Many of you will head out into the great outdoors this weekend and you can have a great time if you only do a little planning. As an avid camper, I have experienced most all of the difficulties and joys that go along with tent camping. Once while camping at Pickwick State Park, the temperature overnight plummeted to 32 degrees and we weren’t prepared. It was May! We have endured cold, heat, rain, forgotten items, air mattresses with leaks, tents with leaks and the occasional rogue critter! None of this has ever deterred me from going back. Follow these tips below and you can have a very enjoyable camping experience:
First time campers:
You might want to rent or borrow your camping equipment instead of purchasing it at first. Although this is an affordable way to vacation, you will still need to make an initial investment in basic items. (see list below) Use this first trip and maybe a second to decide if tent camping is right for you then you can make this investment.
I find it painful to sit and watch those inexperienced, ill prepared campers. Inevitably, an argument will begin and everyone will want to chuck it in and go home. We once witnessed a young couple be attached in the middle of the night by a raccoon. Actually, he didn’t ATTACK them only their bags of potato chips. These inexperienced campers didn’t realize that food MUST be put away to avoid attracting critters!
Discuss your expectations with your family or friends before you go. Chances are your camping experience won’t be like “Survivor-Man” or the Sanford & Son camping trip but rather somewhere in the middle.
Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow campers for help. Of all things, we had an occasion to forget matches one weekend so we asked our “neighbors” if we could borrow some. Well, our “neighbors” just happened to be a Championship BBQ Cooking Team! We ate good! It pays to make some introductions and offer help if needed but at very least you need to give a wave or a friendly hello.
Visually walk through your weekend and make your list. For instance, once you arrive at the campsite and set up camp, you’ll be hungry so maybe some hot dogs or sandwich fixin’s for a quick snack. You might make coffee or fry bacon in a cast iron skillet then you will need a pot holder to protect your hand while removing it the vessel from the fire. If swimming going to be involved, you’ll need towels. You don’t need your laptop, your hairdryer or your entire library!
If it smells good, don’t use it! Lotions, crèmes, perfumes all smell wonderful but they also attract insects. Remember, you’re roughing it so there’s no need for vanity. At some point you will want to shower and most campgrounds have public showers so don’t forget shower sandals! A member of our family, who shall remain nameless, actually brought a hairdryer and an electric fan on a camping trip! Naturally, she didn’t use either but they took up valuable space.
Packing! This can be a challenge but some years back I found that using large storage containers works best. Most likely, you will need two. One for food and the other for miscellaneous items. You food bin will contain chips, bread, buns and any other food item that doesn’t need to be kept cold. I also have an inexpensive, plastic shoe box to keep my bread in so that it doesn’t get smashed! In the other bin you’ll put salt & pepper, cooking utensils, paper plates, etc. Lastly, I have a milk crate for packing my cast iron skillet and my coffee pot.
Prepare your food ahead of time. Marinate meats and cut up vegetables and put them into storage containers then into your cooler. The more prep work that you can do ahead of time, the easier your campsite cooking will be. Bring simple foods to cook instead of trying to make a seven course meal. Don’t forget to bring sanitizing wipes with you to avoid cross contamination.
“What do I cook on?” is the next question that you are probably asking yourself. Until a few years ago, we cooked on a “make shift” grill. We found an old grill that someone was throwing away and took the rack off of it and ran it through our dishwasher. Once we had a fire going, we moved coals over to our “cooking pit” arranged rocks to keep the rack level, the rack went on top and we had ourselves a grill. At some point we got a little more sophisticated and purchased a “picnic grill”. This was one of the best $20 purchases that I ever made! This “picnic grill” only has 4 pieces: the body of the grill that holds the coals for cooking, two metal “feet” that the grill sits on and the cooking rack. All of this disassemblies easily and fits in a “tote bag” which has storage room for cooking utensils. And to answer the question that is probably going through your mind right now, NO I don’t own a “camp stove”. I have never really needed or wanted one but that’s a personal choice.
We have a tool box that is designated for camping which includes a hammer, clothes line (you’ll want to hang up wet clothes and towels), flashlight, hatchet, gloves, utility matches, knife, air pump and extra batteries. If at all possible, avoid taking anything that needs special tools for assembly.
I utilize the campgrounds at state parks and I always encourage others to do the same. Rather public or private, some of the same rules apply to camping:
- QUIET TIME after 10PM.
- Be courteous to your fellow campers.
- Don’t cut don’t trees for firewood (gather dead limbs or bring your own firewood)
- Contain your fire in a pit either by digging out a trench or placing rocks around the area.
- Also, bring your own garbage bags and clean up after yourself!
- Above all, keep it simple!
You don’t need to haul the entire contents of your house out into the woods in order to have a pleasant camping experience. With each item that you pack remember to ask your self, how will I use this? Personally, I don’t take anything with me that doesn’t multitask. Below is a basic camping checklist (notice this list is nonspecific so feel free to improvise) but you’ll still want to “visually walk through” your weekend.
• Tent, bedding (old sheets and comforters from a thrift shop are great for this purpose) including an air mattress if you choose
• Stadium chairs
• Lantern, cooking vessels (including a coffee pot), cooking utensils and either a portable grill or camp stove for cooking.
• Food items including paper plates, paper towels and plastic cutlery. Don’t forget sanitizing wipes!
• Pack simple clothing and toiletries but don’t forget long pants and a long sleeve shirt incase the weather changes.
• Tool box as described above
For some this isn’t their “cup of tea” but for others it’s the only way to vacation! Next time you’re at a state park, look for me and my family and come on over