Tips & Tricks for First-Time National Park Camping

Article by Faith Vasko

Tips & Tricks for First-Time National Park Camping

“When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” That motto feels especially appropriate when attempting a camping trip out west. Growing up in Virginia, I had been to both Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains for camping trips or hikes — easy-peasy planning for day adventures. Yosemite National Park, though? That’s the big leagues. 

For my first trip out west, I knew I had to do some serious planning — and some reserving. At the time, it was common to need a reservation just to get into Yosemite, though my partner and I were luckily going just after the busy summer season, when that requirement would have ended. There were still plenty of cautionary tales about the campsite “lottery,” though, and my coworker, Rebecca, pointed out that while I may not need a reservation or backcountry permit for the park itself, l should probably still book a spot for camping ahead of time. 


It was August, two months before we were scheduled to go, and I quickly realized that many people reserve campsites several months in advance around the summer and early fall. I finally logged on to the National Parks site to see my options... and they were bleak.  

Okay, I’m being dramatic. But pickings were slim, and there was only one camping spot available per day when I looked through the search results. This meant we would have to move our campsite every day we were in the park, which, granted, is easy enough with our Dagger OSMO™ 3P, but still not ideal. I accepted our fate and booked the sites while I still could. 

This was the first of many lessons learned on this trip, which I’ve gathered here for my fellow National Park Newbies. 


Reserve Your Campsite 4–6 Months in Advance 

You can reserve a campsite on I highly recommend trying to secure the same spot every night you’re there so you can spend as much time as possible exploring and enjoying the park itself! 


Get an America the Beautiful Pass 

Thanks to a great NEMO employee benefit called GO PLAY — an annual stipend to fund things such as a race, CPR training, or outdoor passes — I was able to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, which covers the entry fee to all National Parks in the U.S. 

If you’re only visiting one or two National Parks in a year, the pass may not be necessary — but then again, it’s a great excuse to make sure you hit up more! Using the pass, I was able to enter the park for free, and receive a discount on my campsites. 

 The pass is good for a whole year.


You Don’t Have to Eat Only Dehydrated Food 

On the way to the park, we were able to stop at a nearby Trader Joe’s (where else?) for snacks. However, with only a JetBoil to cook with, it felt like meal options were a bit more limited. We... okay, really, I was determined to wear my Expert Backpacker hat and bring mainly dehydrated food.  

After one night of dehydrated meals and light snacks, we found ourselves in the park grocery store, buying fresh food that was readily available... and would have been less expensive if we had just — you guessed it! — planned ahead. 

 The Dagger OSMO 3P was perfect for quick pack up and break down.


Don’t Let Air Travel Restrict Your Camping Comfort 

When I first started working at NEMO, I was confused how my coworkers went on cool GO FAR trips they had to fly to. How’d they fit everything? What about carry-on restrictions?  

My coworker, Gabi, explained you can bring your backpacking stove on the plane — just not the fuel. (But that’s often easily found in nearby stores when going to an outdoors hot spot.)

Despite my initial packing concerns, I brought both a Jazz Double sleeping bag and Roamer™ Double sleeping pad on this trip. Both fit together in one checked bag, and it was so worth it. Thanks to the marvels of modern gear — and NEMO innovation — these products are lightweight and super squishable, so I was able to still prioritize comfort even far from home.  

(My favorite part of the Jazz Double is the built-in, ultra-soft bed sheet. The sheets button to the side of the sleeping bag, making it easy to keep in place while sleeping.) 

 The Roamer Double sleeping pad is the comfiest pad.


Sunset Is Prime Time for Glamour Shots 

Of the scenery, that is. It’s likely to look stunning any time of day but take the time to plan and view at least one sunset — and capture it to savor again in the future. 


El Capitan in all it's glory.


All in all, Yosemite was incredible. At one point I saw a rainbow on a waterfall, and I haven’t been the same ever since. October was also a great time to visit — it was very hot during the day but cooled right down at night. And although the campgrounds were all booked, it didn’t feel crowded during our time in the park.  

Since we had to initially fly out to California, I was very discerning with the gear we packed. That being said, if you’re debating bringing your Moonlite™ reclining camp chair... 


100% Bring the Chair 

It will be well worth it. 


NEMO Gear List:

Dagger OSMO™ 3P Backpacking Tent: Lightweight, very spacious, and easy to set up. The OMSO fabric is quick drying and durable.

Jazz™ Double Synthetic Sleeping Bag: Like bringing your bed into the backcountry, Jazz has a built in bed sheet for extra comfort.

Roamer™ Double Self-Inflating Mattress: A queen sized pad with 4 inches of height, Roamer self inflates quickly so you can focus on relaxing at camp.

Moonlite™ Reclining Camp Chair: Weighing under 2 pounds, Moonlite™ has a quick set up and break down.

Fillo Backpacking & Camping Pillow and Fillo Elite Ultralight Backpacking Pillow: A lightweight inflatable camp pillow is great for camping and plane travel alike.



The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.

Faith Vasko is a Product Systems and Sustainability Analyst at NEMO, working with the sustainability and product teams. When not in the office, Faith can be found traveling, hiking and playing with her cat, Oatly.