As autumn drags in her cooler nights and breezy days, optimal camping season is around the corner...
Camping provides opportunities to unplug a bit or travel for slightly lower costs. Whether you want to hike in with everything strapped to your back or have your car 20 feet from the tent, spending a couple nights closer to open air can refresh your mind, body, and spirit.
After the COVID-19 pandemic limited indoor socializing and regular travel, my partner and I decided to take on the great outdoors. We’ve gone on a handful of trips in the last year; the farthest was to West Virginia, where we got properly out of cell phone service and visited with long-distance friends. We even camped overnight between Thanksgiving visits with family because it was cheaper – and a bit more adventurous – than booking a hotel or homestay.
If ditching walls and mattresses in favor of stars and sleeping bags sounds good to you, there are a few things to know first. Here are some starting points from the outdoor experts, as well as a few suggestions of my own.
Preservation & Safety
Camping gives us ample opportunity to enjoy nature, and we have an obligation to help the places we visit thrive – mostly by leaving a little mark as possible. The National Park Service has seven principles of Leave No Trace to be familiar with. Stick to your campsite and established hiking trails, for your own safety and the sake of the local environment. Look into seasonal weather and animal patterns so you can pack the right gear or be on the lookout for critters nearby. Perhaps most important is to listen the local experts; they’ll have guidance based on experience with the land you’re visiting.
Around the campsite, fire safety and food safety are the main categories. Using local wood for fires is best, whether it’s bought or gathered, because non-native materials can carry damaging pests or diseases. Other campfire safety basics include:
• Be aware of any local warnings about extra dry weather, which can make it easier for fires to get out of hand.
• Always keep an eye on the fire, as well as any kids or pets who are in its vicinity.
• Have materials on hand to put out the fire, and extinguish it at night.
For additional information about campfires, check out these links:
Food safety is also critical, and there are several approaches depending on your campsite. You’re trying to avoid animals being interested in yummy smells near your site, especially the tent, while you’re asleep. When possible, prepare food away from the tent, and don’t bring food inside it. It’s common practice to lock food, garbage, and packaging in the car overnight, but check local recommendations before you rely on that strategy; in some areas, bears or raccoons have learned to break into vehicles for a snack. There are dedicated storage containers you can invest in, or you can hang your food. Especially if you’re hiking out to a site, know your options ahead of time.
For more campsite food safety and tips, check out these links:
Planning ahead is crucial to a happy, comfortable camping trip. You’ll save money because you have better campsite choices. You can find nearby hikes to go on or attractions to visit. If you’re traveling with loved ones, coordinate so everyone knows what to bring; a forgotten cutting board or pillow is much tougher when camping than on a less rustic trip.
The one part of camping that can be especially tough on the wallet is equipment. Buying new gear adds up quickly, especially because you want it to survive some elements. Luckily, there are alternatives to such a big investment: rent, borrow, or buy used.
Richland Library’s Library of Things recently added a 4-person tent, which includes everything you need to set it up and a hanging lantern. Search on Facebook Marketplace or other resale platforms for used equipment. Or maybe reach out to that one outdoorsy friend. You can always decide to invest later in your own equipment, but starting cheap and simple is the way to go until you know camping is something you enjoy.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from my own camping trips:
• Create a customized packing list. Start from a premade list, then add or adjust to reflect specific items in your household. Pack from it or check it before each trip.
• Make sure you know the bathroom and water situation for your campsite. If you need to bring in your own potable water or toilet paper, you definitely want to know ahead of time.
• Remember that this trip is yours. You can focus on disconnection and simplicity, or pack plenty of creature comforts. Whether it’s a good old-fashioned book or Netflix downloads to your phone, lean into whatever brings you joy.
Want some extra guidance or inspiration? Check out these items: