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Camping Without Electricity

Camping is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature. However, part of roughin’ it means going without many of the creature comforts that we’ve come to know and love in our own homes.

In fact, one of the biggest learning curves for many new campers is learning how to live and even thrive without electricity.

Whether you’re planning your first backpacking trip or you’re looking for ways to make outdoor living just a bit easier, here are 25 of my top tips for camping without electricity.

25 Tips for Tent Camping Without Electricity

1. Get a Headlamp

No one said that camping without electricity means you have to sit in the dark all the time. There are plenty of ways to illuminate your world, even when you’re far off the grid.

While flashlights are popular in urban areas, they’re not as practical in the outdoors. Instead, most campers opt for an LED-powered headlamp for all their nighttime lighting needs.

A good headlamp lets you see the world around you at night, without affecting your ability to cook, clean, read, and do other camp chores in the dark. 

Whenever possible, opt for a model with at least 200 lumens. It’s also worth getting a headlamp that’s water-resistant (or, better yet, waterproof!) and that has a variety of light settings, such as a red light.

Oh, and don’t forget the extra batteries!

2. Become a Campfire Guru

Campfires are fan favorites during any outdoor adventure and they’re a great way to illuminate your camp at night.

However, building a campfire is a skill that takes effort to perfect. If you’re new to building fires, take the time to practice at home in a fireplace or backyard fire pit before you leave home.

If you can’t practice building a fire at home before your first trip, you can watch YouTube videos, read tutorials, and get a good idea of what’s involved in starting a fire.

Then, set yourself up for success by bringing a set of quality lighters, firestarters, and some good kindling, like cardboard and old newspapers, on your trip.

Buy local firewood to stop the spread of invasive species. Also, search for the driest wood possible to have the best success with your fire.

3. Get Comfortable With a Camp Stove

Wondering how you can cook a scrumptious meal without your kitchen and all its great electricity-powered appliances? 

It turns out that cooking without electricity, while different, isn’t as impossible a task as it might seem.

The key to camp cooking is to keep things as simple as possible at first until you figure out a system that works well for you. 

If you’re just starting out, one-pot meals, like mac and cheese, soups, rice and beans, and pesto pasta, are good options.

Once you know your way around a 2-burner propane stove, you can start experimenting with more elaborate meals.

You can even try your hand at baking bread, making cakes, or – one of my personal favorites, camp pizzas – without electricity.

4. Bring Portable Power Banks

Let’s face it: We rely quite a bit on electricity to power our phones, cameras, e-readers, GPS devices, and even headlamps. Therefore, having a way to charge our devices is important. 

Unless you’re planning to go completely off the grid, a set of portable power banks is a good addition to any camping gear list. 

If you’re car camping, you can often get away with larger power banks that have enough juice to charge multiple smartphones. For backpacking trips, go as lightweight as possible.

5. Embrace Nature’s Natural Cooling Cycles

Living without A/C may sound like a scary thought, especially if you’re used to kicking back and relaxing in a well-air-conditioned home during the summer months.

However, even if you’re planning a camping trip in the middle of the summer, there are some great ways to embrace the Earth’s natural cooling cycles so that you stay cool while camping.

What exactly does this entail?

Well, if it’s hot outside, try to plan your hikes and other activities for the morning and afternoon. That way, you avoid the midday heat and lower your risk of exposure to dehydration or heat-related illnesses.

During the middle of the day, you can either hang out in a shady spot in camp or find a fun place to go swimming until the temperatures cool down.

6. Consider Solar Panels

If you need a way to power your electronic devices while camping off the grid, solar panels are a solid bet.

Sure, you need sun for them to operate, but most high-quality models will still be able to charge your devices when it’s partly cloudy outside.

If you’re going car camping, investing in a large solar panel, and perhaps even a solar generator, is a good idea. These small generators provide you with a charging station for your small devices without the need for electrical hookups.

For backpacking trips, plenty of small solar panels and battery packs can be used to power your devices on the go.

7. Opt for a Solar Shower

No one has ever come home from a camping trip and been happy with how they smell. The natural world has a bit of a stench, so it’s understandable if you’re concerned about staying hygienic while outside.

