Two people laughing and sitting on a bench with a backpack nearby

Back-to-school prep: campus survival secrets to know

Semester one. It’s just around the corner. Maybe it’s your first school semester ever, or maybe you’re delving into second or fourth year of university or college. Wherever you’re at, one thing’s for sure: school can be tough, so take all the help you can get.

While we might not be able to help you prevent dreaded loops of procrastination, we have some campus survival secrets to make the back-to-school transition just a bit smoother.

1. Invest in a new best friend…

…and by best friend, we mean backpack. A good bag or backpack will carry pretty much whatever you need effortlessly and won’t make your back feel like it’s been trampled by elephants. Got a laptop or tablet? Most solid urban packs feature protected sleeves for electronics.

Other things to look for? Some packs features outer straps or pockets for wet jackets or workout clothes (so you don’t stink up the joint), and other bags are designed to withstand horrific bouts of weather. A well-made pack will last you for years and years, so think of it as an investment in your sidekick/inanimate best friend.

Backpack with waterbottle in the side

The MEC Process Bookbag has a fleece-lined padded section for your laptop or tablet. It’s designed for school (though it won’t implode if you take it on a hike).

2. Create an essentials kit

Whatever the reason, some mornings might be a little rough. And – trust us on this one – there’s nothing worse than trudging into a lecture hall at 9am feeling like a crumpled, unwashed mess.

So, pick a dedicated pocket in your pack to carry a few essentials – a stick of deodorant, tooth brush, an extra layer, or a change of socks. Or go pro and invest in a small essentials travel pouch pack filled with whatever you think is best. You’ll be thankful to have it when you need it most, and it’ll come in handy when you head out on your first big backpacking trip.

3. Take up rock climbing…

A large majority of climbers start climbing while in post-secondary, and for good reason: it’s affordable (look for student deals), it’s social, most colleges and universities feature climbing gyms, and it’s a great workout. Wondering where to begin? The – er – highly informational video below should help get you started. We’ve also got a lock on the climbing essentials you’ll need, along with helpful articles for beginners:

New to climbing? MEC offers a 10% off climbing package when you buy a harness and rock shoes to help you get set up – see the climbing special offer details. Also check out in-store rock climbing clinics to understand the basics and learn the lingo.

4. …or any other activity.

If climbing isn’t your bag, then there are about 14,509 other activities you can try. Check out your school’s club days for external motivation and creative ideas. Not into the club thing? Chuck a disc around with friends, try out slacklining, find pockets of nature to explore on campus, or go for a run (MEC running events are a great deal and give you a goal to work toward). Moving your body is a better study break than a 6-hour Netflix binge, and it helps relieve stress like nothing else – don’t neglect it.

5. Stay hydrated

MEC water bottle with stickers

Relying on Americanos and highly caffeinated teas is tempting, but it’ll only get you so far. Staying hydrated does wonders to keep you feeling tip-top through hectic class schedules and marathon-worthy library sessions. The solution? Get yourself a water bottle and carry it with you everywhere. After purchasing said water bottle, immediately customize it by plastering it with an enormous range of stickers of your choice.

6. Bring snacks

Fire a few protein bars or energy gummies into your backpack. You’ll be glad to have some food to munch on during late afternoon lectures. Plus, some sport gummies feature a touch of caffeine to keep you fuelled through late night library sessions. Some staff go-tos? The Probar Chocolate Coconut Bar and Clif Cran-Razz Shot Bloks.

7. Wear good shoes

Blundstone boots with water drops on them

Blame it on your extremely diverse class schedule or the often perplexing layouts of most post-secondary institutions, but one thing’s for sure: you’ll be walking, a lot. Ditch the flimsy flip-flops for a good pair of shoes or boots with cushy midsoles and solid support.

8. Locate prime nap spots

Whether it’s from pulling an all-nighter, celebrating the completion of an all-nighter, or just making use of a long break between classes, a midday nap is hard to beat. Keep your eyes peeled for comfy couches in out of the way corridors or hidden corners of the library. Once you’ve located your new favorite nap spot(s), be sure to never tell anyone.

Bonus survival secret for coffee fanatics

Person holding a pale blue coffee mug

If there’s one truly horrible thing that can happen to anyone fueled by coffee, it’s heading to the library on the weekend and discovering that no coffee shops are open.

The solution? Create a compact coffee kit consisting of: a to-go mug; a super compact coffee system (for example, the Aeropress); and a little baggie of ground beans. For some portable barista inspiration, check out our coffee addict’s guide to camp coffee.

Originally published July 2016. Updated in 2019. Top photo: Vancouver Institute of Media Arts.

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Jonathan Johnson

Writer, coffee addict and spandex expert. Tirelessly seeking the perfect writing/riding playlist.