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This is part of our weekly series Test Drive, where our team of beauty experts demystify products and tools, and explore new techniques IRL.
I'm a rotten camper, even though some of my earliest childhood memories revolve around camping with family in Ohio. I can still picture my mom in waders with a fishing rod in hand, the smell of sausages sizzling in our green breakfast tent, and a dramatic fireside rescue by my dad when I leaned my face dangerously close to the blaze. I inherited full brows from my mom, but I'm pretty sure I have my dad to thank that they are still intact today.
After moving to the East Coast when I was five, we only pitched tents at the beach (or as we say in New Jersey, "the shore") and roasted marshmallows in the family room fireplace. The topic of real camping didn't come up again until years later, when my husband, who developed a passion for climbing, hiking, and REI garage sales, organized a camping trip with our vegan neighbors. The day started idyllically. We waded in a nearby lake, cooked Tofurkey and veggies wrapped in foil, and roasted s'mores. But when evening rolled around, it became, well, a cold, miserable nightmare. The air mattress deflated, my 3-year-old's portable potty spilled inside the tent, I had to pee but was too afraid to walk along the pitch-dark trail to the bathrooms. I vowed never to camp again.
But I never said no to glamping, which is how I found myself saying yes to a weekend trip with Getaway in the Catskills for Father's Day weekend. The stay in a furnished cabin with queen-size bunk beds, a mini kitchen stocked with cookware, and a bathroom with a real shower sounded like cheating, and that worked for me! The only thing missing was WIFI and Disney+, which to my apartment-dwelling city girls (ages 4 and 10) still counts as roughing it.
We didn't really need traditional gear, but the beauty editor in me wanted to make sure I was prepared for our semi-outdoor adventure, so I reach out to Mona Gohara, M.D., a regular hiker and board-certified dermatologist based in Hamden, Connecticut, and Jennifer Sullivan, co-host of Fat Mascara, a beauty podcast. Sullivan is also a prodigious camper who has pitched her tent everywhere from the Catskills, the Poconos, the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier, the Costa Rican highlands, and Crater Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Makeup Wipes: Burt's Bees 3 in 1 Micellar Facial Cleanser Towelettes ($4, Amazon)
Sun and bug protection are the top essentials. Gohara and Sullivan like Supergoop for face and body ($32, Sephora), but the best sunscreen is the one you use, so I packed a few of the formulas we've been using this summer, including Hello Bello mineral sunscreen ($9, Walmart) and Kinship Self Reflect ($25, Kinship). Sullivan also likes a tinted sunscreen for coverage and SPF, favoring ColorScience Face Shield Flex SPF 50 ($45, ColorScience) because it comes in multiple shades.
Since my daughters and I seem to attract bugs the moment we step outside our NYC apartment, I figured we would need something stronger than the usual essential oil variety for camping and hiking in the woods. "My go-to is a spray-on with picardin, which I don't think is as harsh as DEET. I like Ben's Tick Repellent Eco Spray ($28, Amazon). The tick-repellent version has picardin only, but it works for mosquitoes pretty well. That said, if there are really a lot of mosquitoes, I go all-in with the Ben's 30% DEET," says Sullivan.
Extra dirt and grime are part of the camping experience. For washing up, Sullivan likes a biodegradable, multi-purpose cleanser like Dr. Bronner's Lavender Castille ($10, Walmart), which you can use on everything, including the face, hair, body, dishes, and pets. "I first discovered this when I did an Outward Bound course about 30 years ago; the instructors explained that most soaps and cleansers aren't stream-safe and can get into groundwater, but this one is biodegradable and safer for the environment."
While wipes aren't the most eco-friendly, they are a must-have even just to clean your feet before you get in the tent, notes Sullivan. "I have yet to find truly biodegradable wipes that work, but for now, my favorite is the Blum Natural Dry and Sensitive Skin Towelettes ($10, Walmart). They have soothing chamomile, smell great, and don't sting my sensitive skin," says Sullivan.
