Camp in comfort using these handy tips


In his book, Camping and Woodcraft (1917), Horace Kephart wrote that he took to the woods not to “rough it,” but to “smooth the way.”

Kephart believed that expert skills and appropriate gear were the keys to comfort in the wild outdoors. And you should never be miserable on a camping trip, either. So here are some tips for camping in comfort.

Protect the Head Camp Comfort Ground Rules 2

Bring more hats than you think you’ll need. These three will keep you prepared for any weather: a broad-brimmed canvas hat (preferred) or ball cap for sun, a wool stocking cap for cold, and a waterproof “sou’wester” for rain. In cold weather, bring along a wool balaclava for use as a neck warmer and/or sleeping helmet.

Buy Clothes Big

Long-sleeved shirts and sweaters should be a full size larger than your city clothes. Rain jackets and shells should be larger still, and cut full — like an Inuit winter parka — so that they will fit over bulky clothes. Sleeves should be wide for ease of movement. Zippers should close high on the neck so icy air can’t chill your chest; most parkas leave a gap at the throat when they’re zipped up. And, more often than not, underarm zippers will leak in heavy rain — even those claiming to be waterproof.

Nix the Rain Pants

The zippered ankle closures don’t keep out rain — they just restrict ventilation and make you sweat (primitive man learned long ago that water doesn’t flow uphill). Plus, the zippers jam with debris and often fail. And the zippered legs can’t be shortened to fit short people. Avoid rain pants with wicking liners. When the liners get wet, they droop below the cuff and absorb water and wick it to your legs. They may also catch on vegetation and cause a fall.

Go With Wool

Always bring a long-sleeve wool shirt and lightweight long johns, even in the summer. Wool has a greater temperature comfort range versus synthetics. It’s more breathable, and it doesn’t develop obnoxious odors. If you think you’re allergic to wool, you haven’t tried Merino wool from Australia and New Zealand. Tip: You can shrink-fit military surplus woolens to fit small kids if you cook the woolens in boiling water for five minutes and then dry them with high heat. For centuries lobster fishermen used this “shrink-fit” procedure to make their woolens water-resistant.

Mix Fabrics

While you might get by with a cotton T-shirt, a synthetic fabric (such as Dry-Fit) will help keep you cool during summer. But socks, no matter the season, should always be nearly pure wool. Trousers may be nylon, polyester, cotton-polyester or a mix of these fabrics. Shorts and sunburn go hand-in-hand. Do not wear blue jeans except for day hikes in perfect weather.

Jacket for Windy Weather

Everyone should have a breathable nylon wind shell for dry, blustery days outdoors. Wear the wind shell for gusty weather and save your rain gear for rain. Why? Because any garment that is worn too much will soon develop holes. Store rain clothes in a protective fabric sack in your pack.

Sit When Possible Camp Comfort Ground Rules 3

Camp chores — cooking, washing dishes, tending the fire — go easier when you don’t sit on the ground. So, bring a folding stool. One variety has a backrest and zippered storage pouch, and it sits on two parallel aluminum rails that won’t sink into the ground. When not in use, it folds flat and clips (with bungee cords) to a pack. When weight is a concern, nix the stool and bring a square of closed-cell foam.

Cover the Hands

Wear wool gloves with rubber traction dots for cold and neoprene gloves for rain. Winter trips demand both gloves and mittens.

Keep It Personal

Everyone should have a personal supply of adhesive bandages, aspirin, soap, and hand cream in case the first-aid kit is inaccessible (perhaps in a leader’s pack).

Each person should take responsibility for small cuts that can become infected if they’re not washed and quickly bandaged. Frequent use of hand cream will deter cracked skin. And how can you freshen up during the day if your toothbrush and soap are packed away?

Many Scouts don’t have the latest gear. But they often camp more comfortably than non-Scouts who do. Why? Because Scouting takes its motto seriously: Be Prepared.

Cliff Jacobson is a Distinguished Eagle Scout and the author of more than a dozen popular books on the outdoors.

What are your secret “comfort” camping tricks? Share your suggestions in the comments below.


  1. Rain Pants! Don’t nix the rain pants. You don’t wear rain pants to keep your legs dry. You wear rain pants to keep your feet dry. If you don’t wear rain pants, the water runs down your legs INTO YOUR BOOTS.

  2. Rain jacket & pants, even gor-tex doesn’t breathe well and hold in too much moisture when walking, so your legs and feet still get wet. Use a poncho, it breathes well and keeps your upper body dry; if you drape it over your pack it will stay dry too.

    Ex letter carrier, lots of time spent walking in the rain.

