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Alternative to Air Mattress for Camping

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Two hammocks during sunset.

Air mattresses are undoubtedly the most popular choice for camping beds. A standard inflatable mattress is cheap, comfortable, and easy to use, which is why they’re so common. However, there are some downsides to using air mattresses, so some campers are leaving them behind in favor of the alternatives. 

For campers who’ve never used anything but an air bed, sleeping somewhere else may seem strange. We’re here to show you that the alternatives to air mattresses for camping are worth considering. Whether you’re just sick of punctures, or you’re searching for a bed that’s better for your back, we’ve got all the bases covered.

In this article, we will explain why you might choose to leave the air mattress behind and then go into detail about the alternatives we recommend. From ultralight foam sleeping pads to camping cots to hammocks, there are plenty of options for your consideration. You should be able to find the ideal alternative to an air mattress for camping for you.  

Note: If you haven’t tried a high quality air mattress, you should know that they’ve come a long way and can be quite comfortable. Browse the best air mattresses for camping here.

A tent outside.

From hammocks to cots, there’s plenty of alternatives to camping with an air mattress.

 

Why use an alternative to an air mattress for camping?

There are a number of reasons you might choose not to use an inflatable bed for your next camping trip. According to a 2017 report, only 13% of campers consider air beds to be an essential item, while 17% considered it a luxury item. This shows that air mattresses aren’t as necessary as you may think. 

To start with, the most common problem with air mattresses is punctures. Sick of waking up in the middle of the night in a half-deflated bed? Maybe it’s time to make the change. If you find yourself buying puncture repair kits regularly, then it might be worth the investment into a new sleeping arrangement. There are heavier-duty puncture-resistant air beds on the market, but these can increase dramatically in size, price, and weight. 

For many campers, especially backpackers, pack space and weight is limited. Air mattresses are not the most efficient in either category, so we’d recommend taking a look at some other options. If you forget your foot pump or don’t have an electric air pump, air beds can take a long time to inflate manually- not much fun when you’re just arrived at the campsite and want to go and explore. So, now you know why you might want to make a change, read on to discover the top air mattress alternatives available to you. 

Futon mattress

The first option we would like to direct you to consider as an alternative to air mattresses is the humble futon. Futons are very popular amongst truck campers, and they’re ideal for car camping too. You may want to consider a futon for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the setup time is almost nothing, all you need to do is lay down the futon on a flat surface and you’re ready. In comparison, air beds take time and energy to inflate, which could be better spent exploring your campsite. Taking 20 minutes to inflate your air bed upon arrival to a campsite is a waste of valuable time.

The same goes when packing away, with a futon all you need to do is fold it up and store it. Air beds can take a significant amount of time to pack away, there are several steps that need to be followed in order to do it correctly, and again this is a boring and time-consuming process. If you don’t know already, read about how to deflate an air mattress and you’ll see what we mean.

Futons are an ideal choice for car camping. They’re very comfy and can turn the back of your car or truck into a luxurious place to spend the night. However, futons aren’t very space-efficient, and wouldn’t be a viable option for backpacking. 

 

A person in the outdoors.

A sleeping mat, such as a Therm-a-Rest, will easily pack up lightly and still provide comfort from the hard ground.

 

Foam sleeping pads

Foam sleeping pads are much more space-efficient than both futons and air mattresses. They range in thickness from less than an inch up to several inches, with a variety of options available. These basic sleeping mats are made of dense foam filled with tiny closed air cells and are usually stored rolled up.

Unlike air beds, foam or memory foam sleeping pads are extremely lightweight, meaning they won’t hinder you on your journey. Air mattresses, especially higher-end models, can be surprisingly heavy, whereas sleeping pads weigh next to nothing. They’re also the only option which can be safely stored outside your pack without fear of damage, they can’t be punctured like inflatable mattresses. 

Foam sleeping pads offer good insulation from the ground and are pretty durable too. There’s not much that could stop you from sleeping on one, you’d struggle to find a fatal problem. Sleeping pads are admittedly just as bulky as air mattresses, however as we mentioned they can be stored outside your pack, so it doesn’t matter as much. 

The downside to foam sleeping pads is that they aren’t as comfortable as air mattresses. They’re thin, meaning the cushioning from the ground is minimal, and you’ll probably still be able to feel that rock sticking in your back in the middle of the night. This problem can be easily solved by carefully choosing where you pitch your tent, but a foam sleeping pad still won’t be as comfortable as the other options.

Foam sleeping pads are the most practical option, as they will work almost no matter what. Recommended for tent campers and backpackers, a simple foam sleeping pad will provide basic cushioning and insulation from the ground, without compromising on size and weight. Unfortunately for many people foam mats are just too uncomfortable, but there are still more air mattress alternatives. 

 

Self-inflating sleeping pads

As the high-tech version of foam mats, self-inflating sleeping pads have a lot to offer. If you don’t want to stray too far from inflatable mattresses, then inflatable sleeping pads are an option you should consider.

Self-inflating pads are basically a cross between a foam mat and an air bed, as they use a combination of open-cell foam insulation and air. There are multiple different types, some are optimized for backpacking, made to fit inside your bag, whereas others are made for car camping so don’t need to fold as small. 

