Every year when the sun finally starts to shine (for more than a day in the Pacific NW) and I feel summer finally coming on, I start to hear my tent calling. Tyra…. Load up lets go… I love to go camping! Summer is camping, hiking, swimming, and road trips! But I’ve learned it’s one of those you hate it or love kinda things. I’ll admit camping is definitely an acquired taste, or talent really. Why? Lifestyle! Camping is a 180 from today’s living with all its ease and convenience. For some it’s a challenge for others a chore. If you’re one of those who’s not sold on the virtues of camping (especially with your family) allow me to enlighten you.
For starters, camping is just plain good old fashioned FUN! Getting dirty, exploring nature, getting away from the hustle and bustle of our work-a-day lives. Yes it’s a lot more work than a hotel, but it’s therapeutic! There is something liberating when you drive into the great outdoors, embrace it and leave the cell signal at home and live in the moment, appreciating what you have and who you are with.
Camping is a great way to practice disaster preparedness. A disaster is really an opportunity for an outdoor adventure. Every skill and piece of equipment is designed to meet your basic needs, the very needs that you would be focused on in a post disaster environment. Now is really the best time to learn and collect these. Camping teaches survival skills, and expectations for your child to rely on in a disaster. It prepares them for the physical demands of work and rough living conditions. These experiences test and build endurance- physically and mentally. Your kids will learn what they are capable of handling and doing, it teaches how to deal with stress and frustration. It may not seem like it, but your practicing experiences will give you all something to laugh about in a disaster. Memories of flooded tents, burnt food, exhaustion and frustration will be comforting when you have mastered it. Camping can strengthen family bonds – which will be needed throughout the disaster recovery process.
Getting On the Trail
Ok, so after the lifestyle shock, it’s the getting everything together and getting started part that usually has people turning away before they really ever get started.
Yes camping equipment can be pricey especially if you’re starting form scratch. But there are ways to off set the cost or at least try it before forking out money on more stuff to crowd your garage. Most campers are more than willing to loan their stuff out to friends and family (on good faith that you’ll take care of it), so just ask around. Once you’re committed to mastering the camping skill start with the basics.
- Tent – always read the guides, look for ease of set up, size (how many it sleeps somewhat comfortably), and material. Costs vary widely just know that you get what you paid for. A cheap tent is just that, a cheap tent, and it won’t last long. However, remember that you can upgrade to the nicer stuff as you get more comfortable with camping and have saved up a bit more. So weigh the pros and cons.
- Tarp – big enough for the bottom of your tent, this is what you will set your tent up on.
- Sleeping bags – this depends on where you’ll be camping most and when. Bags are rated by the degree they can keep you warm and toasty at. So if you get a 45* bag at about 42* you’re gonna be feeling the chill seep in. As a general rule go for at least 30*. The type of bag does matter though. Rectangles will give you more feet room, but more air to keep warm so you’ll get cold feet faster. Mummy (tapered) bags keep that from happening. If you want to get kids bags go for it, just remember it means they’ll grow out of their bags and you’ll have to get new ones. An adult bag will work fine for the entire household. Remember that if you buy 2 of the same make and model you can usually zip them together and make a two person sleeping bag, which means you can wake up your spouse with your freezing toes just like you do at home.
- Chuck box – your kitchen tools, usually used, tablecloth, and paper goods. (Future post on its way)
- Tender, kindling, and fire starters
- Cash for fire wood -ALWAYS buy from where you burn
- Camp chairs – if you have kids, get the kid sized ones since they always seem to fall in the bigger ones and you don’t want this close to a fire
- Hot dog sticks
- Bug repellent (natural or chemical whatever you fancy)
- Propane Stove – yeah you can do the campfire hot dogs and smores but anything longer than a 2 meals and you’ll want the stove. I think I like mine better than the one in my house (besides its camo!). There are 2 kinds – ultra light and pop up. Both do the job, just consider 2 burners to one and the size of pots you’ll be using.
- Cooler and ice
As you get into the swing of things you’ll find things that you need (keep a notebook for all those “Oh I wish I had..” moments). Use your experiences to tailor your camping equipment to your families needs. You’ll find your equipment stash grows as your experience grows. As you get more comfortable with camping do your research on the equipment that you want to upgrade. Look for sales which usually happen in the fall and around Christmas. Also check eBay, Craigslist, and garage sales for some great deals. Build your stock pile slowly and it will relieve the shock. Besides after living without something or experiencing a mishap with the “cheap” version the price will make more sense as its value will be appreciated.
Trust me when I say camping with kids takes practice (for parents and the kids). There are lots of great resources for beginner camping. Ask your avid camping friends or family to come with you. Having a seasoned veteran show you the ropes will get you a lot more confidence and make your first experience much more positive rather than a floundering attempt and a night of utter frustration. Another way is to participate in your state parks camping programs. These intro to camping programs are sweeping the nation and are extremely affordable. They are ranger lead camping trips; it includes borrowed camping equipment and a complete guide for everything from setting up your tent, to cooking and fun. Being geared towards families with children, you’re guaranteed a great time.
Once on your own I recommend starting with a camping trip in your backyard or somewhere close to home. It may take a few tries just to make it through the night, and figure out what you’ll need without forgetting something. Work your way up to longer trips further from home, adding gear and skills as you go. Remember its normal for lots of “can we go home”s. Stick to your guns and finish it out. It’s best to push your limits by your own choice now than have your limits over-pushed for you later.
Aim for Success
Make it a big deal. Half the fun is the anticipation. Research camp grounds, national or state parks, and scenic routes for places to go camping. Pick your locations as a family and create a camping bucket list of places to go and things to see. Plan your routes, meals, and activities together. This will sustain you during the non-camping season.
Find ways to make it fun. Use tradition, such as, special food that only comes out for camping, star gazing, stories by the camp fire, and games. Be sure to plan activites, whether nature inspired crafting, hiking, exploring and learning with field guides or a few card games. Check out the local junior ranger programs at state and national parks for more fun and incentives. Our family has the “super trooper” award; a special treat for completing a hike without daddy carrying them (based on age and distance or difficulty of the hike) and the amount of complaining (or lack thereof). We also have a special fish dinner cooked on the fire. And always bring a good read aloud book and your camera.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Planning is the best prevention and your ticket to a successful camping trip. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years:
- Always keep a list of gear to back, check it like Santa’s list every time you’re gearing up.
- Keep you’re gear in good repair. Plan your meals and always have a cold meal back up for if you can’t light a fire.
- Read all signs, follow all rules, and heed all warnings!
- Know your camp site. Does it have showers (national parks DON’T), what kind of toilets are there, does it have potable water, or picnic tables?
- Make sure you have reservations, or get there REALLY early for first come first serve sites. Be sure to pick one close to the bathrooms and away from rivers, roads, and beaches.
- Always grab more than one map of the campsite and the area, because something will always happen to the first one.
- Check the weather but pack for both warm and cold weather.
- There will always be surprises!
With that being said, I’m going to go hug my tent!
Camping Checklist downloadable file
Want to give it a try check out these sites for more encouragement:
http://camping.about.com/c/ec/1.htm – 5 lessons on camping for beginners