Seven new tips learned from our second camping experience
We're new campers. Our first camping trip as a family was only a month ago, and it was also the first time my husband has ever camped in his life. But our family quickly fell in love with camping on that first trip, so we planned another trip as soon as possible. Our last trip was yesterday, a Thursday. We planned to try out a new campground that a friend recommended, and being a Thursday, we didn't feel like we needed to call ahead and reserve a site.
But we were wrong. So that's my first tip…
Tip #1. Call ahead and reserve a campsite.
So there we were, all five of us packed into our little VW 4-dr sedan which was stuffed to the gills with backbacks and camping gear, with kids who were super-excited about the camping trip; and when we pulled up to the entrance of the campground we were told that, although this campground had over 120 RV/Tent sites, every single site was occupied.
Well, that is, all the sites except for the primitive sites…the ones that come with nothing more than a fire ring.
We were expecting — and had planned for — one of the sites that came with a water spigot, a picnic table, and a level tent pad, that was also in close proximity to bathrooms. But obviously that wasn't an option for us. But we were determined to go camping, and nothing could quell our excitement about our trip, so we decided to go ahead and choose the primitive site.
But there was a small caveat with choosing this beautiful, primitive campsite.
Tip #2. Split your supplies into smaller bags.
Did I mention that we also had to walk 1/3 of a mile to get to the campsite? It wasn't like the other sites where you park within 10 feet of where you pitch your tent. We had to walk about 1,800 feet, over dusty, rocky ground. Thankfully we learned from our first camping trip to break our supplies up into smaller bags. On that first, fateful trip we packed all of our clothes — clothes for all five of us — into one large duffle bag. Not only was the bag incredibly heavy, but when one of us wanted to find a particular item of clothing, the contents ended up in disarray around the tent.
So after that experience, we decided that for the next trip, each person would pack his personal belongings in his own backpack which he alone would be responsible for carrying. That change alone saved us a lot of trouble on this week's trip. We were even able to attach each person's sleeping bag (we have fleece blanket-bags) to the backpacks using carabiners or bungee cords.
So we walked one round-trip to the campsite — without carrying any supplies — to choose which site we wanted. There was only one that seemed to have a place somewhat-level enough and somewhat-large enough to pitch our tent. It just so happened it was the farthest site from our car, but it had a gorgeous view — and in reality, it was our only option.
So we walked the 1/3 of a mile back to fill out the paperwork and pay our $10 overnight fee. Then we unloaded the car, everyone grabbed the backbacks, we distributed some more of our supplies among the five of us, and we trekked the 1/3 mile back to the campsite.
We repeated the process once more and finally arrived at the site with all of our supplies after walking a total of 2 miles (1 1/3 of those miles carrying heavy bags). We were tired by this time, but we were still having a good time.
Tip #3. Practice setting up your tent ahead of time.
The first time we camped we borrowed a tent. Although we hadn't practiced putting it up prior to that first trip, we didn't have any problems setting it up. So we felt pretty confident about this whole setting-up-a-tent-thing.
Fastforward to yesterday. We had purchased a tent of our own for this trip, an 8-person tent with a foyer, but we hadn't practiced setting it up before the trip.
That was a mistake.
Setting up the tent itself was easy, but when we got to the foyer, we couldn't figure out how to make the front posts stand up. The instructions never mentioned anything about using a rope and staking it down to keep it upright, and of course there was no rope included with the tent. But finally we figured that rope was what we needed. That brings me to Tip #4.
Tip #4. Bring extra rope…and lots of it.
Thankfully we had brought some rope with us, so we cut it, and with the help of Jaden's Scout Manual, we staked it down and the tent setup was finally complete! Whew!
I also say you should bring extra rope, and lots of it, because had it rained, and we needed to put up the tent fly on the tent, we wouldn't have been able to do it…because we didn't bring enough rope. But thankfully the sky stayed clear for the whole trip and we didn't face that unfortunate alternative.
(Notice the perfectly level ground under the tent in the picture?)
Tip #5. Bring cups without handles.
With the tent all set up, we moved on to dinner. Since there wasn't a picnic table, Jeff set up the camp stove on the not-so-level-ground. He cooked some marinated chicken and corn while I tried to figure out where to set the plates so we could serve up the food.
Although I tried, I couldn't find ground level enough to put the cooler on, so it was next-to-impossible to put the smooth-bottomed plates on top of the cooler without having them slide off. On top of that, the cups we brought had handles which meant they wouldn't fit into the little cup holders in the arms of our camp chairs. So without a table to set them on, we had to balance the cups on our plates, which we also had nowhere to put except our laps. Made for a bit of awkwardness at dinner time.
