Hiking & Camping Hacks/Tips!

Sunset in Death Valley National Park, California
Sunset in Death Valley National Park, California

Over the last 25+ years of traveling by station wagon and van and hiking all over the US, we’ve concocted (and discovered, and learned by experience) more than a few hiking hacks and camping tips!  Enjoy the knowledge we’ve collected… and post your favorite hiking/camping hacks in the comments!

Packing Hacks

Remove the cardboard packaging from items that have a bag inside (like cereal, snacks, etc.).  It’s amazing how many more bags of corn flakes fit in the same space the corn flakes in their boxes!

Look at all of those empty boxes that don't need to come with us on the trip!
Look at all of those empty boxes that don’t need to come with us on the trip!

Pack smaller items inside of larger items.  For example, a bag of macaroni and cheese tends to hang out inside of our pots until we eat it.  And one time, we arrived at our first hike… and pulled the bottle of sunscreen out of an extra shoe!

Use plastic tubs and boxes to organize items by category.  We have boxes for lunch, boxes for supper, boxes full of cereal… And all of our books are stored in a small laundry basket!

A box labeled, "Pots & Pans", Green River Lakes, Wyoming
A box labeled, “Pots & Pans”

Have a place for everything you bring.  If everything has a place and is in its place, the chaos is so much less!

Hiking Hacks

Carry your bread/sandwiches or other squishables in a plastic box in your pack.  No more soggy, flattened sandwiches when lunch gets accidentally underneath your water bottle…

Freshly-made, unsquished peanut butter and pretzel sandwich
Freshly-made, unsquished peanut butter and pretzel sandwich

Put on ladies’ nylon knee-high stockings underneath your hiking socks.  It helps to keep blisters at bay.

Carry – and use – refillable water bottles.  Not only does it reduce waste, but you don’t have to pay for all of those one-use bottles!

Water bottles on a parking lot
Water bottles for 9 people!

Dress in layers (shorts under jeans, short sleeve shirts under long sleeve shirts…etc.)  On very cold trips, I’ve been known to wear no less than a short-sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, hooded sweatshirt, winter coat, hat, and mittens… inside a winter sleeping bag.  The trick is to make sure you can get out of your layers when you get hot, or else you’ll soak your clothes with sweat and end up colder than if you’d put on fewer layers to begin with.

Speaking of the cold, try and change into clean, dry clothes before bed.  The lack of sweat on your clothes will keep you warmer while you sleep!

Always carry a pair of dry socks with you.  You never know when your socks will be wet – and changing into a dry pair could save you blisters and/or frozen feet.

A 4am (local time) aka 6am start on the Grandview Trail treated us to this sunrise, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A 4am (local time) aka 6am start on the Grandview Trail treated us to this sunrise

If you’re visiting a hot or especially crowded area, switch the local time zone for one two hours earlier than the time zone you’re in (Pacific Time for Central Time; Mountain Time for Eastern Time, etc.).  That way, you can still hit the trail at 8am per your watch… but your 6am-local-time start will help you beat the heat and the parking issues!

Wear pants, shorts, or a skirt with big pockets.  They’re so useful for an extra granola bar or anything else you might want to carry.

If you can, bring two pairs of shoes on your hiking trip.  Switching them out every other day (or every few days) will help you to not get blisters.  (And/or bring along sandals or flipflops for wearing in camp!)

Above Corkscrew Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Above Corkscrew Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

When you pack your first aid kit, take along some moleskin or adhesive bandages.  If you feel like you’re getting a blister, you can stick it on to keep it from getting any worse!

Camping/Travel Hacks

While traveling, keep a couple of boards underneath your cooler.  This will keep air flowing freely under the cooler, and the cooler off of the hot floor of the vehicle, making your ice last longer.

Sleeping in your vehicle but the mosquitos have found you?  Spray down your bug screens with bug spray before putting them up over the windows.

Bug screens on my van
Bug screens on my van

Put all of the essentials-of-the-essentials in one box or bag up front with you while you’re traveling.  This might include maps, snacks, sunscreen, paper plates/silverware (in a plastic container, of course!), tissues, sunglasses… you get the idea!  It’s so useful to have everything you’ll want in one contained space.

Make a shelving unit for the back of your vehicle.  This is so helpful for being able to find exactly what you need, when you need it, without emptying everything into the parking area!

Shelves in the back of my old van
Shelves in the back of my old van

Put useless space in your vehicle to good use.  We travel in a van, so boxes of food and camping equipment go underneath the bench seats.  And there’s a travel caddy hanging off of the back of the driver’s seat with pens, pencils, hand lotion, games, sunglasses, multi-use tools, and other road trip essentials.

If your sleeping bag just isn’t warm enough, you can sew a blanket into your sleeping bag to stay warmer in the cold.

Freeze water in 1 gallon jugs.  The jugs fit into a cooler well, and the block of ice lasts longer than cubed ice.

Have to leave your vehicle in the sun?  Clip or hang a light-colored blanket in the windows to keep the temperature down inside the vehicle while you’re hiking.  You can also clip it to the outside of the vehicle (even more effective!) if you don’t mind a few odd looks…

DIY Hand Sanitizer Holders!
DIY Hand Sanitizer Holders!

Make these easy DIY Hand Sanitizer Holders to make sure you always have it when you want your hands to be clean!

Switch up meals if it’s more convenient.  If it’s easier to eat peanut butter and jelly for breakfast, and cereal for lunch, why not?  ‘Course, you might end up like the time when we made the sandwiches before sunrise and someone ate a jelly-on-jelly sandwich and someone else lost out with peanut butter-on-peanut butter… but all that aside, it’s great to get a quick and easy start in the desert, then return from a hike for the hydration of cold cereal.

Breakfast in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Breakfast in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Make a seat belt pillow or a neck pillow to make dozing while someone else is driving more comfortable.

When you’re setting up the tent, make sure you’re not doing so in a drainage ditch.  If it rains, you might wake up in the middle of the night to see your neighbor in their sleeping bag washing away downstream…

Share your own hiking/camping hacks and tips below!