22 Camping Hacks from REI Experts

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After generations of sleeping outside, you tend to pick up a few tricks. Since 1938, REI employees and members have been creating and tuning pro tips to help make the outdoors a little more fun.

These may not change your life, but they just might save some time or impress your friends on the other side of the campfire.

1. Some people were born with cold feet. To cope while camping, fill your Nalgene up with hot water and throw it in the bottom of your sleeping bag before bedtime.

Camping Hacks

2. After sunset, turn any translucent jug of water into a translucent jug of ambient light. Just strap your headlamp to your water bottle with the light facing inward and tell your scary story that isn’t scary at all.

Camping Hacks

3. If snuggling up to a bottle of hot water goes against your better judgment, try some dry clothes instead. They will soak up any moisture in the bottom of your sleeping bag and keep your favorite feet warm.

Camping Hacks

4. Use garbage can science to help keep your stuff dry. Line your backpack with a plastic garbage bag and fill ‘er up.

Camping Hacks

5. Learn to love sacred socks. Sacred socks are clean, dry socks that live in your sleeping bag for sleeping purposes only. It’s a beautiful thing.

Camping Hacks

6. Save those little silica gel packs and store them with your cookware to help prevent rust. All it takes is one rusty pan for everyone to start calling you Rusty and you just never come back from that.

Camping Hacks

7. Send a gift to your future dirty, bug-bitten self by hiding your favorite snack in the car – only to be consumed upon completion of a successful camping trip. A little cookie can go a long way. Or rice cakes if you’re weird.

Camping Hacks

8. Pillows are for peasants. Rough it like you mean it by stuffing some clothes in your stuff sack and using that as a pillow.

Camping Hacks

9. There’s no use crying over wet shoes. Remove your insoles and stuff a dry shirt or some newspaper in your boots overnight to dry them out. If you’re still feeling emotional, write some poetry.

Camping Hacks

10. Everything tastes better when you’re camping, and everything tastes super radical when you’re eating it out of a flying plastic disc. Forget your plates on purpose! What a world.

Camping Hacks

11. Use hand-sanitizer to start a germ-free fire in a pinch.

Camping Hacks

12. You can also bring some lint with you as a lightweight fire-starter. Unless you’re saving that lint for something really important.

Camping Hacks

13. You know those trick birthday candles that everyone hates? Turns out, they make great weatherproof matches/fire-starters. Now mother nature can hate them too!

Camping Hacks

14. Start stockpiling your bread tags. They make great clothespins and they’re kinda shaped like slices of bread, which is helpful.

Camping Outdoor Hack

15. Lose a grommet? Twist a rock in the same corner to make a new anchor point. Give the rock a respectable name like Barnaby or Winifred.

Camping Outdoor Hack

16. Keep your zippers zippy by applying a little bit of candle wax from a very un-lit candle.

camping outdoor hack

17. Flame-sealed sections of drinking straws make handy spice holders and terrible water balloons.

Camping Outdoor Hack

18. When drying a down-filled sleeping bag, include a few tennis balls to preserve loft.

Camping Outdoor Hack

19. Drop your phone in the river? Put it in that bag of rice your vegan friend brought. Leave it in there for two days and it just might save your phone.

Camping Outdoor Hack

20. Want to experience life from a stick’s perspective? Attach your GoPro to a stick!

camping outdoor hack

21. You can also make your own tripod with some trekking poles and that stick that you made friends with earlier.

camping outdoor hack

22. Alternatively, you can just bring a tripod for your smartphone. You’ll look way cooler than the guy with the stick.

camping outdoor hack

Have a favorite hack that makes camping better? Please share in the comments below.

Find a campout in your area and sign up for a great weekend of fun activities led by the REI experts.

  • Jared

    Don’t leave food in your car. If you are camping where wild animals live (ie bears) they will smash your windows and rip apart your car to find the food you’ve hidden there. The same thing goes for food in your tent, just don’t do it.