But the food was wonderful, so we overlooked the minor difficulties. But after facing the same problem in the morning, and compounded by the fact that cleaning the dishes was literally a backbreaking experience (since I had to wash the dishes while on my knees on the rocky ground and bending over the tubs of water…and did I mention that was after nightfall?), we decided that on our next trip, we're bringing paper plates and cups.
The next morning we ate breakfast burritos which I had prepared ahead of time, so we only had to warm them up over the fire. We were able to pull out our not-so-clean dishes, and after a good rinse at the spigot several hundred feet up the trail, we felt pretty comfortable setting the burritos on top of the plates, using the aluminum foil wrapper as a barrier between the food and the less-than-sanitary plates. Obviously both food prep and clean up was much easier for that meal, so that brings me to my next tip…
Tip #6. Precook your food as much as possible.
I know that many people love camp food, and I'm no exception, but another reason I like camping is spending time outdoors with my family, relaxing and enjoying each other's company. If spending more time enjoying my family means spending less time cooking food and scrubbing dishes in cold, dirty water, then I'm all for it!
This trip was the first time I precooked the food, but we enjoyed the convenience so much, and the food was so delicious, we're going to try to precook even more food for our next trip.
This summary of our trip might sound like we didn't have an enjoyable time, but the truth is we enjoyed it immensely. We even liked facing the little challenges, and especially overcoming them. We've gained a lot of good experience from both of our trips. One of the biggest things we learned from our first camping trip, and the tip that I'd like to end this post with, is this…
Tip #7. Don't let anyone ever tell you camping pads are comfortable. They're lying.
We brought air mattresses this time, and it made a world of difference in how comfortably we slept. It's amazing how much of a difference that cushion of air between you and the hard, rocky ground can make. With all the other physical challenges we had before we slept that night, I don't doubt if we had "slept" on camping pads again that we would have decided camping was not for our family after all.
So there you have it — my list of seven camping tips learned from personal experience. Even with all our foibles and mishaps, we enjoyed this trip a lot and learned a ton, so our next camping trip will be much, much better.
I'm loving this blog series because we have "wanted to want to prepare to think about" camping for a long time with the kids and haven't done it, mostly because our first attempt was so disastrous.
So my biggest question at this point is….what do you do about bugs and snakes? Hate 'em, hate 'em. Don't want any venomous things or blood sucking things near me or mine. So is there any point in camping at all?
We want to try camping with the kids but are afraid to take the plunge. You've given some good tips to overcome some of my reservations.
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What a fun post! We went camping last weekend too! We thought we'd find the place where we went somewhat empty since the weekend before was Memorial day but it was full too! Thankfully we got there in time to get a really good spot. We had a group of several families that went and we all had so much fun together.
Most of the tips you've listed are things we've learned the hard way too. 🙂 We take dishes for some things but we take paper to use most of the time. We also make sure to have our air mattresses. It's miserable without them! 🙂
Here's some useful tips for not losing your mind in the woods:
1. Rub cotton balls with vaseline and store in a ziploc bag. This is a great fire starter and you can put it anywhere. If you forget to do this, tortilla chips or fritos work in a pinch (they burn like a candle,but they smell like burning tortilla chip/frito).
2. Go to Cabela's or an Army surplus store and buy a spool of "550" cord (aka parachute cord). You can get a lot of it for pretty cheap. It's small, strong and has a billion uses.
3. Unless you feel the urge to be Julia Child in the wild, invest in some camping meals or MREs. They're self-contained meals and most of the time they come with their own heater so you can "cook" your dinner. Your kids will like it for the novelty alone.
4. Always carry a small container of either hot-sauce (tobasco, red hot, texas pete) or seasoning spice mix.
5. If you go camping in the fall or winter, put some insulation between you and the ground. The ground will leech your body heat. The air mattress won't be enough to keep that from happening. You'll wake up to find the mattress has a person shaped patch of dew on it (and you'll be lying in it). I suggest a sheet or a cheap fleece blanket to put between your mattress and your sleeping bag.
6. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE MORALE BOOSTING POWER OF DRY SOCKS!!
7. The amount of DEET in your bug spray is inversely proportionate to the amount of mosquitos that will try to give you malaria.
8. For all other bugs, try treating your tent with a permethrin based bug repellant.
9. Always carry a supply of toliet paper.
10. A small folding shovel is useful in case you get caught in a sudden downpour and your need to divert water around your tent.
what kind of air mattress(es) did you buy?
I see you only have one tent, so all 5 of you sleep in 1 tent?
Great post and great family fun! (hey, is there a meme for "family fun"?)
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O.k. I just found your site and had to laugh at this one!! My husband always claimed the pads were just fine. Yeah, when you're a teenager maybe!