We’d recommend self-inflating mats as a good all-round choice, as they offer excellent insulation while remaining inexpensive. Unlike air beds, there’s no foot pump or batteries to deal with, all you need to do is open the valve and they’ll self-inflate. For firmness, these mats are easily adjustable, simply add more or release some air, so they’re versatile as well as efficient.

Unfortunately, these sleeping mats have one problem in common with air mattresses- punctures. Because they’re still an inflatable item, containing air, leaks can form and this could make them less comfortable and less useful. A self-inflating mattress can sustain punctures or other damage, but they’re actually much easier to repair in the field than air mattresses. Carrying a simple puncture repair kit with you will help keep your self-inflating map in working condition. 

These sleeping pads are lightweight and space-saving; when you’re finished just roll them up to push the air out. Self-inflating sleeping pads are popular for a reason, they make a good compromise between comfort and pack size. Compared to air beds, they’re much more efficient, however, you might feel that a sleeping mat of any kind just isn’t comfortable enough. Keep reading to find out about comfier alternatives to air mattresses for camping. 

 

Three camping cots in a cabin.

Camping cots are a great alternative to air mattresses, especially if you’re sleeping in a cabin.

 

Camping cots

Camping cots are often overlooked, but they are arguably the best alternative to air mattresses. They come in a variety of forms, catering to all types of campers, so regardless of your specifications there’s a camping cot out there for you. The benefits of camping cots over air beds are numerous, so we’ll outline the biggest here to make sure you fully understand your options. 

Firstly, there’s no chance of leaking air from a camping cot. This much is obvious, but even if you end up with a hole in your cot, it will still be functional. Often built to withstand up to some pretty rugged conditions, camping cots are sturdier than air beds.

They’re also much more durable than your average air bed, so a decent camping cot should last you a long time. As well as longevity, camping cots offer more stability, making it more likely that you’ll get a peaceful night’s rest. Cots are also the easiest option on this list for getting in and out of, thanks to their height and stability. If you’re looking to get as close to a real bed as possible, camping cots are an option you should seriously consider. 

One very important feature of camping cots is that they are raised above the ground, and the benefits of this are threefold. Firstly, the added space between you and the floor greatly increases insulation, and avoiding this direct contact is vital on cold nights.

Air mattresses do have good insulation, but in the coldest weather, camping cots are better. It also means you can use the area under the bed for storage, and space-saving qualities are incredibly valuable in any outdoor equipment. This alone is a reason to consider camping cots, as air mattresses do nothing but take up space. As an added bonus, being raised from the ground means worrying less about dirt and insects.

Unfortunately, camping cots aren’t the perfect solution. They can be bulky and heavy, making them a pain to transport. Light-weight camping cots are available, however, they’re considerably more expensive, so consider whether you want to make the investment.

We would recommend camping cots as the best alternative for tent camping, where you’re driving to the campsite. For lightweight backpacking or primitive camping, neither camping cots or air mattresses are ideal, but there are several air mattress alternatives which are ideal for these situations. 

 

Sleeping bag

If you’re an advocate of utility over comfort, then maybe you don’t need an alternative to air beds at all- just go without! A high-quality sleeping bag should provide enough insulation in mild weather, and you can buy thicker ones for added comfort. If you need some extra cushioning from the hard ground, leaf litter and pine needles can provide a mattress that you don’t have to pack in and out. 

Some campers enjoy sleeping with just a sleeping bag as it lets them feel closer to nature, and others have claimed it’s good for their back. Either way, compared to using an air mattress, this option will save you space, time, and money. 

 

Two men in hammocks in the woods.

Most of today’s nylon hammocks weigh less than a pound and are great for camping in the warmer seasons.

 

Hammocks

So many campers seeking an alternative to air mattresses disregard hammocks, but we’re here to tell you they might be the perfect solution. Hammock camping tends to be a little more wild, as the majority of the time a hammock must be tied between two trees. This means you won’t be sleeping inside a tent, and your approach should be a little different. 

Firstly, the nature of a hammock requires it to be suspended above the ground. This means that no matter what, there should be nothing sticking into your back in the middle of the night- hooray! Many campers describe the feeling of sleeping in a hammock as “floating”, which can be nothing but appealing to those of us who have spent too many sleepless nights on a lumpy tent floor. 

Camping hammocks are made from parachute-style material, which is extremely packable and lightweight. This makes them much more space and weight-efficient than air mattresses. They require minimal setup, but hammock camping does stipulate that trees are available, otherwise you’ll struggle to set it up.

Air mattresses, on the other hand, can be set up anywhere. One potential problem with a hammock is that it could fall down in the night, but you can prevent this by simply reading about the best hammock knots

Hammocks are excellent for use in hot weather, they’ll go a long way towards keeping you cool in the summer months. Some hammocks are water-resistant, and some are even fully enclosed; if you’re camping in the rain you’ll need some shelter in a hammock.

Although this is a downside to hammock use, remember the remaining benefit: you can’t wake up in a puddle if you’re not on the floor, so flash floods aren’t a problem for hammock campers. In cold weather, it’s still viable to use a hammock, but you’ll need to use extra insulation, such as sleeping bags or even foam mats, to combine two of our camping mattress alternatives.