    • That’s why u get the gore tex w the zippered pits. Thats how it breathes. And you don’t wear a bunch of long sleeved clothes under it, just a fleece and tshirt or tshirt only. My 20 y.o. gore tex is awesome.

    • Sleeping in rain pants in the winter (when sweating isn’t a concern) is fantastic. Any rain gear will lock in heat.

  3. This is going to sound silly – but toilet paper with aloe can make a real difference for more people than you think!

  4. Water-proofed gaiters. Here in Oregon you HAVE to plan to get wet. The gaiters keep the water out of my hiking boots and the mud (and other stuff) off of my pants.

  5. Mine is a layered sleeping system similar to your clothing system.

    Even in the summer, wear polypropylene long underpants and long undershirt fro sleeping. The wicking capabilities keep you cooler and drier than anything else, including bare skin. If it’s really warm out, just sleep in the long underwear on top of your sleeping bag.

    The next layer is a polyester fleece sleeping bag liner. On cooler nights, slip in to that and use the final part of the system, a 45 degree lightweight backpacking sleeping bag as a comforter. And of course, on colder nights, you sleep in all three items, nested in each other.

    By having this combination of items, you can easily adjust for comfortable sleeping from about 35 degrees F up to 100 degrees F.

  6. We live in Florida. Although it does get cold her for a couple months in the winter, and your tips will help there. How about some HOT weather tips. Everyone always gives tips on cold weather camping, but nothing on scorching hot weather where the humidity is 98% in the summer and so is the temp.s
    For this I recommend a hammock! The Scout Shop used to carry one called the Eagles Nest, it’s great, it packs into nothing, and you can attach it to a tree with ratchet straps. They wont hurt the tree, and you won’t have to worry about the critters here in Florida at night, which include Alligators, pigs, fire ants, scorpions, and spiders! I pack a flannel sheet with mine to cover up with in the night. It’s pretty warm when needed, without being too hot. Also If you pack an extra ratchet strap you can run that over the top of your hammock and set up a tarp to keep the dew or rain off you at night, or a net to keep the bugs off.

  7. Treat your wool with lanolin to make it water resistant. Most wool made now is too highly processed to repel water

  8. A towel, cotton balls smeared in Vaseline, candels- much better light not so hard on the eyes, bailing twine-cheap, strong, abundant, light-weight; and one of my favorites a bed sheet , nothing special just a simple bed sheet it’s great on warm nights and ads 20° on cold ones, sun shade on sunny days etc, etc etc

    • I assume the vaseline cotton balls are for fire starting? I prefer squares of egg carton dipped in canning paraffin. Cotton balls dipped in paraffin and placed in the the egg carton cups make nice fire starters too. Way less messy.

  9. Always bring your own cup.
    Bigger than those in mess-kits and you don’t have to worry about someone else using “your” cup. It also adds some comfort always knowing you’ll have your trust cup at your side, and makes for some good stories.

    • Boy Scout Camp Mugs are the very best cup out there. They come in a variety of colors and very easily personalized. Great for cold drinks and hot drinks. It holds 12 ounces.

  10. Always have a bandanna handy! So many uses — in hot weather, dunk it in water and tie around your neck. You’ll feel a lot cooler. Need a napkin? A placemat for your lunch? A handkerchief? A quickly made ball or a blindfold for a game with your scouts? A sling for first aid? Tie a colorful bandanna to your daypack or backpack and you’ll spot your bag quickly.

  11. I definitely agree about the gaiters, and get as good a set of boots as you can afford. You can even even wear your gaiters with your shorts to keep the mud and stones out, makes for funky tan-lines though! Keep your clothes in sets so you don’t have to drag everything out of your bag to get a pair of socks and wrap each set in a polythene bag so it’s dry when you put it on. At the end of the day, find a pool of water and soak your feet, there’s nothing nicer and you can always eat the fish that float to the surface!

  12. I was reminded of this trick during an extremely wet week at this past summer camp. Extra large zip lock bags can be be worn over two pairs of socks when your hiking boots are still wet from the night before. After a couple of hours, the boots had dried so the bags could be removed before sweat my socks became soaked with sweat.

    We used to keep tie top heavy garbage bags in our hunting packs to use as make shift waiters. Getting a soaker when the water was deeper than our boots were high made for an uncomfortable day of hunting.

