It’s summertime and the great outdoors are calling. You want to hit the beach, but you also want to go camping. Why not do both? Beach camping is the ultimate summer getaway – the changing tides and crisp sea breeze, waves yearning to be surfed and horizons begging to be explored offer a sense of complete and utter freedom in a constantly moving environment.
Surfing trips, those awesome adventures that involve discovering remote waves that have hardly ever been ridden, will teach you more about beach camping than anything else. Furthermore, these exciting escapades are great for the whole family, surfers and non-surfers alike, as they allow you to disconnect from the hectic life back in the city and bask in ‘Vitamin Sea’ all day.
Sure, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by checking into an organized campsite with toilets, showers, electricity and a communal kitchen. But unfortunately, many campgrounds that are advertised as near the ocean can be miles away. And in the end, nothing beats waking up to nothing but sand standing in between you and the rolling waves.
If it’s true adventure what you seek, then you’ll probably want to go as far off-the-beaten-path as possible. Pack your tent and backpack your way to the beach, hop on a sturdy 4X4 or even take a boat to a remote island.
Camping on the beach is not very different from regular camping, but you should definitely consider a few essentials. To get you started, we’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to setting up camp on the beach, plus a beach camping packing checklist!
Do your research
Before you begin packing, research the state, region, national park or reserve you wish to visit to make sure that there are beaches where you are permitted to camp. Contact the local authority or state park and find out whether it’s okay to camp on the beach you have in mind. Keep in mind that some beaches may be closed during cyclone season.
The next question you need to ask is ‘Where is the nearest potable water source?’ No nearby water source means you will need to pack gallons of water.
Choose your location wisely
When you arrive at your destination, take time to study the terrain. Nevercamp below the high-tide line. On most beaches, this is easy to identify by the layer or driftwood and seaweed left behind by the previous tide. If you are unsure of the levels, check the local tide charts. Be aware that the fluctuation between tides is even more aggressive during full and new moon stages. Also, check the weather forecast – violent offshore storms and winds can produce massive waves.
Being close to the water is soothing, but setting up your tent in the middle of the beach may not be the best idea. You’ll be exposed to the sun and winds. Look for those places where vegetation meets the sand, which provide some protection from the wind and rain, more privacy and also a firmer soil to stake down in. Don’t go too far into the vegetation, though. Stay close to the beach because the sea breeze will help keep those nasty bugs away.
Pick your shelter
You’ve decided on a destination, and now it’s time to pack. Let’s start with your shelter. There are quite a few options available to choose from:
During summer, when it’s warm and the chance of precipitation is quite low, you can get away with a floorless tent, such as a pyramid tarp shelter supported by one or two poles. Needless to say, ventilation is not an issue with this type of shelter. Plus, you can use it as a sun canopy during the day!
If there are bugs around and the weather is unstable, a tent is the best option. You can bring any tent to the beach, but for extra comfort, it would be great to have a well-ventilated one with lots of mesh on the tent body. If you have a double-wall tent and the weather looks good, you might be tempted to use only the inner tent. However, it is advisable to use your rainfly (the outer layer of your tent) even if it’s not raining in order to prevent all that humid air from getting inside.
Staking a tent in sand can be difficult, if not even impossible. So, you can either invest in sand pegs, which are longer and thicker, or you can opt for the classic system: fill small nylon bags with sand and tie your tent’s guy-out lines to them. If you can find some rocks, you can use those instead.
Beaches can get pretty cold at night and you might still need a sleeping bag. A lightweight summer sleeping bag will do the job quite nicely. Go for a synthetic and waterproof one so that it does not absorb the moisture in the air.
If you know that the beach you are heading to has warm temperatures even during the night, then you can sleep in a sleep sheet. This is a sleeping bag liner made from cotton or silk, in the form of a sack, that you can simply use as is.
Sleeping on sand is much more comfortable than sleeping on hard, rocky ground as you would when camping in the woods or mountains. But you still need some protection and insulation, because the sand can get pretty cold during the night.
There are three basic types of sleeping pads: self-inflating, air or closed-cell foam. Air pads, including self-inflating ones, are very comfortable, but they can easily get punctured, especially on the beach where there can be sharp seashells lying around. In this case, it’s good to bring an extra solid tarp to place under your sleeping pad.
Since it’s warm, you can simply bring your yoga mat to sleep on and use it during the day to do some sun salutations before your surfing or swimming session.
If the weather forecast is good and you found a relatively protected spot (a cove or under some trees), then I suggest ditching your tent and sleeping under the stars. Lay a tarp on the ground and watch the night sky light up with shimmering stars.
Keeping the sand out
It’s easier to prevent the sand from getting in than it is to get it out of your tent or sleeping bag.
- Lie an oversized tarp under your tent so that you have extra space to take off your shoes.
- Brush off your feet before you get in the tent. If you come by car and camp near your vehicle, you can bring two buckets to fill with water and keep by the side of your tent to rinse your feet. A water bottle also does the trick.
- Pack a dustpan and brush if you have enough room. They will come in handy when cleaning your tent.
Building a campfire
On extended stays, cooking over a fire is a must. Not only is it practical, but food cooked over a campfire is far more delicious. Remember that you will not be cooking over the flames – you need to let the fire burn down and use the hot bed of embers that remain. But first, make sure the beach you are on allows bonfires!
Windy places are difficult to start a fire, so here’s a trick: make a fire pit by digging a hole in the sand, one to two feet deep. This will also keep the fire under control and will make it easier to put it out by simply throwing sand over it.
If it is not too windy, you can gather some rocks and create a circle to build your fire inside. Look for driftwood that is far from the water. This way, it will be drier and easier to start a campfire with.
If you plan to cook using your stove, you’ll need some wind protection for that too. This is when a protected camping area comes in handy, such as between trees or some other form of vegetation. Never use a stove inside your tent. Aside from the risk of catching fire, you might die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
What else to pack
- Ziploc bags – to keep sensitive things like your phone, camera, wallet and car keys sand-free; also, you might have wet clothes that you need to pack, and you wouldn’t want to mix those with the dry ones.
- Sunscreen with high SPF – apply generously all day, every day. Even if the sky is overcast and the weather is cool, you can still get sunburnt quite easily. Reapply after swimming, snorkeling or surfing.
- Garbage bags – you are responsible for your own garbage!
- Backpacking hammock (optional) – if there are trees near the beach, there’s no better place for a ‘siesta’ than in a swinging hammock in the cool shade.
- Extra towels – both for beach use and for cleaning up. Opt for quick-drying towels; you will not have to wait eons for them to dry. Plus, they take less space to pack.
- Layered clothing – the cool sea breeze in the evening will make you want to put on some warm clothes. A beanie will also come in handy.
- Camping cookware – cutlery set, plate, mug (an old-school enamel coffee mug can also be used to boil water), non-stick skillet, small and large pot with fitting lid and handle.
- Large water container
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Flashlights + extra batteries
- Remote beaches usually mean no lifeguards. You might have no reception on your phone either.
- If you plan to go surfing or swimming and there are no lifeguards, make sure there is always someone on the beach while you are in the water. That will be your designated lifeguard.
- Make sure you stay hydrated. When exposed to the sun all day long, dehydration becomes a major issue.
Leave no trace!
This applies to camping and travel in general: make sure others can enjoy the same spot in the future!
Do not camp on sand dunes. These are home to vulnerable vegetation that provides a fragile ecosystem many species depend on. You can check with the local rangers beforehand to find out whether a certain sand dune is on the official tracks or not.