Camping on the Beach – Best Practices

Camping on the Beach – Best Practices

Getting out into nature for a few nights is one of my favorite things to do with my family.  It gets even better when you can spend that time on the beach.  There is something magical about the sound of the water as you drift off to sleep that makes beach camping even better.

On my last long distance survival challenge, I was fortunate enough to spend my first night on a sand bar along a stream.  It is not quite the same as sleeping on the ocean, but it reminded me of a few things.  Beach camping is different in many ways than camping on solid ground. 

Whether you are camping on the beach in Florida or in California, you will need to make some changes to your plans.  Even finding a legal spot to camp on the beach can be difficult compared to camping in the woods.  In this article, we will cover ways that you can be sure your beach camping trip is a blast this year.

Sun Protection

Often when we camp in the woods, we don’t even worry about sun block.  The canopy is so thick in some areas that we get by just fine.  That will not fly when you camp on the beach.  There often is little cover on beaches to block the sun, so you must provide that cover.  Beach shelters or umbrellas are always a good idea and be sure to bring beach stakes to secure them from the wind.

In addition to dealing with sun streaming down from above, at the beach you have light reflecting up from the water below.  Be sure you have sunscreen with a high SPF, and we like to bring something separate specifically for lip protection.  We also bring hats and loose-fitting clothing to cover up when it is comfortable. The sun can do serious damage to your skin and can bring on heat stroke. 

You also need to limit sugar and alcohol and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.  Dehydration will happen quickly on the beach, so never wait until you are thirsty to hydrate.  If you feel dizzy, light-headed, or stop sweating then seek medical attention immediately. If you are going to be camping on the ocean, bring lots of drinking water.  If you plan to camp on a freshwater location, bring filters or other tools to purify water.

Watch Out for the Cold

The first time I ever tried to sleep on the sand was several years ago during one of my first survival challenges.  Once again, I found myself on a sand bar along a stream and thought the soft sand would make for a comfortable bed.  What I did not consider was how cold it would get even during the summer. 

Remember that you can become hypothermic in temperatures as high as 60F if your clothes are wet.  Your internal body temperature drops 25 times faster when wet than when dry.  This is why hypothermia is the number one cause of death in wilderness survival scenarios.  During the daytime, you will likely be either sweating or swimming.  This means your clothes and skin could be wet as it gets dark.

Be sure you dry off as best you can before dark.  Dry clothing over the fire if needed.  Be aware that often popup showers or heavy dew can make gear wet overnight, so pack up everything accordingly.  Also, sand makes for a lousy insulator in many cases.  Those nights sleeping on the sand were incredibly cold.  Always put down insulation from the sand like a sleeping mat.  If you can, use a sleeping bag or tent to stay warm, or sleep in a hammock up off of the sand.

Plan for Sand

There is a certain amount of grit and grime involved with any kind of camping.  This becomes especially true on the beach.  Sand tends to get everywhere.  Be sure you plan for this to keep it to a minimum.  Be sure that everyone knows to dump out their shoes and sandals before getting in vehicles or tents. 

Bring tools like brushes with dust pans, handheld vacuums, and leaf blowers to clean up the mess when you can.  Be sure food and drinks are kept out of the wind, so sand does not blow into your meal.  Also, sand can be hot in the midday sun.  Be sure everyone has shoes to protect their feet.

Watch the Tide

When you set up your camp near the ocean, it can be tempting to set up right near the water.  However, tides can move in quickly.  Sometimes too quickly to get all of your gear moved.  If high tide comes to your campsite, it could ruin gear or even become a life-threatening scenario.  When you arrive at the beach, you can usually see the portion of the sand that is flatter and has more moisture than the rest. 

The sand further up the beach is dryer and fluffier.  While this dry sand is more likely to blow around in the wind, it is typically out of the reach of the tide.  We try to always set up camp further up in this area.  You can also use various apps and websites to track the tides and determine when they will be high and low.

Planning a Peaceful Beach Campout

Unfortunately, most beaches do not allow camping unless they are designated camp sites.  You can book these campsites in advance, but you can plan on sharing the beach with lots of neighbors.  If you do your research, you can occasionally find stretches of sand where nobody really cares about camping.  Just verify this as most beaches are privately owned and camping there could be considered trespassing.

No matter where you set up your camp, you want to keep a low profile.  Keep noise to a minimum, collect all of your trash, leave dogs at home if possible, and avoid a fire if you can.  Fires are illegal on most beaches, but keep it small even if it is legal where you camp.  If you get a visit from beach patrol, be respectful and move if they ask you to.  In most cases, you can get away with one or even several nights on the beach before anyone even notices you.

For this type of camping, you want to be able to move on a moment’s notice.  It may be easier to just move a few hundred yards versus having a long talk with the locals.  Consider sleeping under the stars so you don’t have to set up a tent.  Keep your gear comprised of muted tones that blend in at the beach.  Keep your gear light so you can pack up quickly.

When you are ready to set up camp, be sure there are no signs of other people in your area.  You should see no roads, trails, vehicles, or buildings in this area.  This gives you the best chance of going unnoticed.  If you have a hard time finding a spot like this, maybe consider waiting until after dark to set up camp.  Always try to use some sort of natural cover like trees or rocks to hide your location. 

If you are going to light a fire, a Dakota fire pit is the best way to ensure nobody else sees the flames.  It works better in wet sand or dirt but start by digging two holes next to each other.  Then just cut a tunnel at the bottom between the two.  You can use a can or pipe to support the tunnel if needed.  Light the fire and do your cooking on one side, and the other opening will draw in oxygen.  If you build it right, people at a distance will not see the flames even at night.

These days, camping on the beach is kind of an adventure.  All of this keeping a low profile along with the sun and the sand can make for a great time.  Just be sure to recognize how beach camping is different than camping in the woods.  Do a little planning to accommodate the challenges of beach camping, and you will come home with great memories of your beach adventure.

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