Camping is a favorite pastime for many American families. It's a great way to see the country, the wildlife, and all the natural resources from coast to coast. Camping can bring you and your family right up close and personal to nature at its best—and sometimes its worst, such as when you find yourself huddling inside a leaky tent during a thunderstorm. There's nothing quite like the thrill of a hike through a serene forest or up a mountainside, and food cooked over an open campfire somehow tastes ten times better than anything else you've ever tried, especially after a long day of roughing it in the great outdoors. No doubt about it, camping is a blast.
Whether you're camping far away or just in the backyard, the following guidelines can help you prepare for the adventure.
The first essential camping decision you need to make is to decide what type of shelter you're going to use. This decision will determine what sort of trip you plan, what sort of things you bring along, and how you pack. Most shelters involve some form of the following:
A tent is the most affordable shelter. You can buy or borrow a tent that sleeps one, or a tent that sleeps fifty (almost). Today's tents are easier to set up than ever before (just be sure you waterproof yours before you set out).
- Pop-up Trailer
These are essentially tents on wheels. Pop-ups literally pop up, with a hard top and bottom and tentlike sides that expand out. Pop-ups typically include built-in beds, tables, stove, and refrigerator, and are pulled along by another vehicle.
- Camper or Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
The cream of the crop, RVs feature all the comforts of home and can be pulled or driven. RVs are the most expensive modes of camping.
If your camping involves backpacking, you'll deal with a completely different set of essentials—you'll be carrying everything necessary to make your camping trip enjoyable on your own back. Needless to say, this involves carefully thinking out what you need and how heavy it is.
When you've determined what type of shelter you're going to use, you can research what sort of camping facilities are available near your trip destinations. Your choice of shelter also determines what you need to bring along, such as cooking utensils and toiletries.
Many people can't get past the idea of spending the night outside with only a thin piece of tent fabric protecting them from all manner of wildlife. Whatever creatures lurk around the perimeters of your campsite, just remember, they are more afraid of you than you are of them—and they were there first, so give them the right of way.
You probably need a sleeping bag—unless you're camping in style with foldout beds, in which case sheets and a pillow is all it takes. Otherwise, depending on the time of year, sleeping gear may involve temperature ratings. For example, a sleeping bag may be rated to keep you warm down to 32 degrees outside. Look for a rating appropriate to where you're going and the temperature you can expect at night.
If sleeping on the ground, even inside the confines of a tent, makes you uncomfortable, there are a few tricks you can try:
- A cot makes a handy raised bed, and you can fold it back up when it's not in use.
- A blow-up air mattress can be comfortable, but it requires a pump (or an incredibly strong set of lungs).
- A lounge-type lawn chair is perfect for sleeping out under the stars, if you don't mind the metal bar poking your back in the full recline position. Sleeping bag padding will help take care of that.
At some point during your camping trip, you're going to need food. How much and what type depends on the type of trip. For example, if you plan to camp at a national forest out in the middle of nowhere for an entire week, you need to bring a week's worth of food. If you plan on visiting several places, you can stop and shop as needed. Here are a few tips to consider:
- A cooler is a good way to store meats and other foods that need cold storage if you're camping without a refrigerator, but also remember to make regular stops for ice to keep things cool. Keep perishables to a minimum.
- If you're really roughing it out in the woods and bears are around, be sure to follow park guidelines for storing food away from the tent or camper, and preferably high in a tree. Animals have very keen noses and can smell food from a long way off.
Every good camper knows that littering is bad. You always take out what you bring in to any campsite, including every piece of trash. Bring garbage bags with you to help tote trash out of the camp.
- If you plan on cooking your meals, you're going to need some form of fuel, whether it's sticks and logs or charcoal and a grill. Pack accordingly, and don't forget the matches.
- Don't forget to bring items, such as a pot or pan, to cook in, along with a few utensils. You'll need a potholder, too. Cooking will involve cleaning, so bring some dish towels, detergent, dishpan, and such.
- Along with food, you will need water or other beverages. Don't assume you can just drink out of any old creek these days. You need to find a safe water supply or bring your own. Most campsites offer some type of water source, but be sure to investigate this during the planning phase.
If you plan out everything in advance, even menu items, you'll know exactly what ingredients to bring (like salt and pepper) and which dishes (cups, plates, utensils) to pack.
First aid is truly essential for helping you cope with any camping accidents, including cuts and blisters or more serious injuries such as snakebites. A good first-aid kit is a great investment for any trip, especially camping.
Also pack aspirin, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and other essentials for making your stay bearable.
Everything else you bring along for the trip should be planned around your activities (such as fishing or hiking), the weather you will encounter (rain or cold), and the everyday items you need (such as toothpaste and toothbrush). As any good traveler will tell you, packing light is best. Over-packing is a useless endeavor for camping. Just stick with the basics you need, such as clothing and a few hygiene products, and you'll be fine. After all, you're camping, not moving in.