Your First Camping Trip

tent in woods
You need a tent for camping, but what else?

You’ve been invited to go camping! That’s great!  One problem–you’ve never been, have no idea what to take, and wonder just what’s involved in going camping. Well, here’s a “Camping 101” –a quick rundown that will give you some idea of what to do before, during and after your first camping trip.

Who, What.

If you have been invited by friends, will you be going with them or travelling separately? If you’re going with them you need to find out how much room you’ll have to pack your stuff.

Because there will be stuff.

How much depends on what your friends are going to provide for you. Do they have any gear for you? Will you be taking your own food? Snacks?

Assuming the only thing you will have is a ride and a campfire when you get there, this is what you will need for yourself:

–Lots, huh? It packs down amazingly well, but it will still take up considerable space. If they have the room in their car, great! If they don’t, you’ll need to get them to make room. Don’t fret too much–experienced campers will know that already.

When, Where.

The season will dictate a lot of your camp gear choices.  Obviously you will need an all-season tent and sleeping bag if the weather is cool or cold; always over-compensate for the weather when choosing your gear. Even in summer, if the camp site is in the mountains, you can have snow. We have, on more than one occasion. Never assume you will stay dry. Prepare for cold, wet weather, and you’ll never suffer (badly).

Check to see if the campsite you’ll be staying at is an established site and whether or not it has showers and other amenities.  Even if it has a toilet you may still want to take a portable toilet with you if your tent is big enough; it’s a little luxury that you won’t regret at three in the morning when you suddenly realize you need to go. Badly. Now.

If it’s a campsite in the bush, ask how close to fresh water you’ll be.  The further away you are, the more water you’ll have to bring and/or fetch for cleanliness and hydration.

Will you have your own transportation? The best thing to do is arrange to follow the other vehicles out to the place, especially if it’s not an established site. It’s easy to lose your fellow campers if you’re not familiar with where the site is located.


As soon as you get to the site, pick out a spot for your tent, clear it of any debris like sticks and rocks, because you don’t want holes poked in your tent floor. Make sure it’s level (no slopes, otherwise you’ll be fetching up beside the downward tent wall when you sleep). Next, lay a tarp down and erect your tent. Setting up a tent by yourself can be difficult. If you don’t think anyone will be helping you, choose an instant tent, which are a lot easier to erect.

Once your tent is done, blow up your air mattress and lay the liner on it, then your sleeping bag. Throw your gear in the tent. Set up your little personal toilet in one corner, if you brought one.

Then grab your camping chair and set it by the fire. Sit in it. Wonder at the beauty that is nature.  Contemplate the joys of marshmallows roasting on the end of a stick.

That’s it! Your camping!


Of course, after you go camping you have to unpack.  You will get a whole bunch of tips on how to do that as painlessly as possible here.

Easy, right? No? Well, maybe not.  But definitely worth it.



Unpacking After the Camping Trip–Making it Easier

packed car
The unpacking feels worse than the packing

Unpacking after a camping trip is the very last thing I want to do when I come home. Once that car is turned off, all I can think about is a shower and a glass of wine. In my defense, it’s usually because it’s at the end of a very long drive. Do you feel that way? Is unpacking the car something you dread?  Here are some self-defense strategies I’ve developed over the years.

primary unpacking–get your gear out of the car.

I know it’s the last thing you want to do, but get your gear in the door. You don’t have to put it away; just get it out of the car and in a safe place. That way, if you don’t put it away no one’s going to come along and steal it, but it will be out of the car.  You can survive a cluttered house for a day or two until you get to it all.

Once the gear is unloaded, take a load off yourself.

I mean it.  Get your feet up and have that cup of tea or coffee or glass of wine or beer. Take time to breathe. You’re not back in the real world yet; don’t let its demands drag you there early.  Take a half hour for yourself and just relax out in the yard or in your living room.

Have a bath or shower.

This is the third thing you should do, after you have relaxed for a half hour. Draw a bubble bath or take a nice, long shower.  Towel off and dress in clean, casual clothes, head to toe.  Don’t get back into your driving clothes.  This will mark a mental transition from camping to your daily life.

empty your coolers of leftovers.

Get those leftovers in the fridge. Then run some water in the sink, and add some bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Wring out a cloth and wipe the inside of the cooler thoroughly to disinfect and deodorize. Wipe the outside, too, to clean the smoke and dust and stuff off it.  Dry it inside, then leave the lid open to thoroughly air dry. Your coolers will smell great the next time you use them.

Briefly touch base with those you need to.

It’s tempting to jump right in with secular catch-up or involve yourself in family members’ and friends’ lives, but don’t do that today.  Let them know you’re home, safe and sound, if you have to.  Make it brief.  Then go back to spending important transition time with yourself. If you have campers that came back with you and live with you, get together and talk about the trip, how tired you are, what you’re going to do tomorrow.  But relax.

Make your next step an easy one.

After your visit or alone time, your next step will be the first real one in your day-to-day. Make lunch or dinner, depending when you got back. Or get your clothes ready for the next day.  If you feel like you have the energy, start prepping and putting away your camping gear.

A couple more hints and tips.