    • Answer man

      This doesn’t happen in the Midwest, the bears here aren’t that bold. That’s out west where it’s an issue.

      • ScouterJohn

        Oh, no – blackies are just as hungry as silver-tips. No food in tents is a must. In cars – keep that box or cooler sealed.
        The best bet, in bear country, is a bag, 20 feet up, between trees at least that far apart. They’ve not yet mastered “Bends and Hitches 101”. No midnight snacks.

        • Out around the National Parks, you must hide that food under anything in your car, but disguise the shape… bears know the shape of coolers even hiding under a blanket.
          A grocery bag, with a box of diapers is good enough as a temptation for bears to break into your car.

        • Kristy Haslund

          In our BEAUTIFUL Adirondacks, our sue happy state posts signs warning campers you are liable even if you unknowingly attract a bear. My cell died, otherwise I would post a picture from 8th lake. Of course, no one would intentionally attract a bear but you’re required to do you homework and be vigilant. I love the birthday cake candles and the sanitizer and lint for fire starters. Much easier than the girl scout project of making fire starters out if lint wood chips used for rodent pet and candle nubs. 😉

      • Christine Louise

        The squirrels and/or chipmunks can also be vicious though. In an area that’s heavily visited they will eat through the tent to find food.

        • …or your backpack.
          That is why they are called “Mini-Bears”!

        • Steve Lindaas

          There is a well-armed squirrel on an island in the boundary waters canoe area. It stole my swiss army knife that was in a bag with a few cheese crumbs…

    • Mrs Doug

      Agreed! Living in California with a horrible drought, with bears coming down to lower elevations, leaving even a stick of gum in your car is asking for trouble. *I had NEVER thought of birthday candles as waterproof matches!

      • Howard Davis Tubre

        Do not test this experience no matter where you live

        • Ant

          little knowledge about bears goes a long way here; find out what attracts and do the opposite. If you seal and store food properly with no way for any smell to escape or linger. multi zip lock bags in a dry bag in a earth tone bear box or ursack while wiping down with unscented disinfecting wipes each sealed layer and use shelf stable foods (bottle of pop, chips, snack cakes, canned food and so on= all unopened and understanding sweets are an attractant ). still would not leave in a vehicle tho, to a bear there very curious looking and most smell like a stinking slob of a human , 200yd away in a tree or hide away would be fine. for years it’s worked great even on kodiak and ever bear infested place I know.

      • OR trash from food, too!

    • Roachster

      Where do you put your food?

      • Rebecca Lynn

        Bear canisters, tied up in the trees.

      • In my car, hanging from a sturdy limb.

        • Dooda Elton

          How do you hang your car from a sturdy limb?

          • pulleys? In case you’re serious: I put my food in my car (if car camping), or in a bear bag up in a tree.

          • Bear Bagging in a National Park is illegal, because they WILL get your food!

    • Brenton

      Even black bears are known to cause quite a fuss. Its more rare that the come after people for more than their food, but they live in closer proximity to people and arent as fearful in Pennsylvania

      • Robert

        I made the mistake of leaving food in my tent overnight while camping in PA. I woke up to 4 black bears in my tent. Even though they only wanted the food it scared me to death.

  • These are both useful and hilarious.

  • NullUsername

    Most of the tips I have are more survival related, but I have a couple suggestions.

    We have a lot of cold water creeks here (snow melt/glacier melt) so I plan a treat for when we return to the vehicle. We place bottles of our favorite beverages in the water and secure them with rocks. We we return later that day/several days later, we have our favorite cold, drinks ready to go.

    When parking, I always strip everything out of the vehicle I can and open the console, glovebox, etc. I let potential parking thieves see there isn’t anything in there. I’ve never had anything taken, even at very popular trailheads.

    Spices? Save the weight and time and just take salt and pepper. You can handle it for a couple days.

