Debunking Terrible Camping Hacks, Tips, & Tricks: Vol. 1

So-called “camping hacks” are a constant on social media and nature blogs these days. While some are genuinely great, others are—wellstupid. So, we’re taking it upon ourselves to start fighting back against the dumber advice you can find on the internet while adding needed context to the tips and tricks that almost get it right!

Oh, and while this article’s mostly aimed at rookie campers, pros might learn a thing or two as well. Why wait? Let’s begin!

Table of Contents

Click on any of the links below to jump to the desired section!

  1. But First, Let’s Explain How This Works
    1. Some Advice or “Camping Hacks” Make Sense in the Right Context, so We’re Giving Each Tip an Accuracy Rating 
  2. Debunking Bad Camping Hacks and Advice
    1. #1: ‘Don’t Overpack’ or ‘Only Pack Essentials When Camping’
    2. #2: ‘Leave Your Tech at Home for a Stress-Free Camping Trip’
    3. #3: ‘Take a First Aid Kit’
    4. #4: ‘Take Your Own Toilet Paper’ or ‘Toilet Paper Doesn’t Biodegrade’
    5. #5: ‘It’s Okay to Spit Toothpaste on the Ground’ or ‘Brush Your Teeth in an Eco-Friendly Way’
    6. #6: ‘Pack Earplugs for Quiet Sleep at Noisy Campgrounds’
    7. #7: ‘Don’t Wear Shoes in Tents’ or ‘Consider a No-Shoe Rule’
    8. #8: ‘You Should Only Buy Gear From Reliable or Good Camping Brands’
    9. #9: ‘It’s Safe to Store Food and Scented Items in Your Car’
    10. #10: ‘Bring Plenty of Firewood’
  3. Conclusion: We’ll Debunk More Stupid “Camping Hacks” in the Future!
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But First, Let’s Explain How This Works

man picking up garbage with a trash bag somewhere outdoors
(Photo: Lara Jameson)

We’re not here to trash other outlets, YouTube channels, and so on—we only want to help campers understand what’s safe and what’s not. Naturally, this means we’re not going to explain where these camping hacks come from (but if your thirst for hot gos’ is serious, a quick Google search will probably reveal all).

Some Advice or “Camping Hacks” Make Sense in the Right Context, so We’re Giving Each Tip an Accuracy Rating 

Before we continue, we should note that there’s a grain of truth in some myths. To keep things simple, we’re giving each hack a rating to help you understand just how far from the truth it is. 

And since we keep things chill around here, we’re not doing this on a scale of 1–10 so much as a scale of “it depends” to “this might’ve been written by a piece of bread.”

In other words, we’re not big on black-and-white comparisons so we’ll try and make sure it’s clear from the get-go whether we think a given camping hack is relatively sensible or utter garbage.

Debunking Bad Camping Hacks and Advice

And here we are!

#1: ‘Don’t Overpack’ or ‘Only Pack Essentials When Camping’

Accuracy Rating: It depends!

One of the first things new campers will hear over and over again is to avoid overpacking. And frankly, this is awful advice: 

“You don’t need X, Y, or Z because A, B, or C does the same job.” 

“Camping’s supposed to be hard!”

“Why do you need a machete and a hatchet?” …And yadda, yadda, yadda. 

tons of gear in a camping store
(Photo: Grand Canyon Nation Park)

The reality is, you’re going to learn a lot about the type of camping you prefer on your first few trips. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what you actually need when you go camping and what you can live without, and from there, you can down-size. 

For example, if you’re asking questions like are Ryobi fans good for camping? or is a USMC KA-BAR overkill for a camping trip?We’ll ask a better question: who’s gonna stop you? Bring both and if you use neither, don’t bring them again!

In other words, make room for mistakes early on and you’ll reap the benefits down the line. Meanwhile, overpacking follows the “better to have it and not need it, then need and not have it” schpiel. 

So, use common sense and pack accordingly. If you have extra space in your car or bags, bring it. At worst, you only lose a few extra minutes of your time. And again, if you don’t end up using whatever it is, you’ll know for next time!