At the end of the day, sleeping in a hammock is sleeping outdoors. Being out in the open rather than inside a tent can be so much more enjoyable, you can enjoy clean fresh air the entire time instead of waking up in a tent that’s stale and stuffy.

Making use of a hammock can help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper- who can say that about an air mattress? There are also many anecdotal reports of hammocks helping to alleviate back pain, due to the pressure being equally spread across your body. 

If you’re used to sleeping on a mattress, hammocks can be a struggle to get used to. They’re also harder to get in and out of than an air mattress, but we believe the benefit of being completely comfortable outweighs this. If you decide to try out sleeping in a hammock, not only can you ditch the air mattress, you might not need a tent either!

Fully enclosed hammocks offer complete protection from the elements in a convenient, lightweight, and comfortable package. Compare the assembly time of putting up a hammock to pitching a tent and inflating an air mattress, and you should be convinced already.

 

Final Verdict:

These are the air mattress alternatives for camping, and amongst them should be the perfect solution for you. To conclude, for car and truck camping, a futon is best. There’s no assembly time, just grab it and go, and way more comfortable than an air mattress.

Lightweight backpackers and backcountry campers need to be more efficient, so a foam pad or self-inflating sleeping mat is the best solution. Just remember, the self-inflating pads may be comfier, but they also risk punctures. 

For tent camping, use a camping cot to revolutionize the way you sleep. Once you realize how much easier cots are in comparison to inflatable camping mattresses, you’ll never want to go back. They provide better back support, and because they’re raised off the ground cots are much more convenient. However, camping cots are only really appropriate if you’re at a campsite with your car, as transporting them without can be a challenge. 

Finally, hammocks offer a sleeping solution for all types of campers. It’s speculated that hammocks are even better for you than your bed at home. Sleeping out in the open will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, so consider hammock camping for your next excursion.

 

Bonus tip: Check out this video for some hammock hanging tips and tricks!

 

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How The Annual REI Dividend Works

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rei annual dividend explained

What is the REI Dividend?

The dividend is a sum of money that is awarded back to REI co-op members every year. The amount of money is based on two primary factors: a percentage of all eligible purchases made by a member and any rewards they accrued on their REI Mastercard during the previous year. You can think of it a bit like a tax return and purchasing points on your credit card — only instead of frustrating points, it’s just money. You can also get any unused amount of the previous year’s dividend added onto the next one, but this isn’t always the case.

REI is short for Recreational Equipment Incorporated, an American company that offers outdoor gear, as well as courses and vacation options.

If you aren’t familiar with their brand, they are known for having high quality and ranked highly in the review of the top tent brands on the market.

What sets it apart from other outdoor retailing competitors is that it follows the co-op business model. That means they offer a wide range of perks to their members, one of the most unique of which is their annual dividend. Since this is such an unusual benefit to the company, understanding the ins and outs can be difficult. So, here are some answers to many of the FAQs people have when talking about the REI annual dividend program.

 

REI, also know as Recreation Equipment International, is well-know for its outdoor supplies.

How do you earn the dividend?

First of all, only REI co-op memberships can earn a dividend. The good news is that being a member of the REI co-op is both inexpensive and easy. To become an REI member, all you have to do is go here and sign up for a lifetime membership. The upfront, one-time membership fee is only 20$, and there isn’t even an annual fee to keep your membership. However, only members that are considered active receive a dividend notice.

To be an active member of REI, all you have to do is spend at least 10$ merchandise in a year, unless it is the year that you first sign up. If you ever lose active status, getting it back is as easy as to resume making REI purchases.

REI Members earn toward their annual dividend by making eligible purchases. Almost any merchandise you buy directly through REI is considered eligible as long as you are purchasing full-price items. This includes the physical REI stores or through REI.com. One notable exception is that gift cards do not count toward your REI dividend. However, when you use a gift card to make purchases, that can be considered eligible as long as it otherwise would be.

The percentage that goes back into your dividend varies depending on how well the company did financially the previous year, but it tends to be around 10%. The calculation is made based on the product price alone, so sales tax and any other fees such as postage are not counted.

Unfortunately, none of REI’s experience purchases are considered eligible. This means that classes, special events, and the popular REI Adventures don’t get counted into your annual dividend. Service charges don’t count either, so rentals and labor fees are not factored into the dividend. The initial membership fee also is not eligible.

Any returns you make are removed from your dividend amount in the final calculation, and if it has already been calculated, then the dividend amount counts against the return amount you would receive. 

You can also receive a retroactive addition to your dividend based on eligible purchases you made at other retailers on REI merchandise, as long as it was in the same year. For example, if you bought backpacking equipment from Amazon that was the REI brand, then you can get that counted. You’ll just need to have your receipt handy to answer some information about the purchase. You cannot get retroactive additions to your annual dividend if the purchase was made before you became an REI member, though.

There is a slight workaround with the discounted merchandise, though. Members can receive an REI co-op Mastercard. As mentioned earlier, this has a built-in rewards system. One such reward is that when you use the REI credit card to purchase sale items, then you receive a 5% kickback into your dividend. It’s a much lower percentage than what you would expect to receive from a normal eligible purchase. However, savvy shoppers will be able to notice when the reduced pricing and smaller kickback turns out to be a better long-term value. 

