The beach has always been my happy place, so a few years ago, when presented with the idea of camping on the beach, I jumped at the opportunity. Just imagine: going to sleep and waking up with the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore, watching the sun peek over the horizon while you lay in “bed,” or dining al fresco with your toes in the sand. The thought of all of this makes me want to pack my bags right now and head to the beach, but when I sat back and thought about everything it would take to beach camp, reality began to set in. The thought of the waves crashing on the shore turned into thoughts of being washed away by the ocean. Dining al fresco turned into dinner with bugs, and the sun peeking over the horizon quickly became the dread of having no escape from its rays. Now the reality of beach camping may sound a little daunting, but after a few years of practice, we have it down to a science and have plenty of pro tips to share with you, from campsite selection to fighting the sun.
The first steps to successful beach camping are choosing the right time of year and a good location for your campsite. As appealing as it may sound, camping at the beach in the height of summer may not be the best option. Sure, you can cool off in the ocean, but an 80- to 90-degree day, with no reprieve from the sun, can quickly turn into misery. Depending on your location, early spring or early fall should allow for slightly cooler temperatures that won’t have you bundled up to stay warm. For our most recent trip to Portsmouth Island, NC, mid-April brought sunny 70-degree weather, so once we arrived, the main challenge was finding the perfect campsite.
On the beach, there’s always a risk of high tide and high wind, so selecting a location that’s far from the high tide line but also has some dunes to protect you from the wind is ideal. Choosing the right location will help to prevent water rushing into your tent (been there) or being blown away by a gust of wind (was nearly there). And, as always finding a level piece of ground to pitch your tent is key.
As much as we love the sun, when beach camping, you need an advance plan to make sure you can have a reprieve from it. With no shade, even a moderate day in terms of temperature can seem hot with no cloud cover or shelter. A good shade tent, vehicle awning, or beach umbrella will work wonders for keeping the sun at bay. But even with an option for shade, the sun is powerful, so make sure you pack plenty of sunscreen and apply liberally and often. It’s recommended to use at least 30 SPF, and for a pro tip, using an unscented sunscreen can help avoid unwanted bugs.
Speaking of bugs, they were a bit of a surprise during our first beach camping trip. When you think of a beach, bugs typically aren’t the first thing that comes to mind, but often, more natural beaches — ones that haven’t been built up with houses and condos — have an abundance of vegetation and bugs in the unspoiled dunes. Flies, mosquitoes, and gnats can all become pests and will bite. All of these creatures can put a huge damper on your personal paradise, so plan in advance. Beforehand, spray your clothes and gear with Permethrin. This helps prevent pesky bugs from biting through them. Then, for extra projection, use an unscented topical repellent like Picaridin. Through trial and error, we’ve found that a combination of Permethrin and Picaridin works best for preventing unwanted bites.
Lastly, one would think that on a beach, surrounded by water, the topic of water would not be an issue, but think again. Of course, you’ll need fresh water to drink and salt water is no help when you’re thirsty. Before you arrive at the beach, check if potable water is available nearby. If so, this is great and you don’t need to pack water for your trip, but if not, be sure to gauge how much water you will need (minimum one gallon per person per day for drinking). Potable water is great for showering, and after a day of sweating, sunscreen, insect repellent, and playing in the sand, a shower will be precisely what you will want. But don’t just think about showering; water for hydration and cooking is most imperative. Potable water can quickly be converted to drinking water with the use of a water filtration system. If you can’t pack enough bottled water from home or don’t have a water source that specifies it’s for drinking, be safe and filter your water, because a stomach bug at the beach is never fun.
Beach camping is not a pastime for the faint of heart, but if planned for the right time of year, the right location, proper shelter, protection from bugs, and enough water for a good shower, cooking, and drinking, you can have an amazing trip. So, what are you waiting on? Find that perfect beach campsite and create the paradise you’ve been dreaming of!