8 tips for improving your camping in the great outdoors

It's the season for camping, which has been my favorite summer activity since I was a little kid. My family had a popup, and every summer we’d load things up and travel to various state parks. We’d visit Letchworth, Lake George, Watertown and other areas across New York, making memories together.

My husband did the same with his parents and we’ve now passed our love for the outdoors on to our own children.

Each was just a couple weeks-old the first time they went camping, and they’ve been fans ever since. Every summer, they look forward to excursions with extended family on both sides. They’re making the same memories with their cousins and camp friends that their father and I made when we were kids. It makes my heart happy to know they may be doing the same with their own children someday.

Plenty of camping opportunities, plenty to do in NY

Adirondack Park a dream for nature lovers, but dangerous

We’re gearing up for our first camping trip of the season. As with any family vacation, there’s a lot of prep work. Being prepared is key, so I thought I’d share some camping tips that have helped us over the years.

1. Store gear in clear plastic bins

Label them accordingly. We have a bin for kitchen supplies. We have a bin for extension cords, clotheslines and lanterns. We have another for bedding and towels. Everything has a home and can be found at a moment’s notice. This helps while camping and also in storing things in the off-season.

2. Use hand-washing station

We don’t always have the convenience of a sink nearby. To avoid some hassle, we put a hand-washing station right at our campsite. We place a two-gallon jug of water, with a spout, on a small folding table next to our tent along with a bottle of hand soap. Then we secure a plastic hook to the side of the jug and place a hand towel on it, so the kids can get washed up easily.

3. Think beach hacks

Beaching it can become a bit messy with kids in tow. There’s sand absolutely everywhere. Maintaining sanity amid the sand can be trickier than starting a campfire with wet matches. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years:

► Use a large, fitted sheet to keep your items sand-free. Place the sheet on the sand and put heavier things in the corners, like your beach bags and coolers. Pull the fitted corners up over the items, creating a pseudo-box. This keeps the sand off your things and can double as a makeshift playpen for young children.

► Use a quart-size Ziploc bag to store your phone. If you’re like me, you’re constantly using your phone to take pictures of the kids. The downside to that is the potential for the sand and water to ruin your phone. If you place it in a Ziploc bag, though, it stays clean and functional.

► Use mesh laundry bags to store sand toys. You can grab a drawstring one at a dollar store. After the kids are done playing with the toys at the beach, put them all in the bag. Give things a good shake. When dry, the sand will fall off the toys and right out the bag.

► Baby powder is your friend. Throw a bottle in your beach bag and sprinkle it on everyone’s legs and feet after they’re done at the beach. The powder will help the sand come off a lot easier, leaving less mess elsewhere.

4. Use foam tiles for flooring

I tent camp, but that doesn’t mean I’m sleeping on the ground. We have air mattresses for everyone, but even still that ground can do some damage. For a little added protection, and comfort, we lay down interlocking foam flooring tiles inside our tent. This helps with rocks or uneven ground, too.

5. Try multi-purpose water jugs

For extra lighting, take a headlamp and place it over a jug of water. It makes an instant lantern and will brighten a large amount of space.

Before leaving for your trip, freeze some water jugs/bottles. Use them at the bottom of your cooler, instead of ice cubes to keep things cold. When they melt, you’ve got drinking water.

6. Keep clear of the tent stakes

To keep your family from tripping over tent stakes and ropes, here are a couple easy ideas:

► Take pool noodles and slice each of them from one end to the other. Slide the noodles over each rope securing your tent. This will make them easier to see in the dark.

► Add some lighting to each tent stake. Glow sticks are a good method, but they’re wasteful as you need new ones each night. Instead, grab half a dozen solar lights from the dollar store and tap them into the ground next to each stake.

7. Invest in shoe organizers

Sure, they’re great for housing your shoes — but they can store a myriad of other things, too. Consider keeping your family’s toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries organized in one. You can also store kitchen utensils, sunscreen, cups, napkins, flashlights, charging cords and anything else that may not have a good home elsewhere.

8. Have a to-do list

It took many years of writing and rewriting our camping lists before we got smart and saved it on our phones for future use. Skip the pen and paper this year and store a list on your computer or phone. This should include the things you pack from home, along with things you usually need to buy for each camping trip. Having the lists stored in a safe spot can save a lot of aggravation, not to mention help remember the items you’re prone to forgetting each year.

9. Have A Hot Shower* 

With the Eccotemp Portable Tankless Water Heater line it's easier than ever to have a hot shower whenever and wherever. For a reasonable price and ease of use, the portable water heaters conveniently hook up to a standard 20lb propane tank and your water source. Within minutes you will have hot water to wash dishes or take a hot shower! 

Jamie Buss is a parenting columnist for the USA Today Network.

Try our  Product Selector to find the perfect hot water solution for all your needs.

*Edited by Eccotemp Systems, LLC

Find The Right Water Heater

Let Eccotemp's unique product selector help you find the best product for your needs.