Camping Do's and Don'ts

Tips for a Stellar Camping Trip

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Sleeping under the stars is not always as simple as it sounds. Just think of all the planning that goes into selecting the right camping gear and campground in the first place. Before your next great, outdoor adventure, you might consider a refresher in campsite basics such as fire building and food preparation safety. Check out our camping list of essential dos and don’ts to help you prepare for your trip.

Do check out the gear reviews at campist. While heated chairs, cordless bug zappers and even portable showers may seem high-tech and cool, consider the type of trip you’re planning (multi-day backcountry backpacking trip, or family camping excursion in developed campgrounds). Check out campist to avoid any impulse purchase.

Don’t forget camping essentials. Must-bring items for your backpack include a first-aid kit, compass and maps, and emergency equipment. It may be tempting to leave behind these essential, but seemingly boring basics, especially when trying to pare down your backpack content. Still, after minor trouble on the trail, you may find yourself longing for the bug spray or roll of gauze you left behind. (Check out our camping tips and tricks for more suggestions on must-have camping gear.)

Do leave behind a copy of your itinerary. People can only help in the event of an emergency -- if they know your whereabouts. Leave behind a detailed copy of your travel plans, so friends or family can follow-up with you to ensure you get home on time.

Do confirm the campground’s pet policy. Before bringing along your 4-legged friend, don’t forget this step. While most national parks do not welcome pets, many state and private campgrounds require a small fee. DogFriendly.com offers a list of pet-friendly campgrounds and RV parks with amenities such as off-leash areas. If you do bring your dog along, pack a leash, tether, a collapsible water bowl and plenty of food.

Do arrive before nightfall. Setting up camp in the dark can be complicated even for seasoned campers. Getting a head start ensures you can explore your immediate surroundings and build a campfire for food and warmth while it’s still light out.

Do follow fire safety protocol. To keep you and your natural surroundings safe from fast-moving fire, fire safety protocol is a must. The national nonprofit Tread Lightly! offers guidelines for campfire safety, including tips for safely building a fire if the site doesn’t include a contained fire ring. Resist the urge to pile on the firewood to maintain a small and controllable fire; also let the fire burn to ash before turning in for the night.

Don’t limit your meal variety. Franks and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner? C’mon, you can do better than that. With some planning and the right equipment, you can get creative with campfire cooking. Whip up eggs and pancakes in a cast iron skillet, and prepare fish (even better if it’s freshly caught!) steamed with potatoes and vegetables in a foil packet. You can also add variety to your campground meals with gourmet prepared foods from Packit Gourmet.

Don’t leave food unattended. Your campsite should be tidied up before you go hiking for the day or go to sleep. Follow posted signs or ask the camp ranger or campground attendant about proper food safety to avoid unwanted animal encounters. Some campgrounds provide bear lockers to store your food during your stay.

Do your part to minimize your eco-footprint. While communing with nature is nice, so is being ecologically mindful. The most important way you can help is to leave with everything you came with -- especially your trash. Also, bring along an extra trash bag to collect any litter left behind by less-considerate campers.

Remember, you’re not likely to encounter a helpful hotel concierge or 24-hour convenience store along the path to your campsite. Taking the time to organize and plan will make your time on the trail more pleasant. Now, all that’s left to do is grab your backpack and lace up your hiking shoes for a worry-free camping trip.

More Camping Inspiration

Yaki Point
Yaki Point

Yaki Point

Within the Grand Canyon take in the view from Yaki Point. From an elevation of 7,000 feet, you’ll see the rocky terrain dotted with pinyon pines and junipers -- trees with nuts that sustain wildlife such as deer, squirrels, ringtail and birds. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail leads to the Colorado River. Along with the Bright Angel Trail, the path provides a direct route to the bottom of the canyon. But with minimal shade, be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Mather Point

Mather Point

It took 6 million years for water to carve out the Grand Canyon. Get an expansive view of this handiwork at Mather Point -- where vibrant, ancient rock layers await, stretching back 1.7 billion years.  960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Tusayan Museum

Tusayan Museum

For nearly a millennia, Native American peoples have regarded the Grand Canyon as a sacred place. Visit the Tusayan Museum for a look into Pueblo Indian life at the canyon 800 years ago. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Yavapai Observation Station

Yavapai Observation Station

Without a power plant in sight, the Grand Canyon is home to some of the cleanest air in America. Check out an air quality monitoring stand, located outside the Yavapai Observation Station (pictured here).  960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Shiva Temple

Shiva Temple

See that broad, flat-topped plateau off in the distance? That’s Shiva Temple, a mesa about 1 mile long, with an area of about 300 acres. It’s located near the canyon’s North Rim. 960 1280