  13. I’ve sold hiking boots for over 40 years and been in scouting for over 30. Fit your boots with the socks you will wear remembering a little big is a good thing! You have to buy them with the idea that you will eventually go downhill and you need enough room to slide forward. Manufacturers recommend at least 3/4″ between your longest toe and the end of the boot. I like to see 1″ , more if you need growth room. Waterproof is nice if you can afford it, but all leather is better. You can waterproof leather anytime. Don’t forget socks. Blisters come from two things…boots that are not broken in properly (at least 36 hours to make sure) and wet socks. If you haven’t worn your boots within the last 30 days, they will need some more breaking in as they have dried out on the inside from your last hike and need some more break in time. With today’s technology, double socks are not necessary, but still work well. Polypropylene as a liner and a high content wool one on the outside. There are some socks that have this built into one sock. 100% polypropylene on the inside and 100% wool on the outside. They are about $16 to $20 per pair. Merino wool is really nice, too, but you will need a liner sock with most of those. Always have 3-6 pair per trip. Double if you double sock. One to wear, one that is dry and one drying. Every 3-4 hours change your socks. Put on the dry pair, hang the wet pair on a string on the outside of your backpack, if it is not raining, and slide the drying pair to the other side of the string on the pack to continue drying. Use them as your next pair. As long as your socks are wet, you run the chance of getting blisters faster than if they are dry!

    • Lynn;
      Can you help me find the right hiking boots I want?
      I am looking for mid height all leater or mostly leather hiking boots with a very aggressive vibram sole. Also must be waterproof and good quality. Can you recommend something?

      • Check out keen boots they are extremely durable and work great as hiking boots. I have worn them daily for the last 6 years and have yet to get a blister. A pair lasts me a year of daily use I’ve never worn a pair out my work just buys us a new pair yearly. I’ve had vask and danner boots and Keenes hold up much better to abuse and they dry well.

  14. somethin really simple but great, put a dry sheet in your tent before your next camping trip! It will smell better! lol…

  15. I have found with our scouts (Australia), that no matter how hard we try as Scout Leaders( Scoutmasters with BSA) our scouts “know best”. That is until they have done it once. We let our Patrol Leaders teach their patrols, and it’s amazing how everyone differs. Next month we are undertaking a 30km (18 mile) hike. I have tied to show them how 30 years military training has helped me in hiking, what to bring, what to leve behind, food etc, will be interesting to see what happens

  16. Perhaps this is more of a tip for any women who might be participating, but my best tip is to pack baby wipes. When access to plumbing is limited, it feels great to wipe your face and hands with a baby wipe. Cooling face sprays — Aveda makes a nice one — are also a nice refresher!

    • Research your baby wipes.

      I used to operate vending machines, I found that Wet Ones or Huggies wipes actually cleaned your hands. Most baby wipes merely perfume your hands and are flimsy. Wet Ones and Huggies are much more durable.

  17. I love Kephardt, but I think that quote is from Nessmuk. Easy to confuse, since Nessmuk’s book is called “Woodcraft and Camping”, and Kephardt’s two books “Camping” and “Woodcraft” are reprinted as a single volume.

    The full quote: “We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks anywhere that we may be placed – with the necessity always present on being on time and up to our work; of providing for the dependent ones; of keeping up, catching up, or getting left.”

  18. DON’T FREEZE! When its cold, stuff your clothes and each boot in a plastic bag at the bottom of your sleeping bag. They will be nice and warm when you dress in the morning.

    WHEN IN BEAR COUNTRY! Tie a pot and a metal cup on the back of your backpack so they cling and clang together as you move along. Let “Smoky” know your coming.

  19. No rain pants? Really? Really? Has the author ever been in a cold weather rain STORM? A poncho will keep parts of you more or less dry, as long as the wind isn’t blowing too much. At least half of the reason to wear rain pants is to keep your feet dry. Without rain paints, the rain soaks your pants, and then run downs your leg into your boots.

    I’d be more impressed with the “no rain pants” advice, if the author offered an actual suggest about keeping your lower half dry in a storm.

    Military surplus woolen clothing. Really? From WWII? I doubt that you are going to find mil-surplus woolen shirts or pants anywhere. For at least two or three decades military units have been wearing goretex coats (and pants) for rain, and polypro fleece for cold weather warmth.

    Of course, if you read carefully – it looks like this article is either borrowed from or inspired by a book written in 1917.

  20. I’m a scout and I am TOLD to bring rain pants, or better yet, fishing pants Tip:(always bring fishing zipper pants if you are going on a trip.) very comfortable and you can zip off leggings to make them shorts. But, I need to use this because I didn’t know we were writing a magazine for school today and I don’t have my book.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Camp in comfort using these handy tips – Scouting Magazine | WoodCraft Megazine
  2. Tips for Comfortable Camping | Eagle
  3. Camping and Wilderness Skills for Boy Scouts | Personal Injury Lawyers

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