I’ve had a lot of bad camping trips in my past. There was the time I set up my tent on an ant hill. The time I fell into a creek fully clothed (ugh, wet denim). The time I peed all over my shorts because I wasn’t positioned right. The time it snowed two feet while I was sleeping with nothing but an air mattress and thin blanket. I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve made pretty much all the mistakes there is to make while camping — and these horror stories were all valuable learning experiences.
The good news for hapless campers like myself is that there are a lot of ways to turn those camping frowns upside down. It all has to do with proper preparation. Things to consider include:
Keeping Cool/Keeping Warm
Camping in the heat of the summer can be uncomfortable sometimes. That’s why it’s important to choose a shady spot to set up camp. Create even more shade by using canopies covered by reflective tarps. This will work to reflect the sun away from your camp and cut down on the heat. It’s also a good idea to pitch your tent in the direction of the wind and keep your windows open (but the mesh closed). This will ensure that the wind blows right through your tent and heat doesn’t accumulate inside.
On the flip side, even during the hottest part of summer, the wilderness can get pretty cold at night. Always buy sleeping bags rated for the coldest temperature you’ll encounter. Add warmth to your sleeping bag with a liner or by filling any pockets between your body and the bag with extra clothing. Make sure to pack a blanket, beanie, socks, and long underwear to keep yourself warm at night.
While sleeping under the stars surrounded by the sounds of nature may seem heavenly, the cold, hard truth is that nature may be much louder and more uncomfortable than you expected. Getting a good night’s sleep while camping can be elusive, so you’ll need to set yourself up right for the best chance of success.
When setting up your tent, look for a spot with few rocks. If at all possible, softer ground like grass or pine needles will make for a better-cushioned sleeping area. Bring multiple waterproof tarps — one to be used as a footprint under your tent, one to be thrown over the top of it, and one to be made into a canopy. This will ensure you stay dry.
It’s important to note that not all sleeping bags are created equal. Look for a highly rated sleeping bag with mummy shape and snug fit to hold in body heat. Pads, pillows, and cots can help make things far more comfortable. However, I suggest avoiding air mattresses as they puncture easily and are a pain to set up.
Finally, you may want to consider bringing along earplugs or a white noise app for your phone to block out noise. Trees, water, critters, and noisy campers can make it hard to fall and stay asleep.
The savviest of camp chefs know that the easiest way to cook in the great outdoors is to prepare as much in advance as possible. Make sides such as salads and soups ahead of time and pack them in. Ingredients for your entrées (veggies, spices, etc.) will be much easier to handle if they were chopped, diced, and measured at home.
Modify your recipes to allow for one-pot preparation — better yet, seek out recipes designed for a camp setting. Pack cooking utensils that can meet a variety of uses as well as a dutch oven to make those one-pot meals easier to manage. Don’t forget a bucket (with a lid) for washing dishes afterward.
Bring lots of shelf-stable food options to save on valuable cooler space. Speaking of your cooler, load it with a block of ice, followed by your food and drinks, and then fill the remaining space with cube ice. This will help keep your food cold for the entire trip.
Beasties & Bugs
There’s a lot of fun to be had camping, but there are also insects and critters to contend with. If you don’t prepare to deal with them properly, your camping trip could be completely ruined.
Mosquitoes, flies, and other bugs are drawn to wet environments. Avoid camping near wet grassy lawns, meadow areas, or standing water. You can also ward off bites by:
- Refraining from the use of hygiene products that have a perfume. Bugs are attracted to smelly things like scented lotions and deodorants.
- Keep your camp clean — wash dishes immediately after cooking, wipe down the table after each meal, and properly store both food and trash.
- There are a lot of smells that repel insects. A lavender spray should keep the bugs from biting and sage thrown into the campfire can help keep them away for awhile. You can even make your own citronella candles to place around the camp!
Raccoons and bears are other nuisances to consider when camping. Before setting up, make sure there are trees nearby where you can hang your cooler, backpack, and garbage bags. To keep critters from spoiling your good time:
- Wash all cooking supplies immediately after use.
- Never leave any food unattended — not even for a moment.
- The scent of food can linger, so to be safe, never eat anything inside your tent
- All food, clothing, trash, toothpaste, etc. should be kept packed away when not in use.
- Don’t leave any supplies out at night — even if they don’t contain food.
- Store food in a locking cooler wrapped in rope. Using a tree at least 200 ft from your tent, hang the cooler 20 feet or more off the ground.
- Double-bag your trash in odor-proof containers and hang the bags as high as your cooler.
If an animal does come to your camp, you’ll need to protect yourself. Keep a heavy-duty flashlight with you at all times. A bright flash of light and loud noises can spook off some animals. Research how to defend yourself in case of bear aggression or attack before camping in areas where they are present.
Doing Your Business
There’s no polite way to talk about it — pooping and peeing in the woods is a freaking hassle. You have to find a position that keeps you from splashing yourself, you have to bury your mess after going, and there are even some places that require you to pack out toilet paper and solid waste. I’m no expert on the process (I always camp close enough to a town where I can use public restrooms), so I recommend checking out Wikihow’s guide on how to go to the bathroom in the woods.
If you’re properly prepared for anything unexpected that might crop up during a camping trip, you’ll be amazed at just how fun the process can be. After all, there’s nothing as wonderful as the fresh air, amazing views, and closeness to nature that camping can offer. So get out there and get camping.
Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Have you been camping? Did you learn anything helpful from the experience?
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