Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015; it was updated on Jan. 23, 2022, with new member-sourced outdoor hacks.

After generations of sleeping outside, you tend to pick up a few tricks. Since 1938, REI Co-op Members and staffers have been creating and tuning pro tips to help make the outdoors a little more fun.

These may not change your life, but they just might save some time or impress your friends.

1. Make your own firestarter.

At home, coat cotton balls heavily in petroleum jelly and put them in a small plastic bag, says Trent Doerner, a member since 2019. This provides a nearly waterproof method to start a campfire. Doerner uses the extra jelly to soothe blisters or chapped lips while on the trail.

2. Make more firestarters.

Take an empty (paper) egg carton and fill each individual cup with shredded paper, dryer lint or sawdust. Melt candle wax and pour the wax into each cup. Separate the cups and nest the homemade firestarter to kick start your next campfire.

3. Wrap tape around your trekking poles.

Extra duct tape or Tenacious Tape™ repair tape comes in handy for multiple uses in the outdoors. Use it to patch a hole in your puffy jacket or sleeping pad, or make emergency repairs to your tent. To save space in your pack, wrap the tape around a water bottle or trekking pole. (Read more outdoor hacks for duct tape.)

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson.

4. Light up your bear canister.

Phil Reed, an REI Co-op member since 1979, found an easy trick for locating his bear-resistant food canister on very early trail departures. Reflective decals on the container keep them bright enough to spot with his headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness.

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson.

5. And your headlamp.

Reed also affixes glow-in-the-dark tape on the band of his headlamp so he can always easily find it.

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson

6. Replace boot laces with parachute cord.

Carry paracord on your boots and you’ll always have access to a utility line that can serve many uses in wilderness or emergency situations. (If you prefer to carry it on your wrist, check out this tutorial to make your own paracord survival bracelet).

Photo credit: Brooke Jackson

7. Make your own lantern.

Place your headlamp in an empty Nalgene, the clip the bottle to the loop on your tent ceiling to illuminate your shelter on your next overnight adventure.

lit headlamp in Nalgene water bottle

8. Stuff sacks make good pillows.

Pillows are for peasants. Rough it like you mean it by stuffing some clothes in your stuff sack and using that as a pillow.

Camping Hacks

9. Warm your sleeping bag with a Nalgene.

Some people were born with cold feet. To cope while camping, fill your Nalgene or another water bottle with hot water and throw it in the bottom of your sleeping bag before bedtime.Camping Hacks

10. Pack the bottom of your sleeping bag with dry clothes.

If snuggling up to a bottle of hot water goes against your better judgment, try some dry clothes instead. They will soak up any moisture in the bottom of your sleeping bag and keep your favorite feet warm.Camping Hacks

11. Line your pack with a heavy-duty garbage bag.

Use garbage can science to help keep your stuff dry. Line your backpack with a plastic garbage bag and fill ‘er up.Camping Hacks

12. Use silica gel packs in your cookware.

Save those little silica gel packs and store them with your cookware to help prevent rust. All it takes is one rusty pan for everyone to start calling you “Rusty” and you just never come back from that.Camping Hacks

13. Dry your shoes with crumpled clothes.

There’s no use crying over wet shoes. Remove your insoles and stuff a dry shirt or some newspaper in your boots overnight to dry them out. If you’re still feeling emotional, write some poetry.Camping Hacks

14. Create a grab-and-go kit.

Keep a small emergency bag on ready so you can quickly grab it if you ever need to venture farther from your camp base. Fill it with essentials like a space blanket, multi-tool or first-aid kit.

A backpacker holding an emergency kit

16. Keep one pair of your socks safe.

Learn to love sacred socks. Sacred socks are clean, dry socks that live in your sleeping bag for sleeping purposes only. It’s a beautiful thing.

Camping Hacks

17. Hand sanitizer works as fire starter.

Use hand sanitizer to start a germ-free fire in a pinch.Camping Hacks

18. Hang your clothes up with bread tags.

Start stockpiling your bread tags. They make great clothespins and they’re kinda shaped like slices of bread, which is helpful.Camping Outdoor Hack

19. Make a new grommet out of a rock.

Lose a grommet? Twist a rock in the same corner to make a new anchor point. Give the rock a respectable name like Barnaby or Winifred.Camping Outdoor Hack

20. Candle wax makes great zipper lubricant.

Keep your zippers zippy by applying a little bit of candle wax from a very un-lit candle.camping outdoor hack

21. Keep your down sleeping bag fluffy by drying it with tennis balls.

When drying a down-filled sleeping bag, include a few tennis balls to preserve loft. (Learn more on how to wash a sleeping bag.)Camping Outdoor Hack

22. Leave a set of clean clothes in the car.

It’s almost up there with a hot shower: a spare change of clothes waiting for you when you come off the trail.

A set of clothes and a pair of shoes in a car

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