With summer in full swing, it’s time to prepare for our adventures. We’ll be loading up our cars and hitting the road to destinations all across the country. With that, we’ll also need all the right gear, but that can get expensive, especially if you’re camping for just a night or two.
Over 90 million people went camping in 2016 which means millions of dollars are spent are tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and all things outdoorsy. For those of us who can’t go to REI and spend the $200 on a new sleep pad or fancy lantern, here are some ideas to help you get creative with your campsite.
Besides, all that really matters is a good fire, some good food, and a great ghost story.
1. Homemade Candles
These are great for some emergency lighting situations or if you want to make a portable candle.
Grab a tin can—like an empty Altoids box—and some cardboard. Cut the cardboard into long strips and pack the strips in the tin in a spiral. Then, take some wax (you can use anything from those scented cubes to bikini wax) and melt it down. The best way to do that is to place the wax in an empty can (make some beans and then use the can for this) and place the can into a pot of boiling water so the heat melts the wax.
Once the wax is melted drip it over the cardboard, filling up the can; try to leave as little air as possible. When you’re in need of a candle, light it up! It should burn for a few hours. Rather than a candle with just one wick, the whole top of the cardboard surface will burn as a whole, giving off a lot of light (and heat!).
2. Freeze Water
One thing you always need when camping is plenty of water. If you have a drive ahead of you and you want to pack the cooler, make sure to fill up some bottles or jugs with water and freeze them the night before.
That way you don’t have to go out and buy ice since the frozen water will keep everything cool, and as it melts, you’ll also have some cold drinking water.
3. Keep Kids Busy With a Scavenger Hunt
All you have to do is write down a list of nature-y items on the back of a brown paper bag and then distribute to the little ones. Send them off to collect things for their bag, like rocks, leaves, or sticks.
You can also help the environment by having them collect one piece of litter, like an empty soda can. And you can help yourselves out by having them collect a piece of wood for the fire. The biggest piece of firewood gets a piece of candy!
4. Roast a Starburst
We haven’t tried this one, but some people swear by it. For a fun little treat, put a Starburst of a roasting stick and light it up. People say they taste great.
For a fun little treat, put a Starburst of a roasting stick and light it up. People say they taste great.
5. Burn Sage and Rosemary
Sage is a great thing to burn because it gives off some good smoke which will help keep the bugs and mosquitoes away. Plus, it serves as some protection from all the bad ghosts and demons, which you’ll be talking about later in your fireside ghost stories.
You can also bring some rosemary to burn directly in the fire when cooking. It will not only smell great but is an easy way to make that camp food taste even better.
6. Cover Cheese in Wax
For a touch of glam in your camp, bring a cheeseboard. We’re not crazy—there’s an easy way to do it. Wrap the cheese in wax so it doesn’t get all mushy.
Most of these cheeses can just sit in your cooler this way and will keep for a few days without spoiling. Plus, once you eat the cheese, you can save the wax for more homemade candles.
7. Use Doritos as Fire Fuel
This may be the best news we have heard all day. Doritos, one of the greatest chips around, are not only delicious, but they can make for an awesome fire starter.
A writer over at Ponder Weasel explains, “It turns out that the chemicals, powdered flavors, and oil in the chips make the perfect combination for combustion and snack.” There is a video for proof of these tasty fire starters, which shows they burn slow but give off a great flame.
8. Make Your Own Camp Pad
If you don’t have a camp pad and aren’t in the market for spending the money, you can make one on your own by using children’s foam tiles from their playroom.
You can also use a yoga mat but it’d be best to put something underneath it—even some cardboard—since yoga mats are thin, and the closer your are to the ground, the colder you will be. Jason Stevenson explains why in an article on Backpacker, “Thanks to the laws of heat transfer, the cold ground is quite adept at stealing (the fancier word is “conducting”) your body heat during the night. A thick sleeping pad—inflated with air or made with closed-cell foam—insulates against conduction to keep you warmer.”
So whatever you can use to distance yourself from the ground will help with comfort and temperature.
9. Create a Homemade Lantern
If you have a translucent water jug (a two-liter soda bottle or milk jug work great), fill it up, then strap your headlamp to it. The water will be illuminated from the light of the headlamp, creating a pretty decent lantern.
This is great for keeping on the table where all the food is so you can see which snacks you want to eat.
10. Make Your Own Speakers
If you forgot your speakers or the battery dies, there is an easy way to make a speaker for your phone. Take a normal plastic water bottle or soda bottle, cut it in half, then take the top part and take off the cap, and place it inside the bottom half of the bottle with the mouthpiece facing down.
Rest your phone in it and the music will reverberate off the dome shape of the bottle and create a nice little speaker.
11. Have Your Kids Make “Night Lights”
A great project with some serious benefits is to buy some glow-in-the-dark paint and have the kids paint some empty bottles or cans as an activity.
Then they can show off their projects at night and at the same time, they’ve just created a special night light.
12. Homemade Tick Deterrent
Ticks are awful, and if you’ve never had one, consider yourself lucky. They can easily ruin a good time so to be safe and eco-friendly, make your own tick repellent. Use one part tea tree oil and two parts water, then mix and spray around any clothing openings like your shirt sleeves and on your shoes and socks.
13. Crescent Rolls
Buy a pack of crescent rolls from the store. Find a great wishbone-shaped stick (or make your own), and whittle it so it’s clean. Then drape the crescent roll around this stick and fill it with some marshmallows, set over the fire, and let it cook.
When it’s done, you’ve got yourself a nice little snack. There’s always the option to use Nutella as well, which makes everything better.
14. Prepare Single-Use Coffee
Before you head out for your camping trip, place individual-size coffee scoops into coffee filters and tie them off with some dental floss.
Then when you are camping, just heat up water and make the coffee like you would tea: Drop the single-use bag in the mug of hot water and let sit for a few minutes.
15. Bring a Homemade Sink
If you have an empty laundry detergent bottle that has the little pump button on it (typically these are the family-sized bottles), keep it for your next camping trip.
When you’re ready, all you need to do is wash it out, fill it with water, and lay it flat on the table. Whenever you need a little water, you just push the button. It’s great for washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or anything else where a little sink would be needed.
16. Tinfoil Surprise
This is the best secret menu item when camping. Take a piece of foil, fill it with potatoes, onions, veggies, a meat like hamburger or sausage, throw in some spices, then wrap it in foil so it’s completely covered.
Throw in on the fire, wait about 20 minutes, and then enjoy. It’s the easiest, tastiest camping dinner you can have.