Eight tips to help take the discomfort out of camping

campingcomfortableIn his book, Camping and Woodcraft (1906), Horace Kephart writes: “We do not go to the woods to rough it; we go to smooth it.” Stick with camping and you, too, will discover tricks that will make outdoor life easier.

Smooth the way with these eight simple tricks.

Make a Sleeping Pad Cover

Protect your sleeping pad from punctures and keep it from sliding around on the tent floor with a porous cover. Make a pillowcase-like cover using cotton, polyester or merino wool. This will also help absorb perspiration as you sleep.

Pitch a Tent on Uneven Ground

Conventional wisdom suggests tents should be pitched head-end high on a slope; do this and you’ll slide downhill all night. If you place clothing under your legs to stop the sliding, the price will be a hammock-like position — and in the morning, possibly a sore back.

It’s better to pitch your tent perpendicular to the slope, one side lower than the other. Place folded clothes under your sleeping pad along the downhill side. This will produce a level trough that is more comfortable than an arched position.

Fix Tent and Tarp Seams

Not all tents and tarps have factory-sealed (waterproof) seams — and with enough use, those that do often leak. Special seam sealants — available at outdoor gear retailers — do a good job, but they are expensive and might become brittle when it’s cold or sticky when it’s hot. Eventually, they peel.

Thompson’s Water Seal (available at hardware stores) never becomes brittle or sticky. Apply it to seams with a foam varnish brush and wipe off the excess with a cotton rag or paper towel. The fabric will slightly discolor, but one application lasts almost forever. It’s great for paper maps and journals, too, as you can write over it. (This will not stick to the seams of silicone-treated tent flies and tarps, however.)

Fold a Ground Cloth

You need a partner:

  1. Each person grasps the opposite side of the plastic groundsheet and holds it high. Two sides will fall to
    the ground. Adjust the lengths so they are equal.
  2. Repeat the procedure with the once-folded sheet. Again, you have two equal lengths.
  3. Continue folding in this manner until the sheet is roughly equal to the width of your pack.
  4. Roll up the folded sheet. One partner holds his or her end of the sheet while the other rolls it. Keep your hands inside the roll. The entire procedure takes about 15 seconds.

Avoid Guyline Falls

Tents and tarps should be equipped with brightly colored cords or ribbons that can be seen in dim light. But even bright colors aren’t visible when flashlights rule the night. The solution? A yellow reflection cord that glows in the beam of a headlamp. It is more expensive than a military-spec parachute cord, but the falls it prevents are worth the price. You’ll find it at high-end camping stores and on the internet.

Pack a Nail File

Need to smooth a sharp edge on a canoe or kayak paddle, rough a surface to be patched, or sharpen a knife or fishhook? A reinforced foam emery board or nail file is tougher than sandpaper. f

Flip Your Lid

Many hikers use Nalgene bottles. Open one and the leashed cap will snap back against the bottle (or the bridge of your nose). An easy fix is to remove the cap with its leash and retaining ring. And install it on the bottle upside down. The flipped leash will make the cap spring away when you open the bottle.

Dry Your Socks

An old woodsman’s trick: Heat some rocks at the edge of your campfire and stuff them into wet socks. Roll up the socks. They’ll dry in about an hour.

(Remember: Don’t take rocks from a lake or stream. Trapped moisture could cause them to explode when heated.)

The more you camp, the more tricks you’ll accumulate. Also, seasoned Scouters are a great source for camping tips, so ask colleagues at your next meeting or campout.

Share your camp-in-comfort tips in the comments below!


  1. On the Thompson’s hack, will ot also work as a water repellant for the shell and do you apply it on the inside or outside? I have a box store brand tent that is at least 10 years old. I put it in a commercial wash machine to clean it up and washed out the water repellant. I have also been thinking to try the nixwax water repellant that you add to the wash. Any thoughts?

    • On a ten year old tent, I would just apply to the outside since it is easier when the tent is pitched.