Thankfully, we can harness the sun’s heat to create a warm shower while camping.

Solar showers are a great option for folks who want to wash off during their camping trip but who don’t have access to an indoor shower. 

For car camping trips, larger, pressurized models are a solid choice. When it comes to backpacking, some ultralight options are available and are easy to pack for any trip.

8. Bring a Book

Long before the days of Netflix and Hulu, people read books for fun – mind-blowing, I know. 

Although you can certainly download some movies onto a tablet or smartphone before your camping trip, it can be nice to embrace the outdoor experience by going low-tech with your entertainment options.

Reading a book is a great way to pass the time and to help you fall asleep at night. You can even read aloud to your tent mates so everyone can follow along with the story.

If you’d rather not bring a physical book, many e-readers are surprisingly good options for camping.

The Kindle Paperwhite is a particularly great choice for campers because it has a battery life of 30+ days, a built-in backlight, and plenty of storage.

The newest models are even waterproof for added durability in the outdoors.

9. Bring String Lights

As we’ve discussed, a headlamp is a must for any camping trip.

However, if you’re looking for a simple way to illuminate your tent at night, a set of battery-powered string lights (a.k.a. Christmas lights) is a solid option.

You can usually find ways to hang up string lights in the interior of your tent by utilizing any internal gear loops.

Then, when you’re relaxing in your tent at night, you can flip a switch to illuminate the entire tent for everyone to enjoy.

10. Consider an LED Tent

If you want to take your in-tent lighting situation a step beyond string lights, LED tents are a good option for car camping.

Many large family-size tents are now available with built-in lighting for nighttime illumination.

Just be sure to look for a model that can be powered with a battery pack, rather than one requiring electrical hookups.

With these tents, once the sun goes down, you simply need to turn on the lights, much like you would at home.

11. Invest in a Quality Cooler

Cooking and eating meals with friends and family is one of the best parts of being outside.

However, storing food while outside – and keeping it fresh for days on end – is a challenge, to say the least.

Anyone heading out on a car camping trip sans electricity should strongly consider investing in a quality cooler.

Models that are rotomolded and that have high-end pressure injected insulation are a must if you want to keep your food fresh for days or weeks in the heat.

These burly coolers will cost you a pretty penny, but you’ll actually save money in the long run by minimizing your wasted food and cutting down on your ice consumption.

12. Learn How to Make Coffee the Old-Fashioned Way

If you’re like some of us, you need coffee in the morning to have any chance of being a functioning adult at some point during the day.

Unfortunately, Keurigs and drip coffee machines aren’t going to work when you’re camping without electricity. That means you’ll need another way to get your morning cup o’ joe.

Instant coffee is always a good option if you want to keep things simple.

For a more sophisticated and – dare we say, better-tasting – cup of coffee, consider a pour-over coffee maker, a camping French press, or even an AeroPress coffee maker, depending on your preferred coffee style.

A small hand grinder is also a must if you want fresh-ground beans. Meanwhile, a stovetop coffee maker is a must for coffee aficionados on car camping trips.

13. Bring Appropriate Clothing

Whether you’re trying to stay cool in the summer or warm in the winter, camping without electricity is all about coming prepared with the right clothing.

Back at home, with A/C and heat, we can lounge around in sweatshirts in the middle of the summer and wear t-shirts in the winter.

Sadly, this usually isn’t possible in the outdoors. So, if you want to be comfortable while camping without electricity, you’ll need to come prepared with the right clothing.

For the summer, bring lightweight, highly breathable clothes that wick away sweat. Consider a sun shirt and a light wind jacket for protection from the sun and bugs.

Also, don’t forget a rain jacket and a warm layer for those cool nights.

During the winter, you’ll want to use a layering system to stay warm and dry. Your innermost layers should be moisture-wicking base layers. On top, you should layer fleece and puffy jackets for warmth.

Then, if it’s raining or snowing, pile on a quality rain jacket to keep yourself dry. 

14. Master the Art of Staying Cool

Once you have the right clothing for summertime camping, you'll still need to find ways to stay cool in the heat without A/C.

