Why is camping so exhausting?

by | Nov 23, 2022 | Trip planning

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Have you ever planned a camping trip, expecting to have fun and relax, only to find yourself feeling completely beat most of the time?

You’re not the only one!

It’s true that camping and be pretty exhausting. But why?

You had to wake up early to leave

An alarm clock on a smartphone.

If you’ve got a long drive ahead of you, it’s often wise to wake up early and hit the road.

We’ve been known to wake up as early as four in the morning for some of our trips—especially if we have other modes of transportation booked, like float planes or charter boats.

Waking up earlier than you’re used to is bound to make you feel tired later.

This may be especially true if your sleep was cut short.

How to feel less exhausted from waking up early

  • Pack as much as you can the day before your trip (or earlier)
  • Load your vehicle up with your stuff the night before
  • Plan to go to bed early

The drive was long

A car driving on a road in a wooded area.

Most campers spend anywhere from 1 to 4 or more hours driving to their camping destination.

The drive itself can be draining for a variety of reasons:

  • Stress from traffic and driving on unfamiliar roads and highways
  • Needing to be alert and attentive for potentially long stretches of time
  • Forgetting or deciding not to eat or drink along the drive
  • Having to deal with kids and pets who are fussy, bored, stressed, or just need a break

How to feel less exhausted from a long drive

  • Have your route planned out ahead of time
  • Identify stops along the way for breaks (every 1 to 2 hours or so)
  • Make sure to eat and drink on your breaks
  • Have some snacks and a water bottle accessible while driving
  • Take turns driving with other passengers
  • Have a playlist or podcast ready to listen to along the way
  • Make sure kids and pets are kept as comfortable and entertained as possible

You spent a long time setting up camp

A couple setting up their campsite.

Once you finally get to your campsite, the real work begins!

Setting up camp involves a lot of manual labour, which can potentially take hours depending on your gear.

At the very least, you need to set up your tent and sleep system (air mattress/sleeping pad, and sleeping bag)

But you’ll probably want to do a few more things too—like set up a tarp in case it rains, build a fire, hang a bear bag up in a tree, and potentially get started on making a meal.

How to feel less exhausted from setting up camp

  • Invest in good quality gear that’s fast and easy to setup
  • Don’t shy away from high-tech gadgets like electric air mattress pumps to help take out some of the manual labour
  • Get everyone to pitch in by assigning each person something to do

You don’t really know how your gear works

Red and yellow camping gear.

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made as campers is waiting until we’re at camp to figure out how a piece of our gear works.

Chances are you’ll spend way longer than you need to figuring things out, causing you to become frustrated and mentally fatigued.

What’s worse, if you need to watch a YouTube video on how the thing works, you may not be able to because there may not be any cell signal or WiFi.

How to feel less exhausted from not knowing how your gear works

  • Practice setting up and using every piece of gear you have at home
  • Watch YouTube videos or read instruction manuals thoroughly at home, long before you head out on your trip
  • Bring a copy of the instruction manual or take a picture of it on your phone in case you need to refer to it while at camp

You’re not very organized

Backpacks and camping gear at a campsite.

One of the worst things about bringing a lot of gear is that it’s far too easy to lose track of things.

You can’t remember where you packed gear item #1, or you set gear item #2 down somewhere and now you can’t find it.

it’s exhausting because you’ll find yourself going around in circles trying to find it.

I can’t even tell you how much time we’ve wasted looking for specific items—sometimes resorting to dumping all our packs out on the ground.

How to feel less exhausted from being disorganized

  • Invest in dry bags of various colours and sizes to keep similar items together
  • Keep all clothes together, food together, cookware and dishes together, sleep gear together, tent gear together, and toiletries together
  • For small and essential items (like headlamps, lighters, keys, etc.), use a smaller dry bag, known as a “ditty bag” to keep them altogether
  • Always pack everything back in their original bag and/or pack while at camp to avoid confusion and disorganization

You had to process a lot of firewood

Processed firewood and an axe.

Arguably one of the most energetically draining activities at camp is collecting firewood and processing it for your campfire.

This means looking for dead and dry wood, cutting it into smaller pieces, carrying the bigger logs to your campsite, and then splitting them up with an axe.

It’s a ton of work that can leave you sweaty and fatigued, and it can potentially be very dangerous if you’re not careful about it.

