Planning a Beach Camping Trip
Camping on the beach is another animal. In this post we will look at things you need to think about when planning a beach camping trip along with some do's and don’ts for when you get there. We primitive camp all along the Gulf of Mexico, usually going to North Padre Island National Seashore, South Beach. Here you can drive on the beach 60 miles down to Mansfield Cut. Scroll down to number 6 in our list here to see more information about the 4WD area of Padre.
Note: If you do choose to primitive camp on North Padre National Seashore South Beach you will need to pay daily or have a national parks pass. We buy a National Park Pass annually, so this isn't an extra expense for us. Also, your camping limit is 14 days per calendar year.
1. First Ups Don't Work Unless.....
One of the biggest mistakes we see people make over and over again is buying a new first up (some people call it a canopy) and within an hour of it being set up it is broken and in the dunes from the wind gusts and people leave them all tattered and broken in the dunes.
There is a right way and a wrong way to set up a first up on the beach. Make sure you buy sandbags, when you get there and you set it up, fill the sandbags and tie each corner down. The wind can get fierce coming off the Gulf of Mexico, doing this may not keep your first up from breaking and flying away, but we have never had one break on us.
Another tip is to invest in a decent heavy-duty canopy. The ones at your favorite sports store that cost $69 bucks or even $150 probably won't hold up. The winds are strong, especially when those afternoon or early morning showers roll through, so spend the money and just do it right or be prepared to get sunburnt.
You can also get a sunshade canopy that have built in tie down at the corners, and they are great for day use but may not be good for multiple day adventures.
One thing we did the last trip was bring our zippered walls, this was great for two reasons. We could put sand on the edge of our first up and hold it down better to prevent catching the wind and collapsing the first up, we use the actual First Up model, also it gave us a place to change and set up a shower. My daddy built us a shower tripod that works great! (more on that in a bit)
2. Keep It Simple Y'all
Another mistake people make is packing too much gear. Think of it this way, the more you pack, the more sand and salt you have to clean off of everything. It's so much work to clean up and unpack why make it harder on yourself?
You want the things that will make it easy and comfortable to beach camp, but I don't bring everything on my camping checklist. This is a comprehensive list that makes sure I don't forget anything no matter what type of camping we are doing. If you want to check out the list I use, click here.
3. Cooking on the Beach
I don't want sand in my food!!!! I'm sure you don't either. When you're at the beach you want some fresh seafood and some nice sunset dinners, don't ruin them by gritty sandy bites and you can't enjoy the beautiful views while crunching on a crusty filet filled with blowing sand. You are bound to get some sand in your food you just can't avoid it completely, but here is what we do to prevent it as best we can. Remember wet sand is your friend, nothing blowing over your camp kitchen when cooking surf side if you cook in the evenings when the wind calms.
- Prep as much as I can before we go. Also, freezing what you can will help your cooler stay colder. I try to get all my chopping, marinating, etc done before we leave. There are some things I do onsite, like chop onions. I like my onions fresh y'all!
- If you don't have much prep time, or want to prep, there is a big HEB on the South side of Corpus Christi just before you go over the long Laguna Madre bridge. They have pre-made food, just buy and cook/grill. We usually stop and buy our groceries here before driving on to the beach. They also have some awesome deals, one time when we bought fajita meat, we got the tortillas, sour cream, cheese, and salsa for free. Score!
- Use this as an opportunity to remember to prep your cooler or prime it for cold temps when it’s hot out, if you bring it inside into air conditioning the day before or put a few bags of ice in it a day prior, then it will save a lot of money in ice cost right off the bat or time having to go in every day for ice when you could be enjoying that zero gravity chair or the hammock on the top the Jeep.
- If you build a fire in a sand pit, don't cook on the dry dunes by camp. Dig a hole surf side and build your fire to cook on. When people are driving down the beach and pass you, the sand blows from their tires towards the dunes. If you cook by the water, when they drive by the sand blows away from you, not toward you, and the sand is damp so it doesn't blow around if it's windy. This also serves well if you build a fire in the sand as the tide will come in and you'd never know it was there the morning after.
