To help you maximize your time in the great outdoors, we’ve put together the ultimate summer camping and hiking tips and tricks to help you enjoy your time on the trail. From eating better to avoiding crowds of people, this list will have you itching to get outside ASAP.
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There is nothing quite like backpacking during the summer. While spring, fall, and yes, winter, offer various benefits of their own, being able to be out on the trails during the longest, warmest days of the year will give you a mini-vacation all on its own.
Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents
How to Ditch the Crowds and Get On the Trails Faster
Rise with the sun. Don’t wait for the sun to rise for you to start your trip. If you are ready to go and hit the trailhead by sunrise, you’ll increase your likelihood of beating the crowds and of viewing local wildlife. You can also get most of your hiking in during the cooler hours, saving the hot periods of the day for naps or meals.
Go further away. Instead of hiking on the main thoroughfare, take your hike to a far-out spot. Most hikers will stop hiking to set up camp or sight-seeing within just the first few miles. The further away you go, the less likely you are to encounter crowds.
Try nighttime hiking. This tip may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s worth a try if you’ve never done it. You can see the wilderness in a whole new way, allowing you to experience the sights, sounds, and adventures you’ve never dreamed of. Plus, most trails are empty after the sun goes down, so you probably won’t see anyone while you’re out there.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for night time excursions:
Select trails that are wide and devoid of any roots or low-hanging branches. These can be hazardous in the dark. Ask local rangers for recommendations.
Time your hike so that it matches up with a full moon. There are some parks, like Bryce Canyon, that advertise free, fully-guided moonlit hikes.
Wait to turn on your headlamp until your eyes have adjusted to the dark. This should take about thirty minutes.
To protect your night vision, use the red light on your headlamp when reading a map or trail sign. White light will get rid of night vision.
Prep your gear ahead of time. Organizing your gear into clear, labeled totes will make it easier for you to find things quickly. You won’t have to scramble as you’re headed out the door for your hike or camping trip, and can instead beat the crowds by arriving at the trailhead early.
Stock up on backpacking foodstuffs and staples. Save yourself a trip to the store on a busy Friday afternoon by having all of your food stocked and ready to go. Most camping food doesn’t require refrigeration anyway, so there’s no reason not to buy in bulk.
Don’t procrastinate on washing and prepping your gear. When you return from a camping or hiking trip, clean your gear immediately. Not only will the task be easier as soon as you’ve arrived back from your trip, but you’ll also have everything ready to go for your next adventure.
The Best Summer Hiking Secrets
How to See More Wildlife
Moose: Keep a close eye out for moose in the summertime. They are at the peak of their growth during this time of the year, and they are absolute behemoths. Weighing over 1,200 pounds and standing at well over six feet tall, these mammals tend to be found in or near willow ponds, marshes, and rivers. You can approach them if you are downwind, but make sure you keep your distance. Don’t get any closer than 50 yards away, as moose are known to charge humans who appear to be threatening.
A great spot to view moose? The String Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park.
Bald eagles: Bald eagles can be found throughout North American at any time throughout the year, but are most easily spotted in May and June, when parent eagles will hang out near their aeries while they care for their young. You can spot their large, five-foot-wide stick nests in the treetops and cliffs near bodies of water.
A great spot to view bald eagles? Head out for a paddle on any one of the lakes in Voyageurs National Park.
Bighorn sheep: These majestic creatures can be found on the rocky, steep inclines of the mountains and high deserts of the Southwest, particularly in the Rockies. Watch for their white bottoms among the rocks. You can view ewes with their lambs in the spring, usually from April to June. In the fall, you might catch rams butting heads with each other during the rut.
A great spot to view bighorn sheep? The Highline Trail of Glacier National Park.
Lift a Heavy Pack
Here’s a pro tip you’ve probably never heard of. If you find yourself needing to lift a heavy backpack, follow this technique. Grasp one shoulder strap with one hand and the grab loop of the pack with your other. The grab loop is also known as a webbing loop and is located just beneath the top lid.
Next, heave the pack up onto your bent knee. Slide your arm through a shoulder strap and then maneuver the pack across your back as you straighten. This will allow you to lift with your legs instead of your back. You can thread your other arm through the final strap once it’s on your back.
If you don’t want to prop the backpack up on your knees, you can also position it on a large rock or log to do the same thing. And remember, keeping your backpack light is easy when you follow good packing tips.
You probably already know that you should pack your rain gear on a hiking trip, but are you wearing it correctly? When you get dressed on a rainy day, open up the pockets and pit zips so that you don’t overheat.
Trapping heat inside your raingear will just make you feel hot, clammy, and sweaty. You can keep the hood of your jacket out of your eyes by wearing it over a hat with a bill, and you can wear gaiters beneath your rain pants so that rainwater doesn’t make its way into the cuff of your boot.