How to feel less exhausted from processing firewood

  • If you’re frontcountry camping, buy pre-cut firewood at the campsite or in local towns
  • Make sure your axe, hatchet, and/or saw are sharp
  • Make sure you know how to use your axe, hatchet, and/or saw safely and efficiently
  • Avoid venturing too far away from camp to source wood if possible
  • Have others help carry logs back to camp
  • Carve out time every day when you’re feeling energized to process wood
  • Take breaks to cool down and hydrate if you’re feeling winded or fatigued

You’re not efficient with getting camp chores done

Washing dishes at camp with a collapsible sink, dishcloth, and biodegradable soap.

It’s easy to waste time at camp by not setting a clear plan for what needs to get done.

You might also be inefficient with tasks because you don’t have the right tools or equipment at hand, or you’re spending too much time on something that can be done faster.

For instance, maybe you forgot to change the blade on your saw, or you didn’t bring a proper dishwashing kit, or you’re wasting too much time trying to tie knots for your rain tarp.

It can become overwhelming trying to figure out where to even begin and what needs to be done first, causing you to become more exhausted than necessary.

How to feel less exhausted from getting camp chores done

  • Buy or borrow the right tools and equipment for the job ahead of time
  • Check all your gear to make sure it’s in good condition
  • Recharge, restock, refill, and replace any items that need it
  • Pre-rig as many ropes and knots as possible at home
  • Have backup plans and tools in case something doesn’t work or you run out of something (cordage, kindling, lighters, matches, biodegradable soap, etc.)

You haven’t had anything to eat in a while

A man holding a granola bar.

It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re busy setting up camp and getting everything situated.

Unfortunately, when hunger strikes, it can be difficult to focus on anything else until you refuel.

If you’ve gone a few hours without eating while at camp, it could be why you’re feeling drained and exhausted—and not just because of all the physical labor you’re doing.

How to feel less exhausted from not eating enough

  • Have a plan for meals ahead of time so that you don’t forget to cook or eat something
  • Bring healthy snacks to have while setting up camp
  • Prepare meals in advance (like breakfast burritos, energy bars, etc.)
  • Plan to eat something every 2 to 3 hours to keep your energy levels up
  • Choose meals and snacks that are high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs to keep you fuller for longer

You consumed simple carbs or sugar

A box of candy bars.

It’s tempting to bring more processed foods on camping trips trips because they’re more convenient, and they can give you an energy boost in the short term.

These include foods like cookies, donuts, chips, and candy bars.

But these foods are high in simple carbohydrates and sugar, which can lead to a crash later on and leave you feeling even more exhausted than before.

How to feel less exhausted from a sugar crash

  • Skip the processed foods and go for whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits, veggie sticks and hummus, and trail mix
  • Opt for complex carbs (like quinoa, oats, beans, etc.) instead, which will give you steady energy throughout the day
  • Avoid eating too late at night, which can cause blood sugar imbalances overnight
  • Don’t go longer than 2 to 3 hours without eating something
  • If you do plan on enjoying simple carbs or sugar foods, limit your portions and balance it out with something that’s high in protein or healthy fats

You ate too much

Two plates with slices of campfire pizza on them.

On the flip side, eating too much can also make you feel sluggish and exhausted.

Your hunger pangs may feel stronger if you’re sleep deprived, dehydrated, or energy deleted from working hard—leading you to eat more than you should.

If you’ve overindulged in meals or snacks while camping, your body may be trying to digest all that food, taking away some of its energy reserves for the task at hand.

How to feel less exhausted from overeating

  • Eat smaller portions more frequently
  • Drink plenty of water to help with digestion and keep your energy levels up
  • Take breaks after meals to give your body time to rest and digest
  • Avoid eating too late at night, which can cause indigestion or sleep disturbances
  • Choose lighter options like salads or wraps instead of heavy meals

You drank alcohol

Two beer bottles at sunset.

Having an alcoholic beverage or two around the campfire can be a fun way to end your day, but it can also make you feel even more exhausted than before.

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can make you pee more, which speeds up dehydration.

And since dehydration is linked to fatigue, this could be why you’re so tired after drinking.

Drinking alcohol can also interfere with your natural sleep cycle, causing you to have trouble falling asleep and stay asleep for longer.

How to feel less exhausted from drinking alcohol

  • Limit your alcohol intake—or better yet, replace alcoholic beverages with hydrating and energizing non-alcoholic drinks like infused waters or kombucha
  • Eat something before you start drinking to avoid overdoing it
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water between drinks
  • Give yourself enough time to recover from drinking before going to bed

You’re dehydrated

A woman wiping sweat off her forehead while backpacking.

