Camping is a popular activity for families, road trippers, hunters, and for those who just want to get away and get back to nature. Camping can be very simple or very elaborate. If you have never been camping before you can get the necessary equipment without breaking the bank. When most people think about camping they have images of sitting around a campfire, talking, toasting marshmallows, and perhaps indulging in some liquid libations. You should also be prepared for mishaps, weather changes, and other such disturbances.
Why Go Camping
Why go camping rather than just pay for a motel room? There are many reasons to go camping and here are a few:
- You can experience nature more firsthand. Rather than driving to some scenic or interesting spot you can be IN that spot.
- It is a fun group or family activity. You can hike, enjoy a place, cook, and do a variety of activities together.
- Camping can be more affordable than hotels or motels when on a road trip. A cheap motel might cost around $70 or more and camping may be free or much less expensive.
Camping Rules of Respect
When camping remember that you are guest in someone else’s home. Be respectful and act as you would want a guest to act in your home. Respect the place and the inhabitants including the animals (with the exception of flies and mosquitoes). Here are some respectful camping rules.
- Take only photos and leave only footprints
- Be respectful to the place, other campers, and animals
- Try to leave the area better than how you found it
- Tread lightly — be especially careful of fragile areas
- If you are supposed to stay on a path or walkway then respect that
- Get advice and listen to the rangers or authority figures
- Be prepared and have hiking and emergency kits
- Remember that this is Nature and not Disneyland — Nature does not care if you get hurt
- We are guests in the home of the residents (animals, etc.)
So many times I see people leaving trash, throwing rocks at the animals, trampling delicate areas, antagonizing animals, and being disrespectful of others. Don’t do this. Respect is a funny thing. In general, the more you give the more you get back.
Types of Camping
There are many different types of camping including:
- Destination Camping: Stay at a location for one or more nights
- Road Trip Camping: Camp in one or more locations on the way to a final destination
- Backpacking for one or more nights with what you can carry
- Local Camping when you want to stay outdoors but still be close to home
- Glamping, or glamorous camping, that includes many of the comforts of home
Camping does require some planning. Will you bring all of your provisions or will you resupply along the way? Are you going to pre-planned locations or finding locations as you go? Will campgrounds be full or require reservations? When planning a camping trip you have a number of resources available including books, Internet, rangers, etc.
Types of Campgrounds
Campgrounds range from unspoiled wilderness with no services to full service campgrounds with electrical hookups, showers, stores, etc. Have appropriate provisions for the style of camping that you are doing.
- Backcountry camping has no facilities or amenities and is often in clearing off of a trail
- Rough campgrounds have basic facilities such as outhouses and marked campsites
- Groomed campgrounds have nicer facilities and many have showers, flush toilets, picnic tables, etc.
- Park campgrounds are parking areas with car stalls and manicured spaces for tents
Many campgrounds have amphitheaters and offer movies, nature videos, or nature talks. Take advantage of these programs because they are often very informative and fun.
It used to be that you could just drive to an area and find a place to camp. You can still do that but you have to be aware that holidays and weekends can make impromptu camping more challenging. Be sure to check if the campgrounds are open. I once was road tripping through Idaho and planned to stay one of the State Parks. Well, that park was closed and scheduled to open the next weekend. I got lucky and found a camping spot next to a lake nearby. Even if you don’t reserve a campsite you should have an idea of possible camping locations.
- During peak season campgrounds can be full and many require reservations
- Finding campgrounds space in peak summer months, weekends, and holidays can be especially difficult
- Some campground require reservations especially in National Parks
- Be sure to have the necessary supplies when camping
- Bring cash in various denominations to make paying easier
- Bring maps that show campgrounds
- Setup and inspect your equipment before you go
- If you are using new equipment set it up multiple times before you go
Note that some maps show campground locations but when you get there you may not be able to find the campground. Many times I have seen the little tent symbol on the map, gone to the location, and found nothing. Do a little homework first. Make a list of possible campgrounds before you travel. It often takes longer than anticipated to get to a location. Frantically looking for a camping site at the end of the day, or in the dark, is not the most pleasurable experience.
A personal note here. Be sure that you setup your equipment before you go. Inspect your tent sleeping bags, pads, stove, fuel canisters, etc. This is especially true if you are using a new tent. If you are using a new tent for the first time you could get really frustrated and provide entertainment for those around you. On one road trip some friends bought a new tent and were trying to set it up at dusk. My son and I casually setup our tent, pads, and bags in seven minutes from the time we opened the car trunk until finished. It took this long because we were purposely going slow because our friends’ plight was so entertaining. They finally got their tent pitched but it took them a LONG time. Some tents are trickier than others so learn how to pitch them in the comfort of your yard.
What Will You Need
Before starting a camping trip you will need some basics. Camping can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Some people simply drive to a camping spot, pitch a tent, sleep, pack in the morning, and leave. Others want to cook, stay for longer periods of time, do day hiking, etc. Here are basics that you need for camping.
- Tent: Make sure to have enough space
- Sleeping bag or blankets to keep you warm at night
- Sleeping pad, cot, or air mattress for comfort and to insulate you from the ground
- Light such as a flashlight, headlamp, or lantern
If you are cooking you will also need some basic food preparation and service items including:
- Stove for cooking and sufficient fuel
- Cookware for preparing your meals
- Service Items including plates, bowls, cups, utensils, etc.
- Cleaning Items including soap, scrubbing pads, etc.
- Food to prepare and be sure to protect food from scavengers
While your list of supplies can vary greatly here is a basic Camping Checklist. Optional items include folding chairs, picnic blanket or mat, fishing poles, and entertainment items such as playing cards, Frisbees, kites, etc.
