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No matter how many times you’ve camped, there’s always a new trick or two to try on your next trip. Try these simple hacks yourself to be extra prepared for your next outdoor adventure.
1. Use Your Head(lamp) While flashlights are a good old camping staple, headlamps can be just as useful with a lot less fuss. For example, if you walk away from your campfire to find more firewood, a headlamp lets you use both hands for carrying sticks. If you’re checking out a cave, the light goes where you want to look as you turn your head. They’re also compact, good for lighting up campground paths or bathrooms at night, and they can light up your whole tent if you strap one onto a translucent water container like a milk jug or water bottle.
2. Leave Room in the Car Especially if tent camping is your go-to choice, consider leaving some room for yourself in your vehicle. In case of a surprise storm or general tent damage, you’ll be glad to have an extra sleeping option. You may also want to pack an extra tarp in case you need to throw wet things in the car quickly.
3. Bring Activity Bags Make a set of boredom-busting activity bags to keep you and your crew occupied if it rains or gets too hot for major activities. Pack things like playing cards, board games, craft and art camping supplies, puzzle books, macramé strings, paints, you name it. Try to think of things that aren’t too messy so you don’t have much to clean up.
4. Know How to Identify Poisonous Plants… and Bring Treatments Anyway Poison ivy is the primary concern in Iowa – according to USDA surveys poison oak and poison sumac don’t occur in the state. Still, poison ivy has a highly variable appearance, and may entirely slip your notice while out enjoying nature, and there’s also stinging nettles and wild parsnip. Bring treatments along and remember to wash any skin thoroughly with soap after exposure to assorted foliage. Bring other treatments as well if you have allergies, and always have anti-itch cream on hand in case of mosquitos. More on identifying Iowa's poisonous plants and what to do if you have a brush-up with them.
5. Bring a Doormat It’s not about decorating in this case – you might be surprised how much bringing a doormat keeps dirt out of your tent. Make sure to knock out the dirt and any potential hitchhiking bugs before you pack up. To be extra careful, toss the mat in a black garbage bag and leave in direct sunlight. This heat treatment will prevent any last unwanted guests from coming home with you.
6. Get the Most out of Your Munchies While we might aim to take a healthy-food-only trip, some road trip snacks have the unexpected benefit of being good fire starters. Doritos and cheese balls in particular burn excellently.
7. Bring Tough Towels Microfiber or specially woven cellulose towels will be more effective than any cotton or paper version when camping (plus, it helps reduce trash at the campsite). Keep microfiber towels on hand for hand washing and dishes, but if you’re going to take a dip in the lake, try the swimming section of your local sports store and look for a small towel called a “shammy” or chamois cloth. These are reusable, very absorbent towels that are good as new right after being wrung out - the sort competitive swimmers and divers use to instantly dry off after getting out of a pool. Most are machine washable to boot.
8. Sunburn Dual Treatment While we’re headed out of summer, don’t count out sunburn just yet (plus, it’s good to remember for next year!). Aloe vera products can help soothe sunburns, and using them in conjunction with a cold cream can maximize healing. Look for creams that contain menthol or eucalyptus, as these will provide a cooling sensation to make you less uncomfortable. Eucalyptus also contains an antiseptic, and menthol makes it easier for soothing aloe products to penetrate deeper into your skin for more complete relief. Camphor is another common ingredient in cold creams that can help prevent itching, pain and infection, but it can also be an allergen (camphor is also common in lip balm, so if you’ve never had an allergic reaction to that you may not react to cold cream either).
For more ideas, look over our Iowa Camping and DIY Outdoors boards on Pinterest.