I spend a great deal of time looking out for ideas that make camping more comfortable, efficient, interesting or fun. As a result I often find myself spending a significant amount of time trying out camping hacks that I find on the internet or read about in magazines. While I have been delighted with some discoveries, others–not so much. Some are probably fine for the home but no good for a camping situation. Others flat-out do not work. So, I thought I would list the top ten worst offenders, and why.
1. Miraculous Mosquito Catcher.
You’ve all see this one; it pops up every summer. It calls for water, brown sugar and yeast mixed and put into a two-liter bottle. When I find this suggestion on a website I know the person hasn’t bothered to try it themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t suggest it. It doesn’t work, not even a little bit. Get yourself a regular mosquito repellent, or a natural one if you prefer (I do).
2. Vodka as an Insecticide or Repellent.
I’m not sure why this is still making the rounds on the internet. It’s one of the worst camping hacks. Vodka can kill some insects and parasites, but it has to be under particular conditions. The vodka–in fact any ethanol–has to be 70% to be effective. Anything under 50% is practically pointless. “Proof” is double what the percentage is. That means that if you have a bottle of vodka that is 80 proof, the ethanol it contains is a 40% solution. And THAT means your vodka (or any ethanol) needs to be 100-140 proof to be effective against little insects and parasites. You can add essential oils to increase its repellent effect, but really–your repellent will be just as effective if you add those oils to some aloe vera gel, and waaaay cheaper. Or just go for Repel, which is a very effective mosquito repellent. You can get it with or without Deet.
3. Toothpaste on a Mosquito Bite.
This is another “kinda” camping hack. The idea is that the menthol in the toothpaste will act as a pain-reliever, vasodilator (though how that would help a mosquito bite no one has ever been able to tell me), and anti-inflammatory. The problem is, there isn’t enough menthol in toothpaste (in some kinds, none at all) to be effective. The best one will achieve is a mild sense of relief because of the cooling effect of menthol. If you’re not terribly sensitive, the swelling and itch will subside quickly, which may be the reason many people think this works.
The itching and swelling of bites is an allergic reaction to the mosquito bite. White blood cells are trying to come to your aid because the mosquito saliva is a foreign invader, causing itching and swelling. The more allergic you are, the more severe your reaction is. If you are like me, who has huge itchy lumps that last days to a month, do yourself a huge favor and take an anti-histamine instead. That will work.
4. Pencil Sharpener for Making Shavings for Fire-starting.
You would be surprised at how picky pencil sharpeners can be. Spending all your time finding just the right twigs to fit in your sharpener is wildly impractical. If you can remember to pack a pencil sharpener, you can remember to pack a pen knife, which has more uses and is more effective than a pencil sharpener. If it’s the size that is appealing to you, there are pen knives that are only 2″ long when closed. It will make a far more effective addition to your survival kit.
5. Foam Floor Tiles for Your Tent.
Some ideas are great in some situations but just don’t work at a campsite. Foam floor tiles is one. Although they are effective, they aren’t handy. They take up a huge amount of packing space and if they aren’t completely flat it’s easy to catch one with your toe and trip. On rainy days they collect and keep the mud because of their waffle texture. This makes it difficult to sweep or wipe up the stuff. By the time you buy enough for your tent, you may as well have invested in a proper foam mat. A great idea for back-yard camping, though.
6. The Citronella Candle Camping Hack.
While some may swear by citronella candles in their yard, there is considerable evidence that
they just don’t work. There isn’t enough of the active ingredient (oil of citronella) to be effective anywhere. At a campsite, this is multiplied by umpteen degrees, because at most campsites it is often breezy. Same principle at work as campfire smoke, which follows you no matter how often you change chairs. You’re better using a commercial insect repellent or a natural one.
7. Make Travel Coffee Bags Out of Coffee Filters and Dental Floss.
If you place your coffee in a filter and then tie it up nice and tight with dental floss you will end up with a cup of very weak coffee. I’m not sure why–perhaps it has something to do with the fact that coffee grounds are a different shape than tea leaves or something. Why it doesn’t work and drip coffee does is a mystery to me, and best left to science. All I know is that when I tried it I got colored water. Even simmering it didn’t do much…until I accidentally broke it, and the grounds went into the water. Then it made something resembling coffee in color and taste. Not good taste, mind you.
Bypass this one and just make your coffee the regular way. There are drip cones you can buy that are great for camping. If you’re super-serious about fresh coffee, you can even get a grinder, drip and cup all-in-one.
8. Use a Vegetable Peeler to Make Single-Use Soap Leaves.
While this is a cute idea and may be handy when room is so tight you can’t even fit a bar of soap, at a camp site the type of soap leaves made by a vegetable peeler just isn’t practical. It is easy to make them–they even look nice–but the problem is transporting them. If you use a small bag, they flatten and squish together or fragment. You could use a little hard plastic container to keep it in, but then why not just take a bar of soap? Then, too, many vegetable peelers peel the soap too thick, and you end up wasting more soap than you use, because it won’t melt down with a single wash.
Your best bet is to get a pump bottle of liquid soap, or small travel bottles and fill them. If you have a shower set-up at the camp site, soap on a rope is a great option because you can hang it from a tree branch to dry before putting it away.
9. Glow-in-the-dark Bowling Using Empty Bottles and Glow Sticks.
Okay, this one works and is huge fun. My problem with this though is that nearly every camping hack article online neglects the ball. If you try this when it is full dark and your ball doesn’t glow, you will lose it the first time it goes into the bushes. If you are going to try this activity, and who wouldn’t, invest in a hamster ball. Stick a couple of glow strips in there and the ball will run, but it can’t hide. Speaking of glow-in-the-dark fun, check out the last suggestion in this article.
10. Mountain Dew, Baking Soda and Peroxide for Home Made Glow Stick Solution.
Nah. You end up with a solution that doesn’t glow, won’t clean and you can’t drink. Pour it down the sink, brah. It’s no good for anything. You wasted your money trying it. The worst of all camping hacks.
Use glow sticks. Real ones.