By David Link
Ah summer, time to pack up the truck or car with gear and get a little lost while finding a place to sleep outdoors. Camping – that is true camping – involves bringing everything you need. There are no outhouses around for you to do your business, no clean water taps to fill your water bottles, and certainly no convenience stores next door to buy forgotten or depleted supplies. I understand this can be extremely intimidating for some, but once you get the hang of things, you’ll wonder why you ever camped any other way.
I mean think about it, you don’t like your neighbors -that- much, so why are you spending money on small manicured campgrounds where your neighbors are sure to be either a) complete party animals or b) complete prudes. We’re looking for a happy medium, where you can have some fun without bothering others or getting bothered by them. The only way to really do that is put some distance between you and the nearest campers. Do your local research, the available options may surprise you. This all said, here are some lessons I’ve learned to make primitive camping fun and successful.
Habitual campers should create a camping gear kit. This can go a few different ways. It might be a couple storage tubs in a corner of the garage, some duffles and totes in the attic, or even a section of a closet in your house. The goal here is to keep your camping gear from fragmenting. You know what happens when your camping gear is fragmented? It feels like an extreme amount of work to get ready to go, and you end up making excuses and not camping like you should. Keep your tents, pads, sleeping bags in one place, and consider getting a larger bag or tote to keep them in while in storage. When a spur the moment trip comes up, you can grab the tote and tada, sleeping gear packed and ready to go.
This second recommendation is really an extension of part one, but it bears some individual attention. In years past I had roommates who liked to camp as well, and guess what would happen when they started to pack? Items from the kitchen would start to disappear. Spatulas, knives, cutting boards, even pots and pans would become temporary “camp cookware,” only to then permanently disappear because it got damaged, left in the back of the truck, or shoved in some pack and forgotten after the trip. Don’t do this to your home kitchen.
Camp cookware and kitchen cookware should stay separate, and the easiest way to do this is to take old kitchen stuff and donate it to your kitchen kit. If these old items get damaged at camp, well no big deal. Once you get a camp kitchen kit together, the fuss of packing becomes even less intimidating. It won’t happen overnight, but this approach will give you all the gear you need to cook at camp successfully. Note: you’ll still have to buy some camp cookware to supplement like camp plates and bowls, utensils, egg containers, etc.
Meals need to be carefully thought out when you’re planning on eating around the campfire. Often times, you’ll find yourself at one of the two extremes of meal planning, and neither option is that ideal. On one hand, you don’t want to end up feeling like a hobo eating beans out of a can around the fire. This is supposed to be vacation, or at least a smaller form of it, and you want to have a decent fare.
The other extreme can actually be worse, especially to your pocket book. I’ve been especially guilty of over-preparing my meals, and trying to turn camp into a five star (well let’s be realistic, three or four star) restaurant. I’ve purchased too many ingredients at the store, thinking that they sound great now, but either some of it goes to waste, or I spend all my relaxing time trying to prepare it. A notable example was when I fixed breakfast for everyone with a menu of smoked salmon, bacon, eggs, fruit, and skillet potatoes. No one else was prepared and everyone was so hung over they barely ate it, and I spent a good chunk of money on everything. I learned my lesson there, stick to basics a bit more. Now there are those who love a great campfire meal, and more power to them, but unless you only plan to camp once this year, my recommendation is to tone it down a notch there Gordon Ramsey.
Need some easy meal ideas, check out Robin Follette’s Campfire Cooking.
One other thought, if you’re going with a big group, have every person or couple pick a meal – lunch on day one, dinner on day two, etc. – and put them in charge of everyone for that meal. Just make sure to check out allergies and food preferences before you decide on what to make. This can save time and prevent a backup around the coals or camping stove.
Do you have that yearly go-to camping spot that you and your friends always head to when you have a free weekend? Well unless you’ve made reservations or its on private land, you better have a back up spot in mind just in case. For example, I had found this great spot to camp above a mountain reservoir a few years ago. Everyone loved the spot, and we planned to go back the following year on Memorial Day. But guess what happened when we got to the turn off road? The trail up to the site had been washed out by spring rains. There was no getting up to that spot this year, and we had no back up plan. After some weary driving around, we turned back home and lost a night camping due to the lack of a back up plan. Don’t let this happen to you this year. Make sure you have a plan B spot before you head out.
I camp in the mountains, and even in the summer the temperatures can fluctuate a lot throughout the day and especially when the sun sets. It’s not uncommon to take on and pull off a flannel or hoodie several times throughout the day. Add to that the routine afternoon rain storm and the drop in temperature at night, and you need everything from shorts and a t-shirt to a jacket, pants and thick socks for one day of camping. Now the temperature changes might not be as extreme where you live, but the mentality of layering stays the same. You’ll wake up and put on an extra layer in the cool morning, peel it off and maybe switch to sandals when the day warms up, and then put back on the layers and maybe an extra jacket or hat as the night cools down.
When you’re planning for early spring or late fall camping, a base layer becomes extra important. You’ll sleep in it while you’re in your bag at night, and wear it in the morning and evening if not all day. For the sake of those who share the tent with you, opt for a base layer with antimicrobial properties, it’ll keep you fresh longer.