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Home is Where You Pitch It: Cozy Camping 101

Stargazing, making s’mores, and gathering friends are all important undertakings while camping. So are novel reading, hanging a hammock, and nesting—yes, nesting.

Two tents glowing in the night.
Turn your tent into a home with these cozy camping tips.

Whether you’re spending a single night or a week in the woods, one of the best things about camping is turning your tent into your relaxing home away from home.

When we go camping, which is often, it seems the longer we are away from our real home, the cozier and more inviting our tent becomes.

This doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a bit of planning to make our tent the coziest of dens. But after 20+ years of sleeping outside, I’m going to call myself an expert at cozy camping.

Want to outfit your outdoor space so you’ve got the coziest campsite in your campground loop?

Here are our must-have necessities for creating a sanctuary in your outdoor home, whether you’re camping for a single night or a whole summer.

Hang Twinkle Lights Around Your Campsite

A glamping tent in the evening with fairy lights.
Twinkly lights for the win!

The easiest and cheapest way to add some cozy bling to your campsite is with a string or two of twinkling lights.

Battery-powered LED lights are easy to find these days, as are solar-powered lights. Here are some easy ideas for adorning your campsite with twinkly lights.

Bring a Tablecloth

A close up of some camping food on a yellow checked tablecloth.
One of our favorite vintage tablecloths is perfect for camping trips.

Throwing a tablecloth over your campsite picnic table makes any camping meal more elegant. Choose a brightly-patterned tablecloth that can be easily washed.

I like tablecloths that can be thrown in the washing machine after a camping trip, as opposed to the plastic ones that have to be scrubbed by hand, but whatever works for you works for me. We’ve also used vintage sheets and tapestries as tablecloths.

To secure your tablecloth in place, pick up some of these handy-dandy clips. Be sure to remove your tablecloth before going to bed to keep it dry.

Use an Indoor/Outdoor Rug Outside Your Tent

A German Shepherd dogs lies in a small tent pitched on a patch of grass.
Flash thinks our tent is the coziest!

We use a two-person tent, so if we have room in the car, we bring a simple and lightweight doormat to help with tracking dirt into our tent. We leave our shoes on the mat before going into the tent, which is covered up by the tent vestibule.

In a pinch, we’ve also used the Mexican blanket that we keep in the car as our “dog” blanket. This dries surprisingly fast and no matter how dirty it gets, it still looks clean.

Whatever you choose, it’s really nice to have some sort of transition between the outdoors and in – a rug for bigger tents or a simple mat for small tents.

Fluffy Pillows Make Everything Cozier

A pillow with a drawing of a deer on it sits on a bed inside a camping tent.
One of many dedicated camping pillows that come along on car-camping trips.

If you’re not backpacking, you can afford to bring a pile of comfy pillows to spiff up the inside of your tent. Find pillows with fun patterns and textures, but make sure they are comfortable to lay on too!

We have a rotating cast of camping pillows, and honestly, most of them are just couch pillows that have been downgraded to camping pillows. We line our tent with them so that it’s the perfect spot for cozy camping.

You Need a Tarp or a Kitchen Tent

A man sets up a tarp over a picnic table at a campsite.
This amazing kitchen tarp has saved many a meal from foul weather!

I can’t stress this enough! No matter where you live, you need to have a dry and protected spot for cooking your meals and hanging out when it rains. If you’re camping in the east, you can count on rain, but in many parts of the country, you’ll want to set up a tarp for shade.

The type of tarp you buy will depend on several factors, namely the space in your vehicle and the type of camping you do.

If you do a lot of backpacking, you will want something very lightweight like this tarp from Kammok.

If you do a lot of car camping or RVing, you may want to buy a dedicated shelter or screen tent for cooking and hanging out in during rainstorms. You will need room in your vehicle to transport something like this, not a compact car like we have.

We use something in between those two extremes – Noah’s Tarp from Kelty is relatively lightweight and doesn’t take up a huge amount of room in our little car.

I doubt we would take it backpacking, but we use it for canoe trips and camping road trips. We’ve been using the same tarp for 6 years, and it’s held up extremely well, even in very wet conditions.

Don’t Forget the Camp Chairs

Home is where you pitch it camp chair scaled
Camp chairs and camp dogs are very important!

Cozy is as cozy does, right?

So, if you want to feel super cozy at camp, then you have to have cozy spots to hang out. Camp chairs near the fire are a must. We pack one for each person. If we’re short on space, we bring our Crazy Creek chairs. They’re comfortable and hardly take up any room in the car.

If you have a bit more room (and money), check out these fancy camp chairs from Helinox. This was our big purchase for Christmas 2023, and we are loving this little luxury.

Go Glamping!

a glamping tent in Huttopia Adirondacks.
Glamping is so much more than cozy camping!

Both camping and glamping focus on outdoor immersion — getting out, and sleeping outdoors to better embrace and connect with the natural world. 

The main difference is that glamping, which is a shortened version of glamorous camping, is a bit more luxurious than standard tent camping.

Instead of a sleeping bag and pad on the ground, glamping usually involves sleeping in a real bed with real bed linens. It’s like bringing your bedroom outside.

If you’ve never tried glamping before, we have a wealth of resources for you. You can even go glamping without leaving home.

So, that’s our recipe for turning your campsite into a cozy retreat.

Sleeping outside should be fun and comfortable. If you’re suffering through your night outdoors, you’re doing it wrong!

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Cozy camping photos.
Tara Schatz sits with her two dogs, Gatsby and Flynn.

Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She is the co-author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont and currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers and Vermont Explored, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.