    Selfie sticks? Really? Leave them at home. If proping the camera/phone up isn’t good enough, get a tripod like in step 22. You can set them up on a rock, wrap them around a branch, etc.

    Plastic garbage bag? Use a plastic liner designed for use in a barrel. They are A LOT thicker and hold up to abuse.

    Firestarter? The hand sanitizer works great. Another great option. Carry a tampon. Open it up and fluff it up. It takes a spark, or you can use the paper wrapper to start it. They burn slow enough to catch whatever kindling you have. A little embarrassing for us guys, but it is a great tool for the job.

    • Perry Tancredi

      So instead of finding a random stick on the trail to attach my camera to, you want me to go out and get a stick, bring it home, and then leave it there?

    • Jim Bonneville

      Trash compactor bags are super tough and the perfect size for smaller packs.

      • Alex Duron

        Yep, heavy duty garbage bags or trash compactor bags are tried and true. I had one last me nearly 600 miles on the PCT. Just be careful when stuffing sharp cornered objects in your pack and they’ll last fo’ever!

    • GRB

      Tampons are also excellent for bloody noses. Carry a few in your 1st Aid kit!

    • JeanSC

      Birchbark is always reliable as tinder. Some months ago, I visited a wood-working school as part of a special event. I scooped up a bunch of wood shavings from hand-plane work and stuffed them in plastic bags, for future use as tinder.

  • Thomas

    So cool great info who would of ever thought of these great things,I’ve been camping all my life and it’s aamazing how much we can keep learning new things these are great I’ll be using them on my next camping trip thanks so much Thomas

  • Atlanta Girl

    Instead of lining pack with trashbag, use a blue Ikea bag. I have used it to wash clothes, gather wood, cover my pack and myself in rain, have a dry place to sit… and all for .99! And, Ikea says if it tears or rips, they will exchange. (But come on, it is a dollar!)

    • Brenton

      Trash compactor liners are also a good choice. Theyre much tougher than standard bags.

      • Atlanta Girl

        Ikea bags better. More durable, handles…

        • Alex Duron

          Nope, trash compactors or heavy duty trash bags are the key. Dimensions are more congruent with the pack and lighter as well. A tried and true method.

          • Atlanta Girl

            Used to use trash compactor bags but Ikea bags far more versatile – dragged firewood in them, done laundry, used as emergency pack cover, protected items from spill on my pack, dry place to sit, and someone else used it to snag fish.

            Good luck trying all of those things in a weekend with a trash bag

    • Yoginialoft

      For some reason–maybe it was your “timing” but I guffawed in glee at your c’mon it’s a dollar-but I say hey, it’s a DOLLAR!! Can’t wait to go find this item.

  • Cdb

    I always have a Frisbee or a pot lid not only to use as a plate but also to fan embers to flame. It’s a lot better than blowing.

    • Dolores Neilson

      Best fanning tool (other than a bonafide bellows)? A cheap white paper plate! Works great every time to fan weak flames.

      Also makes a great dirty spoon/utensil rest, reflect light into dark shadows in your photos or anything you need to keep separated from the ground (rest for a coffee cup, put your bread on while eating soup. I have found a lot of great uses for the cheap white paper plates while camping (and at home).

  • Foodie_Chris

    Still like the, “face the entrance of your tent into the wind. It not only gives you a breeze, but mosquito ‘ s are traped at the BACK of your tent and do NOT come in when you open up to leave”

  • Gabrielle Martin

    Nullusername is correct on the tampons; they should also be in your first aid kit as they are great for soaking up blood from injuries as well!.

    • someguynearby

      How can they be great for soaking up blood? 😉

    • Craig Reppe

      NOT! Only use tampons if you want the wound to bleed as much as possible! They are designed to be super absorbent, not to promote clotting as a proper gauze bandage will do.

      • Natasha Hansford

        I am medic and this trick has actually been know to save a life! It is great for puncture woods especially if it is to an artery. It will apply internal pressure and just like a band-aid ore gauze all in which absorb blood the clotting factor stays on the outside and the plasma and water are absorbed into it making the blood thicker.

      • Daxrunner

        You should maybe tell NOLS about that. They advocate this in their Wilderness First Aid classes.

        • Shecar8

          The small sizes are great for a bloody nose

          • JeanSC

            The better first aid for a bloody nose is to pinch the nostrils shut, lean forward a bit, and hold them closed for about 10 minutes. Then leave the dried clot go away naturally.

      • Mark Jacobs

        Cayenne pepper is good for fast clotting also corn starch and black pepper if you can take the pain. Sugar is a pretty good antiseptic
        Oh and juniper tree sap is an excellent blood glitter but you need to have a juniper tree handy lol

  • Thomas Del Porte

    If you are eating those freeze dried meals in a bag… make sure you bring along a long handled spoon or sporke as it will save your hands from getting dirty from reaching into your food bag. Dirty hands require clean water to wash and dirty hands add dirt to your food.

    • Chuck Baldree

      Cut the top 3″ of the bag off. Problem solved.

      • Thomas Del Porte

        So… Seems like the perfect answer, but not very elegant. Yes in a pinch that makes sense, but anything that gives the contents another outlet, like the cut edge that you cut off, is another opportunity to make a mess. The reason you go to the longer spoon is to reduce mess, not make more. Agreed that works when you only have a regular spoon, fork or spork. You can also slit the two sides and roll the top, but mess has a greater chance. Let’s face it, camping is messy, but hygiene reduces the risk of illness. On a thru-hike there is nothing worse than the runs or a cold.

    • Scott Bell

      I have found a handy option for this. “GSI Outdoors Titanium Kung Foon”.
      I am sure if you are inventive you can also make it.

  • Katy

    When camping by the Colorado River in 30* weather we used rocks we warmed by the fire and wrapped them in a shirt to keep us warm. HOT ROCKS ! 😬 Just be careful they don’t get too hot as they may burn synthetic material (and your skin)

    • David

      where did you place them? by your feet, head/shoulder etc…?

  • SheSaid

    Make your own waterproof ‘strike anywhere’ matches with clear fingernail polish. Dip the ‘strike anywhere matches into the polish. Hang ’em up to dry. Put ’em in your waterproof match box. This is an old girl scout trick I learned years ago.

    • Alex Duron

      Just carry 2 or 3 Bic mini lighters at least one of which is in a ziplock bag. One of them is bound to work.

  • Luca TB

    For bloody noses carry tampons. There meant to absorb blood and one can last you 20 minutes with a bloody nose.

    • MDC

      There’s an episode of Beavis and Butthead where they did exactly that.

  • Nick

    Bring with you extra alcohol pads from your first aid kit. They make great fire starter like the hand sanitizer. Also, i read in a survival book to bring a pencil sharpener to make tinder. It is just as good as the Bear Grylls tinderbox (which i love) for a fraction of the cost. Thx

    • Natasha Hansford

      So does bounce sheets. I brought them once to test it on the bugs and had a fire that just would not lite I finally put a bounce sheet in worked like magic

    • Alex Duron

      Cotton balls with baby oil in a medicine container such as an aspirin container. Don’t soak them too much so they’re dripping, just saturated or near saturation.

      • Mark Jacobs

        Vaseline also works well on cottonballs as starter and lasts a bit longer I believe. I know they will work on wet tinder anyway

  • Roland

    Food prep hack,
    While camping for no more than one or two night;”weekend”trip, at home, scramble all your eggs and put into a sports water bottle. No more broken eggs in the bottom of the cooler.
    Prep cook all the bacon/sausage almost to done. Drain and lay out on paper towels. Roll/fold and put into gallon zip lock. Most foods take longer to cook at altitude. Handled; just bring to temp.
    Pancake batter works the same way. TEST AT HOME BEFORE LEAVING. Put dry measur in two liter bottle at home. Most mixes use milk alone. Add mike at the campsite, shack well, squeeze into hot pan.
    Feeding the masses in record time…..