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#2: ‘Leave Your Tech at Home for a Stress-Free Camping Trip’

Accuracy Rating: So-so

A lot of people will tell you to leave your computers, tablets, and other electronics at home—and to a certain extent, we agree. Camping is a great opportunity to enjoy nature away from the stresses of modern life. 

a raccoon trying to grab a man's cellphone outside
In case you didn’t know, please don’t give your phone to a raccoon. (Photo: David Selbert)

That said, we’re also firm believers that you should enjoy camping the way you like (you know, as long as you’re not bothering other people or the environment). If that means watching downloaded episodes of The Office on a tablet while sipping coffee in your tent in the middle of the woods, more power to ya.

Heck, sometimes we’ll edit photos on our tablet (we use an iPad Pro with a rugged SLIM FOLIO case) in our tent. And last time we went camping in Carrizo Plain we used it to look at Gaia maps of the terrain (here are some other great camping apps, BTW).

All in all, you do you.

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#3: ‘Take a First Aid Kit’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete!

Obviously: bring a first aid kit when you go camping; it’s common sense. But while many camping blogs and whatever’s tell you to bring one, they sometimes leave out the most important part: know how to use a first aid kit too!

Medical kits are just about useless in untrained hands. Example: if you don’t know how to clean a wound properly, you could be putting yourself or your co-campers at risk for infection. That’s bad at home; in the wild, it’s really bad

first aid kit with tweezers, scissors, q-tips, medicine, and gauze.
(Photo: Roger Brown)

First aid classes are offered all over the place and they’ll teach you the basics (which is usually all that’s needed). Find a class, take it. 

Sidenote: click here to learn how to make a first aid kit for camping!

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#4: ‘Take Your Own Toilet Paper’ or ‘Toilet Paper Doesn’t Biodegrade’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete!

rolls of toilet paper stacked on one another
(Photo: Vlada Karpovich)

Don’t worry, we’re not telling you not to wipe! But if you’re going to a campsite without amenities, you might be surprised to learn that you can’t just poop anywhere you want like an animal. 

As “natural” as it may be, pooping in the wild is not eco-friendly if you don’t take the right precautions. This (super awkward but informative) video from Leave No Trace does a bang-up job of explaining all the steps and why they’re necessary, but here are the highlights!

  • First, know that some places require you to pack out waste no matter what (a WAG bag can streamline the whole process). These restrictions are in place for a reason so don’t be a jerk and ignore them.
  • Pooping near water sources (including those that are currently dry) and trails can contaminate them so try to go at least 200’ (61 m) away. Elevated positions that avoid rain runoff are ideal.
  • Moist, organic soil is the best choice because it will decompose your poop much faster.
  • Dig a “cathole” 6–8” deep (15–20 cm) and 4–6” wide (10–15cm) and then carry on. If you miss, don’t touch your poop with your shovel or trowel—use a stick or something instead. Then bury your poop, toilet paper, (and any prodding sticks) when you’re done. 
  • Try to cover up the hole with local foliage if you can. This will help discourage animals or weirdos from digging it up. Plus, it keeps parks looking nice.
  • If you have to go again, choose a new spot far from the original.
  • And yes, it’s safe to bury your TP if you follow the steps above. 

If you have to pee in the wild, try to go in different spots to avoid concentrations (some animals are attracted to the salts in urine). Spraying a bit of water over wet spots can help dilute things. 

Finally, menstrual products should always be packed out (because blood attracts wildlife, some of which isn’t nice).

Bonus Tip: choose biodegradable toilet paper (bamboo toilet paper like this option from Caboo is particularly eco-friendly) if it’s available to you. It’s currently more expensive than traditional TP but we suspect that as it becomes more commonplace, it’ll get much cheaper.

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#5: ‘It’s Okay to Spit Toothpaste on the Ground’ or ‘Brush Your Teeth in an Eco-Friendly Way’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete!

Some outlets will tell you to “spray” toothpaste out instead of spitting because this will help dilute what’s left over a wider area. But, c’mon, just spit in your waste bag and avoid the issue entirely.

If for some reason you don’t have a trash bag (why not?) then this method might be okay in some places. But we’re still not fans of it!

#6: ‘Pack Earplugs for Quiet Sleep at Noisy Campgrounds’

Accuracy Rating: Potentially Dangerous!

an adult bear standing in water
(Photo: Pixabay)

In some cases this is safe; however, we’re generally hesitant to wear earplugs while camping. Even if you’re at a managed campground, the environment, wildlife, and bad humans can all pose a threat. And if you can’t hear a threat, how are you supposed to protect yourself, your loved ones, etc.?

