Whether you are camping at a campsite or roughing it in the wild there are some essential do’s and don’ts for camping like a champ.
Do some research or as I like to say pre-search. Spend a little time deciding where you want to go and what you want to see or do. Are you going to spend all your time at the site or are you going to explore the area? Once you have decided on your area(s) determine what is near you for amenities. Are you going to need a grocery store, liquor store, laundromat, restaurants, shops, doggie daycare etc. Maybe you are hiking into the wild with your rations on your back either way see step 2.
Lists and more lists. Once you know what you want to do making a list or two is essential. Having things written down with directions, times and phone numbers can prevent a camping catastrophe. We often camp at an ocean side site in Maine that delivers a full lobster dinner to your tent. The only caveat is that you must place your order before 12:00 PM.
Keeping lists of gear and equipment. I like two lists here depending on what type of camping I am doing. I call this my essential gear list and my luxury gear list. If your trucking your stuff in to a site, you want to pack as light as possible. If you can drive up to your site, then you have a little more leeway as to what you can bring.
Choose the best tent for your trip. Best doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest or most expensive. Choose a tent size that fits your needs. Be careful not to go overboard; larger tents typically require more effort to put up and break down.
Smaller tents provide more flexibility for placement on a specific campsite than larger ones. Options for where to place the tent are good to have.
Consider the wind direction. Placing your tent downwind from your campfire could make for a smoky night’s sleep.
Double doors on a tent can be a real plus. If you’re using the fly, the vestibules can be used for gear storage. Less gear in the tent, more room for movement. Plus, the added storage that vestibules provide could allow you to choose a smaller tent to get the job done.
Your favorite shelter may be a hammock. Hammocks offer a unique option for solo campers and are versatile enough for a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Hammocks can also be effective in minimizing your footprint or where space is limited.
Your campfire. For me the best part of camping is the campfire (and the smores). You may need your fire for cooking or warmth or you may just like the ambiance. Whatever your desire building the perfect campfire isn’t always easy.
I cheat and always bring matches, a lighter and paper. Usually you can scrounge up kindling but depending on the weather it might be damp. So if you have the space you may want to pack a few pieces of small dry pine sticks. Pine lights easy and burns quick.
Know your woods and their burn rate. Lighter dry wood will burn faster and not as hot. Oak, apple, ash and other hardwoods will burn slow and hot. Cedar and pine are good for kindling.
Food: Plan a killer camping menu
Utilize shelf stable options when you can to save on valuable cooler space. You can use canned items and still win “top chef” at the campground.
Modify recipes, when possible, to allow for one pot preparation. No one likes clean up duty.
Be mindful of prep times for each meal. It’s wise to have meals that have a few quick steps for nights where fun trumped cooking and you find yourself back at camp later than expected.
Look for recipes that have actually been made in a camp setting. Campfire recipes have already been adapted to the rustic conditions that camp chefs have to work with.
Water is essential. Clean drinking water is essential for hydration, but water is probably the heaviest item to trek into your site. My favorite campsite in Maine has running water at each site even the tent sites. We bring a small filtration system to purify it for drinking (just in case).
Water bottles. Available in a variety of forms including squeeze bottles, travel mugs, and insulated stainless steel models.
Hydration bladders. This is the most versatile option for campers that plan to be on the trail during the day and in camp at night. Pressurized bladders also serve other purposes too.
Water bags. There are a ton of options for water bags, but the base design is the same for most. They can fit into a pack, be left on a picnic table, or hung from a tree branch. Water bags are not that expensive and are designed to withstand the elements.
Filtration, Treatment & Purification needs its own section. You may not need to filter your water but if you do here are a few tips.
Handheld pump filters. The longtime standard for camping and backpacking users, handheld pump filters are generally easy to use but do contain moving parts that can wear or break.
Gravity flow filters. Our filter of choice, gravity flow filters are dead simple to use and have no moving parts. These filters tend to be more expensive and can be tricky to use with small water sources.
Squeeze filters. The new kid on the block, squeeze filters are very mobile and contain no moving parts. These are best for individual use and not for groups.
Ultraviolet sterilizers. SteriPen made this method of sterilization famous. They’re easy to use but are battery powered. UV-C light rays are used to destroy 99.99% of protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.
Drops. Water treatment drops are literally a lifesaver in developing countries. They’re also useful for group camping because they are lightweight, easy to use, and can be used to treat large volumes of water.
Essential Gear for any campsite: Use these 7 essential tools
A folding military inspired shovel is great for moving coals, adjusting logs in the pit, and covering the smoldering fire with dirt when you leave
A collapsible bucket is a wonderful addition to your toolkit. They come in canvas, nylon and silicone. A bucket is essential for transporting water, using as a wash basin and pouring water on hot coals
A poker – a handy branch makes a good poker and who can resist making necessary “adjustments” to the fire all evening long.
Rocks make a great decorative surround for the standard issue rolled steel firepit ring. It can also be built as a buffer to keep inquisitive little ones away from the fire. The bonus – kids love to help gather the rocks!
A steel grate with 4-5 inch legs is a perfect tool. Place it inside the firepit ring directly over the coals. It can support a dutch oven or coffee pot and can even be used to sear steaks, burgers, hot dogs, toast and more.
Fire resistant gloves (I use a pair of Ove Gloves – an infomercial special!) come in handy when moving grates or cast iron.
Another handy item to have is a drawstring sack. You can use these to store food items up high away from wildlife.
Personally, I like to bring my own camping mug for coffee, soup, water and beer. I hate beer in a can. Quite often if it is a group camping trip or we are celebrating a birthday or anniversary I will have camping mugs made up for the occasion. It just adds a little extra fun to the trip. I have also made camp pillows, koozies, beach towels and picnic blankets.
Travel pillows are great because they are small enough to stuff in a corner or to use for padding but a comfortable addition to your sleeping bag.
You will know who left their towel on the tent floor if everyone has a signature beach/bath towel.
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