    • I have also microwaved whole potatoes at home. Then I slice them at camp and fry them. They cook a lot quicker.

  • Jim Bonneville

    When camp at night, hang your head light around your neck. It will provide enough light for most tasks and your campmates will thank you for not regularly Inadvertently blinding them.

  • Smith_in_Minnesota

    Some newer hand sanitizers are made without alcohol, which is not going to help you start that fire.

    I’m still a sucker for a cotton ball coated in petroleum jelly.

    • Alex Duron

      Yep, or baby oil. Those bad boys start right up. The pencil sharpener idea is cute but we all carry a knife which should do the trick. Top thru-hiking rule: always try to replace single-purpose items with multi-purpose items!

  • Drew Murphy

    Nothing beats being 2 days into a 40 day backpacking trip and breaking your nalgene bowl! The lid makes a great plate and the broken parts of the bowls became a trowel lol

  • David Cappelle

    When winterhiking take two little baby bottles with you, you can store your dried food ex. Breakfast in it and when heating water in the morning fill the empty bottles with hot water.
    Put the hot bottles in your shoes while having breakfast.
    Afterwards your shoes will be nicely warm and ready for your next day on the snowy trail.

  • Rory O’Donnell

    This is what #7 feels like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC8gJ0_9o4M

  • That Camping Kid

    If you cant sleep while camping, do a bit of exercise and it’ll wear you out pretty quick

  • Stew

    I always leave a set of clean clothes in the car since its nice to put on some clean clothes after a week in the bush. That way your drive home is comfortable and I always go out for fish and chips after a trip and I am sure everyone I encounter is glad I left a set of clean clothes in the car.

    I also always leave a bottle of water in the car since often I come back really thirsty.

  • Mohamad Fadzil Mustafa

    Instead of just keeping your stuff dry in the backpack when it rains, why not just completely waterproof your stuff including when having to wade chest deep across rivers? Use space saver vacuum plastic bags instead. These bags use a small pump to extract nearly all the air out to save space, are resilient and are completely waterproof for lengthy submersions in water. Does a much better job then using dry sacks in your backpack (dry sacks are usually for short submersions only).

    • Alex Duron

      Too much trouble and the bags are not very durable. Heavy duty trash bag or trash compactor bag are tried and true, simple and fail safe.

  • LTC Mustard

    Wet phones, etc. go in a ziplock 1/2 full of salt and set it in the sun!
    Super water-desiring (hydrophilic) salt soaks up the water that
    evaporates out of the electronics. Works every time: for phones,
    cameras, dive computers…I’ve done it lots. Does not work: 19. Drop
    your phone in the river? Leave it in [rice] for two days and it just
    might save your phone…nope. Rice does not love the water more than the
    hydro-static charge on the electronic metal.

  • Allison Sullivan

    The hot Nalgene bottle is the best hack ever. I learned that one in Nepal nearly 10 years ago, and have used it ever since. Hell, I even do it at home in the middle of winter.

    Also, garbage bag liniers for backpacks – I use this on my motorcycle soft bags all the time. There is nothing better than arriving somewhere drenched, and knowing that all your clothes and your sleeping bag are still going to be dry.

  • Diane Maldonado

    I just want to say that I love your sense of humor!!

  • Charles Carrigan

    Some great tips! I esp. like that one about the silica gel packs, hadn’t thought of that. And the bread tags as clothespins is good too. But those loops in #15 tied with overhand knots on a bight make me cringe a little.

  • Heather Allysse Unverzagt

    This had me cracking up.

  • Sandy VanDerzee

    This was hilarious! Love it!

  • Ritz Carlton.

  • EdG

    Filling your Nalgene water bottle from a stream or lakeside?