- So, the last bullet point is for supper. For breakfast and lunch, we keep it simple! We usually drink a naked smoothie in the morning and have sandwich stuff, bars, and easy grab and go food. We like to drive down to Mansfield Cut which can take a while, so this makes the day easy so you can focus on the fun. Note: HEB also has boiled eggs, veggies, etc pre-cut and ready to eat. Great protein without the hassle. I have a hard time with gluten, so I make a lettuce wrapped sandwich or just snack on lunchmeat and cheese.
- We are primitive camping on our upcoming trip, but sometimes we use a tear drop camper or our bunkhouse RV. When we have the RV, I bring my instant pot and crockpot for easy suppers by using a generator and we do what we need to do for those great dinners and some A/C.
- Don't forget snacks and plenty of water! There is no access to fresh water, so packing your water you need to shower, wash dishes, and drink. With 2 of us we have found we use about 10-20 gallons per day for showering, cooking, drinking, and cleaning. Obviously, you could vary this number but conservation and if you have a family you may have to figure out what is best. Also, you can use tubs with fresh ocean water for some things and use fresh hauled in water for necessities.
4. Tent Camping in The Sand
I'm pretty picky when it comes to two things, my floors and my sheets. When it comes to sand I can't relax and enjoy my trip if I have sand in my sheets. How do you de-sand when sand is all around your tent? Baby powder is your best friend! We use a tub beside our tent or camper with just some clean ocean water. No joke y'all. I have baby powder at the entrance of every tent. (We have 3 tents, Mom and Dad, the boys, and the girls)
We have a 'landing spot' when you step into the tent from the water tub or just have a bit of sand for that afternoon nap. I have a towel down to stand on and I use as much baby powder as I need to get the sand off. I'd rather have baby powder on me than sand. The kids complained the first time we took them because they weren't listening to me. In time, they realize the wisdom of Mamacita and now as teenagers they're on board and make sure I have plenty of baby powder packed. For us, no one enters the tent for anything without getting the sand off using baby powder.
5. Pop Up Night Storms
Don't let this scare you, just be prepared. There are pop up showers that come off the ocean. The stars at Padre are awesome! I know, I love looking up at night and thinking about my Creator but keep your tent fly on y'all! If you don't you might have pillows floating in your tent. (Ask our friends, no joke. This happened)
Keep your first up and walls secured well, and I mean well, we've had 60mph winds before and have never had a failure but have always been prepared either with 2x4s driven into the sand 2 feet tethered at each corner and side wall zipped up about 2 feet, or using sand bags on each corner.
Also, make sure things are put up and secured. You don't want to get up in the middle of the night in the windy rain to secure things or try to stay dry. Just do it right before heading to bed, then you can just let the storm lull you into a good sleep!
6. 4 Wheel Drive Area
Yes, there is a 4WD area y'all! I've driven the 4WD area, but Ryan has the most experience, so I'll let him tell you about it.
Hi guys how's it going this is Ryan, I'll give my 2 cents on this area.
The first 4 miles will be very easy and has a lot of day use spots by the surf or by the dunes, you'll notice a lot of first up frames along her so please if your first up dies please take it with you, we have found that empty sand bags can be used on all 4 corners works excellent for holding them down, after the 4 miles it becomes the "4 wheel drive area" but we have found over the years that only at about mile 20 do you really need 4 wheel drive depending on the tide. We recommend that you have 4 wheel drive after the 4 mile mark but probably won't need it until further down the beach. We have camped all along the P.I.N.S. "Padre Island National Seashore" and we have found that the difficulty depends on the tide, sometimes you can roll at 45 mph down the surf side on wet sand and other times you are tight on the dunes in 4wd at 5mph. Please watch for shells you have small shell area which is up to about 20 mile and then big shell area after 20 mile so you'll have much to look at and hear under the tires.