Pippawilson, flickr  

Kolb Studio

Kolb Studio

At the edge of Grand Canyon you’ll find Kolb Studio -- in the early 1900s, it was the home and photographic studio of outdoorsmen Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. Today, an art gallery operates inside the building, showcasing artwork from the canyon. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge was built in 1935 to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors coming to the canyon via train. The lodge’s rustic architecture of logs and stone was conceived by American architect Mary Colter. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Mule Corral

Mule Corral

These little guys -- call them “long-eared taxis” -- will take you on a cliff-hugging trip through the Grand Canyon. But relax, each mule goes through 1 year of training before it’s ever allowed to carry any passengers.  960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Trailview Overlook

Trailview Overlook

From Trailview Overlook you can look down at Bright Angel Trail -- the main route used for centuries to enter and leave the Grand Canyon. 960 1280

Rosa Say, flickr  

Trail of Time

Trail of Time

Discover the Grand Canyon’s geologic splendor. Take the Trail of Time, a nearly 3-mile-long interpretive walking trail, to peel back the pages of time -- as told through the landscape’s many rock layers. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Hopi House

Hopi House

Architect Mary Colter designed Hopi House in 1905. Today, this Pueblo-style building is the Grand Canyon’s largest gift store; it features a large selection of authentic Native American art and craftwork. The building is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. 960 1280

Al_HikesAZ, flickr  

Grand Canyon Depot

Grand Canyon Depot

Also within Grand Canyon Village: the Grand Canyon Depot -- one of 3 remaining railroad depots in the US built with logs. The depot opened in 1910, courtesy of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway -- one of the largest railroads in the US at the time. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Roaring Springs

Roaring Springs

Nearly 5 miles down the Grand Canyon’s North Kaibab Trail you’ll find Roaring Springs. It’s one of several underground water supplies within the Grand Canyon. Listen closely … and hear the roar. 960 1280

Grand Canyon NPS, flickr  

Night Skies

Night Skies

Get out your telescope: The Grand Canyon offers prime nighttime skies for observing stars. Without a telephone pole or electric wire in sight, it’s just the starry skies above … and an awe-inspiring feeling within. 960 1280

Justin Kern, flickr  

Grand Canyon Skywalk

Grand Canyon Skywalk

And for the ultimate view, you’ve got to experience Grand Canyon Skywalk: this glass bridge walkway offers a jaw-dropping 4,000-foot-high view of the Grand Canyon’s floor. 960 1280

Getty Images  

outdoors and adventure, camping, gear guide, tent
Tent

Tent

Plan on spending a night or 2 under the stars? Picking a tent is important. Consider durability, size, space and proper ventilation when purchasing a tent because close quarters can easily become a claustrophobic nightmare. Choose wisely. 960 1280

Connor Walberg / Getty Images   

GPS

GPS

A compass or GPS device is your best guide around unfamiliar territory. It's a must-have on any campers list of things to pack. 960 1280

Creativ Studio Heinemann / Getty Images  

Flashlight

Flashlight

Pack a sturdy flashlight and fresh batteries. You never know when you may need it for an emergency or to help spot things that go bump at night, right outside your tent. 960 1280

Hero Images / Getty Images  

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Bag

Make sure you have a down sleeping bag when planning your next outdoor adventure. A sleeping mat or pad underneath your sleeping bag will help make your night underneath the stars more comfortable. 960 1280

Soren Pilman / Getty Images  

Rain Gear

Rain Gear

Good rain gear, including a rain coat, is important to keep campers dry during stormy weather. 960 1280

Sam Edwards / Getty Images  

Backpack

Backpack

A backpack is a hiker's best friend. Pack it with snacks, water and all your hiking essentials, and hit the trails. Backpacks come in a variety of sizes and some are made specifically to handle all forms of extreme weather. 960 1280

Jordan Siemens / Getty Images  

Insect Repellant

Insect Repellant

It's a must-have item to pack for your next trip outdoors. Insect repellant is a camper's first line of defense against bugs, including those pesky mosquitos. 960 1280

Chad Springer / Getty Images  

Fire Starter Kit

Fire Starter Kit

Yes, you can start fires the old-fashioned way, but we suggest you come prepared with lighter fluid, paper, wood, matches or a lighter to help start your campfire.  Of course, make sure you follow the campground's fire safety guidelines. 960 1280

Hero Images / Getty Images  

Gas Stove

Gas Stove

A small gas stove is helpful to make elaborate, but quick meals while you're camping. Wake up to a pot of coffee in the morning or make a meal out of whatever you bring to eat or catch in the woods. 960 1280

HansChris / Getty Images  

Sunblock

Sunblock

Don't forget to pack sunblock, especially if you're camping in the heat of the hot sun during the summer. This is especially important for hikers who enjoy long, arduous treks along clearly marked trails in the wilderness. 960 1280

Catherine Ledner / Getty Images  

S'mores

S'mores

A good camping experience must include non-perishable food, including s'mores. You can't resist the chocolaty goodness melting over a couple marshmallows and carefully wedged between 2 graham crackers. 960 1280