 

When would I receive my REI dividend?

If you’re an REI member and have a balance, you’ll receive a dividend notice in March of the next year. All purchases you make from January 1st to December 31st are considered part of the same annual sum and will be available until January of two years later. So, if you made purchases throughout 2020, you’ll be able to use your dividend from them starting March 2021, and you’ll have the money available to you until you either spend it all or until the first day of 2023. This, however, is only the case if you don’t accrue any more dividends. Assuming you constantly make enough eligible purchases and spend roughly however much you earn from the program each year, your dividend balance should never expire.

 

Buying equipment from REI with an REI Mastercard is a great way to earn points towards your dividend.

 

So what can I do with the dividend?

This question is best answered with another question: “How do you want to spend your money?” For anyone who has ever been frustrated with trying to redeem credit card points or dealing with the restrictions of store credit, you are going to be blown away by the range of options REI gives you when it comes to your member dividend.

 

Use the dividend as store credit

The most basic option available to you is to use your dividend like store credit. If you can find it on the REI website, then you can buy it with your store credit. If your dividend balance doesn’t completely cover the total price of your purchases at checkout, don’t worry. It will still get deducted from the price and you’ll only have to pay for whatever is leftover.

If you’re near one of their physical REI stores, then you’ll be able to use your dividend to directly buy available outlet items from their stores. Your dividend works at every REI store location, so you won’t have to worry about not being able to access it if you’re shopping far from home. Just be sure to have your co-op member number ready. 

Even though buying them doesn’t sound toward your dividend, you can put your earnings on it toward booking an REI Adventure. If you’re a hardcore outdoors enthusiast, then you might be able to generate enough of a dividend to book a trip to a national park at no out-of-pocket expense.

If you aren’t quite that adventurous but still would like a fun experience, then look at spending your dividend on one of the many REI classes. There is something to learn for everyone. From riding a bike to navigating the backcountry, the basics of rock climbing to dozens of stewardship opportunities,  it’d be hard not to spend part of your dividend on enriching yourself with the REI classes.

You can also download the REI mobile apps. These make it even easier to shop with REI in general, but they can streamline the process of using your dividend in the online store.

 

Receive the dividend as a check

If you’d rather take the money that REI has awarded to you elsewhere, then you can request to have your dividend amount in the form of a check.

There are a couple of ways to go about getting the check. The most direct way is to go to a physical REI outlet once you have received a notice of a dividend balance. If you are not anywhere near an REI store, don’t worry. You can have your check mailed to you directly by filling out their request form. Once you have the form filled out, REI will have that information in their database and can mail you the check every year without any extra work from you, should you want that

The check can only be issued to the name of the primary membership cardholder. REI does not send out checks if your annual dividend does not exceed 25$, and they do not send out a check for the REI Mastercard holder reward amount that does not exceed 1$. You can request the check whenever is convenient, but they do not begin mailing them out until July 1st. 

You don’t have to receive the whole dividend as a check. You can go ahead and spend part of it as store credit on the online store. Then, whatever amount that is leftover, you can have it sent as a check. As long as all the other requirements have been met, of course. Also, if you attempt to use any of your dividend between the time of the check being sent out and you receiving the check, then it could result in either the check being void, or you being unable to use your dividend funds at all.

If for some reason you don’t want to use the online check request form, you can also make the request over the phone or by contacting them by mail.

 

You can get your REI dividend in cash or in purchase credits.

 

Get the dividend in cash

No, that’s not a joke, and there aren’t any strings attached. You can receive your annual REI dividend, in full, as cash. There are a few hoops you have to jump through, but none of them are fine print details that are going to keep you from turning your dividend sum into cash and doing whatever you want with it.

First of all, you can’t convert your dividend into cash after July 1st of the year after you earned the dividend. This is similar to the check option. Unlike the check, there is a cut-off point at the beginning of the next calendar year, so if you wait too long then your dividend can’t be turned into cash.

This option can only be done through a physical REI store, so if you don’t live near one then you will probably have to settle for the check option. If you plan on going to a store to get your dividend as cash, it would be a good idea to call them ahead of time and try to make an arrangement. REI stores only have so much free cash on hand. 

If you don’t call ahead, you might run into a situation where the store does not have enough cash to equal the dividend balance you should receive. In these cases, co-op members are given the option to receive the check. For some, that is a fine alternative, but people dead-set on getting cash should be aware of this.

One other thing to note is that the cash option is based on a specific year’s balance. This means, like the check option, if you spend any of your dividend funds as credit first, that would result in you receiving less cash in the end. Also, unlike the store credit option, you can’t compound years together. Since the years have cutoff dates that line up to where there is never an overlapping period between them, you’ll only be able to get your cash balance one year at a time, rather than building it across up to 3 years.

 

Can I check my dividend balance?

Yes! At any point, you can go to REI.com, and enter the name on your membership card along with your member number, and they will be able to tell you the dividend balance. This is not updated in real-time, so if you have been roughly keeping track and the amount looks odd when you check it, don’t worry. Most likely, it is just in the middle of being exactly calculated by members of the REI team.

 

Is the annual dividend the only benefit of Coop Membership?

