10 Common Camping Mistakes and What to Do Instead

April 18, 2024

Meeting a camper who has never made a mistake is like finding an empty campground Memorial Day Weekend. It’s simply not possible. Fortunately, these mistakes often result in the best stories (Type II fun), and they always provide teachable moments. That said, some epic fails don’t have to be inevitable. From overpacking to overlooking the TLC your RV requires, here are 10 common camping mistakes. And most importantly, here are 10 things to do in order to avoid making them. After all, if you’re going to make mistakes while camping, why not dare to be different? 

Don’t Make These Camping Mistakes

A middle aged couple is packing their backpacks and checking the route for a day of hiking.

1. Mistake: Overpacking 

Several psychology studies have shown that travelers often find packing for a trip more stressful than the traveling itself. Because paring down what we pack requires more brain power and energy, we tend to try to bring it all “just in case we need it.” But when you camp, especially if you’re backpacking, the last thing you want to do is carry more weight than necessary. 

Instead: Invest in multifunctional pieces like lanterns that double as power banks, coolers that can be used for seating, and zip-off hiking pants that convert into shorts. When you return from your trip, make a note of everything you used, and more importantly: didn’t use, and keep that in mind for your next trip. Obviously first aid kits and emergency supplies are an exception. Those items are non-negotiables.

Group of friends packing a campsite by a river.

1. Mistake: Not familiarizing yourself with your gear 

Few things are as frustrating as trying to set up a tent, for the first time, in the dark or while you’re being attacked by a million mosquitos. Or, have you ever bought something that claimed to be waterproof only to find out, during a torrential downpour, that you were swindled? 

Instead: Get to know your gear before you leave home. Test it in the backyard, find out if it needs batteries or accessories, and make sure you know how to use it before you’re out in  nature and YouTubing it isn’t an option. 

A small travel trailer on a KOA Patio RV site at a KOA campground.

3. Mistake: Not booking a site early enough

Every year thousands of campers go online to book a site only to learn their desired dates are no longer available. Some campgrounds even sell out a year in advance, especially during holiday weekends. 

Instead: Be the early bird, and book as soon as you can. Most campsites are bookable six months before the campground opens for the year.  You can always cancel later (and don’t forget to cancel, so it frees up a site for someone else) if needed. If you’re a KOA Rewards VIP Member, your $10 cancellation fee may even be waived

A couple enjoys their KOA Tent Site with coffee.

4. Mistake: Forgetting something 

Whether you leave first thing in the morning or in the afternoon, camping departure days can be stressful, and in the chaos of trying to get everyone out the door, it’s easy to forget something important. This hilarious Reddit forum is full of stories from seasoned campers who forgot everything from utensils to tent poles. 

Instead: Embrace your inner Santa, and make a list. Most importantly, check it twice. As soon as you load something in the car or camper, mark it off this checklist (or make your own) and move on to the next thing. 

5. Mistake: Packing for the weather you want, not the weather in the forecast

While it’s nice to be optimistic, when it comes to weather, Mother Nature is going to do her thing whether you like it or not. In other words, you can’t manifest dry, sunny days, so don’t even try.

Instead: Check the weather routinely, and remember that it’s better to have your rain fly and not need it than to need it and not have it. While there are tons of free weather apps out there, Accuweather stands out for its MinuteCast. It breaks down the next two hours by every 60 seconds. 

Hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill at a summer cookout.

6. Mistake: Not properly storing food

Whether it’s laziness or ignorance, many campers neglect to store their food properly. Not only does this mistake attract critters (including deadly grizzly bears), but it can also lead to food poisoning. 

Instead: Be “bear aware,” and invest in bear canisters if you’re tent camping. Also, make sure your coolers are keeping your food cold enough. Most raw meats, including beef and chicken, need to be stored at 40℉ or below. 

7. Mistake: Drying your clothes by the fire

All it takes is one flyaway spark to ignite a sock and start a forest fire. While it’s tempting to dry wet clothes and shoes near the flames, it’s not worth the risk. Plus, your stuff ends up smelling like smoke.


Instead: Opt for air drying which is a much safer alternative. This best-selling Sea-to-Summit camping clothesline is just $15 on Amazon and is so popular that more than 1,000 were sold in the last month alone. 

A family of four sits happily outside their motorhome.

8. Mistake: Thinking the ground is level “enough.” 

“It’s level enough” – those are three famous last words you never want to utter. Trust us, you’ll regret it in the middle of the night when you wake up halfway down the hill or you open your RV’s fridge only to find it malfunctioning (most appliances need to be level in order to work properly). 

Instead: Don’t rush the process! If you’re tent camping, try not to settle for anything less than the most level spot. And if you’re RVing, consider investing in levelers and/or chocks

9. Mistake: Not securing things 

Almost every RVer has a horror story of arriving at their campsite only to open the door and find the contents of their fridge and/or cupboards all over the floor. Similarly, it’s not uncommon for things to fly out of a truck bed while going 80mph on the highway. 

Instead: Before hitting the road, do a walk-thru in your RV to make sure all doors are properly shut and secured. Line your shelves with grippy liners that prevent smooth things like plates and glasses from sliding around, and if you’re carrying anything in the bed of your truck or on the top of your vehicle, make sure it’s properly tied down. 

A man with long hair washing the roof of his RV.

10. Mistake: Not keeping up with maintenance

If RVs were plants, they wouldn’t be succulents you can neglect. They’d be delicate flowers. Whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome, it needs TLC, year-round. Similarly, how well you take care of your tent (and other gear) will determine its lifespan. 

Instead: Read your product owner’s manuals front-to-back, and make a list of all the things that require upkeep. Then set alerts, so you remember to do them. It may be inconvenient but remember, a little preventive work can save you a lot of money in the long run.

KOA Author Katie JacksonKatie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.

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