: Even though you may hate pencil shavings left after sharpening, don’t throw them away. Instead, add them to your tinder box. It is best grade wood after all and catches fire quickly!!
  10. This tip was submitted by our reader Adrian De****.

  11. Pencil Sharpener: Bring a small pencil sharpener on your camping trip, it is very handy to get wood shavings for your tinder instead of using your pen knife.
  12. This tip was submitted by our reader Neil Rid****.

  13. Doritos:Corn-based chips such as Doritos can also help you in kindling a fire. Do this only if you are feeling lazier than a sloth bear or don’t have anything else.
  14. Cat Pellet Litter:If you own a kitty and use pellet litter then you are in luck. Pellet litter makes and excellent fire accelerant for kindling the fire in no time. Just don’t tell your Kitty!
  15. Stay warm in winters

    If you love winter camping, then these tips are for you. Even if you have a high-end sleeping bag with an excellent temperature rating, you would want to consider the following ways that keep you warm during the night, without the need of hand or body warmers.

  16. Hot water bottle: Fill your favorite Nalgene (or equivalent) water bottle with some hot water and put it in your sleeping bag around the side of toes. Put an extra sock around it to preserve the heat. You will have a cozy sleeping bag and non-frozen water to drink in the morning. Just make sure that your bottle is rated for storing hot water.
  17. Mylar blankets as reflector: Emergency blankets are excellent reflectors. Simply take one blanket and fix it on the ceiling of your tent with a duct tape and it will act as a thermal reflector, directing most of the heat in the tent back down at you.
  18. Dress up the bag: One of the classic tips is to pad up your sleeping bag with clothes you intend to wear the next day. This would help in not only keeping you warm, but also ensure that the next day attire is not frozen or cold. But you should make sure that there is no heavy perspiration in the bag as it can be counterproductive.
  19. The stone in the towel: A popular trick taught in survival classes is to take a clean stone, heat it up while cooking, let it cool down a little and then wrap it in a cloth or towel and put in your tent for warmth for an hour or so. You can also keep it in your sleeping bag before you step in.
  20. Shake up the sleeping bag: A common tip is to shake your sleeping bag before hopping into it to redistribute the insulation evenly.
  21. Zipping the Zippers

    If you are into backpacking then you are surrounded by zippers – in tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, even in packing gear. To keep the zippers running smooth and zippy, you need to lubricate them. While there are some commercial options available, you can consider the following everyday used items as lubricants:

  22. Unlit candle: A solid, unlit candle makes an excellent lubricant. Simply rub it across the zippers to keep them lubricated.
  23. Crayons: Crayons, since they are wax based, can act as a great lubricant. Simply rub a crayon on the stubborn part of the zipper to coat it with fine, yet colorful wax and decrease the tension.
  24. This tip was submitted by our reader Scott Fre****.

  25. Graphite Pencil: Graphite is an excellent industrial lubricant. So if you carry a pencil, run the pencil-lead along the tense parts of the zipper to lubricate it.
  26. Winning the fight against bugs

    Exploring Outdoors in summers or rainy season can sometimes become a challenge due to the presence of mosquitos, chiggers, ticks and what not. Try out the following remedies (mostly natural, some are not):

  27. Natural Oils: There are a lot of natural oils that provide protection against mosquitos. Top among them are lemon eucalyptus oil, neem oil and lavender oil. You can take any of these in raw form, pour in in a spray bottle, dilute it and use as a repellent. Of course, there are FDA approved commercial products also available.
  28. Sage Leaves: Sage leaves help in keeping the mosquitos and bugs out during a campfire or cookout. Simply add a few to the fire periodically and you will experience a bug-free cookout.
  29. Johnson Baby cream/oil: Your favorite baby cream in oil or cream format, is an excellent repellent. You can even apply it after a bite to reduce the itchiness. But in our view, it would be cheaper to get an actual natural repellent then getting a Johnson & Johnson product!!
  30. Fabric softener sheets: This is more of urban legend and less of a scientifically backed solution, but certain fabric softener sheets in the pocket are considered insect repellent. We think it has more to do with their smell then chemical properties, but this is something to try out.
  31. This tip was submitted by our reader John Do****.

  32. Spray chemicals: In addition to DEET, which may be harmful, there are two spray chemicals worth trying out – Permethrin and Picaridin. These chemicals are non-toxic and largely odorless after drying. Simply spray your gear – hammocks, backpacks, tents etc. and you can expect mosquito, ticks free time for up to 4-5 washes. Permethrin has one limitation – it is considered non-toxic to mammals, except for cats. So keep it away if you have cats around.
  33. Getting rid of the itch: If you were bitten by a mosquito and want to prevent the itch, you can apply some deodorant, mouthwash or hand sanitizer on it to reduce the itchiness. Other options are applying Vicks Vaporub, Aloe Vera, baking soda or ice if you have them handy. Just be careful before trying these options out if you have any kind of skin allergy.
  34. Tape it up with Duct tape

    No other item has as versatile uses in the outdoors as the trusted duct tape. No, we are not asking you to use it to silence your partner. Duct tape is a lifesaver and has some serious uses during your outdoor trip. A duct tape can be used for emergency repairs, insulations, makeshift footwear and even in the case of injuries. Here are some tips and tricks around duct tapes:

  35. Carrying duct tape: Carrying a full roll of duct tape during your outdoor adventure can be an overkill. You can wrap it around your bottles, hiking/ski poles, lighters and even the hem of the pants. Wrapping duct tape around bottles is especially beneficial in winters. It also helps in keeping the water in the bottle insulated. Similarly having taped hem in pants will prevent ticks and chiggers from getting stuck in your pants as you walk along. Having duct tape around your Bic lighter would help in having some tape readily available in your pocket during backpacking.
  36. Duct tape for emergency first aid: Duct tape can help in making a workable sling or a splint. Many backpackers suggest applying duct tape on the vulnerable part to prevent blisters from forming. Duct tape can also be used to prevent blood loss by wrapping the gauzed wound with a tape.
  37. Tape on footwear: Applying duct tape over your hiking shoes or boots while walking in snow would make them more water resistant. Moreover, if for some reason, your shoes give up, you the tape can help in emergency repair.
  38. Makeshift footwear using insoles and duct tape: Take some nice insoles either by purchasing a new one or from a pair of old hiking shoes / boots. Take some duct tape for the top of your foot and wrap it around the insole with room for your foot to fit in and you have a pair of light- weight and super comfortable camp shoes.
  39. This tip was submitted by our reader Bill Sun****.

    Shed the weight

    Do not worry. We are not asking you to go on a dieting regimen. If you are a backpacker or a hiker who carries his/her own weight, then this section is for you. Here are some simple to follow tips to shed some gear weight without lightening up your bank balance (well, at least not by as much!). Remember to weigh in your gear before the load-shedding and after

  40. Cut off the labels: Everything that you wear has labels. Your clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, tent, even your footwear. Considering most of these are hidden and you cannot boast about the brands, simply cut them off. Remove all the frills. You may end up saving a few ounces.
  41. Shorten the straps and laces: Your backpack would probably have a lot of additional straps to readjust. Simply, test the strap length, adjust them to your comfort and cut down the additional straps, leaving behind some for re-adjusting. Some people even go to the extent of getting rid of a few straps such as the hip belts all together.
    Do the same with your shoe laces and other drawstrings. And do not forget to burn off the ends to prevent these straps or strings from unraveling in future.
  42. Load shedding on toiletries: The cutting short of your toothbrush is probably the most talked about ultralight tip. Simply shorten the handle of your toothbrush, leaving a couple of inches so that you can hold it properly while brushing your teeth.
  43. Also, do not take the full tube of toothpaste. Get a travel size tube or even better, use tooth powder. Simply put enough powder for your trip in a Ziploc sachet. Just do not forget to mark it, otherwise, you may end up adding it to your food as salt or sugar.
    Do the same with razors, shaving gels, shampoos etc.

  44. Go the Titanium way: No, we are not asking you to turn into Arnie, the Terminator! Titanium is many times lighter than stainless steel or aluminum, so you can pick items made of Titanium to save some weight. However, Titanium items are costly too. An area where Titanium gear can give nice weight-saving-to-price ratio is the cooking gear. Simply pick Titanium cook sets, mugs, even spork. You will find your Titanium cookware a lot lighter.
  45. Love the Bandana: Not to pick on the old Westerns, the Bandana is probably one of the most versatile lightweight piece of cloth that you can carry. It is durable and dries quickly. You can use it to cover your head, tie it around the neck in extreme heat, use it as a sling in cases of emergency and even use it as a towel. Get in the habit of carrying one of suitable size.
  46. For more Ultralight backpacking tips, you can refer to the book by Mike Clelland.

    Miscellaneous tips

    Here are some uncategorized tips, tricks, and hacks to try out:

  47. Emergency tent repairs: You can use a candle or crayon to create an emergency waterproof patch for a small tear or rip in your tent. Simply melt the crayon or candle to create a waxed patch on the tear.
  48. This tip was submitted by our reader Scott Fre****.

  49. Fabric softener sheets in storage bag: Bears use their sense of smell to find food. In order to mask the smell of food, you can add a couple of fabric softener sheets secured in plastic pouches (to segregate from edibles) and put in your edible supplies. Also put in your toothpaste, deodorant and other toiletries in the bag before hanging it. Mixed smell would help in masking the food smell and make it difficult (still not impossible) for the bear to track it.
  50. Ambient light from water jug: If you are carrying water in a transparent or translucent container, you can just strap around your headlamp with the bulbs facing inwards, and you have a nice ambient lighting around your campsite.
  51. Inner tube chairs: If you go backpacking or camping with portable chairs, along with an air bed, then you can use inner tubes for some makeshift furniture. Simply take a cheap inner-tube, fill it up to 3/4th using the air pump and put it down for use as an “air chair”. Since the tubes weigh less than 2 pounds, they are not heavy on the weight and not heavy on the budget. And what’s more, you can use them during swimming.
  52. This tip was submitted by our reader Carla Mar****.

  53. Amplify the wakeup call: If you worry that the alarm of your wrist watch is too wimpy, try the cup amplifier. Simply place your watch in an empty cup or pot and the sound of the alarm would amplify considerably. No more missing the sunrise.

Final thoughts

In this article, we looked at about 30 interesting tips, tricks, and hacks that you can apply on a camping, backpacking and hiking trip. We looked at things that make excellent fire starters, ways to stay warm during winter camping, ways to handle mosquitos, various uses of duct tapes and even novel ideas of building makeshift furniture. We hope you found these tips and tricks useful. To reiterate, some of these hacks would work better than others, so do let us know your feedback if you happen to try them out. Happy camping!!

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3 thoughts on “Beginner tips, tricks and hacks for camping, backpacking and hiking

    1. Hi Sinéad,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Glad you liked the list. We plan to add some more tips soon.

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