September 05 2019
From waking up with breaking waves to beach bonfires, camping on the beach sounds like the ideal escape from the city. But while it’s full of romantic notions, there are many obstacles that can get in the way of your next adventure on the beach.
When you double down on camping and sunning on the beach, you have to do double the preparation. You have the option of car camping on the beach with designated sites or primitive beach camping, hiking or four-wheeling in.
From our experiences in various places, we’ve assembled a list of beach camping tips and tricks for your next outing.
Know Before You Go
Everybody has to do their basics. While in some places there are no private beaches, like Hawaii, many parks still require permits to stay the night. If you’re staying in designated sites, check further in advance to find reservations for you and your crew.
Where to Go Beach Camping
Location means more than just which beach to pick. Knowing the beach is essential in choosing where to camp in primitive camping, but some drive-in parks, like Lake Powell, are also open sites for you to choose. Try to find trees to camp under or simply where sand meets vegetation. This will offer you a warmer site, with protection from winds. Also, vegetation usually rises above the tideline, providing you with another level of security.
Where also means when in terms of camping on the beach. As mentioned, it is popular because it is so awesome to have beach fires or the surf right outside your lodgings. Try for offseason months, like May or September. They may be a little colder, but they afford more solitude and privacy, which gets you that feeling of getting away.
Dunes Are For Looking
Camping out on the beach also means respecting the coastal wildlife in the dunes. Sand dunes house sensitive ecosystems and many national and state parks are trying to keep people off of them in order to regrow the natural flora and fauna.
Your average footfall can disrupt what’s going on below the sand, so keep the sand dunes at a distance. Keep your dogs off them and leave any driftwood. The returning ecosystems will thank you.
Know the Tides
Be sure to check your tides. You can go old school with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s site or get it on your phone with the Tides Near Me app. Nothing is worse than waking up in the dark completely swamped.
The Sun Sees Everything
It goes without saying that sun prep is vital to your beach vacation. With all the studies on melanoma and the thinning ozone layer, this one is quite obvious. Bring sunscreen (more than SPF 15 for those long days) or get serious with sun block that has zinc oxide.
For a sun proof camp, get parasols or a sun shelter to keep cool. If you can, find a campsite under a tree to keep cool and sun-free in the shade.
Even if it’s gray and cloudy, a beach is a wide-open space with no tree cover that will get your skin pink. At a minimum, bring baseball cap.
Wild Card Beach Weather
Even if there’s not a lot of rain, there can be a fair amount of mist in the mornings around the oceans. Pack your rain fly and some warm layers for the mornings.
Probably the most annoying weather condition on the beach is wind and the sand it picks up. Wind can pick up in certain times of the day, so be sure to pack a scarf and some glasses for facial protection.
Additionally, wind can blow your tent away. You can opt for sand stakes, which are essentially longer stakes to root in such shifty terrain. Or make sure you throw your bags or some decent size rocks in the corners of your tent to weigh it down.
While we all think of catching rays and swimming to beat the heat, temperatures tend to seriously drop by dusk. If there’s any wind, it’ll be coming off the ocean carrying even cooler temperatures. If you’ve got enough jackets and outerwear, try one of our lightweight camping blankets to share or warm yourself up as you walk around camp in the late hours.
Water, Water Everywhere
Often, campgrounds will have spigots or other water sources. If your beach lacks any potable water, bring a five-gallon water jug for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
If you’re going backpacking, check your map for fresh water rivers or small creeks that feed the ocean. Once it meets the surf, it’s undrinkable, so you may have to hike out some ways to get potable water for your site for the night.
Never Turn Your Back
Most designated beach campsites don’t have lifeguards on duty (if you’re packing in, you’re most certainly alone). Be sure to know the currents and the undertow if you’re going surfing or swimming. Having someone on shore simply watching out is a great idea for general safety.
Your Bonfire Guide
Many beach camping locations allow fires, but if you’re going backpacking, places like the Lost Coast don’t due to high fire danger as a result of dry grass close to the sand. Make sure you do your research; a quick call to the ranger station is an easy way to avoid high fines. After all, it could cost you millions of dollars.
If it is legal, build it closer to your site rather than closer to the water for wind protection. Dig a pit and place some stones around it so your fire can catch.