Jamie Grill / Getty Images  

Pocket Knife

Pocket Knife

A pocket knife is a camper's ultimate multi-tool. It comes equipped with a magnifying glass, cork screw and small knife to get you out of a bind. 960 1280

Giorgio Fochesato / Getty Images  

Sandwich Maker

Sandwich Maker

You don't really need to be elaborate when cooking meals over a campfire, but something like this sandwich maker is perfect for making grilled cheese sandwiches when you're tired of the regular camp food faire like hot dogs or hamburgers. 960 1280

Tobias Titz / Getty Images  

Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots

Find a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes or boots that have good tread -- necessary on hiking trails that are sometimes dangerously close to a steep drop-off. 960 1280

Katja Kircher / Getty Images  

Cooler

Cooler

A cooler keeps your food safe when you're not eating. Store it in the car when you're done munching on a snack, lunch or light dinner to keep away unexpected visitors. Odorless garbage bags are an alternate option if you don't want to drag a cooler to the campgrounds. 960 1280

Philip Lee Harvey / Getty Images  

Lantern

Lantern

A lantern always comes in handy for late-night reading in the tent or if you're just looking for a better way to brighten things up without relying on the light from fireflies at night. 960 1280

Stephen Swintek / Getty Images  

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park
Garden of Eden, Arches National Park

Garden of Eden, Arches National Park

Near the center of Arches National Park you’ll find the Garden of Eden -- so named because its rocky shapes resemble flowers and trees. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

North Window, Arches National Park

North Window, Arches National Park

This 90-foot-wide portal known as the North Window is one of many natural sandstone arches you’ll find at Arches National Park. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Arches National Park is home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. The 65-foot Delicate Arch is its most famous. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

In addition to its famed arches, Arches National Park’s colorful geography includes maze-like narrow passages and tall rock columns. You can find this view directly opposite the Delicate Arch. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Hiking at Arches

Hiking at Arches

Two hikers journey back from the Delicate Arch. The 3-mile trail (round-trip) is moderately strenuous, and takes roughly 30 to 45 minutes each way. Bring plenty of water! 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch

Enjoy a shaded rest from the Moab desert sun. This trail at Arches National Park leads through deep sand; a secluded arch, Sand Dune Arch, awaits up ahead. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Wolfe Ranch Cabin

Wolfe Ranch Cabin

In the late 1800s, a Civil War veteran named John Wesley Wolfe and his son built this 1-room cabin in what is now Arches National Park. For more than 10 years, Wolfe lived on this rugged ranch, where the area’s water and desert grassland were enough to sustain a few cattle. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

The Moab area is also home to Canyonlands National Park. Erosion over millions of years produced the many canyons, buttes and mesas here -- including Mesa Arch. 960 1280

Alex Proimos, flickr  

Hell’s Revenge

Hell’s Revenge

Ready to take on Hell’s Revenge? This steep slick rock trail may make your pulse race as you tackle its hair-raising descents on a Razor ride. It’s located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, a sandstone plateau of slick rock domes, bowls and fins. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Porcupine Rim Trail

Porcupine Rim Trail

A mountain biker tackles Porcupine Rim Trail, one of 2 trails within the Sand Flats Recreation Area. The steep, rocky terrain, which stretches nearly 15 miles, challenges even the most experienced mountain bikers. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Moab Cowboy

Moab Cowboy

Meet the Moab Cowboy -- that's what locals call Kent Green. For more than 20 years, Green served as a deputy sheriff and search-and-rescue commander in the Moab area. Today, he leads off-road adventures. His no. 1 rule: Never travel alone. 960 1280

Lisa Singh   

Moab Dinosaur Footprints

Moab Dinosaur Footprints

Check out these fossilized dinosaur footprints during a Razor ride through the Sand Flats Recreation Area with the Moab Cowboy. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Big Bend Recreation Area

Big Bend Recreation Area

Moab is a rock climber’s dream. Enjoy bouldering at the Big Bend Recreation Area along the Colorado River, northeast of Moab. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Colorado River

Colorado River

Take in the view of the Colorado River from Scenic Byway 128, with awe-inspiring views of red standstone cliffs just beyond. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Fisher Towers, Colorado River

Fisher Towers, Colorado River

River guide Arne Hultquist leads a whitewater rafting trip through the Fishers Tower section of the Colorado River. The area comprises a series of towers made of sandstone; they’re named after a miner who lived in the area in the 1880s. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Matrimony Spring

Matrimony Spring

Fill up at Matrimony Spring, a natural spring along Byway 128. Legend has it that anyone who drinks from the spring will continue to return to Moab. The water that issues forth begins its journey as snowmelt from the La Sal Mountains, 20 miles southeast of Moab. 960 1280

Lisa Singh  

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point

Get ready to say “wow” at Dead Horse Point. The park features a stunning overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The area also served as the final film scene for the 1991 classic Thelma & Louise. 960 1280

Mike Nielsen, flickr  

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