8 Camping Hacks That Actually Work

Social media is full of ridiculous “camping hacks” that won’t help you do anything but create a bunch of extra garbage. Embrace these editor-tested tricks for staying comfy in the backcountry instead.

Photo: Jesse Albanese

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A confession: I love to hate-watch camping hack videos on YouTube. If you haven’t had the misfortune of seeing one, they usually have titles like “BRILLIANT CAMPING HACKS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW”. Click play, and you’re treated to about 15 wordless, professionally-produced minutes of people demonstrating the absolute dirt-worst outdoor ideas anyone has ever thought of. Duct tape plastic bottles to your feet and use them as sandals! Cut a hole in the bottom of a camp chair so you can poop without squatting! Buy a giant air mattress, pitch your tent on it, and paddle it into the middle of a lake! In reality, all these hacks are good for is creating enough plastic trash to fill a Wal-Mart’s dumpster, and possibly drowning you in your sleep.

Still, there’s a reason we love camping hacks. The idea of finding smart ways to extend our experience in the outdoors—make it easier, richer, or just more fun—is seductive. So instead of wasting your time trying to make a hanging tent out of plastic wrap, get clever with these eight Backpacker-tested hacks to take on the trail.

Bake a Cake on a Canister Stove—or Inside an Orange

Serving up a fresh-baked cupcake in camp is an easy trick that will earn you a ton of cred with your partners—and the best part is that it requires barely any equipment. All you need is a canister stove, a cookpot, and a metal mug that’s small enough to fit inside of it. Using prepackaged  cake mix makes this recipe plug-and-play simple. It works with any kind of pot. The trick: A water bath evenly cooks the cake without any kind of burning or hotspots.

Bonus tip: If you’re planning on making a fire, you can go truly gourmet by making a chocolate cake in a carefully-peeled orange rind and baking it on the coals.

Stretch a Sleeping Bag’s Temperature Rating

The best kind of hacks save you money by helping you make do with what you have, like beefing up your sleeping bag so you can tackle cold-season trips without investing in a new one. You can add a little bit of warmth with a synthetic or silk liner, a little more with a puffy or other midlayer, or a lot by pairing it with a cheap big-box-store sleeping bag (I’ll vouch for this $25 one from Fred Meyer). In this post, we break down your options.

Make Yogurt on the Trail

Can you really culture powdered milk into creamy yogurt on the trail overnight? The answer is an emphatic “yes.” I watched former Backpacker editor and current columnist Corey Buhay, whose soul is as brave as her stomach is strong, do it in Backpacker’s office while researching this story. The only extra equipment you’ll need is an insulated bottle like a Yeti Rambler. Bonus: We share recipes for what to do with it when you’re done.

Bring Ice Cream on a Backpacking Trip

Unlike yogurt, it’s pretty challenging to make ice cream in the backcountry. Fortunately, bringing the pre-bought stuff on an overnight hike—even a summer one—is absolutely possible. Pick your favorite flavor and pack it into a high-quality insulated bottle. Travel writer Kassondra Cloos details her experience trying it in this story from the archives.

Turn a Tarp Into a Tent

Tarps are lightweight, versatile, and—especially compared to high-end ultralight tents—very cheap. The downside: They often underperform in crummy weather, letting rain sneak in either through the openings in their pitch or under their edges. With a little bit of skill, however, you can seal up a tarp against bad weather, or even turn it into a bona-fide tent with a vestibule and floor.

Use Trash as Cheap Gear

A better idea than trying to turn those empty Smartwater bottles into sweaty, slippery sandals: Upcycle them into filter bottles on the trail. With a little bit of ingenuity you can turn thrift-store or recycling-bin scraps into bona-fide parts of your kit. From an old pair of swim trunks to a bubble mailer, you’ll keep trash out of the landfill and cash in your wallet with these ideas.

Harness the Power of the Fanny Pack

Hold your snickers, because, well, a fanny pack is perfect for holding your Snickers: This dad-accessory can comfortably add storage to your pack system while keeping your most-used essentials within arm’s reach at all times, reducing both the weight on your shoulders and the number of stops you need to make to grab snacks or sunscreen. 

Whichever one you have lying around will do, but if you’re looking for an ultralight option, Hyperlite’s Versa weighs less than 5 ounces and can attach to your sternum strap. My personal fave? The Mountainsmith Trippin’ Fanny Pack: It looks cool and carries comfortably thanks to an extra-wide webbing belt, and its 5-liter capacity is big enough that I’ll use it in place of a pack on short dayhikes.

Bake a Pizza on a Canister Stove

Are you noticing a lot of food tricks on this list? What can we say, we like to eat well. If you want to really show off for a crew, making pizza on your canister stove is an easy and flashy way to do it. (Watch yours truly demonstrate how it’s done.) You’ll need a wide-bottomed pan (Sea to Summit’s 8.6-ounce Alpha Pan is a good pick), plus Bisquick or another baking mix, cheese, sauce, your favorite toppings, and your appetite.

Ditch the TP With a Backcountry Bidet

Used toilet paper is cluttering up popular campsites along some of America’s most popular trails. Carrying it out is always an option, but if that’s too gross for you, there’s a better one. A backcountry bidet can get you cleaner than toilet paper with none of the waste. In its simplest form, it’s just a plastic bottle with a hole poked in the cap. Not convinced yet? Former Backpacker editor Casey Lyons went long on his love for the bidet in 2021.

From 2023