  2. On a cold trip, put tomorrow’s clean clothes inside your sleeping bag. They won’t chill you when you put them on, and they kept your feet warm the night before

  3. Always put your ground cloth in the tent. If outside, water can seep in between your tent and the cloth getting you wet. I was never wet despite very heavy cloud bursts when the ground cloth was in the tent.

    • Use 2 ground cloths, one outside to protect bottom of tent, other inside with flaps running up the walls to keep you dry. Put a piece of outdoor carpet as floor over tarp for added comfort and insulation. If the weather looks like it could rain and get windy, use a large tarp over tent with good anchoring, in the winter it will also add a layer of protection for the cold & snow will slide right off of it. I had a heavy snowfall slide right down the sides and pile up increasing insulation.

    • Our Troop tents have two ground cloths. They are heavy duty but lightweight plastic. One goes under the tent, one inside. It also spares the hassle of washing mud out of the tents, ground cloths are easier to wash.

    • Lynn LaBuddeu, the downside to that is, now you have a dirty bottom on your tent that is abrasive to the rest of your tent, when it gets folded up. I like being able to fold up my ground cloth dirty side in, and seal all that dirt away from the rest of the tents’ surfaces.

    • Fold the ground cloth under on the edges so it doesn’t stick out underneath your tent. One of the purposes of a ground cloth is to protect your tent from stuff on the ground. Buy another if you want one inside too.

    • If you put a ground cloth under the tent AND inside the tent, you’ll keep the water off you, the dirts/sand/leaves/dew off the tent and cleanup ( both inside and outside the tent) is much easier when packing. As an added bonus, you have a clean ground cloth to pack your tent on instead of having to clean the bottom of the tent when rolling it up.

    • If your ground cloth is correctly sized, a couple inches smaller than the dimension of the tent’s floor, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are using a tent in heavy rain, with a rain fly that’s smaller than the body of the tent, use a tarp inside of the tent.

  4. Boil water and pour it into a metal canteen. Wrap it in a terry towel. Place it inside your sleeping bag at the bottom. It’ll keep you toasty warm on a cold night and you’ll have hot water and a warm towel to wash up with in the morning.

  5. freeze about a 1 lbs of marinated steak. Wrap it in a zip lock w/ several layers of towel paper and aluminum foil, put it in your backpack on Friday. It will thaw by Saturday night. Watch everyone drool over your steak dinner while everyone eats hydrated bags 😛

  6. If you have high tech sleeping bags and pads, they will slide because of the synth on synth even if you are camped on level ground. To prevent this, get a length of non-skid kitchen drawer liner. I use a 6′ x 18″ size, but smaller folks like youth Scouts can get by with 3′ to 4′ lengths. The width is much more important than the length. It’s almost like being nailed in place, works on slopes too.
    Another thing to do for tent maintenance is to shake the dust and debris out by picking up the tent in its frame. A wallpaper paste brush in a wide width is packable and helps you keep the tent clean on multi-day stays.

  7. A couple of winter warming tricks and cautions.
    1. My older Son’s First Scoutmaster told the story of getting rocks too hot. He and his Dad, wwas one of His Scoutmasters. So there were decades of camping experience involved, they both tried the hot rocks one time. Melted the floor of the tent after burning holes in the wrapping materials. So too hot rocks can be a bad thing.
    2a. I have been a CPAP user, and camping with them for nearly 30 years. One thing I’ve discovered is that in low temperature camping, you can help the performance of your equipment by using the very large self sticking body warming packs, (or several hand warming packs in a flat envelope or bag) on your battery and machine. It especially helps with the batteries.
    2b. Help with warming the CPAP Air:
    (1) run an extra length of the hose in the bottom opening of your sleeping bag. Your body heat helps keep the air warmer. NOTE: USING THS METHOD DE-RATES THE BAG LOW TEMP RATING AT LEAST 20° FARENHEIT, it’s like a constant cooling breeze blowing thru your bag. Extra warm liners are useful here
    (2) Use hollow Pool noodles, cut into short segments and split down the length to wrap around the hose can help keep the air warm. Flex foam Water pipe insulation would work the same.

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