22 Camping Hacks from REI Experts

Editor’s Note: This article originally published 2015 and was updated on Jan. 23, 2022.

After generations of sleeping outside, you tend to pick up a few camping hacks. Since 1938, REI Co-op Members and staffers 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.

1. Make your own firestarter.

At home, coat cotton balls heavily in petroleum jelly and put them in a small plastic bag, says Trent Doerner, a member since 2019. This provides a nearly waterproof method to start a campfire. Doerner uses the extra jelly to soothe blisters or chapped lips while on the trail.

2. Make more firestarters.

Take an empty (paper) egg carton and fill each individual cup with shredded paper, dryer lint or sawdust. Melt candle wax and pour the wax into each cup. Separate the cups and nest the homemade firestarter to kick start your next campfire.

3. Wrap tape around your trekking poles.

Extra duct tape or Tenacious Tape™ repair tape comes in handy for multiple uses in the outdoors. Use it to patch a hole in your puffy jacket or sleeping pad, or make emergency repairs to your tent. To save space in your pack, wrap the tape around a water bottle or trekking pole. (Read more outdoor hacks for duct tape.)

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson.

4. Light up your bear canister.

Phil Reed, an REI Co-op member since 1979, found an easy trick for locating his bear-resistant food canister on very early trail departures. Reflective decals on the container keep them bright enough to spot with his headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness.

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson.

5. And your headlamp.

Reed also affixes glow-in-the-dark tape on the band of his headlamp so he can always easily find it.

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson

6. Parachute cord has many uses.

Paracord can serve many uses in the wilderness, including replacing broken boot laces. (For a chic way to carry it on your wrist, check out this tutorial to make your own paracord survival bracelet.)

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson

7. Make your own lantern.

Place your headlamp in an empty Nalgene, the clip the bottle to the loop on your tent ceiling to illuminate your shelter on your next overnight adventure.

lit headlamp in Nalgene water bottle

8. Stuff sacks make good pillows.

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

Camping Hacks

9. Warm your sleeping bag with a Nalgene.

Blue water bottle nestled in a blue and red sleeping bag

Photo credit: Dan DeLong

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

10. Pack the bottom of your sleeping bag with dry clothes.

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 feet warm.Camping Hacks

11. Line your pack with a heavy-duty garbage bag.

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

.Camping Hacks

12. Use silica gel packs in your cookware.

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

13. Dry your shoes with crumpled clothes.

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

14. Create a grab-and-go kit.

Keep a small bag on ready so you can quickly grab it if you ever want to venture away from your base camp. Fill it with essentials like a space blanket, multi-tool or first-aid kit.

A backpacker holding an emergency kit

15. Use that kit for other activities, too.

Now that you’ve set up a ready-to-go bag, it’s easy to take it with you when you switch activities. Tuck it in a bike bag, a dry bag or another pack for quick access to essentials.

16. Keep one pair of your socks safe.

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

17. Hand sanitizer works as fire starter.

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

18. Hang your clothes up with bread tags.

Start stockpiling your bread tags. They make good clothespins and weigh next to nothing.Camping Outdoor Hack

19. Make a new grommet out of a rock.

Lose a grommet? Twist a rock in the same corner to make a new anchor point. Name your tarp assistant “Rocky,” or something more exotic like “Granite” if you have the geological cred to pull that off.

Camping Outdoor Hack

20. In a pinch, use candle wax as a zipper lubricant.

Candle wax (from a very un-lit candle) can add zip back to a zipper. (Clean it off and use a real lube at home, though.)

camping outdoor hack

21. Keep your down sleeping bag fluffy by drying it with tennis balls.

When drying a down-filled sleeping bag, include a few tennis balls to preserve loft. (Learn more on how to wash a sleeping bag.)Camping Outdoor Hack

22. Leave a set of clean clothes in the car.

It’s almost up there with a hot shower: a spare change of clothes waiting for you when you come off the trail.

A set of clothes and a pair of shoes in a car