Not at all! You’ve already read a bit about the REI Coop Mastercard and its reward system. You get 5% back with any REI purchases, 2% back through mobile transactions, and 1% everywhere else. This is all factored into your annual dividend along with all the usual 10% kickback from buying normal priced items. This means that anything you use the card on, even bills and groceries, is factored into your dividend.

Members get access to special pricing on certain items through REI. These are usually on things like classes and tours, as well as rentals on any outdoor equipment. This can be frustrating since the specially priced experiences aren’t dividend eligible purchases. Though, with dividend earnings and special pricing, it is easy to earn enough to pick up enough to pay for a class or two. 

Members-only events are probably the second-best part of being a member after the dividend. Some of the most popular of these events are new member-exclusive hiking trips or member gatherings to try out local brews. Without a doubt, Garage Sales are the star of members-only events.

The REI Garage Sales are hosted at REI outlet stores every so often. The merchandise of the Sales is made up of returns and other used goods, and come at a heavily discounted price. The products are as-is, and cannot be accepted for returns as of their return policy. Since the merchandise is on a case-by-case basis with the outlets, REI cannot guarantee specific inventory. All Garage Sales operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Garage Sale purchases cannot be put toward your annual dividend unless they are purchased with the members’ Mastercard. Though, the products are usually so aggressively marked down that it usually makes up for it. Plus, the Garage Sale merchandise is evaluated beforehand to assure that there are no major issues with it, so you don’t have to worry about the quality with the low prices.

 

Final Verdict:

The annual dividend is a unique benefit of being a member of REI’s coop. It saves the frustration associated with other rewards programs by just allowing the members to claim a monetary incentive. It is both pleasantly simple, offers multiple options to use your dividend as you see fit, and a great tool for people that love to maximize value in their shopping.

There are some ins and outs with the membership program to remember how to get the most out of the dividend. Though, remembering these details is more of a bonus than a requirement to earn on the dividend properly, unlike other rewards programs. On top of all that, you get several more awesome benefits for a single 20$ purchase. 

 

Bonus tip: Here’s a video from REI talking about the essential items for backpacking, which are available on their website: 

 

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Learn How To Identify 12 Types Of Trees

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Tree species are such a common form of plant life that they often go unnoticed in our daily lives. Generally speaking, as they don’t have finite lifespans, trees live much longer than other plant life. Some tree species can even live for thousands of years. Trees are no stranger to our planet — they have been around for nearly 370 years. Currently, planet Earth is home to more than 60,000 types of trees that play a vital role in the life we know and enjoy.

One of the first things children learn about in school is how common trees supply us with the oxygen we need to breathe. Our survival depends on plant life around the world continuing to thrive, including underwater vegetation, grasslands, and the approximate 3 trillion types of trees which currently grow on our planet. Learning how to identify tree species can be an important skill, similar to knowing how to start a campfire when it comes to outdoor survival. 

Throughout this article, we’re going to clarify and define what exactly a tree is and introduce you to the different categories that common trees fall under. We’ll also take a closer look at the most common types of trees that you’ll most likely come across, and explain how you can identify them correctly. Different types of trees have different types of leaves and bark that are characteristics of certain tree species. If you can spot the differences, then you’re a step closer in your quest of becoming a tree identification master. Now, let’s begin by differentiating between the two primary types of trees: deciduous trees and evergreen trees.

Related: The 10 best outdoor antenna’s for camping and rural areas

A field with a tree sunset.

All trees are either deciduous trees or evergreen trees.

What defines a common tree? 

In botany (the study of plants), trees are defined as perennial plants with an elongated trunk or stem which supports leaves and branches(Perennial plants live for multiple years, as opposed to annual plants which have a life-cycle of only one season.) However, this is a slightly limited definition, as the term “tree” can be extended to include any woody plant with branches and a trunk that grows significantly taller than the plants around it. 

Tree branches are supported by a large and strong trunk, which extends underground. Beneath, the trunk extends into widely-spread roots which collect nutrients and moisture and provide support to the tree species above ground. The branches which extend from the top of the trunk divide into smaller shoots, which spread to produce leaves. Leaves collect sunlight, converting it into energy via photosynthesis, in order to feed and grow. 

The trunk of a common tree is the strongest part, made from a woody tissue that supports the weight of the canopy. Tree trunks also contain vascular tissue, which carries nutrients from one part of the plant to another. Most types of trees also have a layer of bark around the trunk that acts as a protective shield. Although these are the general characteristics that fit every type of tree, tree species vary. 

There are two primary categorizations that all tree species fit into. The difference between these two categories is the first thing you need to spot in order to properly identify common trees. Most people already recognize the distinction between these different types of trees, but we’ll still go into detail about how you can identify them. Read on to discover which types of trees lose their leaves, and which tree species remain green all year round.

Deciduous Trees Vs. Coniferous Trees

Every single one of the thousands of tree species found on our planet fits into one of these two categories: coniferous trees (evergreen trees) or deciduous trees. Deciduous trees lose their broad leaves at a specific time of the year, typically fall or autumn. The word ‘deciduous’ literally means “to fall off at maturity”. As such, the leaves of these trees have an annual life cycle. In the spring, new leaves grow and quickly mature into broad leaves, green in color. Over time, they slowly change color leading to the wonderful fall color palette we all recognize and love, before falling to the moist soil. 