  • Don’t make it your job to do everything if the family went camping with you.  Everyone should pitch in and help put stuff away.  Even little ones can help unload little stuff or put their own clothes from the trip in the wash.
  • Make your first meal home a super easy one on you.  Order in, or use the leftovers from camp.  If you absolutely have to make dinner, make a quick soup or stew; that way you just have to throw everything into the pot and cook it till it’s done.
  • Get to bed early the first day you’re back.  The packing up and the trip home, coupled with the unpacking, is a full day’s work.  This will help you wake up feeling far more refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
  • Don’t forget to get those pictures developed or printed out online.  Wait a day or two if you have a busy schedule to dive back into, but get it done within the week. It’s going to remind you of the great time you had, and perk you up even more.
  • Take the time to check over your kitchen bins and first aid kit.  Replace anything that broke, went missing, or got used up. Do this before you put the bins and kit away, and you’ll be ready to pack and go your next camping trip.
  • If you had to pack up in the rain, don’t put your gear (tent included) away until you’ve had a chance to dry it out.  Your gear (tent included) will mildew quickly if it’s packed away wet. That’s not healthy for you, and besides, it stinks when you next try to use it. Blech!

So there you have it, folks–some hints and tips that will help your unpacking go better for you.  Do you have any suggestions that you use when you camp? Let us know! Everyone will thank you. I know I will.


Are You An Early Riser?

forest morning
It’s worth getting up just as the sun peeks through the trees.

Are you an early riser?

It’s a question that sparks a great deal of friendly, but heated, conversation in our house.  When we’re camping, I’m an early riser–I get up with the dawn, most days.

I do it, not because I can’t sleep, but because early mornings when camping are precious to me.  I start the fire, make a cup of coffee, and sit and watch the river go by. It will take a couple of hours for the sun to make its way over the mountains, and the silence while nature slowly wakes up is as peaceful as ever I have experienced. Peaceful moments in regular life are rare, and so I hoard those moments when I’m camping I’m like whiskey jack hoarding pieces of bread. I stuff them away to savor later, before going back for more.  Who knows when I’ll have the chance to do it again?

It enables me to create a morning routine without interruption, too.  Most mornings I get the breakfast ready for everyone.  By getting up early I can prep everything and have it ready to go, the coffee (which is the best morning smell in the world) announcing itself to the campsite, by the time everyone gets up.  The activity is unhurried, with plenty of time to refill my own mug and sit watching nature in between chores.

Morning people are generally happier and more productive than night owls.  They tend to spend time in the morning on things that are important to them, or love to do.

If that’s the case, then creating a morning routine when camping actually makes you a happier person.  I do know that when I get back from camping I feel restored. Other vacations leave me feeling exhausted.

Create a Morning Routine That Really Works

You can create your own morning routine in camp.  Get up just as the morning light is beginning to turn everything visible. Dress warm; it’s chilly when you first get up. Go pee. Come back and wash your hands using sanitary hand wipes.  Put on the kettle, or saucepan, to heat water on the stove. While you’re waiting for it to boil, go start (or restart) the campfire. Once the fire is going, sit and watch the river (or other nature beauty) until the water is ready.

Use half the water for your morning tea or coffee (you can make coffee for the rest later). Pour the other half of the boiling water in a basin. Add some cold water to make it just the right temperature.  Wash your face, neck and hands in the warm water, then dry with a waiting towel.  I’m telling you, it’s the best feeling.

Take your coffee or tea back to the campfire, add a little more wood to the fire, and sit down. Hopefully you’ve brought a camping chair–they’re must-haves, in my opinion. Watch the world wake up.  Plan your day.  Figure out what breakfast is going to be, and if any prep needs to be done.

For the rest of the morning, until the others get up, continue doing that. Prep a little for breakfast, replenish the fire, refill the mug.  Watch nature. Think about stuff, or think about nothing. If your life is busy and stressful at home, this is something you may have to teach yourself to do. But it’s so worth it, and you’ll go home feeling far more restored.

Kids and Camping–A Natural Match

Kids and camping to hand in hand. Kids belong in nature.  They roar

Get them out into nature

through it, discover it, wonder at it, and use it in amazing ways.  Any parent that takes their kids camping should be commended.  When you see kids out in the woods or by a river or on a beach, you can tell they feel better about everything.  Life is good.

Now science is telling us that there are other benefits as well.

It may actually change our brains for the better, reducing stress, increasing our attention span, and improving our ability to create and to connect with other people. What this means is that by taking our kids camping, we’re giving them pathways to success and happiness, to some extent. Focused, creative kids do better in school.  So do kids who can connect with people.

There are more benefits than that, though.

Getting out in nature helps kids and grownups alike see a larger picture. It can help put problems in perspective and give one some relief from day-to-day stresses. Kids and adults are introduced to things they don’t see in cities; animals in nature, and beautiful plants and flowers.  Seeing beauty has always had a beneficial effect on people.  When we see beautiful things, we want to act in a way that reflects beauty on some level. That’s because beauty makes us happy. There have been studies done on what happiness can do for us. Quite simply, it makes us better people.

Give ’em a nudge.

Sometimes kids don’t want to do things.  Even when they go camping, you can sometimes see the gamer kid sitting in his camp chair, bored because you didn’t let him bring his Nintendo 3DS.  Most of the time, it’s because he or she doesn’t know what to do. So arm yourself with a list of suggestions. Get them to pick one, and if it involves you, don’t beg off. Get that jar and that bug net and go on that hike. Because when you do, you’re helping them get better grades, be better people and make happy memories about you.

And we all want that for our kids, don’t we?