    Stop at almost any “dollar” store and pick up nylon “footies”. (Shoe stores give them out for trying on shoes.) These are the small stretching things you can wrap around the bottom of your foot. Bring a few rubber bands. Total weight/pack size: near zero.

    Pop a ‘footie’ on your open Nalgene bottle, fix it in place with a rubber band. Next submerge the bottle at the lake’s edge (no need to wade in past the floating sticks and small debris). You’ll spend an extra minute, and you still have to sanitize the water as before, but you won’t have junk floating around in your water bottle, and your sanitizer will be far more effective without the extra debris.

    And if a rubber band breaks, or a footie gets too dirty or tears, spares are easy to carry.

  • Liz Claflin

    Gorilla Glue brand trash bags are much taller and more durable than trash compacter bags and perfectly fit 75 liter bags and larger. They also work great for smaller packs but you might need to trim a bit off the top.

  • Liz Claflin

    Use 70% alcohol instead of more expensive, often perfumed sanitizer. Just put it in a little spray bottle. Don’t use higher than 70% because it evaporates too fast to kill germs.

    Also, use an REI snow tent stake instead of a cat hole trowel. It’s cheaper at just over $2, feather light and works perfectly for digging holes.

  • Tim Tobin

    If you need an impromptu smartphone holder for pics cut a green branch off a tree and sharpen one end and stab it in the ground. Then split the top end down till it will hold the phone. Presto! Monopod. You can use a bit of sting to secure it if needed.

  • Brant Serxner

    I like the one about the bread tags, but they will get lost and turn into permanent forest trash. Learn to tie a few loops in your line. You can even make a loop line before you head out.

  • Scott Welle

    Tired of fumblng for the zipper pulls in the dark and don’t want to pay the $6 for glow in dark zipper pulls? They make glow in the dark paracord. Make your own glow in the dark zipper pulls. Even better, no more tripping over your guylines in the middle of the night, use the glow in the dark paracord for those too. Now your campsite looks like a rave. And who doesn’t love a rave in the middle of the woods!

  • Carmen Fisher

    Btw, those little silicone packs are great to keep in a plastic bag , for that wet phone …dries phone faster than rice and 50 % better chance of saving phone!

  • jonathan

    This article was so hilarious I was crying! Thank you 🙂

  • Shecar8

    A great way to sleep warm is to change ALL of your clothes before you go to sleep. The clothes you’ve been wearing all day have some moisture from your body in them. Just like hot+humid makes you feel hotter, cold+humid feels colder. I learned this from a Girl Scout trainer and have felt toasty warm ever since (in my 25 year old low-tech sleeping bag).

  • Bill

    Improve on the stuff sack pillow by sewing a rectangle of pile from an old jacket into the inside of the stuff sack. You need to cover only about half of the sack. Turn the sack inside out, stuff clothes inside, and you have a more comfy pillow.

  • Joey Shepard

    We were camping and one of our younger boy scouts opened up a bag of chips in the night he woke up to a tent in shreds with a raccoon on his stomach eating the chips. So best bet is to leave the food in your car, where I’m from we’ve only seen a bear once or twice so it’s not really a big deal, for them just for any wild scavengers.

  • lj

    A hack I always do but have never see on page, but this one (that might be cause everyone does it.) is putting your clothing in your sleeping bag. I always put the clothes I’m going to were the next in the my bag so I’m not putting on cold clothing on the in morning, plus my feet stay warm!

  • JeanSC

    I LOATHE the use of the word “hack” in this context. Stop it! Use a word that people used decades ago.

  • Sara Haliczer

    That throwing disc thing? Yeah, nah. Just pack IKEA kids’ department plastic plates. They make amazing throwing discs. I’d also rather eat from a plate I sometimes throw around than from a throwing disc I try to clean up to eat from.

  • Hacked! I love these. The tennis ball solution sounds….interesting!

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