In a similar vein, Gohara suggests micellar water. "In case running water is not an option, bring micellar water ($16, Ulta) to wash off sunscreen and insect repellants. It can get rid of grime and if you come across water, act as a cleanser for smelly parts too," she says. I ended bringing micellar cleansing wipes from Burt's Bees ($4, Amazon), which worked out perfectly!
For a heat and sweat quick fix, Gohara also likes to stash thermal spring water ($9, Avéne USA) in your cooler to soothe bug bites and act as a refresher for the face at the end of a long hot day. Mega Babe Body Dust ($20, Target), a talc-free powder, is her go-to to stay fresh. "It absorbs sweat (hello feet) and helps to act as a deodorant too. Smidge on the fingertips and then run it through the hair to dub as a dry shampoo and reign in flyaways."
What about makeup? Sullivan reassured me that you don't have to forgo the essentials. "I don't go anywhere without mascara and an eyelash curler. I literally climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a Shu Uemura eyelash curler ($23, Shu Uemura). My mascara needs to be waterproof and still come off easily since I'm not packing makeup remover. I like the tubing mascaras, such as Blinc UltraVolume Tubing Mascara ($26, Sephora) or Kevyn Aucoin The Volume ($28, Dermstore). To remove those, you don't even need soap. You just wet your lashes really well and use gentle pressure to slide off the tubes," says Sullivan.
Another idea: plan ahead of your trip with a long-wear beauty service like a gel manicure. "I always have color on my nails and toenails, even when I'm hard-core camping. Gelixir Candy Apple Red ($6, LDS Nails) is one of my favorites. I wore that for a Maine camping trip, and it made it two full weeks without peeling or chipping," says Sullivan.
I also took her wardrobe advice to heart. Campers like to say, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear (or clothes)." And it's totally true! If you're just doing some chill glamping-camping, then Athleta has great hiking pants and non-cotton shirts. And Lowa makes the absolute best hiking boots. Period," Sullivan says. I had planned to wear yoga pants for both days but dug out my old hiking pants and moisturize-wicking top instead. I don't have hiking shoes and realized I would need to invest in a pair when my sneakers slipped a few times during a hike with a rocky path.
Although my glamping trip wasn't exactly Reese Witherspoon in Wild, it was a fun way to enjoy the great outdoors with my family. Here are a few of the MVPs of my trip that made our cabin stay more comfortable.
I usually keep this DEET-free formula in the car, so we always have it before going on a hike. It protects against mosquitos and deer ticks, which gives me some peace of mind heading into the woods. I don't like to spray directly on near the face; so I'll mist my palms and then lightly press against to exposed skin and neck.
I'm glad I brought these cleansing wipes along on my trip! They remove makeup (without stinging), sunscreen, and grime and smell so nice, thanks to rosewater. They're also hydrating so they leave your skin feeling soft and lightly conditioned.
Buy It: Burt's Bees 3 in 1 Micellar Facial Cleanser Towelettes ($4, Amazon)
I always pack a mini-size Aquaphor as an all-purpose skin salve for chapped lips, dry patches, and ripped cuticles, and I'm adding this new soothing ointment to our family first aid pouch for bug bites and eczema patches. It has one percent hydrocortisone to calm inflammation and suppress the itch.
Stylers are usually bulky, and this to-go-size conditioner is perfect for low-key smoothing. The sheets are infused with coconut oil and UV filters, so you can rub over your hair to take down that halo of baby frizz and protect your color. It's not too heavy for my fine, slightly wavy hair and just leaves it healthy-looking with extra shine.
After you sleep on silk, it's tough to sleep on any other fabric, so I always bring my own pillowcase along when I travel. It helps me sleep better, and the fabric minimizes friction, so I don't wake up with frizz or those pillow lines and grooves I used to always get on my cheeks. My biggest fear before my glamping trip was not getting a good night's sleep but I slept like a baby all night.