Protect Your Knees
Hiking is hard on your body in general, but particularly on your knees. The easiest way to avoid unnecessary stress is to cut down on the weight in your backpack. Every pound of weight that you carry on your back puts an additional seven pounds of pressure on your knee joints when you’re climbing uphill. A lighter pack can do the trick to cure your achy knees, as can poles that help to reduce the impact on your knees when you’re walking downhill.
If you still find that your knees are bothering you, you may want to take ibuprofen and ice your knees when you arrive at camp. Taking smaller steps can help to lighten the load, too.
Keep the Bugs at Bay
Nobody wants to deal with bugs while they’re out in the wilderness, but DEET is a nasty chemical that most people don’t want in their mouths, either. To reduce your exposure, spray a cotton bandana and tie it around your neck. Make sure you only go with cotton, as DEET can melt synthetic fabric.
Hike Further, Faster
Want to get more bang for your hiking buck? Conserve your energy while hiking on steep inclines by using the rest step. To do this, lock your back knee with each stride, resting your weight on that leg for a breath. Then, step up and allow momentum to swing your back leg forward. Engage pressure breathing by exhaling forcefully through lips that are pressed together. This will allow more air to enter on the inhalation.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
Sunburns aren’t just painful when you’re trying to enjoy a camping trip – they can make you super sick, too. To prevent sunburn, select a sunscreen with SPF (30+) that also contains titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and zinc oxide. These chemicals block UV-B and UV-A rays. You should reapply at least once every two hours, as well as faster swimming or sweating profusely. You should also wear a wide-brimmed hat and hang a shirt from the front and back of your pack to shield your legs.
Tips for Camping Better in the Summertime
Select the Perfect Spot
Try to camp in an already-established campsite to reduce wilderness impact. If this is not possible, camp about 200 feet from a lake or stream. You will want to set up camp on a hard surface like a slickrock, gravel bar, forest duff, or sandy beach. Avoid grassy meadows or alpine tundra, as the plants here are extremely vulnerable to damage from foot traffic.
Watch out for widowmakers. A widowmaker is a tree branch that has the potential to cause some serious damage when it falls. The branches that you need to watch out for when selecting your campsite include those that are old, dead, or suspended precariously over your potential site. You should also avoid rockfall zones. Either of these can become deadly in a hurry.
Avoid wet areas. Try not to camp in shallow depressions where rain will be more likely to gather. Instead, set up your tent on level surfaces where rain can run off instead.
Avoid dangerous plants. Take the time before your trip to familiarize yourself with the signs of toxic plants, and don’t set up camp anywhere near poison oak, sumac, or ivy. If you make contact with them by mistake, you have roughly ten minutes to get the oily resin, urushiol, off your skin. After that time has passed, the oil will bind to your skin and cause an itchy rash several days or a week later.
To get rid of urushiol, wash your skin with biodegradable soap and warm water. Use an alcohol pad to remove every last trace of the oil. Once you return home, wash everything, keeping in mind that urushiol can remain on clothing, camping equipment – and even your dog!- for up to a year later.
Crash on the Beach
Sleeping on the beach is one of the best summertime camping experiences you can have. Just make sure you pick the perfect spot! You’ll want to camp in an area that is above the high-tide line, which is usually indicated by a line of debris washed up on shore. Pitch your tent securely, ideally with guy lines around large rocks at every corner. You could also tie off your tent to stuff sacks filled with sand or sturdy branches. Make sure the lines are buried about two feet deep at each corner, and secure them with a tautline hitch above the sand.
Stargaze Like an Astronomer
You don’t have to have a degree in astronomy to do so, though! All you need to do is camping spots that are far away from light pollution and smog – as well as those with low humidity – will be the best for viewing stars. Consider a spot like Natural Bridges National Monument or Big Bend National Park.
Adjust Your Water Filter
If your filter is failing to draw any water, consider turning the housing upside down. Then, try to pump again. This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, you might have a dry or damaged O-ring. To remedy this, take the O-ring out of the piston and wide it down with a soft cloth. Depending on what you have with you, you can use silicone grease, lip balm, or even plain old saliva to reinstate the seal.
Fix Your Tent’s Zipper
Tent zipper caught a snag? You can get it out, no problem. Simply work the fabric out by pulling it gently, making sure it remains parallel with the slider. If this doesn’t work, try to move the slider repeatedly over the snagged area. Damaged zipper coils are often to blame, but bending them slowly back into shape by using a safety pin’s sharp end can help do the trick.
