5 Ways to Prep for Summer Camping

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As we begin to gear up for summer camping, it’s time to make sure our camping gear is ready. We picture s’mores around the campfire and drifting off to sleep reading a favorite novel. Then, briefly our minds wander into dreaded territory – the camping equipment. Where is the camp stove? Did I actually jam my sleeping bag into its stuff sack and leave it all winter? (You did).

Now is the perfect time to test and prepare your camping equipment for those upcoming weekend adventures.  Use these tips to get you out of the house and in to the great outdoors, when the time comes. Get ready, prep, go!

Tips on Getting Your Gear Ready for Summer Trips

Sleeping Bag and Pad

Camping gear, including a water bottle, guidebook, and sack, stacked outside a green tent

Manti-La Sal National Forest (Christopher Quirin, Share the Experience)

Pull your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack or unroll your bag and let it breathe. This allows the bag to retain the loft (or whatever is left of the loft) and insulating properties that you’ll be relying on during those cool summer nights.  Check to see that the zipper works properly and that there are no holes in the bag. If you discover a tear, try nylon repair tape, or even duct tape will get you through a few excursions. 

Time for a good washing? If dirt and grime are building up, it’s probably time to wash your bag. Choose a mild detergent (outdoor stores offer special soaps just for this purpose) and a gentle cycle. Washing your bag will also help return the loft. Lay your bag out to dry or tumble dry on low in the dryer.

Check your sleeping pad, or pick one up if you don't already have one. For inflatable pads, make sure they still hold air. Patch kits are wonderful for saving money and continuing the life of an old standby.

Tent and Footprint

A boy stands shyly inside the door of his blue tent

North Cascades National Park (Robert Root, Share the Experience)

Ideally, you’ll want to set your tent up and check for wear and tear. If you’re not up for that, check to make sure that you have all the tent poles needed. Are they bent or split? Poles can be repaired or often you can purchase replacements.

Ensure you also have tent stakes for those windy nights. Is your rain fly in good shape (do you even have a rain fly)? If you recall from last year’s camping season that your rain fly and tent walls were saturated and sagging from a passing summer monsoon, you may want to consider waterproofing both.

Not necessary but highly recommended is a tent footprint – the tarp-like material for under your tent. A tent footprint helps avoid wear and tear to the bottom of the tent and provides another layer of insulation. If you have one already, check it for tears or holes.

Lighting and Camp Stove

A coffee pot attached to a campstove brews near a lakeshore

Huron-Manistee National Forest (Matthew Husted, Share the Experience)

This can be as simple as checking your headlamp or flashlight for working batteries and ensuring the bulb is still functioning. Left your batteries in your headlamp or flashlight at the end of last season? Try cleaning the contact points.

First and foremost, when working on equipment that involves fuel and fire, if you’re not confident in your repair skills, it’s best to play it safe and take your stove or lantern to a reputable outdoor store for repair.

Using a liquid fuel camp lantern? Although a bit trickier, these lanterns, if stored properly, should just need replacement parts such as a new mantle (be sure to have a few extras on-hand while camping), pump or even new glass if it’s cracked or broken. If it appears your repairs are beyond the basics, check the manufacturer’s instructions or visit your local outdoor store for advice and repairs.

Some of the more common camp stoves offer repair kits and, of course, there are plenty of online tutorials. If you’re not game for this job, check with your local outdoor store for repair services or, maybe it’s time for a new stove.

As always, check local fire restrictions in the area prior to heading out on your adventure – conditions may require you to take precautions when using this type of equipment.

First Aid and Personal Safety

Two backpackers looking at a map with a BLM ranger.

Bureau of Land Management

Your first aid kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, burn, bee sting or allergic reaction. Be sure your kit is replenished with antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, a snakebite kit, pain relievers and sunscreen. Tailor your kit to your family's special needs.

In addition to a first aid kit, you should also have a map of the area and compass. If you’re heading for bear country, be sure to have a rope ready for hanging food, use a bear canister or the food lockers provided at many campgrounds.

Finally, duct tape. Make sure you’ve got this essential for repairs!

Grub Tubs and Food Storage

Brown metal food storage container with yellow warning about bear safety at Yosemite National


For those that camp regularly, you may already have a grub tub – a big plastic tub with lid used to store your utensils and cooking gear so you're ready to go! 

Really, anything you might need while cooking your meals in camp - even waterproof matches or a fire starter for lighting your camp stove - should be in the grub tub. Take time to go through this tub and ensure you have everything you need to feed and serve your family and friends. Is there still maple syrup on the dish towel? Are the spices ancient? Do you have olive oil in there from the '90s? Now’s your chance to freshen things up.

Check to make sure you also have clean-up covered. Do you have biodegradable dish soap? Sponge? Tub to do your washing? Be on the lookout for guidance at the campground about how to dispose of your dirty water.

Don’t forget, anything in this tub that is scented (think soaps, spices, "Plan B" Food, etc.) can be tempting for the local wildlife when camping. Follow the campground’s food storage recommendations such as using food lockers or bear canisters.

While we are on the subject of grub, let’s talk water. Reusable water storage containers come in various sizes to store water while camping. Be sure to pull these out early and check that they are clean and in top-notch condition. You want to avoid a contaminated water container or one that leaks.

Now that you're ready, get out there and Bring Home a Story!

A young girl pulls an empty green wagon away from a cabin

Lassen National Forest (Dale Cotton, Share the Experience)

There’s space for everyone. Everyone enjoys the outdoors differently – from people exploring the beach for the first time to families on picnics, kids on scavenger hunts, mountain bikers, backcountry campers, and avid whitewater paddlers. Leading with kindness, we all have a role to play in building an inclusive outdoors.

If you’re up for it, grab a journal on your next adventure and archive your experience. Recreation.gov is gathering stories for the Share Your Story adventure writing contest to award great prizes for the most memorable outdoor adventures.

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