Ignoring a raccoon or noisy neighbors is one thing, ignoring rain, bears, or extraterrestrials is another.

#7: ‘Don’t Wear Shoes in Tents’ or ‘Consider a No-Shoe Rule’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete!

POV of the cameraman: his boots are sticking out of the opening of his tent, which is overlooking a gorgeous cliffside vista as the sun sets in the distance.
(Photo: Brady Knoll)

We completely agree with the idea of keeping the inside of your tent as clean as possible, and it is important to take off your boots every once in a while to switch out socks, check for bites, and so on.

However, one thing these don’t-wear-shoes-in-tents rules tend to forget is to check your shoes or boots for critters before you put them back on, especially in areas where scorpions, centipedes, spiders, and other harmful wildlife live. Few things ruin a camping trip as fast as a scorpion stinger.

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#8: ‘You Should Only Buy Gear From Reliable or Good Camping Brands’

Accuracy Rating: False!

You absolutely don’t need the best gear the first few times you go camping. For one, if you decide camping’s not for you, you’ll have wasted a ton of money. And even if you’re able to resell X, Y, or Z, you’ll never get all your investment back.

Instead, you can usually find quality camping gear in second-hand stores or marketplaces for reasonable prices. Also, buying new gear that’s good enough is totally fine, especially if you only plan on camping every now and then. Or buy gear that you can also use at home (example: check out our Trayvax belt reviews!).

Think of it this way: Leatherman generally makes better multi-tools than Gerber, but if your needs are pretty basic or occasional, dropping $35–$50 on a Gerber multi-tool makes a whole lot more sense than spending $100-plus on a Leatherman (check out our Gerber Suspension review for a good example).

On the other hand, we do recommend avoiding overly cheap junk that’s sure to crap out after one or two uses. 

#9: ‘It’s Safe to Store Food and Scented Items in Your Car’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete (and Potentially Dangerous)!

This depends entirely on where you’re camping. If there’s effectively zero chance you’ll run into a bear, storing food and scented items (of any kind) in your car is generally safe. If bears do exist where you’re camping, you need to store your food in a bear-safe manner. 

Why? Bears can rip open car doors and windows like a Kershaw Blur through paper (#ShamelessPlug for our Kershaw Blur review).

two brown bears fighting in water
Bears are ridiculously strong and have no problem ripping your car apart. (Photo: Pixabay)

Oh, and don’t assume that fully packaged food like MREs are safe either (by the way, are MREs good for camping?). Some animals—again, bears—can smell food right through cans, plastic, and so on.

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#10: ‘Bring Plenty of Firewood’

Accuracy Rating: Incomplete!

If you’re at a site that allows campfires, you should bring plenty of firewood. In fact, if you’re new to camping, bring more than you think you need, especially if it’s cold and/or wet out. 

So why are we flagging this camping rule? Because it’s important that you source your firewood from the same general area where you’re camping. Non-native insects, fungi, and diseases can wreak havoc on the ecosystem you’re camping in so it’s better to use native wood.

campfire burning over some rocks with a tent faintly visible in the background

Sidenote: if you’re looking for an eco-friendlier and/or cheaper way to start a campfire, waterproof electric lighters are better than fuel lighters.

Conclusion: We’ll Debunk More Stupid “Camping Hacks” in the Future!

Has anyone ever given you terrible camping advice or camping hacks? Let us know in the comments or on social media and we’ll include your story (with credit, if you like) in our next volume of debunking terrible camping hacks!

The operators of Renegade Camping may receive a commission for purchases made through links on our site. But that doesn’t mean we’re shilling random crap! We thoroughly research and/or own all the products we review on our website. We want to build unshakeable trust with our readers, and that means offering honest, transparent reviews and guides. Cheers!

– The Renegade Camping & EDC team

Featured Photo Credit: ZeMoufette

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Additional Articles

One response to “Debunking Terrible Camping Hacks, Tips, & Tricks: Vol. 1”

  1. The 1st time I camped with my husband we were on a motorcycle and had a tent. I started making a list (rope being the first add on) and now rarely want for anything when we camp. The list is customized by site – high country vs. housekeeping at Yosemite.

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