There are a number of good tents available in a variety of styles. You have dome tents that are very easy to setup, free standing, and effective. Cabin style tents with more vertical walls and higher ceilings. Backpacking tents are lighter and more compact. Most dome tents are double wall where the tent itself is constructed with a large amount of mesh material and the rain cover provides protection against wind and weather. The double wall construction makes the tent less susceptible to moisture. Some basic tent considerations include:
- Many tents including many dome-style tents are free-standing
- Some tents require guy ropes that are staked to the ground
- Tent capacity ratings indicate the number of persons who will fit inside (no extra room)
- Most tents are 3-season and will protect from normal weather conditions
- 4-season tents will protect against more extreme weather
- Always include a pole splint with your tent
- Seam seal and treat your tent with water repellent
- Inspect tent and patch or sew holes and tears and inspect zippers
Sleeping bags keep you warm in the cold. Choose your sleeping bag carefully and choose the proper bag style, temperature rating, fill material, and size.
Bag Style: There are two major types of sleeping bags, namely, rectangular and mummy. The rectangular bags have more room but are typically larger and heavier. If you want to create a double sleeping bag then purchase two of the same rectangular bags and zip them together. Some have flannel inside that is very comfortable. Mummy bags are smaller and lighter since they have less material. There are a number of factors to consider when selecting a sleeping bag including:
Fill Material: is the material used to retain body heat. Down is lighter, smaller, and more expense. Synthetic filler is heavier, takes more space, and is less expensive. Down bags will NOT retain heat if they get wet. Synthetic bags will retain up to 80% of their warmth even when wet. Backpackers often choose down because the bags are smaller and lighter.
Temperature Rating: Bags generally include a temperature rating. This rating is the lowest recommended temperature at which to use the bag. This is NOT a comfort rating. If a bag is rated at 20° then you will probably NOT be comfortable at 20°. A 20° bag will probably be comfortable at about 27° and higher. If you sleep warm or cold then factor this into your bag temperature rating. Also note that women’s sleeping bags will generally be about 8° warmer than a universal bag. Women’s bags will also be constructed differently and are normally wider in the mid section and more narrow in the shoulders. The temperature ratings often assume that you will be sleeping on a 1″ insulated pad and wear a base layer of clothing.
Size: Sleeping bag have different dimensions. Many bags come in regular or long versions. The long versions are normally a bit wider in the shoulders. If you have large shoulder be sure to test the sleeping bag before purchasing it. If you are a sound sleeper then you may be OK with a tighter bag. If you toss and turn you will probably need a bag with a little more room.
Zipper Type: Rectangular bags zip completely open. Mummy bags typically have a single zipper that extends most of the way down one side of the bag. Some mummy bags have a zipper that extends the entire length of the bag and across the foot box (bottom of the bag). Some have a shorter zipper on the opposite side of the bag.
Hood: Most mummy bags have a hood that can wrap around your head for added warmth. This hood can be closed for a tighter fit and to retain more heat.
Bag Liner: If your sleeping bag is not warm enough then you have a few options to make it warmer. An insulated sleeping pad adds warmth and warmer base layers can add about 15° of warmth (or more). A sleeping bag liner can also add up to about 25° of warmth. A bag liner fits into a sleeping bag and usually feels like fleece or microfiber sheets. With a bag liner you can create a sleeping system. For very warm nights you could sleep in the liner alone. For normal nights you could use the sleeping bag. For cold nights you could use the sleeping bag with bag liner. Bikers could use a lighter and smaller main sleeping bag with bag liner to create a less bulky sleeping solution.
Keep Bag Dry: Protect the sleeping bag in a tent, bivy, or using a tarp. Sleeping bags are much more effective when dry. Dew or moisture will reduce the effectiveness of the bag. This is critical if you have a down bag. If you are sleeping without a tent then put something over your bag to keep it dry.
Heat travels from the warm body to the cold body. This means that when sleeping on the cold ground the heat moves from you into the ground. A sleeping pad can help block some of this heat transfer and provide more comfort. Choosing a sleeping pad is often more difficult than choosing a sleeping bag. With sleeping pads you must compromise between comfort, size, weight, R-value (insulation value), and cost.
Alternatives to sleeping pads include cots, portable cots, and hammocks. If you choose a cot then be sure it fits properly. Cots with top and bottom bars may not be practical for taller users.
Storing Sleeping Bags/Pads
The insulating material in sleeping bags and pad can lose its loft and insulating value if compressed for long periods of time. When storing your sleeping bag and pad I highly recommend storing them uncompressed. I store mine under my bed and then I compress them only when I am going to use them. You can also hang them up in a closet, store the sleeping big in a large pillow case or laundry bag, etc. Be sure to NOT compress them for extended periods of time.
Cooking and Stoves
If you plan to cook you have a wide variety of cooking and food options including:
- Barbeque with either charcoal or propane
- Camp Fire can be used for cooking
- Camp Stove that uses either propane, butane, or gas
- Backpacking Stove for smaller cooking
- Dutch Oven used directly in a campfire
Stoves can be powered by propane, ISO propane, butane, white gas, charcoal, or biomass. Propane is the most readily available fuel.
Some miscellaneous camping items include:
- Bear Spray if you are hiking or camping in bear country
- Insect Repellent to protect you against bites and disease
- Sunscreen to protect you against sunburn
- A Hat with wide brim to protect against sun
- First Aid Kit in case of cuts or injuries
- Whistle to be used for signaling when on the trail
Above all, be prepared, stay safe, stay hydrated, and enjoy nature.