To stay cool while camping without electricity, wear a hat in the sun, and search for shade whenever possible. If it’s really hot, avoid being inside your tent with the rainfly on, as this can trap in the heat.

Should you really need to be inside the tent, remove the rainfly and open up all the vents to encourage air flow.

If you can’t find any shade, a lightweight umbrella is a surprisingly good option. Not only does an umbrella keep you dry in the rain, but it creates a tiny pocket of shade wherever your travels take you.

15. Hand-Wash Your Clothes

For longer camping trips, there may come a time when you want to wash your clothes mid-adventure.

Without a washing machine nearby, you may think that all hope is lost.

However, hand-washing clothing is easier than many people think.

In fact, you can make a mini hand washing machine with just a durable (clean) plastic bag, an unused dry sack, or a portable wash bag.

Put your clothing inside the bag, then add a small amount of water and biodegradable soap.

Soak the clothing for a bit, then gently scrub it to remove dirt and stains. Once it’s as clean as can be, hang up your clothing on a makeshift line made from paracord and wait until it’s dry.

Voila! Clean clothes, no electricity needed.

16. Pitch Your Tent Wisely

If you’re planning on a tent-based adventure, either in a campground or in the backcountry, where you pitch your shelter is of utmost importance.

During the summer months, opt for a spot that’s in the shade and out of the sun as much as possible. This will allow you to avoid the midday heat when it’s at its worst.

In the winter, the opposite is true. Pitch your tent in the sun – particularly somewhere that gets the morning sun – so that you can feel warm and comfortable while in camp.

17. Pack Some Instruments

For those of us who are musically inclined, instruments can be a great way to have some good-natured fun on a camping trip. 

Guitars, banjos, mandolins, and the like are all good options for car camping and can be a great way to enjoy yourself around the campfire.

While backpacking, harmonicas are a traditional choice, but even compact ukuleles can be a fun addition to a packing list for added entertainment.

Just remember to respect the local quiet hours at your campsite!

18. Bring Enough Fuel

Unless you plan to cook exclusively over an open fire, you’ll likely be reliant on a propane or butane stove while camping.

For folks who are used to cooking on an electric stove, monitoring gas consumption might be a new concept. Therefore, it’s important to bring enough fuel for your trip.

It’s hard to offer specific guidance regarding how much fuel you need, as it all depends on your elevation, your stove, the local weather conditions, and the complexity of your meals. 

For liquid fuel stoves, 1/3 liter per person per day is a good starting point. Anyone looking to use a small canister stove can normally get by with a 100g canister for a solo weekend trip in the mountains.

Propane stove estimates are a bit trickier, but 1/2 pound per person per day is usually sufficient.

Additionally, if you’re planning to use a gas-powered generator or a gas-powered heating system, you’ll need to pack a substantial amount of propane for a longer trip. 

If you’re not sure where to start with your fuel estimates, plan a short trip as a test round to see how much fuel you consume.

Then, use that information to plan for a longer trip by adding a 10% buffer to your estimate for a bit of wiggle room.

19. Keep Your Gear Dry

If you’ve ever been caught in a rainstorm, you know how cold you can get when your clothing is soaking wet. In our day-to-day lives, we can rush inside during a storm and change into dry clothes.

While camping without electricity, however, staying warm and dry requires much more effort.

Set yourself up for success by finding ways to keep your gear as dry as possible.

On backpacking trips, line your pack with a waterproof pack liner and use extra dry bags for your most important pieces of gear.

In camp, ensure that all of your gear and clothing is either inside your tent, in your vehicle, or in your backpack so it’s not exposed should a storm quickly roll into the area. 

By taking these small steps, you can help keep your gear as dry as possible so that you can stay warm and comfortable during a storm, even if you don’t have a heated home to retreat to.

20. Play Camp Games

Whether you’re camping with kids or you’re just out with friends, games are a great way to stay entertained without the need for electricity.

Depending on the space you have, you can consider packing travel-sized board games like

  • Scrabble 
  • Rummikub
  • Bananagrams
  • chess 

Other good options include a deck of waterproof playing cards or even waterproof UNO cards.

For family car camping, you can consider packing lawn games, like cornhole or horseshoes.

