An Outdoor Guide for the Camping Curious
By Meg Williams
For those of you whose last camping experience included shivering in a damp canvas tent with ten other Girl Scouts, wondering if you could hold it 'til morning because Jenny swore she saw a bear on her way back from the ditch your counselors passed off as a toilet, well, I can totally understand why you haven't been camping since. But sometimes all it takes to change your mind about something is to try it with someone who's good at it. Someone who knows how to pick a good spot to pitch a tent, build a fire, and feed you at the end of a long day hiking and playing in the sun. Trust me, having someone to help you figure out stuff when you're a newbie makes all the difference, giving you the peace of mind to just relax and enjoy the whole nature thing. And then when you're sitting back, your muscles tired from all that exercise, waiting while your marshmallows toast, you just might think, "I actually LOVE this."
For those of you willing to test the waters again, here's my essential guide to staying happy, comfortable, and most importantly dry (trust me, do not forgo #3) while enjoying the great outdoors.
The Ultimate Guide for the Camping Curious (Or How to Love Camping Again)
- If It's Your First Time Camping, Go With Someone Who Knows What They're Doing. Seriously. Like I said before, if you think it will be fine if you and a bunch of friends hit the road with nothing but a 2-person pup tent and a pack of wieners, then you will be sorely disappointed. In camping, there's nothing better than the feeling of total freedom to do what you want and be yourself in the woods, but that feeling will fade when you realize that you're completely unprepared for when someone loses the only lighter and you're stuck without a fire. Go with someone who can show you the ropes, who has the right gear, and who has the good sense to pack multiple lighters, matches, etc.
- Know When to Keep Busy, and When to Chill Out. Camping takes up a lot more energy than you would expect, and it's best to plan accordingly. Besides the swimming, exploring, frisbee playing and other activities, you still need to do all the work to cook, clean, and keep the fire going. And guess what – all those chores get harder the more tired you are. So take some time to just sit in a chair, enjoy a cold beverage, and chill out with nature. Do chores like finding kindling before you lose steam from a long day of playing around.
- Pack the Right Clothes, And Pack Them Well. I learned this lesson the hard way, so please listen up so you'll be spared what I went through. When I was a newbie, I had no idea what to pack, and went along on my first camping trip with just a flannel for warm clothes. Ha! When the weather turned nasty and the cold rain came pouring down, there I was, in shorts and one measly flannel, soaked and freezing to the bone. And I vowed, never again. So now when I go camping I employ the following strategy: pack tons of heavy weight and waterproof clothes, and store them where they will stay dry. If you have a car at your campsite, store them in there. Otherwise, pack them in oh, I don't know, maybe two heavy trash bags. Getting wet is fine, but you will need something dry to change into if you want to avoid being miserable.
- Bring a Variety of Tasty Foods for the Open Fire. With all that fun exercise and fresh air, camping makes you hungry. Of course you know that you need to pack food to feed the beast, but an open fire is a culinary opportunity that begs for more than just weenies. I love me a good bratwurst, and I always bring some with me, but it's really fun when someone gets creative. One year I made bean burritos, and we toasted them over the open flames. I've also had chicken curry, steak tacos, and pierogies on a skewer. Basically, you want to have food you look forward to, and that satisfies. Don't forget plenty of cold beverages and water; you probably won't be near a place where you can conveniently restock your supply.
- Create a Cozy Nest for Sleeping. My Girl Scouts experience left me with the impression that sleeping in a tent meant tossing and turning all night over bumpy roots and rocks. Not so! It is called an air mattress, my friends, and it will change the way you view camping if nothing else does. If you don't have an air mattress, borrow your dad's army cot or something, but get yourself elevated. And then bring more blankets than you think you'll need, then pack one more. If the temperature drops at night, you'll thank me. There's nothing like waking up with your body aching from all the shivering you did last night.
Camping is good fun, but to be honest, a certain level of discomfort will always be there – it can get hot (or cold), or rain, and you'll definitely not be looking your best with ratty hair and intermittent teeth brushing. But what the hell! Bring a baseball hat, and leave the makeup at home. Be ready for anything, and you'll have the time of your life.
We'd love to hear your tales of camping love or woe in the comments!