A beginner’s guide to camping in a tent in Maine


This story was originally published in June 2020.

Camping in a tent is an activity that many people look forward to each summer. It’s an opportunity to embrace the outdoors, unwind, relax and live simply. But certain aspects of tenting can be challenging. Just one mistake can result in a very uncomfortable night under the stars.

These tips and tricks for camping in a tent will help beginners try it without fear — and might just teach seasoned campers a thing or two as well.

Your mode of transportation will dictate supplies

How you access your campsite will dictate how many supplies you can bring with you, Bob Duchesne of Bangor, who writes the Bangor Daily News column Good Birding, pointed out.

On one end of the spectrum is backpacking, where you haul all of your gear, including your tent, into a campsite on foot. In this case, you’re limited to what you can carry. Fortunately, many companies have created lightweight gear specifically for this type of camping, including compactable sleeping pads, miniature stoves and tiny water filtration units. Therefore, you can still find comfort in the backcountry, if you do a little shopping and strategic packing.

On the other end of the spectrum is what’s known as “car camping,” which is when you can drive your vehicle directly to a campsite. In this scenario, you can pack everything but the kitchen sink. This type of camping allows for larger, more elaborate tents, fold-out camp chairs, lanterns, board games, grills, coolers and more.

Somewhere in the middle of the camping comfort spectrum is canoe camping, where you paddle to your campsite. This type of camping limits your gear to what you can comfortably and safely fit in your canoe. And the same can be said for other modes of transportation, such as sailboats or horses or ATVs. The amount of camping gear you can carry depends on how you’ll be arriving at your site.

In this 2015 file photo, a pick-up truck filled is being filled up with camping gear after a group of campers enjoyed a weekend stay at Bear Brook Campground in Baxter State Park. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Get to know your tent ahead of time

If you’ve purchased a new tent, consider assembling it before you’re deep in the wilderness, suggested John Gordon of Kennebunk. Lay it out in your backyard on a sunny day and learn how all the poles, canvas, mesh windows, bungee cords, velcro, zippers and stakes fit together. Then you won’t be as stressed out when you’re setting it up away from home. This will also give you an opportunity to fix any broken tent poles or ripped canvas before you truly need it.

Know the campsite rules

Most designated campgrounds and campsites have important rules to follow, and some of those rules might not be so obvious, especially to first-time tenters. For example, some campsites require that campers obtain a fire permit before lighting a fire. Others have specific check-in and check-out times. It’s best to learn these rules ahead of time so you can prepare. Check the website of the campsite owner or management, or contact them directly by email or phone.

Put thought into your spot

Once you arrive at your campsite, put some thought into exactly where you set up your tent. Pick a level spot and avoid hazards such as hanging branches, advised Hazel Stark, co-owner of the Maine Outdoor School. Also, stick to high ground if possible.

“Make sure not to pitch your tent in a low spot, especially if rain is in the forecast,” said Julia Gray of Orland. “Unless you want to sleep on a leaky waterbed.”

Shield yourself from water

If you manage to go camping in Maine without it raining at least once, consider yourself lucky. The Pine Tree State is known for rapidly changing weather. For this reason, it may be wise for you to use your tent fly, which is the outer layer of a tent. Usually a tent fly is fastened over the top of the tent, with the edges staked away from the tent on all sides. This space between the tent wall and the fly helps reduce the amount of water that gets inside your tent.

Still, beads of water will likely form on your tent walls, especially near the floor, when the temperature drops at night. This build up of dew can’t be prevented. For this reason, Bethany Preble of Ellsworth suggests keeping your gear away from the tent walls. Otherwise you might wake up to a bag full of damp clothes. She also suggests bringing an extra tarp, which can be strung up to create an additional shelter outside your tent — say for eating meals under — if it’s especially rainy.

Placing a footprint (piece of canvas or similar material) under your tent can also make a difference, Susan Keppel of Winterport said. Not only can it add extra waterproofing, it can help keep in warmth and prolong the life of your tent by protecting it from sharp objects such as rocks and sticks.

BDN reporter Aislinn Sarnacki rests her stinky feet after hiking 4 miles up the steep Fire Warden’s Trail to Bigelow Col, a dip in the ridge between Avery Peak and West Peak on Bigelow Mountain on July 22, 2014, near Stratton. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

A comfortable bed is key

Everyone has an opinion about what type of bed is best for tenting. Some people use a blow-up mattress, while others prefer a foam pad or cot. There isn’t one “right” set up, but it’s usually much more comfortable to have some form of padding between you and the ground, especially in Maine where rocks and exposed tree roots can be found almost everywhere.

“I’ve found that the better you make your sleeping surface, the better the experience,” said Kevin Lawrence of Manchester, New Hampshire. “In cold weather I usually put down a closed cell pad, then our bedding.”

In Maine, it often gets cold at night, even at the height of summer. It’s best to plan for colder temperatures than you expect. Lawrence suggests placing blankets over your sleeping pad or mattress for insulation, then crawling into your sleeping bag. In addition, Alison MacDonald Murdoch of Gouldsboro covers the floor of her tent with wool blankets, which wick away moisture, serve as insulators and are comfortable to walk on.

Plan to get up at night

Place a flashlight, headlamp or lantern where you can easily find it in the middle of the night, because odds are, you’ll have to go to the bathroom. Know your way to the nearest outhouse or bathroom area. Some people even place solar lights or battery-powered lights in the outhouse to make it more visible.

Keep food and fire away

Black bears and other wild animals in Maine are easily attracted by the scent of food. Therefore, keep food out of your tent and make sure it’s secured in another location at night. If car camping, this means placing your food in your vehicle. If backpacking, you may need to hang your food in a storage bag in a tree. Also avoid using perfume and other heavily-scented items in your tent for the same reason.

Also, keep fire away from your tent. While your tent might be treated with a fire retardant, it’s not fireproof. Sparks from a campfire could easily burn holes in it.

Keep your tent zipped up tight

In Maine, blackflies, mosquitoes and noseeums are the bane of campers, but if you keep your tent closed up tight, it’ll be a safe haven. If flies are getting into your tent, look for open zippers or holes, which you can temporarily close with duct tape if you don’t have a proper patch kit. But no matter how vigilant you are about entering your tent quickly and zipping it up right after you, a few flies will likely make their way in.

“Bring a good flashlight into the tent and kill every last mosquito and noseeum you see before going to sleep,” Duchesne said. “One mosquito buzzing in your ear is enough to drive you crazy.”

Air your tent out on hot days and starry nights

If the weather forecast calls for a dry, hot day, consider unzipping your solid tent walls so that air flows through the mesh windows and doors. If tenting for several days, this will air out any stale smells. Also consider removing your tent fly (or rain cover) on clear, rain-free nights.

“Take off the rain cover and look at the sky,” Cari Emrich of Guilford. “Totally worth the risk [of rain].”

Small touches can go a long way

Think about what small things might make your tent more comfortable, whether it’s extra pillows or a lantern hung from the ceiling. Robin Hanks Chandler of Waldo does a number of things to keep the floor of her tent clean. First, she places her shoes in a plastic garbage bag outside the door. She also places a small rug or old towel outside her tent to step on while taking off her shoes.

Tom Brown Boutureira of Freeport often strings up a clothesline outside his tent, where he hangs towels and clothes to dry. And my family always brings a handheld broom to sweep the tent floor before packing it away. Also, if the tent is wet when we pack it up, we take it back out when we get home and let it dry in the sun. This prevents mildew from ruining the fabric.


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