Eliminate Condensation in the Tent
Condensation is practically unavoidable – you need to breathe, after all! However, you can reduce condensation by maximizing airflow in the tent. Simply crack one window or door at the top and crack another at the bottom. Hot air will rise and escape to the top while cool air will be pulled in via the lower vent. Oh, and skip the rainfly on clear nights.
Always Have a Backup Plan
As much as you plan ahead, freak storms always have the ability to ruin your camping trip. Look up backup options, like trails that are in the rain shadow of a mountain’s peak, in case a storm strikes unexpectedly. You should also do your research by asking rangers about snow and water availability.
Top Three Hiking Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to forget gear. Even veteran wilderness experts forget things from time to time. Prevent this by printing a packing list ahead of time, and cross of each item as you load or pack it.
Painful blisters can ruin your trip. Make sure you break in your boots with at least 40 miles worth of day hikes before you set out on a long excursion. You can also keep your free dry to resist chafing. Wear synthetic or wool socks. The minute you feel a hot spot forming, cover it with petroleum jelly, Bodyglide, moleskin – or even lip balm or duct tape in a pinch.
Don’t hike with someone who has different skills, attitudes, or goals. Make sure you chat with your prospective hiking buddy before you leave to make sure you are compatible with each other.
Get a Permit
It’s not uncommon to miss out on reservations for the top campsites. However, this doesn’t mean you have to stay home. Instead, here are a few alternative options.
Phone the backcountry office. Some parks reserve a portion of campsites or permits for walk-ins. Determine when and how they are distributed, and show up early with alternatives if needed.
Hike from a remote trailhead. Some parks have quotes for popular trails. Instead of fighting the crowds, you can start from a further-out trailhead and simply take longer to reach your final destination.
Rough it. Instead of camping in an established area, backpack into a wilder area. These are often overlooked by less serious campers, and as long as you aren’t violating any laws or regulations that are in place in that area, you will enjoy a great new camping spot in return.
Cooking Tips for the Wilderness
Baking – No Oven Required
Pizza in the wilderness sounds great, but hauling heavy cookware into the woods sounds terrible. You can easily incorporate the “around the clock” method recommended by NOLS by stacking some rocks around a stove at the height of your burner.
Place a covered pot filled with dough on the burner, and place it so that a quarter of it is positioned over a low flame. The rest should rest on the rocks. Rotate it a quarter turn every few minutes so a new section is covered. This will help your dough cook evenly and prevent it from burning.
Know Exactly How Much Food To Pack
You should aim to pack about 3,500 calories for each day’s worth of food if you are planning on doing a lot of hiking. Select calorie-dense options like protein bars, cheese, and peanut butter, which will help you cut down on weight without cutting out calories. You can store every day’s meals in individual baggies. Ideally, you should pack no more than two pounds per person per day.
Upgrade Your S’mores
Everybody loves s’mores, but if you’re looking for an exciting update to the bland classic, here’s an idea. Simply soak your marshmallows in cognac for ten seconds, then place them in two Ziploc bags. Roast marshmallows over a campfire and then add dark chocolate and two shortbread cookies for a sweet, savory treat.
Pack a Hot Lunch
If a cold sandwich just won’t do the trick, heat things up by stashing a thermos filled with hot water in your bag. At lunch, you can pour it over any dried meal, like a soup or macaroni.
The Best Cheese for Camping
The best options will be those that are hard or semi-hard. They don’t require refrigeration, usually lasting for about a week in moderate conditions. Consider bringing cheeses like Gouda, Swiss, Parmesan or Jarlsberg. Softer cheese with more natural oils, like Brie and cheddar, will last only a day or two. Opt for waxed wheels or bricks, as these last longer than slices or blocks.
As with other foods, remember that warm temperatures and hot sunlight increase the rate of spoilage. You can pack your cheese in zippered bags and stash it in the middle of the backpack, which will protect it and insulate it on hot days.
Make the Most of Your Wilderness Ingredients
Don’t think you have to pack all your foodstuffs with you-you can always improvise on the go! If you are fortunate enough to find a wild patch of raspberries, blueberries, or huckleberries, you can make your own wild berry compote.
All you need to do is toss a couple of handfuls into a bottle and then add sugar. Let the mixture sit overnight – a syrup will form. Heat it until the berries break down, usually about two minutes or so. You can serve this delicious mixture over pancakes or oatmeal as a delicious breakfast treat.
Make a DIY Spice Kit
Camping food – especially MREs or other freeze dried foods – can be downright unappetizing. Adding a bit of space can take things up a notch. You can pack spices in small plastic bottles, which will prevent clogging in the zippers you might find in bags. The best spices to take with you? Consider bringing onion powder, Parmesan, dried mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, oregano, garlic, cayenne, pepper, and salt.
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