Alternatively, there are plenty of games you can play as a group, such as charades, that require minimal equipment but offer hours of entertainment when you’re off the grid.

21. Opt for a Waterside Campsite

For warm summertime camping trips, look for a waterside campsite whenever possible.

Whether it’s a lake, river, or ocean, being near the water is an easy way to stay cool without electricity. 

Camping by the water gives you the flexibility to take a dip whenever the temperatures feel unbearable.

It’s often breezy by the water, too, so you can take advantage of the slightly cooler conditions during the summer months.

If you’re backpacking, be sure that you’re following local regulations regarding how close you can camp to the water.

In many locales, you must be at least 200 feet (60 meters) from water to set up camp, so check with land managers and landowners before you camp to ensure that you understand the rules.

22. Learn the Basics of Weather Patterns

The weather affects nearly everything we do on a daily basis, especially when we’re outside.

However, many of us rely solely on apps or websites to tell us about the weather each day.

While this is a convenient option for an urban lifestyle, once you get away from cell service and Wi-Fi connections, weather apps aren’t very useful.

Drastic changes in weather can wreak havoc on a camping trip and create potentially dangerous situations, so campers must understand some basic weather principles before heading outside.

For a short weekend trip, you can probably get by with checking the weather forecast right before you leave home. 

Anyone looking to head out on longer trips – especially into remote areas – would benefit from learning a bit about weather through free online courses.

That way, you can start to identify various weather patterns while you camp to see if you need to change your plans to accommodate an incoming storm.

23. Understand Basic Wilderness First Aid

Most campgrounds and backcountry campsites are far from hospitals and emergency resources.

So, if someone gets hurt in your group or in another group that you happen to pass by, help may be far away.

Camping without electricity is all about being self-sufficient – and an important part of this self-sufficiency is knowing what to do in an emergency.

Although a wilderness first aid course won’t turn you into a doctor overnight, it can give you a set of skills that you can use in an emergency, even when your cell phone won’t work.

Therefore, anyone looking to camp in remote areas without electricity can benefit from learning these essential skills.

Dozens of wilderness first aid course providers are out there, including NOLS, SOLO, and WMA.

They can help you become a confident and knowledgeable camper who can make a difference in an emergency.

24. Do Your Research

In our well-connected world, where all the information we’d ever need is at our fingertips, going camping without electricity means leaving behind these conveniences. Thus, before your trip, do your research.

Take the time to learn about your campsite ahead of time so that you know where to go in the event of an emergency.

Familiarize yourself with the area, study maps, and read trip reports from people who have visited the region before you.

As you get more comfortable with electricity-free camping, it’s easier to go out and just “wing it” without doing as much research.

However, in the beginning, being familiar with your campsite is essential for an enjoyable camping experience.

25. Recognize That It’s Okay to Be Uncomfortable

Above all, be easy on yourself and recognize that it’s okay to be a bit uncomfortable when you’re outside.

If you’re new to camping, learning how to live without electricity can feel like a steep learning curve that’s full of frustrations.

However, instead of thinking about all the things you don’t have when you’re camping, like electricity, think of all the amazing things you get to experience when you’re in the great outdoors.

From star-filled skies to amazing sunsets, camping without electricity gives you the chance to see some beautiful things that just don’t exist in the big city.

As you head out to enjoy an outdoor adventure without electricity, go into your experiences with a growth mindset.

Remember that things may seem difficult as you learn to navigate the world of outdoor living, but you’ll find systems, tricks, and tips that make camping as seamless and comfortable as your life at home.

Final Thoughts

Getting out and enjoying the great outdoors without electricity is a great way to reconnect with nature.

Whether it’s your first time tent camping off the grid or you’re a seasoned wilderness traveler, we hope our top tips for camping without electricity help you thrive on your next adventure.

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Gaby - Writer for The Camper Lifestyle

Gaby

Gaby is a professional outdoor educator, guide, and wilderness medicine instructor. She holds a master's degree in outdoor education and spends most of her time hanging out with penguins and polar bears in the polar region. When she's not outdoors, you can find her traveling, reading Nietzsche, and drinking copious double espressos.


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