You may need to bring in wood if there is a shortage on the beach. About midway through the summer, all the good wood usually is gone. Remember not to grab driftwood from dunes, which may be essential to the restoring ecosystems.
Sleeping on Sand
Sand is an ideal sleeping surface for a camper. But while it’s soft, it transfers heat quickly, making it cold at night. It can often be wet too, so bring a tarp to set out. (A great beach camping tent might have a tarp built into the bottom!) To beat the chill coming up from the sand, put some layers down, maybe a quilt or some other blankets.
If you’re trying to sleep under the stars, a tarp and most inflatable sleeping mats are enough to barrier you from the cold below. If you’re going backpacking, try our lightweight and compact sleeping pads to help you snooze next to the surf.
Still want the beauty of the stars but the security and privacy of a tent? Strip your rain fly for an open skylight and wake up with the sun coming through your roof.
Leave the Sand at the Beach
Sand is nature’s glitter, meaning it gets literally everywhere and can be impossible to fully remove. Be prudent and clean your feet before getting in your tent. If you’re car camping, bring a small bucket with some water to rinse your dogs off.
If you’re carrying a camera or any electronics, be sure to bring covers or cases that prevent sand from getting into them. Any grain will grind your valuables in to ruin faster than you expect.
Sand will always find a way (we are constantly finding rogue grains of sand in our tents and boots), so shake your tent and backpack out before you leave, and maybe one more time at home before putting it away.
Pack It Out
Beaches are beautiful when they seem untouched. It’s a cliché, but please leave no trace.
At Leisure Co., we believe in leaving things better than we found them, so bring a bag and a glove to do your turn of picking up some waste. Dig for the cigarette butts and pick up the plastic bits.
If anything, do it for the turtles.
For more information on how to camp on the beach, check this video below.
Designated Sites v. Primitive Camping on the Beach
Designated sites on the beach can come with a ton of amenities, which is a major pro. State and national campgrounds can provide showers, bathrooms, and water, the latter being a major stress off your planning. Some sites even have jacks for electricity, upping your game to glamping territory.
Designated sites normally have fire pits and permit fires, sealing the deal on a good time. Additionally, many things are planned out already, requiring little from you. You can, on a dime, throw your things in a car and go, if there’s available sites.
The major con of campsites on the beach is availability. Summer months are packed, but if you plan ahead or go in the offseason (May and September), you’re likely to find a spot. Furthermore, there is a lack of privacy, and you can have over twenty sites in a single campground, stealing away from the solitude factor.
While primitive camping has classic benefits, a major drawback is the amount of planning that must go into it. If you’re four-wheeling in or backpacking in, you need to look at tide charts to avoid getting trapped on beaches or in coves.
For some, an obvious drawback is that you are going to get sandy. It’ll get in your things, in your shoes, in places you didn’t know it could. But for some, there is nothing better than a long stretch of beach where you can peel off your boots and walk for miles in the seafoam.
The benefit of hiking in gives you solitude. Go during offseason and even during the week; you may get the entire beach to yourself for a day, which is a luxury worth all the sweat and sand.
Our Favorite Beach Camping Locations:
Some of our favorite locations include hiking the Lost Coast, car camping at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur, and backpacking Point Reyes for the weekend warrior.
For a more comprehensive list, check the campsites below:
What to Bring Beach Camping
Besides your basics (tent, water, backpack, food, flashlight/headlamp, trash bags, etc.), we’ve made a small list of beach camping essentials (with some optional ones) tailored to your trip to the surf. For a more comprehensive list of beach camping gear, check here.
Beach Camping Checklist:
- Sunscreen (and maybe aloe vera)
- Umbrella/sun shelter
- Water bucket for washing feet
- Small broom and dust pan for sand
- Swimsuit and towel
- Scarf for sand
- Quick-drying clothes
- Lifejackets for kids
- Beach chairs
- Cases/bags for electronics
Beach camping is one of the more relaxing camping experiences you’ll have away from the city. You’ll be dumping sand out of your pockets and camping gear months later, but it’ll be one of the more memorable trips when you plan it out and do it right.
And remember the sunscreen. You’ll thanks us for that later.