This is the case with the most common trees in North America, Europe, and other countries with a mild climate. In hotter tropical countries, deciduous trees lose their greenery during the dry season. Once the leaves have fallen, these trees remain bare wood skeletons until new leaf shoots begin to grow in the spring. Most deciduous trees are broadleaf, with wide, flat, green leaves. 

Coniferous trees, otherwise known as evergreen trees, keep their leaves all year round. No matter the season, evergreen trees are unchanging in appearance. This type of tree often has needle-shaped leaves, which withstand the cold temperatures better than more delicate broadleaf types of trees. Evergreen tree landscapes are especially stunning in the winter months when all other plant life looks dead. 

deciduous vs coniferous trees

Tree Identification: Basic Leaf Types

There are three different types of leaves that evergreen trees and deciduous trees can have. Broadleaves is a wide term that encompasses leaves of all shapes and sizes — so long as they are flat. Almost all deciduous trees have broad leaves: they can be oval, round, heart-shaped, and much more. The maple leaf of the red maple tree is an iconic shape that we all know. The term ‘Broadleaves’ encompasses much more than just common tree species, it also includes a huge range of different plant life. 

Most people will recognize common tree needles thanks to Christmas trees — many evergreen trees feature this shape. Common tree needles are long and thin and typically grow together in clusters or sparsely depending on the tree species. Evergreen trees lose their needles over time, however, this process doesn’t happen all at once as is usually the case with deciduous trees. Instead, the needles are lost and replaced gradually; similar to how humans lose hair. The third category of leaves that some coniferous trees exhibit is scale-like leaves. We see these on common trees such as Juniper trees and cedar trees, where the needles resemble the scales of a reptile.

A maple leaf in the rain.

The distinctive shape of the maple leaf makes this red maple tree easy to identify. 

12 Common Types of Trees and How To Identify Them 

Tree Species: Maple Trees

Maple trees are a common tree species found across Europe, North America, and Asia. They belong to the genus Acer family and are commonly associated with Canada — just look at the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. There are more than one hundred species of maple trees, the most common in Europe being the sycamore maple tree. Red maple, sugar maple, and silver maple are also common tree species you’ll commonly see in the countryside. Japanese maple trees are a common choice for bonsai where a small tree is groomed and maintained to resemble a miniature replica. 

Maple trees are famous for the sweet syrup made from their sap, which is a big reason why maple trees are often farmed in North America. Maple trees are a hardwood tree species. Its timber is often used to make baseball bats and musical instruments. The easiest way to identify a maple tree is by its distinct leaf shape, which is the same across all maple tree species. Maple trees can be small trees, reaching only 10 meters in height, or large trees more than 40 meters tall.

maple tree

Tree Species: Oak Trees

Oak trees are one of the most common tree families across the world; their wood is very hard and durable and resistant to most diseases. Oak trees come from the genus Quercus of which there are over 90 different species in the United States alone. They have been one of the most prized trees for building material for centuries, and are used in all kinds of industries, including musical instrument production. As there are more than 300 known oak tree species globally, when it comes to tree identification, it helps to break them down into further categories. 

White oaks feature round broad leaves and produce sweet acorns that take a year to mature. Black (or red) oak trees have bristles on their leaves and produce bitter-tasting acorns. The acorns from a red oak take two years to mature and are referred to as biennial oak trees. By identifying the maturity of the acorns on an oak tree, you can tell which type of oak tree it is. Most oak tree species are deciduous tree species, however, there are a handful of evergreen oak trees. The easiest way to identify an oak tree is by its acorns — all oak trees carry this fruit. The leaves of oak trees are lobed, with either rounded or pointed tips.

Oak Trees

Tree Species: Sycamore Trees

Try not to get the sycamore maple confused with true sycamore trees — they’re only related by name. The sycamore is a large hardwood tree in the genus Platanus and is a deciduous tree species by nature. The wood from these trees is incredibly hard and dense, and therefore it’s not commonly used as a building material. Sycamores can grow up to 40 meters and are one of the easiest types of trees to identify when it comes to tree identification.  

You can spot a sycamore tree by examining its bark. Don’t be misled by its leaves, which look similar to a maple leaf tree species. Instead, look at the color of the trunk. True sycamore trees have flaky bark which gives the trunk a red and brown multi-colored appearance, often featuring patches of white and grey. The Sycamore is a broadleaf tree species. You can identify them by their leaves which have three to five lobes with toothed edges.

A sycamore tree.

Sycamore trees are very large trees, with hard, dense wood. 

Tree Species: Pine Trees

Pine trees are another common tree found all around the world. This evergreen tree family of the genus Pinus is probably the most easily recognizable coniferous tree species in the world. The pine tree is a common ornamental tree with softwood. Pine tree leaves consist of clusters of green needles. This tree species is also easily identifiable by its hard cones, often referred to as pine cones. White pine and red pine are two common trees of this tree species and can be found throughout Canada, the United States (North America in general), and Europe. 