We have seen huge sharks washed up on shore along the beach between the 30-40 mile area and you'll see an old shipwreck at around the 50 mile. You'll find Yarborough Pass around the 15 mile mark which takes you over to the Laguna Madre are which is nice calm water for fishing and is bayside. The 19.5 mile you find another very small road going between the dunes which takes you over the dunes and into the Laguna for several miles "very soft sand and some mud with a lot of mosquitos" but can find some good fishing. I really enjoy cruising the 60 miles and watching for washed up treasures, we have found 5" diameter ship ropes and $1000.00 shark rods on the beach just by cruising slow and enjoying the slow roll of the beach. If you have difficulty finding cell reception, we have found that at the 20 mile close to the dunes you can get reception to make and receive calls and check emails, the 54-60 mile you can get excellent reception right from the beach. Mile 60 is what is called the cut or Mansfield Channel, there is some awesome fishing and a beautiful area to set the chairs in the water and just chill.
So, my concluding comments are that when cruising the beach down the PINS please keep an eye out for debris washed up, soft sand, professional fisherman as they may be setup with their lines over the road from the top of their rigs, pick up trash and debris as you go along, and never drive on the dunes or in areas not designated for motor vehicle use. You'll will also see many signs for turtles so please be aware of turtle nesting areas. Please keep an eye on your fuel, we have taken many vehicles down to the cut, all 60 miles and at sometimes have come close to running low on fuel. We had one trip where we took a 93 Dodge Cummins 3/4 ton and due to sand conditions we used 3/4 of a tank just driving from the 10 mile to the 60 mile and back and then we have driven a 2018 Jeep JKU on 37's and have only used 1/4 tank going down to the cut and back to white cap beach to the nearest fuel station. So please be prepared for carrying extra fuel and know your vehicle.
Safe travels and keep the tires rolling in the right direction
7. Man of War / Jellyfish Stings
I'm not telling y'all all these things to deter you. these are all the things I couldn't find, and we had to find out the hard way. Padre does have Man of Wars. If you go to the Texas State Aquarium you learn that their tentacles can get crazy long. When you are camping, keep meat tenderizer to pull out the sting of the burn. We learned this after our daughter was stung by a Man of War. Let's just say Bear Grylls wasn't right on this one and she wouldn't watch his shows for a long time because she was mad at him.
8. Privy Tent and Trash
We have a privy tent with 5 gallon bucket that has a toilet seat. We bought our 5 gallon bucket toilet seat at Academy. I have a basket with trash bags, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper, and bathroom wipes. (We have upgraded the toilet and shower systems. See this post!)
For showering, we use a tripod my Daddy built. It has a pulley system that makes it easy to lift the water to showering height. We lay a couple black shower bags in the sun all day while we play, and we all shower up at dusk. The tripod he made is really tall so we use a canopy with sidewalls. It gives us room to shower and get dressed. You can just use a standard privy tent too with its shower setup, that's just what we do.
We use a Trasharoo on the back of the Jeep or carry trash bags in every couple days to the entrance of Padre as there are dumpsters to throw away your trash as you leave Padre. Remember to tread lightly and pickup more than you bring.
9. Mosquitos, Coyotes, and Creepy Things
During the day the wind keeps the mosquitos at bay, but at night they come out to play and with a vengeance sometimes as well as sand fleas. I use essential oils and it keeps them at bay. When I get up at night to go to the privy tent, I spray myself down around my ankles.
Also, when first arriving to camp we will spray Malathion all around camp, "please don't let pets or children play until dry" but this stuff is awesome and will not have issues if you use this stuff, we spray one a day or every other day depending on temp and bug activity.
Padre also has coyotes. They've never bothered us much except eat all our meat from our cooler on one trip many years ago. We haven't had that issue with our Yukon and Yeti coolers, but keep this in mind. Make sure all your food and trash is put up properly at night.
PLEASE GUYS DONE LET THIS DETER YOU FROM CAMPING HERE, THIS PLACE IS AWESOME AND ANYTHING YOU WILL FACE WILL BE WELL WORTH IT. WE HAVE CAMPED HERE FOR MANY YEARS AND WILL ALWAYS COME BACK YEAR TO YEAR. THIS AREA IS SO UNDERRATED AND WILL ALWAYS HAVE A SOFT SPOT IN OUR 4WHEEL LIVES.
These are the basic things to think about while you plan your trip. What kind of beach camping have y'all done? Let us know in the comments below. Hope this helps y'all have a fun trip to Padre!
Happy Camping y'all! If you want to plan your next trip, here is a link to a camping packing checklist. Use this on your next trip!
To see what we experienced this year, watch our video on YouTube!