When you’re out in the wilderness, you can easily become dehydrated without even realizing it.

Chances are you’re busy setting up camp or doing camp chores, having fun with friends and family, exploring your surroundings, or just enjoying the moment.

In extreme heat, the risk of dehydration is even higher since your body is losing fluids more quickly.

In addition to feeling tired and exhausted, dehydration can also cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and more.

How to feel less exhausted from dehydration

  • Have a plan for drinking water—whether it’s filling up a big jug at your frontcountry campground or filtering lake water with a gravity filter at your backcountry campsite
  • Always have water bottle on hand and drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Bring along electrolyte-rich drinks like sports drinks or coconut water
  • Consider drinking an electrolyte drink before bed so that you wake up feeling rehydrated and refreshed

You went on a long hike

A man wearing hiking shoes on a trail.

Long hikes and other strenuous activities can take a lot out of your body and mind, leaving you feeling drained and exhausted by the end of the day.

Hiking factors that contribute to exhaustion include:

  • Your energy, fuel, and hydration levels when you begin
  • The temperature and humidity
  • The length and difficulty of terrain
  • Whether you’re carrying a heavy pack
  • How fast or slow your pace is
  • How long and frequently you take breaks
  • How often and how much you’re hydrating and refuelling your body

How to feel less exhausted from hiking

  • Plan your hike early in the morning or evening to escape the heat of the day
  • Pack lightly and bring plenty of snacks, water, and electrolytes to refuel your body
  • Choose shorter hikes with more gradual terrain
  • Take frequent breaks if you’re feeling tired—every 45 minutes to an hour is a good rule of thumb
  • Stick to the shade when possible and carry a hat or umbrella for extra protection from the sun

Your sleep gear isn’t very comfortable

A couple sleeping in their camping tent.

There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep on a crappy sleeping pad or a sleeping bag that isn’t warm enough for a colder night.

Uncomfortable sleep gear can make it difficult to get the rest you need, leaving you feeling exhausted and potentially sleep deprived the next day.

How to feel less exhausted from uncomfortable sleep gear

You’re just not used to sleeping in a tent

A tent lit up at night.

If you’re used to sleeping in a regular bed, the change in environment can take some getting used to.

The sounds and smells of the wilderness may not be familiar and can cause feelings of unease or even fear.

Plus, if it’s cold outside, your body may struggle to stay warm despite having good sleep gear.

All of these things can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.

How to feel less exhausted from sleeping in a tent

  • Bring noise-canceling headphones or earplugs if you’re sensitive to sound
  • Bring an eye mask to block out light if you’re sensitive to light
  • Open your tent’s vents or windows to get some fresh air and prevent condensation
  • Sleep with another person in your tent if you’re feeling uneasy
  • Sleep in a solo tent if you’re easily disturbed by others
  • Keep your headlamp and bear spray close by for any nighttime emergencies

You have trouble getting back to life after a camping trip

A man sleeping on a couch with a laptop.

You’ve returned from your trip, but now you’re pooped.

This isn’t uncommon.

In fact, the final day of the trip can often be the most hectic and draining days for a variety reasons:

  • Having to pack up camp
  • Checking out any last-minute attractions
  • Having to load up your vehicle
  • Driving back home
  • Finding time to eat (and where)
  • Unloading everything from your vehicle
  • Unpacking
  • Showering

How to feel less exhausted after a camping trip

  • Plan to pack up camp and eat breakfast in good time
  • Plan ahead for where you’ll get lunch and dinner—whether that involves pre-making something or stopping at a restaurant
  • Avoid booking too many attractions for your last day
  • Aim to get home in late afternoon or evening to allow yourself some downtime
  • For bigger trips, consider giving yourself an extra day off before heading back to school or work
  • Get on the road early and plan for rush hour or vacationer/cottage traffic
  • Unload and unpack your gear as soon as you get home to avoid damaging your gear
  • Shower and rest for at least an hour or so before going to bed

Camping should be less exhausting and more fun

In most cases, it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what’s making you feel so exhausted on your camping trips.

Sometimes, you can’t help feeling exhausted.

Things don’t always go according to plan and you find yourself with a more challenging situation than you anticipated.

It happens.

The more you get out there and the more experience you gain, however, the more prepared you’ll be.

In time, you’ll find that your trips are much more enjoyable—and even refreshing—than stressful and exhausting.

Next up: Why is camping so expensive?

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About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

Read more about our story.