Pine trees are amongst the easiest tree species when it comes to tree identification. Pine trees are generally large trees that stand straight with needles that are mostly concentrated towards the top. Some species of pine trees can even grow up to 81 meters tall — they do it quickly, too. As pine trees grow into large trees so quickly, they’re incredibly useful when it comes to construction and furniture production. The softwood of the pine tree is easy to work with and features an attractive grain.

pine tree

Tree Species: Fir Trees

Fir trees, such as the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir, are all popular festive choices. This evergreen tree family is of the genus Abies and contains approximately 50 different species of tree. Fir trees are closely related to the genus Cedrus, or cedar trees. Fir trees have a much denser needle distribution than pine trees, giving them a fuller and greener appearance. 

Fir needles are soft and flat and tend to have two white stripes at the bottom of each needle. As they grow, fir tree cones tend to be green, purple, or blue and turn a golden brown as the tree matures. You can easily spot a fir tree as its cones grow upwards, whereas other coniferous trees have downward-pointing cones.

fir tree

Tree Species: Elm Trees

Elm trees are a common tree found mostly in forests and can be classed as either deciduous or semi-deciduous. There are about 35 different types of tree species within the Ulmus genus, including the American elm and the European elm. Elm trees are another ornamental tree species that are not generally appreciated for their wood or fruit. Elms are hardwood trees and therefore difficult to work with as a building material. 

You can identify an elm tree by its leaves, which are technically classed as broadleaf. There is quite a range of different leaves that grow on elm tree species, but they all have the same pointed oval shape. Elm tree leaves range between 7 and 16 cm long. Unfortunately, a pandemic of Dutch Elm tree disease wiped many elm trees from our streets and forests. However, conservation efforts are well on their way and the American Elm tree species is in revival.

 

elm tree

Tree Species: Willow Trees

Willow trees have some of the most distinctive shapes out of any tree in the world; their long drooping branches have a dramatic and striking appearance. There are approximately 400 species of willow trees and they are all deciduous trees. Willow trees can be small tree-like shrubs or grow to be medium-height. Willow tree leaves are always elongated ovals, but their color varies between species. Black willow trees feature dark, furrowed bark. 

Willow tree leaves can be green, yellow, or blue in hue, making these breathtaking trees even more beautiful. The wood from willow trees can be used to make wicker baskets and similar items, due to their long, soft, and flexible branches. Willow trees are arguably the easiest tree species to identify, as no other type of tree has anything comparable to its low sweeping branches. When temperatures drop in the fall, willow trees are among the last to lose their leaves.

Willow trees.

Willow trees are easy to identify from their long, drooping branches. 

Tree Species: Magnolia Trees

When people choose a tree to plant in their garden, Magnolias are an obvious choice. The Magnolia family contains both deciduous trees and evergreen types of trees, which can grow in a huge range of environments. These trees produce large fragrant flowers and cones of fruit that look like berries. In terms of tree identification, all types of the Magnolia tree are broadleaf. 

Magnolias are medium-sized trees, they grow fast and have softwood. As there’s quite a large variation in leaf size and shape in magnolias, the easiest way to identify this tree species is by the fruit. As their cone-shaped seed pods are unique in comparison to other types of trees, if you can spot these, you’ll know if your tree is a part of the magnolia family.

Magnolia Tree

Tree Species: Birch Trees

Birch trees, of the genus Betula, are a type of tree family containing about 60 species of hardwood trees. Often, the wood from birch trees is used as firewood or for making furniture. Birch tree bark is papery, often white or silver in color, and is its most identifiable feature. The branches of birch trees are long, and droop slightly, holding small, thin, triangular leaves. Oil extracted from birch trees can be used in both cooking and medicine. Birch trees are some of the most common trees on the planet with small leaves.

Birch Trees

Tree Species: Tulip Trees

The tulip tree is not actually related to the flower that shares its name. It’s called so because of its attractive yellow-green flowers. The softwood of the tulip tree is attractive but weak. For this reason, it’s often used for aesthetic purposes rather than construction. When a tulip tree is young, the bark is brown or ashy gray. As the tree matures, the color will darken, however rich and moist soil is necessary for this. 

The leaves of a tulip tree are almost rectangular in shape, featuring 4 to 6 lobes which can be up to 15 cm in length. Tulip trees bloom before their leaves grow, meaning once spring rolls around, their large leaves hide their blooming flowers. This distinctive feature makes the tulip tree easy to identify — try focusing on the leaves and the orange-yellow flowers.

Tulip Tree

Tree Species: Butternut Trees

If you’ve ever seen a tree species with what appears to be small green balls growing among its leaves, then you may be looking at a Juglans Cinerea. The butternut tree is a slow-growing,  deciduous tree that’s native to Canada and the United States. It grows in moist soil and has edible nuts that resemble green balls. You can easily identify this type of tree by its light grey bark, which gets rougher in texture with age. This large-leafed tree has no stems — its pointed leaves grow directly from the branch.

Butternut Tree

Tree Species: Cedar Trees 

Cedar trees are large trees from the Pinaceae family that can reach a towering 50 meters. Cedar trees are often used as ornamental trees and also make popular bonsai trees. This kind of tree is also a popular choice of men’s fragrance. In the United States, many of the trees that we refer to as cedar trees, such as the eastern red cedar (found in the Rockies of Colorado), are actually Juniper trees from the family Juniperus. When it comes to tree identification, cedar trees are pretty straightforward as they are one of the few kinds of trees with scaled leaves. In addition, their foliage is either dark green or bluish in color and grows in spiral clusters.

