Sleeping Under the Stars - Tent Camping Tips and Tricks
Updated: Jan 23, 2022
“A great many people, and more all the time, live their entire lives without ever once sleeping out under the stars.” - Alan S. Kesselheim This post contains affiliate links for products I love, and I may receive a commission if you make purchases from them.
I never was a big camper growing up. I know for a fact that I can count on one hand the number of times our family went camping together. I actually believe I can count on just one finger the number of camping trips we took. I think there were a few other times where we set our tent up in the backyard, but I don’t remember ever sleeping there overnight like a true campout.
When Zac and I decided to take our first-ever adult vacation as a couple, I can’t remember what made us decide to do a camping road trip. I think it boiled down to the fact that our main destination was Yellowstone National Park, and we wanted to be right in the middle of the action and adventure. It was nearly entirely uncharted territory for us, made obvious when we had to buy a tent for the occasion. The one we found is an older version of this one.
I remember multiple trips to Walmart to look at their camping gear. We had no idea what we were doing, so we just grabbed whatever looked important. Tent? Check. Chairs? Check. An air mattress because even in our early twenties, we already had aches and pains? Check. We were ready to be one with nature and camp our little hearts out.
Fast forward through all of the stops on our way to Yellowstone - the Omaha Zoo, Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Devil’s Tower, and whatever else looked cool along the way - staying in hotels most of the time because we couldn’t find many places to camp along the way. We finally made it to Yellowstone late at night. Yes, we thought, we can finally camp! Even though we had reached the park, the nearest campsite was way too far away to get to that night, so we stayed in an adorable cabin-inspired hotel right outside of the park.
We woke up earlier than everyone else (a usual for us) and headed into the park before it even had a guard at the entrance the next morning. We found ourselves a campsite in Yellowstone, set up our tent, then headed out for a short hike while trying to figure out what to do next.
Then, we were stopped by a park ranger saying that the government had shut down, and that the park rangers were just there to get everyone out of the park. They told us that we could stay in our tent, but would not be allowed to hike, fish, or do anything at all except use the bathroom or (you guessed it) stay in our tent.
We packed up, meandered our way slowly out of the park - after stopping to see Old Faithful, of course. We then made our way through Grand Tetons National Park before finally landing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming the next night. We found an awesome KOA there, got a campsite right where a small creek ran into a nearby river, and were finally able to use our new tent.
Since that first trip, we’ve figured things out by trial and error - like the fact that new tents are not always waterproof, and that a rainfly is always a good idea. There was also that one time when our air mattress got a huge leak in it, and we didn’t realize it until we woke up in the middle of the night with our backs resting on hard rock. We’ve learned quite a bit and gotten our camping down to a (nearly) exact science.
Some of our Biggest Takeaways:
Waterproofer or a rainfly (or both) are absolute musts for tent camping, even if your tent is brand new and specifically says it's waterproof. I promise you, if you don’t invest in at least one of them, and it rains, you will be disappointed. You can find one here.
Invest in an air mattress and a portable pump for it, similar to this one. Sleeping on the hard ground is fine when we are ten, but if you’re anything like us, after the big 2-0, it gets much more difficult. I have a feeling we will be upgrading our air mattress soon, as they no longer make the exact model we have. I also found some that look incredible, that not only charge themselves but also have a USB port built in (like this one).
Pay attention to the temperature rating on your sleeping bag, along with the low temperatures expected where you plan to camp. Do not make the mistake of assuming that any sleeping bag will be fine for the occasion, or you may be running to the store to buy yourself extra blankets and sleeping bags after the fact.
Keep your head above your feet! This may sound like a weird tip, but trust me on this one. Pay very close attention to the landscaping of your campsite. If the ground is not completely flat where you choose to set up your tent, make sure your feet are downhill. We made this mistake just once, and will never make the same mistake again. We woke up probably 6,784 times that night because of our heads sliding off of the air mattress. It may seem like an exaggerated number, but I’m pretty sure its entirely accurate.
Do not attract bears to your campsite. This is very important, and hopefully, I do not need to explain why. It is highly possible, depending on where you are camping, that you will be near bears. The chances of seeing a bear or having one come across your campsite are less likely in designated camping areas, but when dispersed camping, it is more likely to run into them. To help avoid luring them to your campsite, keep food up in a tree or locked in your car, out of sight. Bears are smart enough to recognize coolers and food in cars. They’ve also been known to open a car door to get some snackies, then let the door close behind them. Bears are not as likely to be able to easily open the door on the way back out. This could cause some seriously bad news for you, your car, and the poor bear that got stuck inside.
Bring a make-shift kitchen sink. Living out in the wild is nice, but being able to wash your dishes, hands, and brush your teeth is also nice. Bring a jug of water - one with a spigot is a great choice! We typically bring a sponge and a small container of soap in a Ziploc baggie for dishes, and bring paper towels along with us also. Bonus - the paper towels are perfect for helping start a campfire. If you prefer something pre-made, they have multiple options for that as well, like here.
Bring entertainment. Camping is great. Enjoying nature is even more so. Sometimes, though, it gets too chilly to hang out by the fire outside, but you’re not quite ready to fall asleep yet. Download a movie or two on your iPad or tablet. There’s something so fun about watching a movie, hanging in a tent out in nature.
S’mores. Is there any additional information needed here? Seriously, though - keep in mind that some areas do have fire bans in place at certain times of year. Colorado, for instance, has one in place nearly every time we go out there due to excessive heat and lack of rain. Investing in a mini propane grill was one of the best ideas we ever had for our camping adventures, especially for when we can’t have a campfire.
Pack it in, pack it out. If anything sticks with you from this post, please make sure it is this. Nature is incredible. Having the opportunity to go out, set up a campsite, and sleep under the stars is one of the best experiences there is. That being said, it’s not nearly as enchanting when there is garbage everywhere you look. Get out there, enjoy what nature has to offer, but please make sure to pack out everything you bring with you. Keep nature as it is intended to be.