Tent camping is a great way for you to spend quality time with your family without spending a fortune on hotels or airfare. But how do you get started? Here are some tips that can help.
- For your first camping experience, pick a camp area within easy driving distance of your home. This way if you discover that camping isn’t your thing or the weather turns nasty, you can drive home early.
- State parks are a great place to try camping.
- Many state parks were founded because they’re near interesting sightseeing areas.
- The cost for a site is usually around $25/night and they have well-established sites with plenty of trees for shade. Commercial campgrounds are sometimes built on open fields with very few trees.
- Use Google Maps’ satellite feature to check out the parks from above. This can help you pick out a specific site when making reservations.
- Find a park that has activities that your family will enjoy. Look for features like swimming, boating, fishing, areas for sports, hiking trails, bike paths, or playgrounds.
- Many parks now have more modern amenities like electricity and hot showers so you won’t feel like you’re too far from home.
- You don’t need to spend the whole time at your campsite. Look for things to do in nearby towns. You may even want to go out for a meal at a local diner.
- Obviously you’re going to need some equipment that you may not own. At a minimum, you’ll want a tent, a two-burner camp stove, some pots and pans, utensils, axe or hatchet, campfire chairs, lighter, bug spray, sunscreen, marshmallow/hot dog sticks, lantern, flashlights, paper plates and cups, table cloth, hot pads, small tubs for dishes, and dish towels. A small folding table is also helpful.
- Try to borrow camping equipment from friends or family. After you’ve done a few trips, you can start to buy your own equipment. Using someone else’s equipment also helps you find out what works well or doesn’t.
- Bring your bicycles and helmets. Most roads around your campsite have a low speed limit for cars, which makes bike riding relatively safe.
- Bring a deck of cards or board games. You can use these during down times or if it rains.
- Most parks have firewood available for purchase at a reasonable price. If not, you can often buy bundles from places like Kroger or Meijer. Don’t bring firewood from your home stockpile. This can introduce insects and diseases to the park trees. However the store bundles are usually certified clean of disease and insects so it can be transported. Plan on using a couple of bundles per night.
- Keep meals simple. Sandwiches and chips are an easy lunch and you can take them with you on a hike. Hot dogs or brats make a great dinner and can be cooked over your campfire. On the morning that you’re going home, have cereal for breakfast to minimize cleanup.
- Try to prep meals in advance. Put together a salad, cut up fruit, or bake cookies before you leave home.
- Don’t forget the s’more supplies. You can go traditional or get creative. Try Oreos instead of graham crackers or replace chocolate bars with peanut butter cups.
- After you’ve been camping for a while, get more ambitious with your meals. Look into getting a Dutch oven because you can bake dishes like peach cobbler, chocolate cake, French toast or egg casserole. The Internet has thousands of different recipes that you can try.
- Bring extra snacks. Being outdoors burns more energy so you’ll find your kids are often hungry.
- Can’t live without your morning coffee? Remember to bring a coffee pot to put on the stove.
- Leave the electronics at home. Obviously you can bring your cell phone for emergencies or to use as a GPS. But leave the iPads, iPods and laptops at home. The outdoors will provide plenty of entertainment for your children.
- Pack for the weather but remember it’s often quite a bit cooler in the evening in the woods than in the city.
- Flip-flops are great to use in the public showers, but avoid wearing them around the campsite as they don’t provide protection from sticks and rocks.
- Tent sizes often show how many people can fit inside. However this doesn’t take into account room for your gear. So you’ll want to subtract one or two people from the sizes. For instance, a family of three will want to use a tent rated for four or five people.
- A similar story for sleeping bags. They give a temperature range but you’ll want to add 10 – 15 degrees to the rating to make sure you’re comfortable. It’s no fun trying to sleep while you’re shivering!
- Only use approved fire rings for your campfire.
Now that you have some basic knowledge, get out there and try camping with your family. You’ll be amazed how your kids will remember the experience for years to come.
– Dave Enerson started camping with his dad as a young child and is currently Scoutmaster of a local Boy Scout Troop.