Don’t Make These Camping Mistakes

Over the years, I’ve made plenty of camping mistakes and seen others do the same. Mistakes are part of the adventure and learning experience. It’s best to humbly accept them and move on.

I’m still messing up all the time! See number 7 for my most uncomfortable night of sleep. Number 14 and 20 are things I continue to do, but I’m getting better at. Number 15 is based off a recent misadventure that could have been avoided.

Two photos of common camping mistakes. First photo is of the Katadyn water filter. The caption reads "not testing equipment." The second photo shows two women in front of a tarp shelter. The caption reads "staying in your tent while it rains."

1. Staying in your tent while it rains

Rainy weather shouldn’t mean you are stuck inside a tent all day. Waterproof clothing will keep you dry on adventures and a large tarp will keep you dry at camp. If you’ve never set up a tarp before, a little practice at home will help avoid frustration.

2. Improper tent footprint setup

Speaking of rain, your tent footprint should never stick out beyond the edges of your tent. If it does, it will catch and pool water underneath.

3. Living on the edge

Setting a tent up at cliff side makes for Instagrammable photos, but is very dangerous. Wind gusts, bad weather, or a late night pee could send you or your gear over the edge.

4. Forgetting bug spray

If you are camping in late spring and summer, you’ll want to load up on bug spray and protective clothing. If it’s in your budget, consider a bug shelter. Mosquitoes, black flies, horseflies, and deer flies all respond differently to your attempts to ward them off. This post discuss what works and what doesn’t.

5. Not leaving a trip plan

Always let someone you trust know where you are going and when you’ll be home. Should anything happen, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that someone will be looking for you. I have a whole post on trip reports explaining what they are, why you need one, and what should be included in one.

6. Leaving trash out

If you are camping in bear territory, you’ll want to ensure all food items and scented toiletries are stored at least 300 feet from your tent. Make food inaccessible by hanging it from a tree or placing it in a bear canister. Bears can smell food from over a mile away and you don’t want to draw a hungry bear into your camp.

7. Sleeping on the ground

My first backcountry trip, I brought a warm sleeping bag, but forgot a sleeping pad! At night, the cold ground pulled all the warmth from my body. I was cold and barely slept at all. Sleeping pads ensure you don’t lose heat through conduction. Each pad comes with an R-value. The higher the value, the more insulation the pad provides. You can learn more about sleeping pads and r-values from this post.

Graph showing r-values as they correspond to temperature protection.

8. Relying on a campfire

Fire bans come and go depending on the season and weather. Make sure you aren’t dependent on a campfire to prepare foods and keep warm. Pack warm layers and a fuel stove to cook foods.

9. Booking late or showing up without a reservation

Campsites can fill up quickly and there’s no guarantee you’ll get one without a reservation. The rush for popular backcountry sites means you should book weeks in advance.

10. Wearing cotton

“Cotton kills,” so the outdoor saying goes. Cotton absorbs moisture instead of wicking it away like wool or synthetic fabrics. In cold weather, getting wet while wearing cotton can increase your risk of hypothermia.

Two pictures illustrating camping mistakes. First, a woman is surrounded by mosquitoes. Caption reads "forgetting bug protection." The other photo is of a canister stove. Caption reads "relying on a campfire."

11. Arriving Late

Losing daylight can cause you to rush and increases the likelihood of getting hurt or lost. It’s also a pain to set up camp at night. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination and set up camp before sundown.

12. Not testing equipment

It’s good practice to test new equipment before a trip. It could be in disrepair or may need to be primed. Acquaint yourself with your gear well ahead of your trip.

13. Not extinguishing a fire

Never leave a campsite without properly extinguishing a campfire. Not only is a wildfire dangerous, but in some provinces you can be held legally responsible for the cost of extinguishing a wildfire should you begin one. There are several steps to ensure your campfire is safely extinguished. You can read about them here.

14. Packing too much

I’m guilty of this one. Keeping your pack light makes travelling in the backcountry easier and more enjoyable. Help keep your pack light by taking stock of what you did and didn’t use at the end of each trip.

15. Relying too heavily on others

It’s okay to put your trust in a guide or an experienced camper, but you should always be in the loop about the details of your trip. At the very least, you’ll need this information for your emergency contact. Recently, I didn’t scout a river before heading out on a trip with friends. The river ended up being over my skill level despite what friends said.

16. Not checking for ticks

Ticks are quickly spreading throughout North America. Attached ticks can transmit multiple diseases, including Lyme. Before you panic, there’s a window of time between when a tick attaches and when disease is transmitted. Remember to check yourself, your family members, and pets. Remove ticks promptly and you should have no problems. Read more about tick prevention here.

17. Going too far too fast

It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of a first trip, but don’t take on too much too soon. Start with a short trip and as you gain experience ramp up the length and difficulty.

18. Forgetting sun protection

Don’t forget the sunscreen. In the winter, you’ll be getting a double dose of sun as it hits you directly and bounces off the surrounding area. Snow and ice reflect 80 percent of UV light!

2 pictures. First, campfire with caption leaving a fire unattended. Second, a picture of a woman solo camping. Caption says "not going alone."

19. Skipping a checklist

A checklist will give you peace of mind. I make one for my gear, food, and anything that needs to get done before heading out.

20. Safety equipment?

Make sure to pack a first aid kit and familiarize yourself with the contents. Always carry the 10 essentials. If you are paddling bring a whistle, boat bailer, and life jacket.

21. Not going alone

You’ve got some camping experience under your belt, but you are having trouble convincing friends and family to join you on an adventure. All the time you spend waiting for them, you could be out adventuring! It’s time to head out alone. Don’t forget to leave a trip plan.

22. Not tying down equipment in your canoe

Tie all your equipment down when paddling – even in calm waters. You don’t want to lose your gear at the bottom of a lake and be stranded in the backcountry.

What camping mistakes have you seen?

I hope you can learn from some of these camping mistakes and that you feel inspired to get out and make some of your own.

Got a camping mishap to share? Leave me a comment below. 🙂

Other posts that might interest you

Mnemonic Phrases for Outdoor Survival

The 10 Essentials: What to Bring On Your Next Day Hike

La Pêche Canoe Camping in Gatineau Park

Backcountry Camping in Kouchibouguac National Park

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