Be careful not to make these classic camping mistakes.
Every camper has that embarrassing, sometimes expensive, story that often comes out around the campfire. In hindsight, these camping bloopers are often hilarious. But after the laughter has died down, it’s time to ponder the valuable lessons to be learned from these mistakes. After all, that’s the only way to make sure they’re not repeated. So, if you’re looking for a chuckle, or simply want to know you’re not the only one to wake up in a flooded tent, wake up to wildlife eating last night’s s’mores leftovers or pay the price of neglecting to winterize your RV, read on.
1. Overestimating Elevation
Bridget Carlson lives in Texas so she’s no stranger to the summer’s triple-digit temps. But what she had to learn the hard—and hot—way, is that even the Texas “mountains” experience extreme heat. One summer, she tried camping in Guadalupe Mountains National Park—home to the state’s highest peaks. “I assumed since it was ‘mountains’ that automatically meant it would be much cooler,” remembers Carlson, who writes about her adventures, and in this case, misadventures, at NuttyHiker.com. “WRONG! We stayed for a week—tent camping—and the temps easily got into the high 90s and low 100s in some parts.” During the hottest part of the day, they’d retreat to their truck and find relief in the form of AC.
2. Assuming Supplies Are Nearby
On this same West Texas trip, Carlson spent a lot of money on gas. “It was all desert area so the closest place to get water, ice, food, gas and heck, anything, was a 45-minute drive away,” she remembers. Because it was so hot, they went through a lot of water and ice and had to make the 1.5-hour roundtrip drive every day. She says the moral of the story is to make sure you thoroughly research how easy it will be to restock on supplies when you’re on the road. “While we look back and laugh now, that trip cost us a lot more than we budgeted simply due to all the driving we did that we had not planned on.” (Fortunately, KOA’s have camp stores!)
3. Not Packing a Sleeping Pad
“The worst camping mistake I remember was going to sleep in my tent with my sleeping bag thinking everything was great until midnight rolled around and it was freezing,” recalls Laura Cabrera, founder of the blog Girl vs. Grid. “It was one of my first times camping and I hadn’t realized that I needed an extra layer of protection, like a foam pad, between my sleeping bag and the tent floor.” Cabrera says she barely slept that night because of the bone-chilling cold.
4. Sleeping on Frozen Air
“Looking back on it, it was such an amateur mistake,” says Jacob, who along with his wife Esther, runs LocalAdventurer.com. The two experienced campers have spent many nights in KOAs, but on this particular night, they were car camping. Knowing it was going to dip below freezing, they packed plenty of layers and their sleeping bags rated for low temperatures. The mistake, however, was trying to sleep on an air mattress which they brought so they didn’t have to sleep on the cold ground. “Sleeping pads are rated by R-values from 1.0 to 8.0,” explains Jacob. “The R-value is a measurement of insulation. Usually, for freezing temps, you want to find R-values of 4.0 or more, and some people even recommend two pads with good R-values stacked on top of each other.” What Jacob and Esther realized that night was that air mattresses don’t have R-values. “Essentially, we were sleeping on a big pad—about two-feet high—of frozen air!”
5. Checking for Ticks Too Late
Some mistakes are simple snafus. This one, however, required three shots in the butt, blood work and a two-week course of antibiotics. By the time Lauren Monitz, who was camping in Kansas at the time, noticed the 15 ticks in her leg, they had burrowed so deeply she had to go to an emergency clinic to get them removed. “My leg looked like it’d been attacked by a vampire,” says Monitz, founder of the travel blog The Down Lo. “I never want a repeat of that incident!”
6. Going Without Winterization
Hilarye Fuller’s family now lives in their RV full time which they document at Dotting the Map. But when they first got it, just before Christmas-time, they had no idea they’d need to winterize it during the colder months while the fifth wheel was waiting for its maiden road trip. Of course, the first time they camped in it, they experienced serious flooding. “Our 8-year-old started screaming at the top of her lungs and emerged from our camping soaking wet,” says Fuller. “Not only was the sink shooting fountains of water in the air, so was the shower and toilet; water streamed out like crazy from the
7. Forgetting to Close the Hatches
“We left Mount Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch a wee bit hasty,” admits Jody Halsted. “While we had made sure to unplug and unhook everything, we weren’t quite as thorough about checking our hatches. So, as we left the campground our hatches joyfully bounced open and closed with each bump in the road.” By the time Halsted, founder of the website, Camping Tips for Everyone, was alerted by another camper “dramatically” flashing their headlights, they’d lost a few pool noodles and some camp chairs. It wasn’t anything major, but today, she shares this cautionary tale with other campers and recommends using a “before you leave” checklist.
8. Feeding the Wildlife
Jennifer Fontaine can accept the loss of her $20 camping chair, but it was the “grunts and snorts of bears sniffing” just inches away from her head that will ensure she never repeats this mistake. “After a night of campfire singing, s’mores and Smirnoff in Sequoia National Park, I unwittingly left a half-nibbled chocolate bar in the mesh cup holder of my camp chair,” says Fontaine, the managing editor of Outdoor Families Magazine. “A few hours later, the undeniable sounds of bears rummaging through our campsite left me quivering in my quick-pitch tent.”
9. Skipping the New Tent Test Run
When Tabby Farrar went camping for the first time in her new tent, she took it to a notoriously wet destination: Wales. The U.K.-based travel writer at JustCantSettle.com says setting up the new tent went fine, that is until they noticed they were missing some tent pegs and there were rows of small holes along the tent’s seams. Not a big deal—until it started downpouring. “Suddenly our lovely new tent had become a covered paddling pool with three inches of water inside it,” recalls Farrar. Fortunately, some hospitable campers nearby let them huddle in their dry tent until the storm passed. “Now, before any camping trip I always make sure whatever tent we’re taking has been set up in the garden and hosed down to make sure that not only are all the pieces there, but also we know it isn’t going to leak.”
Katie 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.