Cedar forest trees at night.

Cedar tree forests are some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the United States. 

Final Verdict

Throughout this article, we’ve identified 12 of the most common types of trees from across the United States and the world. Using this knowledge, you should now be able to accurately identify several of these tree species. Some of the more common tree families we didn’t cover include ash trees, hawthorn, larch, black walnut, hickory, hemlock, dogwood, walnut trees, and other species of the genus Picea. Although they’re beautiful tree species, they’re not as common as the trees that made our list. From butternut trees with green balls to huge weeping willow trees, it is our sincere hope that you enjoy identifying tree species as much as we do.

 

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Outdoor Blog

How to Keep Snakes Away from Your Campsite (Stay Safe!)

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Having a phobia of snakes is a common fear among people and some research suggests that it may even be an instinctive fear present at birth. Regardless of the reason, encountering a snake at your campsite is not a pleasant experience and can be intimidating, especially if you’re in an area where snakes are native.

While it’s not always possible to completely avoid snake encounters while camping, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of an encounter and to be prepared if one does occur.

One important thing to consider when it comes to snake prevention is the choice of campsite.

Where do rattlesnakes like to hide?

Snakes tend to prefer certain types of environments, and if you can avoid camping in these areas, you’ll be less likely to encounter snakes. For example, you should avoid camping next to rock piles or outcrops, as these can provide snakes with plenty of hiding spots.

Similarly, areas with heavy brush or deadfall should also be avoided, as these can also provide snakes with plenty of hiding places. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid camping directly next to water sources, as snakes often use these areas to hunt and to travel.

 

10 Do’s and Dont’s on how to keep rattlesnakes away:

  1. DO stay calm if you encounter a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes are more likely to bite if they feel threatened, so try to keep your distance and avoid making sudden movements.

  2. DO keep an eye out for rattlesnakes while hiking or camping, especially in areas where they are known to inhabit. Look for warning signs such as a rattle sound, a V-shaped indentation in the ground, or the shed skin of a rattlesnake.

  3. DO wear sturdy boots and long pants while hiking or camping in areas where rattlesnakes are present. This will help protect your feet and legs from a bite.

  4. DO be aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping. Avoid stepping on or near rocks, logs, or other objects that could be hiding places for rattlesnakes.

  5. DON’T try to handle a rattlesnake, even if it seems docile. These snakes are venomous and can be dangerous if not handled properly.

  6. DON’T try to capture or kill a rattlesnake. This can be dangerous and is generally not necessary.

  7. DON’T attempt to play with or tease a rattlesnake. These snakes are not toys and can be very dangerous if provoked.

  8. DON’T leave food or trash out in areas where rattlesnakes are known to inhabit. This can attract rodents, which are a food source for rattlesnakes.

  9. DON’T try to move a rattlesnake out of your way. If you encounter a rattlesnake on a hiking trail or campsite, give it plenty of space and allow it to move on its own.

  10. If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, DON’T try to treat the bite yourself. Seek medical attention immediately, as rattlesnake bites can be serious and require medical treatment.

 

 

So, what is the best type of campsite for avoiding snakes?

Generally speaking, an open area with short grass is your best bet. Snakes are secretive creatures and tend to avoid being out in the open, so if you can camp in an area with plenty of open space, you’ll be less likely to encounter them.

It’s also a good idea to choose a campsite that is well-lit at night, as this will make it easier to see any snakes that might be passing through. If your campsite allows it, lighting a fire can also be a good tactic to deter snakes, as well as rodents, which are attractive to snakes as a food source. Just be sure to handle firewood carefully, as it can be a prime hiding spot for snakes.

Another important aspect of snake prevention is food storage. While snakes don’t generally have much interest in human food, they do prey on smaller animals such as mice and birds, which are attracted to food scraps and trash.

How do you keep snakes away?

To prevent attracting snakes to your campsite, it’s important to store food and trash properly. This means sealing trash bags and disposing of them properly, being conscious of dropping crumbs and cleaning utensils thoroughly after use, and storing leftover food in airtight containers away from your tent. If possible, you should also store food in an elevated area, such as a tree branch, to further protect it from rodents. Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack away anything on the floor when you leave the campsite, such as picnic blankets and tarpaulin, as snakes can use these items as hiding places.

Even if you take steps to avoid snakes and prevent attracting them to your campsite, it’s still important to be prepared in case you do encounter one. If you do see a snake, the most important thing to do is to keep your distance and let it pass.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that most snakes are not aggressive and will only bite as a defense mechanism. If you give them plenty of space and allow them to move on, they’ll likely do so without incident. However, if you do come across a venomous snake, it’s especially important to keep your distance and avoid trying to handle it. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately.

To prepare for the possibility of a snake encounter, it’s a good idea to do regular checks of your tent and gear. Make sure there are no holes in your tent and that all zips are shut, as snakes can sometimes find their way inside through small openings. Additionally, inspect your gear and gear storage areas before use to make

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